Daily Archives: 17/01/2014

Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd Legend Eddie “The Last Waltz” Gray – by Rob Atkinson

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

A dapper Eddie pictured in front of a dapper, all-standing Kop

It’s “Legends Birthday Time” again, and today we celebrate the 66th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edwin “The Last Waltz” Gray, genius winger, loyal Leeds man through and through and thoroughly bloody nice bloke, as Tim Nice-But-Dim might say – only this time, he’d be spot on.  It was Don Revie who once said of Eddie “If that lad hadn’t pulled a muscle, nobody would ever have heard of George Best”. That’s certainly fulsome praise and a hell of a tribute to a lavishly talented player, surely one of the very best ever to pull on a Leeds United shirt.

The memories of Eddie are many, mainly as that gifted player who would torture full-backs with a genial smile on his face, but also as a manager at Leeds, in charge of a precociously gifted set of youngsters who could have gone far with just that little bit of extra investment – sound familiar? Eddie has also served his time as a pundit, commenting on the latter-day performances of his beloved Leeds United, always straining so hard for impartiality and endeavouring to avoid accusations of bias – indeed, some out here sometimes feel he tries a little too hard in this respect.  But I’ve had the honour of meeting the man a few times, and one of these was on the commentary gantry at Elland Road – when he was preoccupied by the need to find me a chair to sit on, much to my bemused delight – so I’m well aware of Eddie’s professionalism as a broadcaster, just as was the case in his days as a player, manager and most recently as the coach in those promising early David O’Leary days.

It is, of course, as a player that Eddie will best be remembered and revered by Leeds United fans of all ages.  Those who weren’t lucky enough to see him play in person may well have thrilled to video footage of his bravura performance in the 1970 FA Cup Final when, on an absolute pig of a pitch chopped-up by the Horse of the Year Show, he put in one of his greatest and most tantalising displays of sorcery out wide, reducing David Webb to a gibbering shadow of his normally efficient self.  Legend has it that Webb eventually had to be taken off with severe vapours and twisted blood – sadly he was to have his revenge in a replay gifted to Chelsea by the inevitable Sprake big-match cock-up.

Another vivid memory is of Eddie’s bewitching dance through the Burnley defence in a league match at Elland Road, when he took on and beat opponents just as he pleased before drilling a sublime near-post finish past a bewildered Peter Mellor in the Dingles goal.  It is this match that brings out Mr Gray’s slight perverse streak; he scored two that day and he always insists that it’s the other goal – a superbly-judged 35 yard lob at the Gelderd End – which he remembers as his best.  But nobody who has seen the way he destroyed a top class defence with that mazy run, will ever forget it.  It was a bit like the famous Ricky Villa goal for Spurs at Wembley – except much better.

More generally, it’s the characteristic hunched shape of Eddie Gray that you remember – never totally reliant on speed, he would beat his man with pure skill, manifesting itself in a variety of tricks, shuffles, stepovers and other sundry pieces of magic. His long-term thigh injury, sustained as a mere youngster, led him to rely far more on technique than pace and mobility, although he was no laggard either. But such were his sublime skills that he stands as possibly the last great example of the old-fashioned tricky winger, a man who could play an entire top-flight defence as a toreador plays a bull, a player of prodigious style, skill and elan.

Mere words cannot, of course, do justice to Eddie Gray the player or Eddie Gray the man.  Leeds United have been privileged by the service and unstinting support of both, and they have not always played fair by him in his various roles at the club.  But Eddie Gray’s place in the Elland Road Hall of Fame is as secure as that of any other Legend in the whole history of the club; he is synonymous with Leeds, which is after all the place he has lived and worked for most of his life since the age of 15 – not that anyone could guess this whilst trying to understand his impenetrably Scottish accent.

It was my pleasure and privilege to watch Eddie Gray weave his magic for Leeds United many times between 1975 and the end of his playing days, by which time he had become a cultured full-back who also managed the team.  His long and illustrious career gives the lie to Brian Clough’s infamous remark that, had he been a racehorse, he’d have been shot – a jibe at that long-standing injury.  This was surely the most oafish remark that Clough – a quite legendary oaf – ever made.  Even Gray, that most mild-mannered of men, took exception – reminding Clough, who was his manager at the time, that his own career was ended by injury and that he should, therefore, know better than to say anything so crass.  I’d have given plenty to see Old Big’ead’s face when that shot went home.

Eddie Gray – genius, magician, legend – and not least of these attributes, the nicest guy you could wish to meet.  Happy Birthday, Eddie, and many, many happy returns.

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Leeds United Manager’s Position: Stick or Twist? Have Your Say Now – by Rob Atkinson

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Leeds boss Brian McDermott – Yea or Nay?

Several recent articles on this blog have attracted a gratifying level of comment, with the usual mix of intelligent insight, passionate opinion and a smattering of the frankly bizarre.  These are the contributions that survived moderation, you understand – I do receive a lot of material from people who evidently hate everything about this blog and yet paradoxically cannot resist reading every syllable and then sending an abusive rant which they must know will never see the light of day.  Well, it takes all sorts…

One of the more recent themes has been a small but significant number of people who would clearly be glad to see Brian McDermott replaced.  This category of contributor appears disillusioned with BMac’s tactics, substitutions, recruitment policy – one irate individual even had a crack at his specs.  The recent availability of Malky Mackay, following his idiotic sacking by Cardiff City despot Vincent Tan, has also clearly had an unsettling effect.  Some would evidently be in favour of shipping Brian out to tempt Mackay in, which I suppose is a predictable reaction given the success the Scot enjoyed at Cardiff, before that club went mad.

This blog remains solidly behind Brian McDermott as boss, largely because the main things missing from our club over the past decade or so have been stability and continuity – some sort of consistent thread running through the shifting fabric of the club as it has experienced an era of volatility and change.  The change appears likely to carry on apace, which to my mind makes an even more persuasive case for retaining the services of this one man, identifiable with the team he is building and able to demonstrate a quiet sort of passion and determination to restore Leeds United to something more nearly approaching their natural level in the game.  Brian has been in the press himself in the last day or so, expressing his hope that he will be granted the time to undertake what is a massive task – and re-emphasising his own belief that he can deliver the goods, if properly backed with investment and patience.  In my view, he’s the best chance we have, and I do hope that the owners – whoever they end up being – will be able to resist the “new broom sweeps clean” approach and stick with the steady hand currently at the helm.

However, it is undeniable that many do not agree with this stance, so I would like to ask a simple question with only two possible answers: Stick with Brian, or look elsewhere?   

It would be all too easy to cite the case of a certain Glaswegian manager who took on the job of managing a certain club not too far from Manchester in the mid-eighties.  Although he eventually carried all before him, his first few years were uncomfortable to say the least, with that giant of a club finishing in the lower half of the table for three out of the first four seasons.  And yet I don’t think that case is analogous at all; the era of success eventually ushered in over on the wrong side of the Pennines had as much to do with the intimidating nature of the Glaswegian concerned as it did with his managerial ability or the time he was afforded.  The fact that an Australian tycoon bought the game and gift-wrapped it for this particular club had a lot to do with it too.  No, Brian’s case makes itself; he is of proven ability, he clearly wants to succeed and has a massive self-belief – and given the time and the budget, it would (in my opinion) be foolish to bet against him.  He’s the type of man who can rally support and inspire loyalty – but it’s undeniable that this past few weeks have been a very sticky time for him, and this dodgy patch has solidified a body of protest against the way he is doing his job.

So please, have your say – it’s just a matter of choosing one or other of two choices.  Any more detailed opinions can be submitted in the usual way – but I would ask contributors to this article to make sure that they have cast their vote in the poll below.  After a week or so, we’ll see what the numbers say, take a few of the more expressive comments on board – and maybe we can then have a more detailed debate about what’s best for the future of Leeds United.

I’ve made my opinion quite clear, but it’s all about diversity of opinion, so let’s have your agreement or disagreement registered.  Whatever anybody thinks, subject to the usual standards, their voice can be heard here; let’s see who feels strongly either way, without worrying too much about a party line, or what anybody else thinks.  We’re all entitled to have an opinion about what’s best for the club.  And – we’re all Leeds, aren’t we?

Many thanks

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