Happy Birthday today to one of the real stars of a fallow period for United: Andy Ritchie, a terrific striker who – from humble beginnings – made it as a hero of the Gelderd End at the One True United.
You could say of Andy that, by the time he arrived at Elland Road, he owed us a favour or two. At the age of 18 while playing for man u, he had knocked in a hat-trick against Leeds in a 4-1 win for the Pride of Devon. Not content with such precocious achievement, he did it again the following year, this time against Spurs. Two top flight hat-tricks whilst still in your teens would seem to be a sign of real talent and the potential to succeed at the highest level – yet, in line with the brilliance of the managerial policy at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in those days, Ritchie was deemed surplus to requirements for “The Biggest Club In The Universe™”. He was surprisingly sold in 1980 to Brighton and Hove Albion – doubtless to make room for some real talent at man u – such as Garry Birtles, Alan Brazil and Peter Davenport.
At Brighton, Ritchie again showed his worth as a striker to be respected, clocking up 26 goals in 102 appearances in what was always a struggling team. Somewhat typically for his career, which turned out to be a bit of a saga of missed opportunities, he then moved on to Leeds United in 1983 in a swap deal which saw Terry Connor heading south to the Goldstone Ground. The missed opportunity in question was the 1983 FA Cup Final which saw Brighton draw 2-2 with man u at Wembley. This game was famous for the last minute of that draw, when one Gordon Smith was clean through with only Gary Bailey to beat. “And Smith must score…!” shrieked the commentator. Well, he didn’t – and Brighton let the country down by losing a replay 4-0. The incident has gone down in Brighton folklore, they even had a fanzine with the title “And Smith Must Score”. No disrespect to the hapless Gordon, but you suspect that Andy Ritchie would have scored. And how different might history have been then?
At Leeds, Ritchie settled down well and won the hearts of the fans he’d miffed with that hat-trick years earlier. He was a solid performer for United in an era when they were few and far between, leading the line well and always reliable in front of goal. He scored two hat-tricks for the club in season 1984-85, and played a prominent part too in the 1986-87 season, which saw Leeds under Billy Bremner reach the FA Cup semi-final and a Playoff Final replay, only to miss out narrowly on both fronts.
Ritchie’s career after Leeds saw him head back to lancashire, becoming a folk hero at Oldham as a player and later as manager. With Oldham, Andy at last returned to the top flight, helping keep an unfashionable and poorly-resourced club there for a respectable three years, becoming founder members of the Premier League. There was time at Oldham, too, for Ritchie to add to his unfortunate list of FA Cup near-misses.
Ritchie wound down his playing career at Scarborough, and then entered management and coaching at a number of clubs, including Oldham and Leeds United. He is currently doing some football punditry with BBC Radio Leeds – he was the summariser for the win over Middlesbrough last weekend – and his name still crops up when lower league managerial jobs are vacant.
Andy Ritchie will probably go down in history as one of Oldham Athletic’s finest ever players – but he was a significant part of a generally bleak time in Leeds’ history too and is fondly remembered as a fine striker that we should probably have done more to hang on to. Happy Birthday, Andy – thanks for some golden memories that lit up some very grey and dismal years for Leeds United.