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Walton’s combative displays that season were earning him comparisons to another former academy product, Alan Smith, especially after he had marked his maiden first-team appearance at Elland Road with a goal and red card in a friendly against reigning UEFA Cup holders Valencia.
Speaking exclusively to us, Walton admits he could hardly have experienced a more turbulent time to break into the first team.
It seems typical of English football that there is a phrase synonymous with a fall from grace – which Leeds United are attached to – but not an equivalent for a glorious rise. The squad’s most talented player, Lewis Cook, left for Bournemouth and the opportunity to play Premier League football, the pre-season schedule was hastily – some might argue shambolically – arranged, and Cellino was reportedly all set to sack Monk before an 89th-minute goal saved Leeds from being knocked out of the League Cup in only the second fixture of the season.
Monk’s arrival prompted a brief flutter of cautious optimism throughout West Yorkshire, but the current campaign started with all the hallmarks of another underwhelming nine months of, at best, stasis.
“It was quite strange for a young lad really, I was just a kid.
I managed to get in the team and stay in the team because we basically didn’t have enough numbers to train.“There was all sorts of stuff going on.
We also had the likes of Paul Butler, Neil Sullivan and Brian Deane.“It could have gone either way, but we were lucky that we had the right type of people in the squad because if not we could have gone down straight again with everything that had happened.
On the day Bates completed his purchase of a 50% stake in the club, Leeds sat 14th in the division, after a neat goal from a 17-year-old Simon Walton had earned a 1-1 draw against Cardiff City.“We lost the play-off final and then if you look at the team that started some of the games the following season, it was unrecognisable.Almost anyone that could move at the time had been sold.Some of the players who played wouldn’t have got anywhere near the squad the previous season.It was all a snowball effect from losing the final.”That snowball effect ending with Blackwell being sacked as manager, Bates entering Leeds into administration in an attempt to clear the mounting debts, and the team being relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in its history.