A slightly belated “Happy Birthday” to newly-53 year old John Lukic, the only goalkeeper to win the League Title with two different clubs and a man who is frequently (and wrongly) cited as a survivor of the Munich Air Disaster whilst still in his mother’s womb.
To clear up that particular urban myth first, the story goes that John’s mum was a passenger on the ill-fated plane that crashed on take-off at Munich Airport, killing several of the legendary Busby Babes. It’s a simple story to dismiss, as the date of the crash was 6th February 1958, almost three years before the birth of our erstwhile custodian. Even if Mrs Lukic had been an elephant, the dates wouldn’t add up – as their gestation period is two years, and they’re not allowed in a passenger compartment anyway.
So John’s earliest possible claim to fame turns out to be so much hot air – but he did manage to create a few notable records in a long and successful career, consisting of two separate spells at both Leeds United and Arsenal. Lukic made his debut for Leeds in 1979 and played on until the age of almost 40, making his last appearance in his second spell at Arsenal on 11 November 2000 against Derby – he kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw. This also makes Lukic one of only a very few players to have appeared in the top flight of English football in four consecutive decades. In between 1979 and 2000, he won two league title medals, and also a winner’s gong in the Football League Cup of 1987, when Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 (becoming the first side to defeat Liverpool when Ian Rush had scored).
As with any goalkeeper, the odd mistake got a lot more coverage than the consistently good performances over many years – and the mistakes tend to be better remembered, too. So it is that some Leeds fans can’t forget or forgive instances like the “blinded by the floodlights” goal at Ibrox in 1992, when playing for Leeds against Rangers in the European Cup. But Leeds owed Lukic much over the years, for the games he saved and the points he earned. A high point was his performance at Anfield in the latter stages of the 1991-92 season, when a series of fabulous saves preserved a vital point for United on the run-in to the league title. Lukic had, of course, also figured in the last match of the season at Anfield when Arsenal triumphed by the required score of 2-0 to take the Championship Crown by the narrowest possible margin.
John must go down as one of United’s great goalkeepers, if only for the fact that he was the last line of defence in a team of Champions. He had the dubious honour of being replaced at Arsenal by David Seaman, who had been his understudy at Leeds before being almost given away to Peterborough for a paltry £5,000. When Seaman arrived at Arsenal for a seven figure fee, Lukic returned to Leeds for almost as much; rarely can one man have shuttled so often between only two clubs and still had such success.
Happy birthday then, to John Lukic, revered at two great clubs and unlucky to have been around when England were blessed with such quality in the goalkeeping department. Some say he was the best never to play for England, which is an accolade of sorts. Others cruelly dubbed him “Blind John” in the wake of a high-profile error. But he served his clubs and his fans well and is assured of a place in the history of both Arsenal and Leeds United. And that’s not a bad bottom line to any football career.