Richard Sutcliffe: Sgt Wilko’s barmy army are all set for heroes’ return to Elland Road

The Leeds United championship side of 1992. from the left, Jon Newsome, Chris Fairclough, Mel Sterland, Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, David Batty, Gary Speed, Lee Chapman, Eric Cantona. Front row from the left, Chris White, Rod Wallace, Tony Dorigo and Steve Hodge.
The Leeds United championship side of 1992. from the left, Jon Newsome, Chris Fairclough, Mel Sterland, Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, David Batty, Gary Speed, Lee Chapman, Eric Cantona. Front row from the left, Chris White, Rod Wallace, Tony Dorigo and Steve Hodge.
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TOMORROW night a band of footballing brothers will gather in Yorkshire to celebrate their finest hour.

The faces may contain a few more lines and, in some cases, the midriffs will be a tad heavier but there will be no mistaking the heroes taking a trip down memory lane.

Howard Wilkinson, Gordon Strachan, Gary Speed, Lee Chapman and Chris Fairclough will be among those getting together at Elland Road for a dinner to celebrate the last time Leeds United ruled English football.

It is 20 seasons since Leeds last lifted the League Championship, hence why Sgt Wilko and his team are getting back together to reminisce about the old days in the company of hundreds of United supporters.

Time, it has to be said, has not been overly kind to Wilkinson’s Leeds side, certainly in terms of recognising the depth of what was a truly stunning achievement – winning the title just two years after coming out of Division Two.

This is partly down to the Premier League being launched just a few months after Strachan proudly showed off the trophy to a grateful Elland Road.

The glitz and glamour era that was ushered in by Sky Sports has, it seems, condemned what went before August, 1992 to an almost pre-historic age that, if those whose interest in football begins and ends with the Premier League are to be believed, is mercifully past.

A time of mind-numbing football and total absence of flair, the pitches were also unremittingly awful. And as if that was not enough then the game was brought into the nation’s homes by Elton Welsby and Saint & Greavsie. Or so the story goes.

The problem for Wilkinson’s Leeds is that, as the final winners of the old Division One, they have become an unwitting symbol of this bygone age.

It is not just the advent of the Premier League, however, that has diminished Leeds’s title triumph in the eyes of many outside the city with the notion that the 1992 title was one Manchester United lost rather than Leeds won still being widely-held.

Never mind Sir Alex Ferguson admitting in the wake of his side falling short that “Leeds are worthy winners”, an assertion he repeated in his best-selling autobiography in 1999. No, Leeds’s success was all down to the failings of another team rather than any great effort on their own part.

What these revisionists choose to ignore, though, is just how impressive Leeds were that season in losing just four out of 42 games.

Even then, those setbacks to Crystal Palace, QPR, Manchester City and Oldham Athletic led to Wilkinson’s men responding in the style of champions by netting 13 times in the quartet of games that followed those defeats.

Leeds also went the entire season unbeaten at home and only Arsenal scored more goals, while on the road there was no finer attacking side.

Anyone doubting this should consider that Wilkinson’s side scored four or more goals away from home on no less than four occasions. Manchester United, in contrast, achieved that feat just once.

The 6-1 demolition of Sheffield Wednesday, who let us not forget finished third that season, may be perhaps most memorable for the outrageous dive by Gordon Watson that earned the home side their solitary goal from the penalty spot.

But the football Leeds played at Hillsborough that January day was of the highest order, with their third goal – John Lukic rolling the ball to Tony Dorigo who, in turn, found Gary Speed and he crossed for Lee Chapman to head into the net – being an example of free-flowing football at its stunningly simple best.

This strike and so much more are captured in an excellent new DVD that will be officially launched at tomorrow’s dinner.

Narrated by the always excellent John Helm, ‘Champions 91-92’ captures every goal of a memorable season and features interviews with many of the major figures.

From Mel Sterland revealing all about the row he had with Gary McAllister over taking a penalty against Sheffield United – he wrestled the ball off the Scot because he “hated” the Blades – through to the moment when the United players felt the title was theirs for the taking, the DVD is likely to find its way into the Christmas stockings of many United fans.

It is a fitting tribute to what is still one of the more remarkable title triumphs of the modern day game, not least in just how quickly Leeds went from also-rans to title winners.

Blackburn Rovers may be mostly rolled out as the prime example of being the most spectacular overnight success but they won the League three years after promotion to the top-flight and on a much bigger budget than Wilkinson had at his disposal.

Leeds, of course, managed the feat in two seasons, making their 1992 success perhaps the worthiest since Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest topped the league just one year after coming out of the old Second Division.

And they did so with a team that even their fiercest critics must, 20 years on, admit was overflowing with quality, not least in midfield where Strachan, Gary McAllister, Gary Speed and David Batty combined to form a formidable unit with few weaknesses.

It was a similar story up front with Lee Chapman and Rod Wallace forming a classic ‘big man, little man’ partnership that plundered 33 league and cup goals that season.

Now, Chapman may be the type of centre forward that the Sky generation consider belongs to a past age but his ability to lose a marker in the box and a tendency to deliver on the big stage (he scored away from home against all the other clubs in the top four) made the big striker an integral part of United’s success.

Twenty clean sheets also proved a defence containing Fairclough, Dorigo, Chris Whyte and Mel Sterland was no slouch, either. Nor was goalkeeper John Lukic, who had returned to Elland Road in 1990 with a league title already to his name with Arsenal.

The years since that title triumph may have dimmed the achievements in the eyes of the wider football world.

But, in Leeds, that team is still appreciated, which is why Elland Road will rise to acclaim those heroes not just tomorrow night but also on Sunday when Cardiff City are the visitors in the Championship.

For Sgt Wilko and his Boys of ’92, it is the very least they deserve.