Walking out to Marching on Together in my first game, following in the footsteps of some of the greatest managers in the history of British football and getting the ovation I did was incredible. Sitting in the dugout, I had to keep pinching myself.
Was this actually happening?
On the training ground, we carried on working with the attackers. With time, they flourished. The defenders started to enjoy themselves more on the ball, too. Players had a freedom to express themselves that they may not have had before.
And with that freedom came results.
In my first season with Leeds we made the playoffs. The next season we achieved the club’s best ever start.
Then, a defining moment: Manchester United away in the third round of the FA Cup.
We’d struggled past Kettering Town in the previous round, requiring a replay and extra-time to put the game to bed.
And yet, within the group, there was a genuine belief that we could beat Premier League champions Manchester United.
“If you ever get into a situation where you think you’ve cracked it then you can easily come unstuck”
“If you can do something today, you’ll be remembered forever in Leeds United folklore,” I told them. “You might never have another opportunity to play against Manchester United, so give everything. If it doesn’t work out, then at least you can have no regrets.”
Nobody gave us a chance. We were just a League One team.
We set up in our usual 4-4-2. Four central midfielders played across the middle of the park to keep us narrow. We knew we had to keep our structure and be hard to beat, defend well, then enjoy possession when we got the ball. You can’t just give the ball away cheaply and keep inviting pressure.
Everyone had to do their job.
We got an early goal and then didn’t sit back.
When the final whistle blew, Sir Alex Ferguson congratulated us. In his office after the match, he told me that we deserved to win the game.
There was no greater compliment.
And there was no better opportunity to learn. I picked Sir Alex’s brains and made sure I took his advice. As a manager you’ve always got to be open to new ideas and seek out advice from others.