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Woody in the programme

Posted on 23 January 2010  - 12:00

Jonathan Woodgate looks back at his early career at Leeds United in Saturday's official matchday programme.

Woody in the programme

Jonathan Woodgate enjoyed the best part of a decade with our FA Cup opponents Leeds United and credits them for his 16-year career in the game to date, so it's not surprising that he wants to see the Elland Road side recapture their former glories.

Our 30-year-old centre-half - who celebrated his landmark birthday just yesterday - took the first formative steps on the footballing ladder when he signed schoolboy forms with Leeds as a 14-year-old, working his way through their youth system before going on to experience the highs of a Champions League semi-final with the club.

'Woody' had moved to Newcastle United by the time Leeds' decline had begun, slipping out of the Premier League in 2004 and dropping further down when they were relegated to League One three years later, but he still felt their pain.

Like everyone connected with the Whites, he was saddened too as their financial problems led to administration and the very existence of the club seemed in danger. Yet, from those troubled times has emerged a new Leeds United. Currently on an upward curve, they arrive at the Lane top of League One under the management of Simon Grayson, confidence high that they can produce another cup upset to go with their defeat of Manchester United in the third round, and Jonathan hopes these are the early days of another successful spell in the club's history.

"It's not nice to see one of the clubs you care about sliding down the leagues," he said. "But the team they've got there now is playing really well, they have some good players and hopefully they can get back to where they belong. I'm hoping they will win promotion this season and start their climb back up to the Premier League.

"I went to watch Leeds in the Championship play-off final against Watford in 2006 when they lost 3-0. I was really gutted because I thought they were going to bounce straight back into the top-flight, which would have made all the difference at the time. As it was though, by the end of the next season they were in League One and it was sad to see."

It was a mere 10 seasons ago that United battled their way into the Champions League semis, with just Spanish giants Valencia standing between them and a place in the final. They'd had an amazing campaign, beating the likes of Milan, Besiktas, Lazio, Anderlecht and Deportivo, with Woody involved in five matches, including a home draw against Barcelona and a 0-2 Elland Road defeat to Real Madird, where he would later play.

They were heady times for Leeds and Woody, who can't praise enough the education he received at the club during those early days, which gave him the grounding to be able to experience such dramatic Euro nights in Yorkshire.

"Leeds gave me the platform to make it as a footballer," he reveals. "They had a great culture in that youth set-up, with the likes of Eddie Gray and Paul Hart. They really taught you, not just how to play football but how to be a man. Without that, I wouldn't have had the career I've had. But I had such a fantastic time there and those Champions League nights were brilliant.

"The atmosphere at Elland Road was unbelievable, just fantastic occasions. All the top teams came that season and we almost went all the way. We drew at home to Valencia in the semi, but lost 3-0 in the Mestella. I was on the bench for both games but they were an amazing experience."

Read the full interview with 'Woody' in Saturday's official matchday programme.

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