Tag Archives: John Lukic

Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd & Arsenal Legend Lukic – by Rob Atkinson

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Cheer up, John, it’s your birthday!

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.

The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw Against Leeds United – Roy Wegerle’s Mazy Run and Finish for QPR

Elland Road

For any football fan asked to nominate a favourite goal, the prospect opens of a pleasurable half an hour recalling all those wonderful strikes down the years, mentally compiling a short-list, and then proudly revealing to the questioner that golden shot, header, volley or back-heel, possibly prefaced by the two runners-up in time-honoured reverse order.  Bliss.

The challenge of naming the best goal ever scored AGAINST your favourites, however, is obviously not quite so enjoyable.  Most of us like to think of ourselves as football purists, at least in a neutral sense, so that we can appreciate the beauty of a goal scored in a game not involving our club, even one by a despised rival.  But a goal in your own team’s net is never completely free of attendant pain, and however wonderfully executed it might have been, you can’t actually enjoy it.  You wince as it goes in, you home in on a possible offside flag, or any infraction of the rules that might lead to it being chalked off.  When it counts, your mood sinks.  You’re in no state to acknowledge the brilliance of it all.  You just want your lot to set about redressing the balance.

But the fact remains; you will have seen many terrific goals scored against your own beloved side.  You may possibly find that one amongst them tops even the best goal you can ever recall your lot scoring, though you will not, of course, admit that.  As a Leeds United fan, I’d certainly never concede I’ve seen better opposition goals than Yeboah’s howitzers against Liverpool and Wimbledon, Strachan’s belter against Leicester, Currie’s banana shot against the Saints, Eddie Gray’s pleasure ride through the Burnley defence or any half-dozen you might care to name from Lorimer’s ferocious back catalogue.

Looked at without the partisan blinkers, though, my mind’s eye recalls some very memorable goals scored against Leeds, particularly at my end of Elland Road; the Gelderd End, or Kop.  Jeremy Goss blasted home a fulminating volley for Norwich in 1993 that drew gasps of admiration.  The crisply-struck blockbusters do tend to stick in the memory, and I’ve often complained that we seem to cop for more than our fair share of goal-of-the-season contenders that fly into our top corner, when they might so easily have zipped into the back row of the stand.

The one opposition goal that I’ll truly never forget, though, was in a category all of its own.  In the early part of the 1990-91 season, Leeds had made a decent start to their first year back in the top flight since relegation in 1982.  Consolidation of higher status was the name of the game, but United appeared to be capable of more, and would, in fact, achieve a top four finish as a prelude to actually winning the Title the following season.  In these early days back in the big time, though, it was wonderful just to be there and holding our own.  A visit from Queens Park Rangers wasn’t expected to present any real problems, and there was a relaxed and content air around Elland Road when Leeds moved into an early two goal lead.

Then, it happened, as it’s frankly happened too often in my time watching Leeds.  We managed to salvage, from the jaws of victory, an unlikely 2-3 defeat.  But one of those goals was scored by Roy Wegerle, South African-born U.S. international, now a golf pro, but then Leeds United’s latest nemesis.  He picked the ball up wide on the right about halfway inside the Leeds half, executed a ridiculously mazy run on a by-no-means direct route to the edge of the area, during which he went past five Leeds players as if they just weren’t there, before shifting the ball finally onto his right foot and dispatching it past a flailing John Lukic.  It was one of those moments when, despite your love of your own team, you just stopped for an instant, transfixed in wonder, before exclaiming “I say, what an absolute corker of a goal that was!”, or words to that effect.

It was a beautiful goal, a wondrous, marvelous gem of a goal.  I’ll certainly never forget it, and seemingly new generations of QPR fans are always finding out about it, and wishing they could have seen it live.  Well, I did see it, and although I may not have appreciated it at the time, it certainly gets my nomination for “best ever against Leeds”.  I’m not alone in that, either – one other thing I recall from that day is the loud and generous applause Wegerle’s effort elicited from the notoriously parochial Leeds support.

It takes a very special goal indeed to get that reaction at Elland Road, and this was definitely as special as it gets – worthy of Maradona, perhaps … or even Eddie Gray.

Take a bow, son.