TODAY marks a notorious milestone in the recent history of Leeds United, the first anniversary of the official unveiling of former head coach David Hockaday.
It was on June 19, 2014 that the little-known ex-Forest Green manager and Watford coach was named as the new head coach at Leeds – to the shock and ridicule of many sections of the national media and United’s vast fanbase.
Owner Massimo Cellino had held a lengthy meeting with Hockaday at a hotel in London, although it is thought that excessive compensation demands involved in luring Reading coach Eamonn Dolan to Leeds made him turn to Hockaday.
Hockaday’s only frontline spell in management had arrived in non-league circles at Forest Green, although he had previously coached at Watford and as youth coach at Southampton.
His stint at Rovers ended unceremoniously when he left by mutual consent in October 2013 after a poor run of results and he was out of the game for eight months before being handed the head coach role at Leeds.
Hockaday arrived at Elland Road with one-time Bradford and Gillingham coach Junior Lewis as his assistant, with Lewis having latterly worked at non-league Hendon.
At that introductory press conference, Cellino famously sat centre stage, flanked by Hockaday and Lewis, at the unveiling in the East Stand – speaking for almost four minutes before Hockaday spoke.
When he eventually got his turn, Hockaday, 56, somewhat surprisingly said that he wasn’t shocked to be approached by Leeds, while insisting that he would have autonomy over team selection.
He said: “I wasn’t surprised to get the call because I’ve talked to lots of people and when I met the president we talked and it was very obvious he knew what he was talking about.
“I played for 20 years in over 650 senior games, I’ve coached at every level in every league, from the Premier League to the Conference.
“I’ve come here to work hard, I’ve come here to coach and improve. That’s what I do and that’s what I will do. I’ve been given a great opportunity. I’ve got a great work ethic and I’m going to work hard.”
Hockaday spoke endlessly about work ethic in his pronouncements at his unveiling to the press and famously said that he would make Leeds ‘the fittest team in the league.’
The north-easterner did somewhat succinctly state that he wouldn’t be judged on soundbytes or what he said, but results. And so it proved.
A training camp in northern Italy followed for Leeds players to ingratiate themselves with Hockaday and Lewis, with Hockaday’s first appointment at Elland Road being a friendly win over Dundee United at the end of the close-season.
Pre-season was decidedly mixed, with Hockaday and Leeds receiving an early wake-up call in a 2-0 loss at Mansfield before a 2-2 draw at Chesterfield and a 2-1 success at Hockaday’s former club Swindon – before signing off with another victory against Dundee United.
The real stuff started in the lion’s den against Millwall when goals from Mark Beevers and Shane Williams gave the hosts a 2-0 victory against one of their traditional rivals – on a day when Marco Silvestri, Souleymane Doukara and Nicky Ajose made their debuts for Leeds.
Doukara struck twice as Leeds edged out Accrington 2-1 in Hockaday’s first official appointment at Elland Road in the Capital One Cup and things got better for Sedgefield-born Hockaday with a fortuitous 1-0 victory on August 16 over the team who he used to watch in the seventies at their old Ayresome Park home – Middlesbrough.
A late debut goal from new signing Billy Sharp, who netted the rebound after a mistake by Boro Tomas Mejias secured three points for Leeds – and ultimately proved the only league win under Hockaday’s command.
Brighton pretty much played Leeds off the park in a 2-0 win over Brighton at Elland Road three days later before United suffered a thumping 4-1 loss at Hockaday’s old club Watford on August 23, which infuriated Cellino – although the brainless dismissal of Guiseppe Bellusci hardly helped matters for the United head coach.
Speculation was rife that Cellino would sack Hockaday after that showing in Hertfordshire and showed just why the Italian was nick-named the manager-eater in his homeland – during his time at Cagliari, he had 36 coaches in 22 years.
At one point, it appeared that Hockaday’s time was at an end that weekend, but Cellino, in a surprise change of heart, following some reflection, granted Hockaday more time.
Most felt that the writing was on the wall and the stay of execution was brief.
The axe fell shortly after Leeds’ 2-1 Capital One Cup loss at West Yorkshire neighbours Bradford City on August 27, who scored twice late on after Leeds shrugged off the first-half loss of Luke Murphy for a reckless tackle to take the lead through Matt Smith.
But goals from Billy Knott and James Hanson earned City a first win over Leeds at Valley Parade since 1932, with Hockaday looking an increasingly isolated figure took on the touchline next to the dug-out.
The end was swift with Hockaday axed the next day after just six games in charge to end a brief 70-day spell at Leeds, an eternity compared to his next full-time successor Darko Milanic.
On the sacking, Cellino said: “I’d like to thank David for his efforts over the last two and a half months.
“But the results since the start of the season have meant we needed to act and make this decision.
“After the defeat at Bradford I realised that my decision to keep David at the club following the defeat at Watford was wrong, and I had to change my mind on the coach’s position.
Hockaday, after a brief spell back in the non-league at Swindon Supermarine, was appointed as the professional development coach at Coventry in February.