Many Happy Returns to David Batty, who celebrates his 45th birthday today and who is fondly remembered by his fans as one of Leeds United’s very favourite sons of the recent past. Batts was the archetypal Yorkshire Terrier of a midfielder, snapping away in the tussle for possession of the ball, exploiting seemingly endless reserves of energy as he harried his opponents, closing down and chasing – and when he got the ball, he could certainly use it too. Best remembered for those ferocious challenges, Batty was no mean interceptor of the ball either, and I well remember one time when he nipped in to take the ball neatly off the toes of an opponent, sliding it first time to a White shirt in the enemy area to set up another goal for Leeds. The creative side of his game was frequently under-estimated by those who saw him as merely a demolition man, but his fellow pros knew better. Batts commanded respect for his technical ability as much as the granite-hardness of his approach to the game.
It has to be said that goals weren’t exactly David’s business, although he had a ferocious shot on him with the ability to strike the ball cleanly – “pinging it” as they say in the game. This talent was sadly seen most often on the training ground, but occasionally he’d catch one in a real game – and when he hit the ball properly, it stayed hit.
The goal I best remember him for was not a spectacular strike, nor did it involve him in an Eddie Gray-style mazy dribble through bewildered opposition defenders. But it was nonetheless memorable when it happened, because it came at the end of an epic goal drought that had lasted fully four seasons since his last goal for Leeds, ironically against the same opposition in Manchester City. This gave rise to my favourite Batts quote: “I don’t score many,” he remarked laconically, “but against Man City, I’m prolific.”
The goal that broke the drought saw possibly the wildest celebration for any one goal at Elland Road for many years – with the possible exception of Gordon Strachan’s fabulous and crucial strike against Leicester City in the promotion run-in of 1990. Even then, Strachan’s goal did not carry the injury toll of Batty’s, the celebration of which reputedly caused broken ankles and concussions as the Gelderd End completely lost its collective head in disbelief. It was simply enough executed: Strachan on the right played a short pass inside to Batty, who was probably only in the area because we were already comfortably in front – and he took one touch to control before finishing clinically to take the roof off the stadium.
The man himself remarked afterwards that he was taken aback at the sheer intensity of the celebrations – he was mildly chuffed to have scored, of course, but the joy of the Kopites at seeing their long wait ended and their local hero get one at last – it was something to behold. It’s worth a moment or two to watch it again – click here to do just that. Tony Dorigo’s sumptuous connection on the half-volley for a top-class, top-corner first goal is almost forgotten now, but in any other context we’d still be raving about it. Just look at the crowd behind the goal when Batty’s effort goes in – no wonder there were injuries, and yet you can bet that the afflicted weren’t feeling any pain. Happy memories.
Batts went on to serve with distinction at Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United after leaving Elland Road; under the misguided transfer policy of the time we replaced him, in effect, with Carlton Palmer – not the best deal ever done. He came back eventually of course. It’s widely-known that towards the end of his Newcastle days his team-mates there would point at Elland Road as the coach passed by on the way back to the frozen north, and ask Batts when he was off “home”. It didn’t last long enough, but it felt good to have the prodigal return.
Happy Birthday, Batts and thanks for the memories of a local lad who made good and wore the colours of Leeds United with pride and passion – a top professional and a Leeds legend.