It’s time for United to rebuild fortress

David Hockaday, left, with owner Massimo Cellino.
David Hockaday, left, with owner Massimo Cellino.
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WHEN a list of the intimidating cauldrons in English football is reeled off, Elland Road invariably gets a name-check.

It is a reputation earned across many decades, right back to the time when Don Revie’s United were the team to beat, and one of which the locals are mightily proud of.

A look at results in more recent years – Nottingham Forest scored seven in 2012, while both Preston North End and Watford have hit half-a-dozen goals – may not necessarily back up the assertion that visiting teams still quake in their boots when heading to Leeds.

For Dave Hockaday, however, Elland Road remains fixed in his mind as a “horrible” place to visit as an opposing player and he is hoping United’s notoriously partisan support can make all the difference during his first season as the club’s new head coach.

“As a visiting player, Elland Road was horrible,” said the 56-year-old when speaking to The Yorkshire Post in the sunshine at Thorp Arch.

“I came here with a few clubs but the one that stands out was when I played for Swindon when Vinnie Jones was here. Gordon Strachan was also in that team.

“I could eulogise to you about all the good players that have been here. But Elland Road was a place you didn’t want to come to.

“If you could escape with a win or a draw then great. But, even then, you got out as quick as you could.

“The fans were very partisan. They made you feel uncomfortable. They screamed for every decision in favour of the white shirts and that made it a real tough place to come.

“People talk about grounds being a fortress, well Elland Road was certainly that back then. We need to make it so again.

“I don’t want teams coming here and enjoying themselves. Momentum can help, in that respect, as it fires the fans up.

“But momentum can only be built on the back of hard work. And that is what we have been busy doing this summer, instilling that message into the players. We need to work harder than we have in recent years.

“And if we do that then that should get the fans behind us.”

Hockaday’s most notable visit to Elland Road as a player came in September, 1989. A season that would end with Howard Wilkinson’s side winning promotion was just clicking into gear and Swindon were blown away 4-0, with Strachan netting a hat-trick.

A feature of both that season and the two that followed as Leeds clinched the League championship was how the home side, roared on by the natives, would tear into the opposition from the first whistle. Many games were over, as a result, long before half-time.

Wilkinson had, of course, assembled a special group of players so comparisons with the current crop are unfair.

There was, though, a togetherness between club and support back then that has been absent for some time at Leeds. This much has been apparent during the summer, with rumblings of discontent on the terraces having been evident since the start of the pre-season fixtures.

The decision to hand the reins to Hockaday was not one that went down well with a support base that has grown increasingly disillusioned with each passing year spent outside the Premier League.

As left-field appointments go, Massimo Cellino’s decision to turn to Hockaday was not so much one from the touchline that sits in front of the East Stand as coming from halfway up the giant two-tier structure.

The 56-year-old former full-back arrived in West Yorkshire with just one managerial post on his CV and that was with Conference side Forest Green Rovers.

His debut season ended with the Gloucestershire minnows finishing in the relegation places, only to be handed a reprieve when Salisbury City were demoted instead for financial irregularities.

The following season was another struggle before Dale Vince, the pioneer of green energy and tycoon behind Ecotricity, completed a takeover and supplied Hockaday with one of the division’s biggest budgets.

A disappointing 10th place finish in 2012-13 followed and Hockaday was dismissed last October in the wake of a seventh defeat in eight games.

No-one could have envisaged his return to coaching coming at arguably the highest-profile club outside the Premier League, even if the man himself insists he is up to the challenge.

“Watford, Southampton etcetera is my CV,” said Hockaday when asked about a career that has included assistant manager roles in the Premier League. “I waited for an opportunity. I turned down one or two things, as I felt something was going to happen.

“Obviously, it did in the form of Leeds United and I am pleased with that.

“Forest Green was a great learning curve for me.

“The Conference is a tough league but a great place to learn things. You pick things up all the time and I find you tend to learn more in adversity than you do when things are going well.

“I have worked with lots of different coaches and managers over the years and you learn things all the time.

“I have worked with coaches from different countries, too. But then you have your own intrinsic beliefs on things. By that I mean I want us to get the ball down and play, in the right places.

“The boys are aware of what I am after. Again, as a player I wasn’t the biggest or fastest or the most technically gifted but I gave it everything I had got. I worked as hard as I could and put a real shift in.

“That is what fans want to see. Whatever the result, if we go out and put in an honest shift then people will say, ‘Tell you what, those lads gave us everything today’. That has to be the minimum fans can expect.

“Good fans want that and that is what we will give them. Add to that hard work and a good team spirit, then you are halfway there. The quality will kick in then.”

Hockaday’s first task, along with winning over a sceptical supporter base, is to start the season strongly. It will not be easy, not with the opening day trip to Millwall – always an ugly fixture – being followed by back-to-back home games against Middlesbrough and Brighton.

“Millwall is a nice tough one,” said the new head coach. “I know Ian Holloway and he wants his teams to play. I also know the Millwall fans but we have to go there some time so why not on the opening day?

“We are looking forward to it. My team will be honest and hard-working. That is what the fans can expect from one of my teams.

“I also want us to get the ball down and play, though only in the right areas.

“That is the decision-making I want to see. I want the players to go out there and put in an honest shift, to give the fans reason to be proud.

“We all have to earn the respect of the fans.”

THE COACH

DAVE HOCKADAY may have had eight months out of football before arriving at Leeds but he was far from idle.

“I spent my time learning,” reveals the former full-back.

“I went to various clubs, listening and learning. That is what you should do. No-one is too old to learn.

“I ended up at a couple of Championship clubs and League One clubs. I was there for quite a while and ended up seeing more than 100 games, at every level from Conference through to Championship and the Premier League.”

The Leeds United head coach explained: “I felt I needed to reacquaint myself with the scene. Find out the players that were coming through. Those that I knew of, I needed to know how they were doing. It was very useful.

“I also wanted to let people know I was still alive.”

Asked to name the clubs he visited, Hockaday replied: “The clubs were all over the country. North, south, east and west.

“You are never too old to learn and that is what I did. I opened myself up and was allowed to put sessions on.

“I also watched how others conducted their sessions. And I studied the feel and the vibe of how others manage players – how people play certain systems.

“But I was blessed with a lot of people who were willing to open their doors to me. They welcomed me in and I won’t forget that.

“They know who they are and I am grateful to them because they helped make those few months more enjoyable.”