Tag Archives: Happy Birthday

Birthday Boy Strachan’s Crucial Rocket for Leeds United Against Leicester – by Rob Atkinson

"Have you ever seen a better goal?  Have you ever seen one better timed??" John Helm, YTV

“Have you ever seen a better goal? Have you ever seen one better timed??” John Helm, YTV

On the occasion of Gordon Strachan’s 59th birthday – and by the way, many happy returns, Sir – I thought I’d look back to what was possibly his defining moment as the man who did more than just about anyone to reinvent Leeds as a post-Revie force in English football.

It had been a long time coming since Don’s Glory Boys dispersed to pastures new and a Golden Era faded into the dim haze of memory. We had been eight years in the second division doldrums and had almost forgotten what it was like to be a top team. But – finally! – it looked as though the nightmare was ending as Sergeant Wilko and Captain Strachan were set to lead United back to the Promised Land at long last. A home fixture against Leicester City was the penultimate hurdle to overcome, and expectations were soaring at Elland Road.

Twelve days before the Leicester game, United had appeared to strike a decisive blow, battering closest rivals Sheffield United 4-0 at Elland Road. But any hope that promotion could be clinched early was dashed over the next two fixtures, a draw at Brighton where the lead was squandered to sacrifice two points, and then a home defeat to a relegation-threatened Barnsley who even then had the ability to put one over on us with an inferior team. So the nerves were jangling for this home date with the Foxes.

Leicester breezed into town with no pressure on them at all as they bobbed about serenely in mid-table, but Leeds just had to win. A victory could possibly clinch promotion; anything else and we would be relying on others to give us that final leg-up – not an attractive prospect. The atmosphere at Elland Road that day was something to behold as 32597 packed the stands and terraces, the Kop a seething mass of bodies, a solid wall of sound. If the weight of support counted for anything, then it seemed Leicester might just as well turn around and go home – but to their eternal credit they fought the good fight and played their part in a memorable afternoon.

It all started well. Leeds pressed hard – this had been their preferred approach all season long. No opponent was allowed the luxury of untroubled possession as Leeds snapped at ankles and harried the enemy, hungry for the ball and well able to use it productively. At their best, United had proved a match for any team in the Division; as ever though it was the off days that had let us down. On this particular occasion, attacking the Kop End in the first half, the forward momentum seemed irresistible. Before long, the overlapping Mel Sterland fastened on to a ball at the right corner of the penalty area and fired low and hard into the net to open the scoring. The overwhelming relief was as evident as the unconfined joy around the packed stadium; surely now United would go on to consolidate their advantage and seal the promotion we’d wanted for so long.

Frustratingly, it was not to be. Despite further pressure, Leeds failed to make another breakthrough before half-time and Leicester – relaxed and pressure-free – were looking more and more ominously like potential party-poopers. These fears solidified in the second half as the away side pressed an increasingly nervous Leeds back, and eventually – inevitably – they drew level. The blow when it came was struck by a rumoured transfer target for Leeds, promising young Scot Gary McAllister. He proved that he packed some punch by belting a fine strike past veteran Mervyn Day to shock the Kop rigid and momentarily silence Elland Road.

Worse was so nearly to follow as McAllister almost did it again, another superb shot coming within an ace of giving Leicester the lead, something which would doubtless have produced the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying in their thousands. It may well be that McAllister sealed his move to Leeds with this performance and those two efforts, but I could have seen him far enough from LS11 that day. Leeds were rocking, looking at each other, scratching heads and clenching fists in the time-honoured “come on, let’s bloody sort this out” gesture. Slowly, by sheer force of will, the lads in White regained the initiative and it looked at least as though the danger of further damage was receding. The football was still nerve-shredding stuff, all urgency and little fluency, a desperate battle to eke out the extra two points that would make promotion so much more likely.

Time was ebbing away fast now, as Leeds hurled themselves time and again into the defensive barrier of red Leicester away shirts. Panic was setting in, the biggest enemy of constructive football. It was looking like a draw, which would not be enough. Then, a throw halfway inside the Leicester half in front of the West Stand, under the eyes of a bleakly worried Wilko. Sterland gathered himself and hurled a massively long throw deep into the away penalty area, only for it to be headed out from around the near post. McAllister attempted to complete the clearance with an overhead effort to get rid, but the ball hit Gordon Strachan to bounce back into the box. And there was Gary Speed to lay that ball back instantly to the still-lurking Strachan who simply lashed it, left-footed, into the net. The ball had gone in like a bullet; Strachan – too tired to control it and try to work a yard of space to dink one of those cute little far-post crosses as he might normally – settled instead for catching the ball right on the sweet spot and it arrowed home to a positive explosion of noise from all around Elland Road – the sudden release of what had been unbearable tension produced a massive roar to buffet the ear drums of innocent bystanders miles away.

It was one of those occasions when several things seem to happen at once. The crowd behind the goal at the South Stand end seemed to boil with passion and relief, a maelstrom of delighted celebration which was echoed across the whole stadium. Strachan himself ran to the byline, face contorted, weary limbs pumping in triumphant exultation as he took the plaudits of the faithful. A lone copper is visible on the TV footage between Strach and the cavorting hordes, a grin on his face as he moves to quell any ambitious pitch-invaders. In the commentary box, John Helm unwittingly propelled himself into immortality, not for the last time that afternoon. “Have you ever seen a better goal?” he demanded. “And have you ever seen one better timed?” It was a good question, and right then, right there, I doubt you’d have found a Leeds fan to answer “yes” to either part of it. The rest was a blur; Leeds held out, and we had won – and seemingly gained promotion. Rumours were flying around that Newcastle had failed to win, sending us up. But John Helm was at it again, more iconic words: “Is that confirmed…?” When the confirmation arrived, it was of a late Toon win; we still had it all to do at Bournemouth the following week. But Strachan’s late cracker had kept us in a race that we were ultimately destined to win.

My final memory of that day is of walking down off the Kop and onto the pitch as the masses there were starting to disperse. We crossed the hallowed turf from goal-line to goal-line, eventually exiting the ground into Elland Road at the south-west corner, where the big screen now stands. I can still remember the heady scent of stud-holed mud and trodden turf, my head was still buzzing as I walked over the spot where wee Gordon had made that perfect half-volley contact to send us all into delirium. It had been an atmosphere the like of which I have rarely seen before or since, only the mayhem at Bramall Lane when Gayle scored that own-goal title-clincher coming anywhere near, or maybe that ankle-busting semi-riot of a celebration when Dave Batty broke his long goal drought against Man City in 1991.

For the sheer relief of it however – the absolute nerve-shredding, tension-breaking release of it – this was definitely THE one. Without Strachan’s sublime strike, we could well have missed out on automatic promotion, and we all know only too well that there’s a law against us succeeding in the play-offs. Gordon’s Golden Goal had kept the dream alive and made possible all that followed up to the League Championship triumph two years later. Make no mistake – it was THAT important.

Thanks, wee man, for the brilliant memories. Have a brilliant birthday.

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Happy Birthday to The Don: Simply the Best Ever  –   by Rob Atkinson

  
No need for any flowery prose here. No possible dispute about the sentiment in the title of this brief piece. 

Don Revie was the greatest English manager of all time. He single handedly raised Leeds United from mediocre nonentities, famous only for John Charles in the forty-odd years of their history, to the most feared and respected club side in the world. Leeds United were the last club to emerge from obscurity to attain the status of giants; there have been no additions to those ranks since. Don Revie brought this about, a success story from humble beginnings that no other manager can match. 

On the 88th anniversary of his birth, let all Leeds United fans raise a glass to The Don – The Greatest. Taken far too soon over 26 years ago, but still loved by those who matter, still revered by those who know – never forgotten. 

Don Revie – simply the best English football manager ever. 

Leeds United Needs a New Vinnie – by Rob Atkinson

Happy 50th Birthday to Vinnie Jones, Leeds United legend.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything

Sir Vincent Jones Sir Vincent Jones

The men who took Leeds United back into the top-flight the last time it happened in 1990 are, of course, legends now.  They rank alongside some of the Revie boys because they rescued the club from eight years in the wilderness and restored us to the big time.  We had our own diminutive red-haired midfielder as a sort of latter-day homage to Billy Bremner – wee Gordon Strachan, who played a mighty part in the renaissance of Leeds with his leadership and goals.  It was a team effort though, and it was as a team that they succeeded – Strachan apart there was no major star, but the guts and drive of the collective effort eclipsed all rivals by the end of that fantastic season when we were crowned Second Division Champions in sun-drenched and strife-torn Bournemouth.  And nobody in the whole club at that time epitomised…

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Feliz Cumpleaños a Ti, Luciano Becchio. Por Favor, Vuelve a Leeds Utd! – by Rob Atkinson

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Wishing you a Happy Return

As any fule kno, the title means Happy Birthday to you, Luciano – please come back to Leeds United. The birthday wishes are standard; Becchio is 30 today which is a watershed in anyone’s life – and all the more so for a professional footballer, for whom the thirties are old-man, retirement territory.

Naturally, any article which even hints at the possible return of our former hero and regular goalscorer will be pounced upon by those who love to be seen pouring scorn on any such common sense.  Loads of goals, total commitment, rapport with the crowd and unstinting bravery amid the flying boots of a crowded opposition penalty area – these are things that some people simply hate and can’t abide the thought of.  The hostility which ensues whenever anybody suggests that Becchio could still be a Leeds United asset has to be seen to be believed.  There are some angry and immature people out there, and I expect I shall receive some abusive feedback from a few of them.  Who knows, I may even allow the odd one through?

The fact is of course that a Luciano type player is exactly what we need to increase the options for how our team might be set up and deployed.  If El Hombre himself were to arrive as a returning prodigal son, with a quality winger in tow – perhaps the French Ligue 1 might be a good place to look – then so much the better.  It seems obvious to me that we would carry much more of a threat over the course of a game with such a significant augmentation of the options, both in the starting line-up and on the bench.  At our level, with the aspirations we have, you can’t have too many decent Championship players.  Becchio may not have made the grade, quite, at top level – though he’s hardly been given a chance – but in the second tier, he’s proven quality.  What’s more, he would be absolutely champing at the bit.  Post 30 years old, he will hear the clock ticking – and he will wish to make his mark while he can.  Familiar surroundings at Elland Road would most likely bring out the best of Becchio.

Happy 30th birthday, Luci’.  Here’s hoping we see you back to your best in the famous white shirt again soon.  Now bring on those scornful dismissive comments, do your worst.  But please – let me hear from those of you who know what you’re talking about too…

Happy Birthday to Batts, Leeds United’s 90s Midfield Enforcer – by Rob Atkinson

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‘Ave it

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.

ImageIt 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.

ImageThe 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.

Happy Birthday to Andy Ritchie: A Shining Light in Leeds’ Wilderness Years – by Rob Atkinson

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Andy Ritchie: post-Revie hero, 53 today

Happy Birthday today to one of the real stars of a fallow period for United: Andy Ritchie, a terrific striker who – from humble beginnings – made it as a hero of the Gelderd End at the One True United.

You could say of Andy that, by the time he arrived at Elland Road, he owed us a favour or two.  At the age of 18 while playing for man u, he had knocked in a hat-trick against Leeds in a 4-1 win for the Pride of Devon.  Not content with such precocious achievement, he did it again the following year, this time against Spurs.  Two top flight hat-tricks whilst still in your teens would seem to be a sign of real talent and the potential to succeed at the highest level – yet, in line with the brilliance of the managerial policy at the Theatre of Hollow Myths in those days, Ritchie was deemed surplus to requirements for “The Biggest Club In The Universe™”.  He was surprisingly sold in 1980 to Brighton and Hove Albion – doubtless to make room for some real talent at man u – such as Garry Birtles, Alan Brazil and Peter Davenport.

At Brighton, Ritchie again showed his worth as a striker to be respected, clocking up 26 goals in 102 appearances in what was always a struggling team.  Somewhat typically for his career, which turned out to be a bit of a saga of missed opportunities, he then moved on to Leeds United in 1983 in a swap deal which saw Terry Connor heading south to the Goldstone Ground.  The missed opportunity in question was the 1983 FA Cup Final which saw Brighton draw 2-2 with man u at Wembley.  This game was famous for the last minute of that draw, when one Gordon Smith was clean through with only Gary Bailey to beat.  “And Smith must score…!” shrieked the commentator.  Well, he didn’t – and Brighton let the country down by losing a replay 4-0.  The incident has gone down in Brighton folklore, they even had a fanzine with the title “And Smith Must Score”.  No disrespect to the hapless Gordon, but you suspect that Andy Ritchie would have scored. And how different might history have been then?

At Leeds, Ritchie settled down well and won the hearts of the fans he’d miffed with that hat-trick years earlier.  He was a solid performer for United in an era when they were few and far between, leading the line well and always reliable in front of goal.  He scored two hat-tricks for the club in season 1984-85, and played a prominent part too in the 1986-87 season, which saw Leeds under Billy Bremner reach the FA Cup semi-final and a Playoff Final replay, only to miss out narrowly on both fronts.

Ritchie’s career after Leeds saw him head back to lancashire, becoming a folk hero at Oldham as a player and later as manager.  With Oldham, Andy at last returned to the top flight, helping keep an unfashionable and poorly-resourced club there for a respectable three years, becoming founder members of the Premier League.  There was time at Oldham, too, for Ritchie to add to his unfortunate list of FA Cup near-misses.

Ritchie wound down his playing career at Scarborough, and then entered management and coaching at a number of clubs, including Oldham and Leeds United.  He is currently doing some football punditry with BBC Radio Leeds – he was the summariser for the win over Middlesbrough last weekend – and his name still crops up when lower league managerial jobs are vacant.

Andy Ritchie will probably go down in history as one of Oldham Athletic’s finest ever players – but he was a significant part of a generally bleak time in Leeds’ history too and is fondly remembered as a fine striker that we should probably have done more to hang on to.  Happy Birthday, Andy – thanks for some golden memories that lit up some very grey and dismal years for Leeds United.