Acknowledgement from David Batty is something anyone with an affection for Leeds United would want in their life, something one aspires to achieve, even.
Michael Bridges is among the few to have it and earned it in his lifetime. Now 43, the retired striker spoke to LeedsLive in 2019 all about his most famous season in United white.
For more than 10 years Bridges has been living in Australia, first at the end of his playing career and more recently as a coach. In 2019, however, he acted as a club ambassador.
Dovetailing with one of United’s former Australian players, Tony Dorigo, Bridges appeared at several functions across the week away in Perth and Sydney, entertaining fans along the way.
Undoubtedly, Bridges is best known at Elland Road for his star turn as the club’s main centre forward throughout the 99/00 campaign, during which he scored 19 goals in 34 Premiership games.
Bridges recounts how that famous campaign began with his arrival from Sunderland.
“It was a pinnacle (of my career). When I arrived, to find out Leeds were interested was for me just mind-boggling,” he told LeedsLive.
“I was blown away. I was a Sunderland reserve player playing second fiddle to Kevin Phillips. If Kev was injured I played, if he was fit, he played.
“If Niall Quinn was fit he played, and [Danny] Dichio played if he was injured. To find out Leeds were interested was just incredible.
“I could never beat the youth team when I played for Sunderland. We couldn’t beat Leeds youth team.
“[Harry] Kewell, [Stephen] McPhail, [Paul] Robinson, [Jonathan] Woodgate, Ian Harte, [Andy] Gray, it was phenomenal. So it was a no brainer and I just loved it.”
Bridges was brought into Elland Road as a replacement for the outgoing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, someone who had just finished up with 42 goals in 87 appearances.
It was a daunting prospect for a 20-year-old, who had not even been on the frontline for Sunderland for any meaningful length of time.
It was a baptism of fire and a steep learning curve for Bridges.
“I remember signing and the next day Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink left for Atletico Madrid. Big money. And I was thinking ‘holy —-.’
“The door’s open, but I hope they’re bringing somebody else in because I didn’t fancy myself.
“Honestly, because I was thinking I’m playing here with great players, the fitness, pre-season, I had to go through to get where I wanted to be.
“I was always a skinny lad, but a bit overweight in the midriff. The work with Ed Baranowski, Leeds put us through the paces pre-season.
“Fittest I’d ever been in my career. I remember [David] O’Leary saying ‘you’d better learn to swim quickly, because you’re our number nine.'”
Bridges quickly learned how much time the Whites faithful was willing to give players in attack, something which Patrick Bamford also had to come through when he first arrived.
“First game came, Derby County, 0-0 at home, I heard the fans going ‘who the hell is this, he’s —–. Five-and-a-half million for this piece of —-.’
“So it was tough, the first game and I’m walking off there thinking ‘my God I don’t belong here’. It was a horrible game, I’ll never forget.”
The second game came on this day in 1999, at Southampton’s The Dell, away from the heat of Elland Road and the rest, as Bridges says, was history.
“You feel the pressure. The second game was away to Southampton and I didn’t feel that pressure I felt at home and I scored a lobbed ball from the free-kick and I just felt unbelievable,” he said.
“The feeling I got when I relaxed and then to go and score another two that game, I’ll never forget.
“I was —- scared of David Batty. Didn’t quite speak to him very much because I didn’t have the confidence to go and have a chat even though he’s a lovely man.
“And it wasn’t until after that game I felt like I belonged. All the boys signed the football, gave us the football and Batts come over and said ‘you’re one of us now, you’re a mighty White.’
“He said ‘now you know how it feels, you’ll feel the crowd get behind you now.’ And the whole season was just an absolutely unbelievable feeling.
“I felt like I was going to go into every game and score and it wasn’t just the ability to score goals and have the confidence to shoot from anywhere, I was playing with a bloody good team.
“We were all young and fit and we ran a lot of teams off the park. I look back and that’s definitely the fondest moment of my footballing career that season because on a personal level it was incredible.
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“At the end of the season I looked back, I don’t think I’ve seen it ever since. Harry Kewell won the PFA Player of the Year (he was third behind Roy Keane and Phillips) and there was a number of us involved in that, but the PFA Young Player of the Year was Harry Kewell, Lee Bowyer, Michael Bridges and Alan Smith.
“Out of the top five, it was just incredible. So that was a special moment.”