Tag Archives: birthday

A Merry Leeds Utd Christmas And a Double Birthday Bonus – by Rob Atkinson

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Merry Christmas from The Best English Club Team Ever

First things first; a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Greetings to all readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. I hope that you’re having a great day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Many of us will already be focusing on tomorrow’s live TV date at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, the victims of an outstanding home performance from United earlier this season, when we recorded a 5-0 win, Pierre-Michel Lasogga scoring a rather lovely brace.

On Christmas Day it’s always worth sparing a thought or two for those unfortunates who share their birthday with a world-wide splurge of significant consumerism and therefore rather disappear into the background when it comes to celebrating their own special personal anniversary. Still, they’ve never known any different – and they’ve only got their parents to blame for being bored, cold, or just plain randy the March before. We have two of these Christmas Birthday sideshows in Leeds United‘s recent history, two midfielders who, each in his own way, made telling contributions to our last two Championship titles, one of the second division and the other of the entire Football League itself.

Chris Kamara

Chris Kamara

First then, a Happy Birthday to Chris Kamara, who is better known these days for his Lionel Richie tribute act as he banters his way through various Sky TV football shows, not least Soccer Saturday where he crops up every two minutes to utter the immortal words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” Unbelievable it certainly is that Kammy is actually 60 today, and you have to say he’s taken damned good care of himself. He still looks fit enough to play, and the memories are vivid of the days in which he used to strike fear into opposition hearts wearing the white shirt of Leeds United. Kammy it was who, famously, bent an outside of the foot pass into the run of the late great Gary Speed for the youngster to get the fourth against Sheffield United as we stamped our authority on the promotion race of 1990. Kamara’s contribution that season was a highly positive influence in midfield, breaking up play, finding a fellow United man with accurate passes and cropping up with the odd goal. As with all of those heroes who ended the Eighties Exile, Kammy is a true Leeds Legend.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

Today’s other birthday celebrant is Gary McAllister. Gary first came to my notice as I stood on the Kop watching Leeds play Leicester City in a vital promotion game in that 1989/90 season. We were 1-0 up through Mel Sterland‘s powerful cross shot, when McAllister decided to do his best to ruin things. First he blasted home a terrific equaliser that left Elland Road stunned – then he threatened to inflict further damage, hitting a shot of equal brilliance which – fortunately – thudded against the woodwork, leaving us weak with relief. Leeds won eventually through Gordon Strachan‘s legendary strike near the end (Have you ever seen a better goal?  Or one better timed??) – but Gary McAllister had single-handedly come close to shattering our hopes and destroying our season. As I gazed balefully at his departing back, I hoped it would be a while before we saw him again.

History tells us, of course, that Gary Mac went on to become one of the greatest Leeds United midfielders of all, in one of the game’s truly great midfield quartets, the legendary Fantastic Four of Strachan, Macca, Batty and Speed. It’s also worth remembering that he turned down a move to Clough’s Notts Forest in favour of joining Wilko’s Leeds revolution. The memories are many of Gary’s superbly-struck goals and fine performances in a Leeds shirt. He went on to serve Liverpool with equal distinction, as well as starring for Scotland, before returning to Elland Road for an initially-promising stint as manager. Sadly, labouring under the merciless regime of Bates, Gary’s spell in charge of Leeds was not to be a success – but his place in the United Hall of Fame is assured.

Gary is 53 today and is now involved in media work connected to football after several unsuccessful attempts to return to football management. Surely, he still has much to offer – although I’d have willingly seen him far from Elland Road on that day we played Leicester City with so much at stake, Gary has proved himself to be one of the game’s nice guys. Always a professional down to his toes, he had to overcome personal tragedy with the loss of his wife Denise to cancer in 2006. In an age when there are so many in the game who are impossible to admire, it’s sad that a man like McAllister is not more involved.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to our two midfield legends – and Seasonal Greetings to everybody.  Cheers!

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Leeds United Legend Norman Hunter Inducted Into Football’s Hall of Fame  –  by Rob Atkinson

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Norman on the ball, his latest victim wondering what hit him

One of Don Revie’s undoubted greats celebrates a long overdue honour next week (October 14th), with Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter finally and deservedly entering Football’s exclusive Hall of Fame – the ultimate mark of respect.

Norm has made a few marks himself over the years, plying his trade, as he did, in an era when no quarter was asked or given. Tackles were many and varied back then, ranging from the merely severe to bordering on the psychotic; yet whinges and tantrums were few and far between. It was a man’s game in those days, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale would have been contemptuously dismissed as hysterical fairies.

Norman’s lethal approach to the art of tackling was legendary, and yet he had the respect of his peers, noted for the quality of his left foot as well as for his utter ruthlessness. No mere clogger of a hard man was Our Norm. No Peter Storey he. If it hadn’t have been for the incomparable Bobby Moore, Hunter would have won many more than his eventual 28 England caps. As it was, he was a member of the victorious 1966 World Cup squad, as well as the one somewhat unluckily knocked out of the next tournament in Mexico 1970. He finished with 2 goals for England and, eventually, a World Cup Winner’s medal. To be an Englishman with one of those, you have to be getting on a bit – but it’s good to see a Whites legend still accruing honours well into his seventies.

Norman’s prowess as a tackler and ball-winner tended to mask his enormous skill in the distribution of the ball after it was won. He would be self-deprecating at times, saying his job was to take the ball off the opposition and give it to one of his own side who could play – a Bremner or a Giles, perhaps. Well, they certainly could play – you didn’t take the field for Revie’s Super Leeds if you were anything but an accomplished footballer. But Hunter was no slouch, despite that smiling modesty. Norman’s ability was recognised by his fellow PFA members when he was elected Players’ Player of the Year in 1974. By this time, the legendary “Bites Yer Legs” nickname was spoken with affectionate respect; the professionals knew class when they saw it – and Norman had absolutely oodles of class.

He would overstep the mark at times, but no more so than the other quite lovable hard men of the time, the Tommy Smiths and Nobby Stiles, even the likes of Ron “Chopper” Harris at Chelsea. Norman’s trademark angelic pose when whistled for an agricultural foul involved backing away slightly, hands behind back, apologetic smile fixed broadly across his face as the referee berated him.  It was hard not to like Norman.

He was every bit as likeable in his more recent incarnation as match summariser on Radio Leeds. He plainly still loves Leeds United – it was always “we” and “us”, spoken in that pleasant County Durham accent – Norman is , after all, the Gateshead lad who gave his heart and soul to Leeds United. On the radio, he talked sense and didn’t neglect his duty to criticise when necessary, but his support for the Whites always shone through, and for me he was the very best of the old guard for that radio role, his delivery easy on the ear, his opinions commanding respect.

Of course, he will always be regarded first and foremost, by friend and foe alike, as the classic 1960s and 70s killing machine, a combine harvester of a player who would go for the ball and take whatever else was there too.  This was the sort of man around whom legends sprang up. The classic story about him goes that he once arrived home with a bruised and bloody leg to find his wife horrified. “Nasty, isn’t it?” grinned Norm. “You’re not kidding,” agreed his ashen wife. “Whose is it?”

Every generation bemoans the lack of characters in modern-day football. It’s a sign of growing older; it’s one of those things your Dad did and you swore you never would. But sometimes you wonder if it isn’t true, now, more than perhaps it was in earlier times. You look around now for the villains with the charming smiles, like Norman of Leeds, and you just find anonymous terminators who all look alike. When you consider the likes of Big Norm, or Jack Charlton, Tommy Smith, Dave Mackay, Nobby Stiles and so on and so forth, it’s very tempting to say – if only to your ageing self – “They don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Congratulations, Norman. It was a pleasure and an honour to watch you play the game, even if occasionally it was through our fingers as we witnessed you sail into another sliding challenge, leaving ball, opponent and a few yards of rolled-up turf in your mighty wake. It’s a lost art these days, sadly. The game has changed, but probably not for the better. We shall not, I’m afraid, look upon your like again.  Have a great celebration of your long overdue recognition – and thank you for being one of my heroes.

EXCLUSIVE: New Toure Contract as City Say “Sorry, Yaya” – by Rob Atkinson

Touré in an incredible sulk

Touré in an incredible sulk

Desperate to deflect attention from talk of a sensational move for Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Touré from Manchester City to Leeds United, the English champions have taken the unprecedented step of revealing proposed contract details to Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything”.

In a move calculated to appease their traumatised star, Manchester City have drawn up a new contract for Yaya Touré. The midfield powerhouse had been “hurt” by the club’s failure to say “Happy Birthday” as he celebrated that milestone 31st year. Touré, it is said, was grievously offended by the lack of respect, cake and a bouncy castle to mark such an important anniversary.

Anxious to placate their iconic superstar the Champions have moved fast to put together a new package which should keep Touré at the Etihad until he grows up. Despite hints from the player’s agent, Dimitri “Meerkat” Seluk, that his client might pout, cry and storm out of City, slamming the door, the club itself is guardedly optimistic that the new deal will be a tantrum-breaker.

The details of the proposed 4 year agreement are as follows:

  • £350,000 a week basic salary plus bonuses and a sweets allowance
  • Staff and players to line up before training and applaud Yaya every morning as he dons his personal training bib
  • Yaya to be wished a very happy birthday by all club employees by 8am on the morning of next and subsequent birthdays for term of contract – cake to be agreed year on year
  • Jelly and ice cream to be provided by club on Yaya’s birthday.  And balloons
  • Special Christmas “Santa” Clause:  Christmas will be marked by a special, gift-packed Christmas Stocking, to be left on the foot of his bed while he’s asleep by the manager dressed in a blue Father Xmas outfit. Christmas presents to be left under Yaya’s personal Christmas Tree at the Etihad, and staff will gather to watch him open them.  Christmas dinner will be turkey dinosaurs
  • Yaya will train as and when he sees fit, for which consideration he agrees not to have a tantrum or flounce out.  Training can be missed on any given morning upon receipt of a note from his mum

The new contract will remain on the table for the time being, as Yaya is off out to play with his mates in Brazil.  In the period before the contract is signed, all parties accept that Yaya will continue his present sulk, and that he will be pampered and cajoled as required until he is ready to be a good boy and sign on the dotted line.

Yaya Touré is 31 years and one week old.

 

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.

Happy 49th Birthday to Leeds Legend Vinnie Jones – by Rob Atkinson

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‘Aaaaaaave it!!!!!

Happy Birthday today to former Leeds United star Vinnie Jones, who revealed recently that he has had several small tumours removed since being diagnosed with melanoma – the most potentially serious form of skin cancer.  Jones, an integral part of Leeds’ 1990 promotion squad, initially discovered a small lump underneath his eye back in February, but had thought it was simply “a blackhead or a wart”.  However, a check-up revealed the seriousness of the situation. Jones at first feared for his life, but swiftly resolved to fight “with everything I’ve got”.  Melanoma kills some 1,300 men and 900 women every year, but is treatable if caught early enough.

If anyone is equipped for battle against such an insidious disease, it’s our Vinnie.  Nobody in the whole club at the time of that Leeds United promotion campaign epitomised guts and drive, as well as sheer fist-clenched, vein-throbbing commitment and fight, better than Mr Vincent Peter Jones.  His influence on the club, his rapport with the fans and his driving, compelling example on the field must make him one of the best transfer bargains in United’s history.  And yet at the time he was signed it was, if not a shock, then at least a major surprise – and not in a particularly good way.

I’d been aware of Vinnie, of course – who hadn’t?  His Crazy Gang antics were legendary and he’d lifted the FA Cup, but he was regarded as a maverick – still more hod-carrier than footballer, famous for a ten-second dismissal and for his promise to Kenny Dalglish before the 1988 Cup Final against Liverpool to “tear off his ear and spit in the hole”.  Still, despite these immaculate credentials, marking him out as a potential Gelderd End hero, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine him as a signing for Leeds United, where stirrings had been going on ever since Sergeant Wilko marched in and started shaking the place up.  The “marquee signing” – you didn’t actually hear that phrase in those days – was Strachan, plucked from under the nose of his old Man U mentor Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday to provide the quality at the heart of the Leeds engine room. Now that was the sort of signing I’d hoped and prayed for, and with the likes of Chris Fairclough joining Gordon at Elland Road it seemed to bode well for a real challenge as the close season wore on and 1989-90 loomed closer.

I was in a caravan on the east coast when I heard on the radio that Vinnie was signing for Leeds for around £650,000.  I frankly didn’t believe it, but when the reality sank in, my initial reaction was to think – bloody hell, Wilko, what are you playing at?  The signings of John Hendrie and Mel Sterland reassured me somewhat, but I was still having trouble seeing what the Jones Boy would bring to the United table, although our lunatic-fringe fans seemed well suited.  The early signs were not encouraging.  Strachan tells of an incident in a pre-season game against Anderlecht, where he saw an opposing player go down with his nose spread halfway across his face and blood greatly in evidence.  Vinnie had casually “done” him en passant before sidling off looking innocent, and Strach recalls thinking: my God – what have we signed here?

Vinnie himself remembers his early days at the club, and being moved to violence by the negative attitudes of some of the players being edged out as Wilko’s new broom started to sweep clean.  Among this disaffected few was John Sheridan, something of a Leeds legend – but Jones stood for no nonsense, and there were punches thrown and people seized by the scruff of the neck as he explained his views on solidarity and team spirit.  Vinnie was obviously going to be a kill or cure measure – there were signs he might have much to contribute to the collective effort, but equally that he might turn out a loose cannon which could blow up in all our faces.  Yet Wilko had a magic touch in those early years, and generally it was proved that he knew what he was doing.

In the event, and despite an uncertain beginning, Vinnie played a massive part in our promotion that year.  The fans took to him from the start – the sight of him coming on as a sub in the first home game against Middlesbrough will live long in my memory.  I can see him now, in the middle of the park with the game poised at 1-1, shouting and screaming as he conveyed encouragement and instruction in equal measure, arms pumping in an ungainly, baboon-like way, team-mates and opponents alike staring at him aghast.  And then he frightened a Boro’ defender into scoring a late, fluky own-goal and we had won, setting us on our way after a disastrous opening-day defeat at Newcastle.

Vinnie just carried on making a difference.  He worked and worked, encouraged and exhorted, fought for the cause and put the fear of God up the enemy wherever he encountered them.  He scored spectacular goals, important goals.  He showed flashes of genuine ability and some of his passing was sublime.  He avoided disciplinary trouble to an amazing degree, given his lurid past.  He sold himself to no less a judge than Strachan as an honest performer who could “play a bit”.

Vinnie also created this amazing rapport with the crowd, the kind I’ve rarely seen before or since, chilling and joking with the wheelchair-users at the front of the West Stand before games, and smoking imaginary cigars as he took the plaudits of the adoring masses after finding the net against Ipswich.  In the warm-up before the Wolves match at Elland Road, he provided one of the great moments of humour in a tense campaign, bringing down five year-old mascot Robert Kelly in the area with a signature sliding tackle, much to the delight of the Kop – and of young Robert himself.

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Vinnie loved Leeds, the players and fans loved Vinnie and the partnership proved fruitful.  Up we went, and when Vincent Jones finally took his leave for the humbler surroundings of Bramall Lane and Stamford Bridge, it was with a tattoo: “LUFC Division Two Champions” proudly inked onto his expensive leg, a partner for the “Wimbledon FA Cup Winners” one on the other limb.  He was a Leeds United legend in only a little over a year at the club, a larger-than-life personality of massive ebullience and impact – and he is held in the highest of esteem in LS11 even to this day, when he mixes effortlessly in the rarefied, glitzy atmosphere of Hollywood.

At a time of intense transfer speculation, the question could be asked: what do we need more right now than another Vinne type, as we hope to secure another long-overdue return to the top table?  Those Jonesy ingredients of passion and power, guts and gumption, are just as important in this league today as they were in those far-off times as the eighties became the nineties.

It’s really difficult to say who if anyone could now play the Vinnie part – but if it were possible, in this transfer window, to distil essence of Jones, or to clone him right from his bloodstained boots and tattooed ankles up to his fearsomely-shaven head, then I’d do it, and I’d present the result gift-wrapped for Brian McDermott to deploy as he saw fit.

A man in the mould of Vinnie Jones would be just the shot in the arm our club needs right at this point in time, just after the major disappointment of the Rochdale non-performance.  It would provide the incentive for the crowd to roll up its sleeves, having vented some spleen at the players and manager, and get behind the team again for the remaining battles in this 46 game-long war of attrition.

Just imagine the fillip that our season, our whole club would receive – if only we could have him or his like in our ranks now.  Happy Birthday to the one and only Vinnie Jones, honorary Yorkshireman and Leeds Hero First Class.  Good health to you – and many happy returns.

Happy Birthday “Lash” Lorimer, Leeds United Legend 67 Today – by Rob Atkinson

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Lorimer in action for Leeds United

One of the younger members of the Revie Glory Boys legends celebrates today – still three years away from his seventies, Lorimer was the tenderfoot of the team, making a League debut while still 15 years of age in September 1962.  Apparently, his parents had been offered £5,000 as a hefty cash inducement (almost £75,000 in today’s money) to have the young Peter sign for an unscrupulous club based just outside Manchester, but Lorimer preferred Leeds and went on to enjoy a long and successful career at Elland Road, encompassing two spells with the club.

Despite his early start, Lorimer had to wait until 1966 to become a regular in Revie’s fine team.  By the time he had become established, the young Scot had made a name for himself with his ferociously powerful shooting, the supposed velocity of his shot leading to the adoption of a terrace anthem especially for Lorimer “Ninety Miles an Hour”.  It was said that one penalty kick actually registered a startling 107 mph, giving the goalkeeper dangerously little time to get out of the way.

In the 1967 FA Cup semi final against Chelsea, Lorimer had the misfortune to have a late equaliser chalked off by the referee, when it was decided that the Chelsea wall was not back the full distance before the United winger struck a cannonball free-kick into the Blues’ net.  This was one of several bizarre refereeing decisions over the years which would conspire to label Leeds a “nearly club” – always the bridesmaids, never the bride.  In fact, Lorimer and Leeds won every honour in the domestic game in a decade of dominance that saw them generally acknowledged as the finest English club side of all time.  They picked up two Fairs Cups as well, and were never far out of the running for all competitions during that ten years at the top.

Lorimer won 21 caps for Scotland, appearing in the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany where he scored in a group game against Zaire.  In 1975, he played in the pinnacle game of World club football, the European Cup Final against Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes in Paris.  He scored a tremendous volley which appeared to put Leeds ahead, but the goal was dubiously disallowed after the referee consulted Bayern captain Franz Beckenbauer as well as his linesman.  United went on to lose, controversially, 2-0.

Lorimer left Leeds to join Vancouver Whitecaps after a spell at York City in 1979, but returned to Elland Road to be the on-field leader for a young United side in the early eighties second division.  During this second spell, Lorimer scored enough goals to surpass the record of John Charles, becoming the all-time record goal-scorer for Leeds United ending up with 238 goals from 676 appearances.

After retiring as a player, Lorimer suffered some comparatively hard times, but has bounced back to forge a career as a speaker, and also an ambassador for the club.  His role in the Ken Bates administration led to him receiving some criticism from a section of support who felt that his views as expressed made him a mouthpiece for the then-owner – but Lorimer remains involved at Leeds after the Bates era has ended, frequently contributing to local media with his views on the club’s direction and the make-up and performance of the squad.

Lorimer is a man who has filled many positions in and around Leeds United, but it will be for his superb performances in the the great Leeds United team of the sixties and seventies that he will be remembered – especially that lethal shot.  Happy birthday to Peter Lorimer – still a Leeds legend.

Birthday Celebrations For Leeds Stars Worthington and Haaland – by Rob Atkinson

It’s a BOGOFF deal on ‘Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything‘ today.  Two birthdays for the price of one – and as the price is nowt, you’re doing pretty nicely, aren’t you?

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Frankly Leeds

First up, we have Frank Worthington, one of the maverick superstars of the Seventies and briefly a cult figure in LS11. Frank picks up his pension book today, attaining the age of 65 years.  He already had a terrific career behind him by the time he rolled up for a short but spectacular stay at Elland Road, initially with a rescue mission in mind.  Spells with Huddersfield, Leicester, Bolton and Birmingham may not have put any undue strain on the Worthington medal cabinet, but he had a reputation as a fine footballer, for whom the term “flamboyant” could easily have been coined – and as a deadly striker.  Missing out on a move to then-mighty Liverpool was an undoubted low-point in his footballing life – his medical had revealed high blood pressure – but it was still a long and varied career, with eight England caps and two goals for his country along the way – not bad for a flair player in an era of pragmatism.

The deal that brought Worthington to Elland Road was a straight swap, with the late Byron Stevenson heading the other way to Birmingham City. At Leeds, Frank came into a team suffering a prolonged goal-scoring drought which had dragged them deep into the relegation mire. Worthington immediately set about putting that right, scoring the winner at Sunderland and going on to notch a total of 15 goals in 35 appearances for Leeds.  Especially memorable was his contribution to a stunning 4-1 win at Aston Villa, who were only a matter of weeks from becoming European Champions.  Sadly, the team just wasn’t able to string enough results together to save United, who were relegated to Division Two despite the best efforts and goal-scoring feats of Mr Worthington.

Frank started the following season still in the white shirt, and scored a memorable double as Leeds won 3-2 at Sheffield Wednesday.  Soon, however, he was on his way for £50,000 to Sunderland and he went on to appear for pretty much every other club in the league after that, retiring eventually in his early forties – pretty good for a man with a “blood pressure problem”.  Many Happy Returns, Frank – and thanks for the memories.

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Get up Keane, you big girl

Another Elland Road cult star was Alf-Inge Haaland, a man whose terrific relationship with the fans survived his unfortunate lapse in returning with Man City and scoring a purler of a goal against us.  Alfie was one of those rare players who really “got” what playing for Leeds United was all about.  A passionate performer, he related to the crowd as few others before or since, picking up on their likes and hates and going with the flow of commitment and fight for the shirt.  This was epitomised in his attitude towards Man U – he made no bones of the fact that he disliked the club and their players.  This was particularly the case as regards Roy Keane – a man regularly and inexplicably bigged-up to this day by a fawning media, in the shape of cushion-faced anchorman Adrian Chiles, as a “hard man”. Haaland seemed to view Keane as a coward, claiming that the Irishman didn’t dare look him in the eye.  The nature of Keane’s eventual retribution would seem to bear this out.

In an incident during the United v Man U game at Elland Road in 1997, Keane injured himself attempting to foul Haaland from behind, rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, an injury which put Keane out of the game for almost a year.  Famously, Haaland had stood over the prone Royston, accusing him of feigning injury so as to avoid being punished for the foul.  Harsh, but funny.  Keane was booked as he left the field on a stretcher, Man U lost 1-0, and a grudge was sparked that would last over three years for payback.  In April 2001, Haaland – by now a Man City player – was fouled by Keane in the local derby, the Irishman going over the ball to stamp on Haaland’s right knee.  Keane was initially punished lightly, but later admitted in his typically over-the-top autobiography that the foul had been a pre-meditated act of revenge.  It was in character for Keane to plan his long-delayed retaliation so as not to risk being hit back; one of his other famous fouls was an elbow to the head of notoriously non-tough little Jason McAteer, when Keane snuck up from behind to launch his assault unseen before running away.

Alfie Haaland, 41 today, is remembered by fans of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Man City as the type of player every team needs, one who will give his all and never give up, a professional footballer who comes as close as any to thinking and caring like a fan. For Leeds fans, Alfie’s oft-expressed antipathy towards Man U is enough to guarantee that he remains loved at Elland Road, though he can be magnanimous too.  He bears no grudge regarding Keane’s act of thuggish cowardice, expressing the hope that by now the Irish assistant manager will have grown up enough to set a better example to the players in his charge.  Many happy returns, Alfie.

Both Frank Worthington and Alf-Inge Haaland contributed in their different ways to widely-differing eras at Leeds United, and both are fondly remembered to this day.  Let’s raise a glass to both of them, two great servants who are both a year older today.  Cheers, lads!

Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd Legend Paul Madeley – by Rob Atkinson

Mr. Rolls Royce - 69 Years Young Today

Mr. Rolls Royce – 69 Years Young Today

A short but timely piece to wish one of our greatest ever players, Paul Madeley, a very happy birthday today.  To think of one of the heroes of my youth reaching the age of 69 is enough to make anyone feel old, but the memory of Paul in a Leeds shirt is vivid.

He was one of the unsung heroes of that great Revie generation, the men who bonded to become a team feared and respected the length and breadth of Europe.  He was famous for having appeared in every outfield position for Leeds and so was dubbed a “utility player” – but that hardly did justice to his towering talent, his positional sense and calmness in tight situations and his immaculate reading of the game and distribution.  I remember him scoring against Southampton in 1978, a very rare occurence – this was the same match where Tony Currie scored that legendary “banana shot”.

Paul was often also referred to as the “Rolls Royce” of footballers, which some took as a reference to his versatility; but I always thought of the nickname as a tribute to his smooth style of play, utterly unflappable, totally reliable, quietly purring along as he covered so many miles for Leeds United between 1962 and 1980.

In more recent years Paul has not always enjoyed the best of health.  He had an operation to remove a benign brain tumour in 1992, had a mild heart attack in 2002 and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2004.  So it’s welcome news to hear that he’s still getting on and that he’s celebrating his birthday today.  The best summary of his attitude to being a professional footballer at Leeds United was related by his former manager Jimmy Armfield, who recalls:

“He once actually signed a new contract on what was virtually a blank piece of paper. I called him in to discuss terms and opened discussions by saying, ‘OK, Paul, we’ll give you so much’. He replied that he had no intention of leaving Leeds so he might as well sign the contract and let me fill in the details. I said, ‘What do you want, then, two years or three years?’ He answered, ‘Either way, I’ll leave it to you. I just want to play for Leeds,’ and that was that”.

That’s some example to put before today’s money-grabbing prima donnas.

Happy Birthday, Paul.  You’re a Leeds United legend, and your thousands of fans will always think of you as such.