Sunday 25 May ~
Five seasons ago it would have seemed inconceivable that Leeds and Doncaster would ever again meet in a League fixture, let alone a Wembley final. Then, Doncaster were about to escape from the Conference having endured a calamitous relegation and near bankruptcy, while Leeds were taking part in the UEFA Cup. This season Leeds would have finished ahead of Doncaster in second place in League One had it not been for their 15-point deduction. That punishment, contested by the club but maintained on appeal, was in itself a side-effect of the overspending that characterised Leeds' period as a competitive force in Europe at the start of the decade.
Victory today would take Leeds straight back to the Championship after their relegation on the final day of 2006-07. Some of Gary McAllister's predecessors as Leeds manager evidently felt that the club's trophy-winning decade under Don Revie, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, hung too heavily on the club. McAllister takes the contrary view, however, and has even put back some pictures of past players that had been taken down from corridor walls at Elland Road.
But there isn't as much pressure on McAllister as there would have been had the club experienced a conventional 46-game season with no points deduction; a Wembley win will feel like a triumph against the odds. Leeds' voluble chairman Ken Bates remains convinced that the club have been treated badly by the football authorities and called for League chairman Brian Mawhinney to resign after the points deduction was upheld. He insists, however, that he won't be looking for an argument when he takes his seat at Wembley, with the Doncaster chairman John Ryan between himself and the League chairman: “I understand Lord Mawhinney is anticipating a rough ride from the Leeds United fans on Sunday. But, as officials of the club, we have promised to behave ourselves."
For Doncaster, a win on their first-ever visit to Wembley would mean return to the second level for the first time in 50 years. Rovers had a chance to achieve automatic promotion on the final day of the season but threw it away with defeat to Cheltenham. Although they then reached Wembley with a convincing victory over Southend, they will begin as underdogs against a Leeds team who rallied impressively at Carlisle after losing the home leg of their semi-final. John Ryan accepts that his side's supporters will be greatly outnumbered at Wembley and indeed tried to pass on some of Doncaster's unsold allocation to their rivals. Most neutrals probably want Doncaster to do it, but with the bulk of the crowd behind them you sense that this is likely to be Leeds' day – Lord Mawhinney will have been practising his frozen smile for what might be an awkward medal ceremony.