Leeds and he knows he is: local boy Jonny
Tonight sees the first return to Elland Road of prodigal son Jonny Howson, now of Norwich City. Roll out the red carpet, sound the welcoming herald and kill the fatted calf for, lo, he that was lost is returned to us, albeit temporarily – and under an enemy banner.
Actually, we might have to amend these tributes, but only slightly. After all, we’ve lost a lot of prodigals over the past few years at Leeds United and, if we hang out the bunting every time one of them shows up back at the old homestead, it’ll be a bit of a strain on that emaciated post-Living-the-Dream budget. The red carpet’s a bit tatty from that time Uncle Ken used it to protect the tiles when he was having CCTV installed in the bogs. And we’re fresh out of fatted calves. We did have a fatted goalkeeper, but sadly he was cast out into the wilderness (transferred to Ipswich Town).
So it might be a case of “modified rapture” when Jonny comes marching home – especially if he forgets his manners and scores the winner – but, nevertheless, this blog would like to think there’ll be a warm LS11 welcome in store for our former hero. By your deeds shall ye be judged – and Mr. Howson did manage a few notable deeds during the time he graced the iconic White shirt.
Chief among these examples of unforgettable derring-do is, of course, the Howson Howitzer that broke the resistance of Bristol Rovers‘ embattled XI as the ten men of Leeds laid siege to their goal in an attempt to get out of a promotion-threatening emergency. 0-1 down and needing the win to climb out of third-tier purgatory, Leeds were becoming desperate when Jonny, our steely-eyed and über-cool marksman, fastened on to a ball laid back to him outside the box and simply lashed it into the Kop End net. The sonic boom of joy and relief fair sent the terrified Rovers into panicky disorder; they were softened up for the kill which Jermaine duly delivered – and we were up.
Then, of course, there was that laser-accurate long pass at the Theatre of Hollow Myths for that same Jermaine to roll the ball in at the Beckford End and send the Pride of Devon, tantrums and all, spinning out of the FA Cup. And there was his late and massively timely strike at Carlisle to secure us one of our doomed Wembley play-off occasions. For a young, local lad, Jonny Howson made a mark on Leeds United history of almost Batty-esque proportions – and there can be little higher praise for a born and bred White than that ever so slightly exaggerated accolade.
So, tonight – at last – Jonny is back at his spiritual home Elland Road. It’s a place printed into his DNA and somewhere I’m convinced – if we ever rid ourselves of fools, incompetents and charlatans – he will one day return to stay. The manner of his leaving does not weigh against the lad; in football, once “your” club has shown willing to lose you, there’s little point hanging around. Like a good pro, he went off to distinguish himself in a Premier League midfield; he went where the ambition and desire was, and away from the decay and complacency which pervaded – still pervades – Leeds United. Who can seriously blame him for that?
In the context of the 21st Century, Jonny Howson is a United Legend – not least for the moments recalled above, among many others. But he’s a legend too because, while he was with us, he epitomised what the spirit of United could and should be about. A Leeds heart beat proudly under that Leeds badge and it showed – in his general play and in his delightful knack of popping up when most needed, to strike decisively and turn the game Leeds’ way.
One of my favourite memories of Jonny was a game at Scunthorpe when he struck what I still think of as the best example of the “perfect hat-trick” I’ve ever seen. A clean strike with either foot for two of the goals; the other a brilliant header. It meant little in the grand scheme of things, but it was a Leeds United youth product saying boldly: here I am, in the shirt I love, and this is what I can do. Sadly, Leeds didn’t appreciate what they had and, along with several other diamonds, Jonny left to glitter elsewhere.
I hope he gets his due from the Elland Road crowd tonight. Under his pro’s facade, Howson will still care about what’s happening at Leeds – he’ll still hurt at what’s happening to Leeds. It won’t distract him in the slightest from his job this evening – but deep down, Jonny is still Leeds – and he knows he is.
With our cheers and applause tonight for a departed hero – let’s show him that we know it too.