the square ball week: now there’s a whole new imageBack
Leicester City 2016 have Leeds United 1992 beat in the unlikely stakes, but if you’re lucky enough to have seen both of these great against all odds league title wins, then Leicester’s might have given you a faint sense of déjà vu.
It’s all been updated. This is the Premier League in the digital era; back then it was the Football League, and mobile phones were the toys of only the very rich, a category that didn’t include many footballers yet.
That transformation of the game from comfortably well off to mega stinking rich might also explain the difference in tone between the times. Vardy, Kanté, Morgan and the rest exploded in joy at the moment their Premier League title was confirmed in a way that suits modern football: jumping around a marble kitchen top the size of a car, in front of a TV screen the size of a wall.
It was a very different picture to 1992, but the raw elements were the same: the team mates round the star striker’s house to watch their rival’s forlorn efforts to deny them the league title. While Jamie Vardy had the whole squad round in 2016, in 1992 Lee Chapman’s cramped sofa only had room for Gary McAllister, David Batty and Eric Cantona, and while a mobile phone camera (and probably a selfie stick) took Leicester’s celebrations to the world in broadcast quality high definition, Chappy and co had to have ITV’s John Helm in the room with an actual camera crew, which may also have contributed to the comparatively sombre mood. The Leeds players were grinning like cats who’d just inherited a cream factory, but there was none of the jumping around and screaming that went on at Vardy’s house.
Maybe that came later.
“It did not seem proper to whoop it up as ITV wanted us to do,” Lee Chapman wrote in his autobiography that year. “We had been dignified and professional all season, and it would have been uncharacteristic for us to be any different now.”
Things did liven up from here, though, and perhaps there was more that Chappy wasn’t telling. But what he would tell was:
“As the cameras were being switched off the phone started ringing … Out of nowhere, a crowd of well-wishers descended upon my house with gifts of champagne. Later that evening all the local players met in an Italian restaurant in Leeds, The Flying Pizza, to celebrate our success. As we entered, the whole of the restaurant rose and gave us a five minute standing ovation. It was a wonderful reception and one that made us realise just how much our success meant to everybody in Leeds.”
2016: Jamie Vardy’s kitchen in Leicester. 1992: The Flying Pizza in Leeds. Of course. Where else?
Leicester fans will have their own iconography from their miraculous season, much of it filmed down a player’s mobile phone as they posed for a #squadgoals photo in front of the fridge.
For Leeds fans, we have different kinds of memories of 1992, slightly more removed, as we relied on Yorkshire Television and the club’s video magazine (yes, a magazine on VHS tape) for our access to the club.
So it is that when we think of Leeds United in 1992, we think of Howard Wilkinson sitting in his office at his untidy desk, thoughtfully explaining the difference Tony Dorigo had made, the refusal to let Rumbelows Cup disappointment affect the team, all while wearing an Umbro t-shirt, a Boss tracksuit and a baseball cap. A baseball cap with Flying Pizza written across the front.
Nowadays that sort of thing would break all sorts of sponsorship agreements in the high-finance world of the modern Premier League, but back then, when I was just a lad and Sergeant Wilko was just a god to me, it didn’t even occur that The Flying Pizza might be a restaurant, or an endorsement. It was just what Howard Wilkinson had written on his hat. And if Mr Wilkinson wanted to have cryptic pizza words on his hat, who was I to argue? He’d signed Gordon Strachan. He could wear what he wanted.
The Flying Pizza was more than just a quiz on Wilko’s head, though. It was, during the Don Revie era and again when Leeds — the team and the city — caught a new boom at the end of the eighties, the height of sophisticated dining in the city. Adriano Piazzaroli presided over the enormous restaurant on Street Lane, and as importantly, over its streetside car park, where the ever more lavish motors of the city’s best-heeled would be parked up every evening, a peacock display from the business, television and sports stars eating and drinking Italiano within.
The title celebrations there in 1992 were the zenith of a journey that United’s former director Bill Fotherby told Dave Simpson, in his book The Last Champions, began in The Flying Pizza in 1987. It was there that Fotherby, newly installed at Elland Road as managing director and determined to raise the profile of a doldrumish Second Division club, loudly allowed it to be overheard that he was negotiating to sign the star of the 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona.
It was true: Fotherby had seized upon a chance meeting with Maradona’s European agent, and brought the player’s representatives to a meeting at Elland Road, promising them the world even as they doubled the £4m asking price Fotherby had anticipated but couldn’t afford anyway. It didn’t matter. After Fotherby allowed the name of his new transfer target to be heard in The Flying Pizza, word soon hit the back pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and travelled quickly from there to the back pages of the nationals, who hadn’t had any reasons except hooliganism to write about Leeds United for years.
Suddenly, the phones at Elland Road were being rung by agents and sponsors from all over the world, eager to know what was happening at this exciting, brave, Maradona-chasing sleeping giant, jostling for meetings and business dinners with Fotherby and co at The Flying Pizza.
After seeing the impact of aiming for the unachievable Diego, Fotherby told Dave Simpson, “We started thinking, ‘What can we actually achieve?’”
The team that Bill Fotherby, Leslie Silver and Howard Wilkinson went on to build did achieve: the Second Division title, the First Division title, European football in West Yorkshire. It’s a team that’s regarded now a little like Leicester City’s champions are thought of today; as a gang of fifteen-or-so dour but committed footballers cut like cookies from the same sour dough as Wilko. Until Eric Cantona came along to add some contrast and flair, anyway.
That was the perception, but not all the players fit the gritstone stereotype. While he was no match for Cantona’s expressive play on the pitch, where his three jobs were to win headers from John Lukic’s goal kicks, score from crosses, and make central defenders miserable, Lee Chapman had been raising the tone of the team since he signed, ringing in the nineties, in January 1990.
Lee Chapman was tall. He was square-jawed, blond and fearless as a Hollywood stuntman. He played for Leeds in the Rumbelows Cup semi-final against Manchester United, after some midweek plastic surgery had reconnected his nose to his forehead following a headfirst dive onto the cinder running track at Spurs the week before; and he played in the title run-in with a too-lightweight pot on his forearm to protect a wrist, broken while trying desperately to score in the cup against Manchester United, that he insisted had healed. It hadn’t. But Chappy had to play.
Chapman had played for Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday, two unfashionable clubs in unfashionable cities; but he’d also played in London for Arsenal, at the height of its new-romantic meets new-stockbroker explosion, and then for a season in France. Chapman was at Chamois Niort at the same time that Glenn Hoddle and Mark Hateley were at Monaco, while Ray Wilkins was at Paris Saint-Germain, and just before Chris Waddle moved his football career to Marseille and his pop career to the French charts, dueting with Basile Boli on We’ve Got a Feeling (the video is on YouTube, and incredible). Chapman didn’t bother the pop charts, and Niort was not Monte Carlo or Paris, but in the dim days when English sides were banned from Europe, his year abroad gave him a cosmopolitan sheen that was rare in West Yorkshire.
As did Mrs Lee Chapman, Leslie Ash. In March 1992 you could wonder who was actually the bigger star, Lee Chapman, English football’s top scorer and soon to be league title winner, or Leslie Ash, the teenage star of late-seventies cult mod film Quadrophenia, whose new sitcom Men Behaving Badly concluded its first series just before United were crowned as champions. The show had an uncertain start, but after it moved from ITV to the BBC in 1994, it was for four years one of the unmissable TV shows of the mid-nineties, capturing the laddish zeitgeist of Loaded magazine, Britpop and Euro ’96.
Eventually David and Victoria Beckham took over the twin thrones of football and pop culture crossover dominance, but theirs was a millionaire world of galactico wages, high fashion, private jets and uninvadible privacy. Before them, Lee Chapman and Leslie Ash were the gritty indie band of lad-and-wag culture, Leslie’s Quadrophenia history and lager-swigging TV image in tune for an era of guitar bands and the new-lad rejection of eighties wine bar culture, while Lee — entering his post-Leeds twilight at West Ham and Ipswich — was the Lincoln lad turned top footballer who was not so talented as to be alienating, not so well paid that you wouldn’t want to buy him a pint. If the nineties had an ignition moment, two years before Oasis released Supersonic in April 1994, it was the moment in Leeds in April 1992 when the country’s top striker was congratulated on winning the league by the country’s new favourite actress.
Perhaps that embrace took place at The Flying Pizza, but by the end of the nineties, such humble entertainments weren’t what Chapman and Ash, or Leeds, were about. The end of Chapman’s career gave him free time while Ash’s profile was never higher, and as Oasis and Blur were joined by Damien Hirst and Tony Blair, they capitalised on the Cool Britannia atmosphere they embodied by opening a restaurant and private members’ club, Teatro, in Soho in 1998. By that time they’d run a bar called Barfly, and co-presented a TV programme called Dinner Dates, but Teatro was a different proposition: £1.5m was sunk into the space, Gordon Ramsay and Stuart Gillies were brought into the kitchen, while Tamzin Outhwaite, Matt Damon and Boy George were on the guest list.
Back in Yorkshire, Leeds United had struggled to recapture early-nineties glory and conceded the decade to the other side of the Pennines, where Manchester United won five league titles, and City-supporting Oasis racked up ten top-ten singles. But as the millennium approached, there were signs that Leeds United was getting its mojo back, and the city with it.
In 2000/01 Leeds United were the media’s darlings, the babies of Howard Wilkinson’s academy become Champions League stars, as first-time boss David O’Leary blended players like Alan Smith, Jonathan Woodgate and Harry Kewell with the expensive class of Mark Viduka, Olivier Dacourt and Rio Ferdinand, while David Batty, who had won the old First and Second Division titles with Chapman, ran like a solid seam of good old coal through the midfield, and the soul of the club.
When Woodgate and Lee Bowyer became embroiled in a long-running trial for their part in the brutal assault of an Asian teenager the country’s eyes turned to Leeds with a focus ready to punish, but even the journalists sent north from London on demolition trips struggled to reconcile what they found in the city with their urge to condemn. Towers were being built or rebuilt, city centre living was becoming de rigeur, the waterfront was opening up for nightlife, and youthful new shops, bars and restaurants were reflecting the confidence of the football team on the city’s streets. So enmeshed were the club and the city’s fortunes, that’s United’s charismatic chairman Peter Ridsdale, who had ousted Bill Fotherby when the club was bought by London’s Caspian group in 1996, was helping to run Leeds’ education department.
The new scene of the new millennium was enough to tempt Lee Chapman and Leslie Ash back to Leeds from London. In summer 2000 Teatro Leeds opened on Concordia Street, in a new riverside building by one of the city’s hot developers, Kevin Linfoot; a stone’s throw from the station, the main hotels (including the brand new Malmaison), and the emerging bar district on Call Lane, it was a confident statement that what worked in fashionable Soho could now work in Leeds. The debt the city owed its football team for that confidence was evident in the link between United and Teatro: Leeds Sporting, United’s owners, had a 25% stake in Ash and Chapman’s new nightspot.
“It’s certainly been regenerated since [I left United],” Chapman told the Irish Times. “There is still some way to go but when I played there no one went out in Leeds, now there is a whole new image. It’s the capital of the north, there is a lot of affluence. If anywhere is going to get close to London then it is Leeds.”
Leeds didn’t just get close to London. In the Champions League, United came within ninety minutes of a European final and the chance to make history; but crucially, the team also finished a point behind Liverpool in the Premier League, a result that denied them a return to the Champions League and its riches. Riches that United, and Peter Ridsdale in particular, had taken for granted, and without which, the bright new football club was unsustainable.
Leeds were knocked out of the Champions League on 8th May 2001; Liverpool pipped Leeds to third place on 19th May. In June, Teatro Leeds went into liquidation. It had opened a year earlier on the back of Leeds United’s ascendance; it collapsed with unsustainable debts of £1.2m, a signal of the fate that would soon consume United.
The payments for expensive players like Viduka, Dacourt and Ferdinand, even before the club added Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson, became more than the club could afford once the Champions League tap was turned off. And annual fees of £365, which members were asked to pay before buying £4.60 gin and tonics in Teatro’s private bar where mobile phones were banned and anonymity was guaranteed, were more than Leeds’ upper crust were able or willing to pay. Eight hundred people did sign up, but too few of them came twice. The one regular — Countdown presenter Richard Whiteley — was not the archetype customer Chapman and Ash would have hoped for, and made the venture a victim of the easy cloth cap stereotypes the city had seemed to have finally shaken off. Who would pay for membership at Teatro, just to drink with someone who seemed more at home at The Flying Pizza?
As there always is, there was bitterness and disagreement about the fate of Teatro Leeds. It was out of place, according to Chapman: “I am a Northern boy. I tried to bring a London concept to Leeds and the members didn’t want it,” he said; and ahead of its time, according to Ash and Whiteley. But Jill Adams, personal shopper at one of the other pillars of millennial Leeds, Harvey Nichols, objected to that view in the Evening Standard. “I know Richard and he is well out of order,” she said. “People don’t want to spend £365 a year on a club that’s not that cool — and Teatro managed to annoy a lot of influential people by not letting them in. People here will spend anything to look good or have a good time.”
A newspaper argument between a personal shopper at Harvey Nichols and Richard Whiteley off of Countdown perfectly demonstrates the city-sized personality crisis that toppled Teatro. Chapman ended up escaping a creditor’s meeting through a window to avoid photographers and retreated to London, although not from the spotlight, as he and Leslie continued to obsess the tabloids throughout the 2000s. Leeds Sporting lost £250,000 plus interest, one of an increasing number of red figures on a distressing balance sheet at Elland Road.
The site on Concordia Street did have a second act, when another £1m restaurant, Manrai, tried to retain the class of Teatro in a more relaxed, inclusive atmosphere, a concept that worked for a while until problems at sister nightclub Bambu, in York Place, led to the closure of both in May 2002. The ground floor of the building is now offices, while the upper floors house, among others, current Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino and his family.
Leeds United have continued to find glamour in more unusual places. The days of the Premier League and Champions League are far behind them, swapped for a spell in the Third Division for the first time in ninety years of history, but this time the city hasn’t waited for the football club. When American winger Robbie Rogers arrived from Columbus Crew, United were still only a second tier football club, but Robbie’s tweeted hopes about sushi and good coffee were just about met; the coffee, anyway, as he became a regular at the then relatively new Laynes Espresso on New Station Street. He’d try to get his teammates interested, but the city restaurant of choice for players like Robert Snodgrass and Adam Clayton was quite definitely Nandos.
The Flying Pizza, meanwhile, has been through its own changes. Adriano Piazzaroli stepped back from the business around the time Teatro was opening, and without his personal touch, the institution was floundering by 2011. Over the Pennines San Carlo’s Italian restaurants had become The Flying Pizza of twenty-first century Manchester, with rows of parked Range Rovers stretching from the doors to Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium, and it was the San Carlo group that bought out, rescued and renovated The Flying Pizza, reopening it as a restaurant fit for footballers.
Importantly, they kept the name: San Carlo’s Flying Pizza. Now all the city needs is a flying football team, worthy of baseball caps and a league winning pizza party, a party like we had in 1992.
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 36