When Leeds United fans arrive at Brighton and Hove Albion's new stadium tonight we'll be looking forward to experiencing the facilities and bumping into a couple of old faces. Although all fans probably feel some sympathy for Brighton's long wait for a splendid stadium of their own, only those visiting fans who have stood miles behind the goal across the wet running track at their last place watching two little ball boys fighting over a plastic stool for entertainment will know how bad things got there. For me Brighton's temporary home at a community athletics track was the worst football ground I've been to. Even non-league Histon who comprehensively dumped us out of the FA Cup a couple of years ago had better facilities and stands. It won't just be the surroundings that improve the spirits of visiting fans, there's a couple of familiar names working for the opposition we'll be pleased to see too.
On the home bench and between the sticks will be two of the more popular faces from Leeds United's seven year hike through the lower divisions. Everyone knows that Brighton are doing well in their return to the Championship but only those who have seen Poyet and the teams he's coached for both these clubs will know how inspiring a figure he is. Obviously we'll be hoping Gus Poyet and our former goalkeeper Casper Ankergren leave the game throughly pissed off but there's enough good will between the fans and former favourites to admit it's no surprise Poyet and Casper are doing well. Casper was a Well Meaning, Friendly and Occasionally Clumsy Old Ghost. He regularly scurried across his area correcting a bad position like a hapless waiter on a listing ship but his endeavour helped Leeds climb out of League One. Until he left us for Spurs Poyet was appreciated as a class act, mind you next to Dennis Wise even Christine Hamilton would have been seen as a Good Bloke.
To illustrate my point about what Gus bought to Leeds United here's a relatively minor detail from a recent match between these two clubs. A few years ago I was squashed into a bucket seat at Brighton and Hove Albion’s terrible temporary ground watching the Seagulls take on my club Leeds United. Thank God I'd found a ticket on the side of the pitch and not behind the goal like my previous visit there. In front of me the much maligned but never short of energy Leeds player Andy Hughes was dawdling from the left back area into the opposition half whilst the rest of the Leeds players were jostling for position with Brighton defenders for a corner on the far left side of the pitch.
There was nothing remarkable about Hughes’ progress other than it was quite a purposeful dawdle. Had he been in a street you’d have guessed he was on his way to do a basic errand. And in a way he was, only in football they call it an assist.
As the Leeds United and Brighton players danced around each other on the edge of the area, Hughesy slowly reached the sort of space clever players occupy when they know the corner taker has a habit of over-hitting the dead ball. Which is exactly what happened. Deliberately.
Whilst the scrum in the goal mouth followed the flight of the ball back towards where Andy Hughes had positioned himself unannounced and un-marked, our dinky former Brighton winger Seb Carol broke away and sprinted towards the Leeds corner taker. The ball landed on Hughesy’s head, flew back across the scrum and found Carole un-marked on the other side of the goal.
From this switch in play we scored, it was a brilliantly simple and perfectly executed free kick. I turned to the person next to me who worked for the club and asked ‘Who’s doing all these great dead balls?’ and he replied ‘Gussy, he spends at least four hours a week doing them.’
Leeds hadn’t seen such dead ball precision since Ian Harte had been in our ranks. Every week we were scoring from dead balls and every week the moves were different. News that Gus Poyet was orchestrating these moves gave him even more credibility in my eyes.
If the appointment of narky spitball Dennis Wise as LUFC manager was hard to swallow, Gus Poyet as his assistant somehow made the pill slightly sugar coated. As a player Poyet was one of those it was easy to admire. Tall, skinny and agile, he had a habit of scoring eye-catching, important, match winning goals for Chelsea and Spurs. He was one of those players who arrived in the Premiership unheralded and helped changed the fortunes of the teams he represented.
As an assistant manager he clearly provided the finesse and height to Wise’s vision. At the start of their first full season together Leeds United had been docked 15 points for financial irregularities. In the last minute of extra time in the first game of the season away at Tranmere the unlikely figure of Tresor Kandol scored a scruffy deflected goal mouth scramble winner and the fans went mad. As the whistle for full time went the players piled on top of each other, Wise was in amidst them but it was the pencil thin figure of Poyet piling on top that caught the eye. "Oh that's good, he seems to care," i can remember thinking.
Leeds continued as we’d started, clocking five wins in a row to clear the points deduction and carried on in such a fashion. By the end of the season the club missed out on automatic promotion by one place but by then Gus and Wise were long gone. Gus had decamped to Spurs where a million pound offer to be number two to the incoming Ramos proved too much for LUFC to match. But most telling was Wise’s departure, without Gus by his side Wise’s interest in the project clearly faded. In Poyet’s place Wise bought in Dave Bassett and that spelled doom for players like Carol who had been providing Beckford with his first slew of Leeds goals. Even though the team kept on performing the guile had left the games. Gussy’s touch had vanished.
When Wise’s successor Gary McAllister left the club Poyet put himself forward for the managers job at Leeds United but he failed to see how walking away from a club once wasn’t the ideal background to rejoin them.
Maybe he felt he deserved a crack at the number one position. There are certainly Leeds fans now and then who wished he had got the job, but the position went to Blackpool manager and former Leeds player Simon Grayson. Brighton and Hove Albion appointed Poyet as manager and he delivered them the League One Title, whether they can keep hold of him remains another question but his impact on the south coast side is being felt beyond the city itself. ‘In Gus We Trust’ read the T-shirts. Whether he stays and win with Brighton or moves on to bigger and better things is yet to be seen but he’s a popular and promising manager who appears to have brought all the skills he learnt on the pitch to the bench. Who wouldn’t want him in their own team"s dugout?