Tag Archives: legend

RIP Paul Madeley, the Rolls Royce Footballer who Only Wanted to Play for Leeds – by Rob Atkinson

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RIP Paul Madeley, Leeds United’s “Rolls Royce” legend

Another star from the Super Leeds galaxy has left us, with the sad death of Paul Madeley at 73. Paul was the archetypal Mr Versatile, a man whose ability to excel in a number of diverse roles possibly even counted against him as he was less likely to pin down a regular starting berth in a team of superstars that carried all before them. For a team like that to be able to call on a man like Madeley was a godsend – we can only be thankful that “the eleven Pauls” were never far away whenever a gap appeared in the ranks due to injury or suspension.

Really, after that,  there are few words. We all know what Paul was all about, we know he’d have walked into just about any other side at that time, we know that he was preoccupied above all else with playing for Leeds United – to the extent that he told his manager he’d be happy to sign a blank contract and let his boss fill in the amounts and the term of the agreement. Contrast that with the prevailing attitude today, and it’s clear that we were lucky enough to have a real diamond for so long in Paul – and clear also  that we have just lost a genuine legend.

It’s appropriate really that we should take a short break from wondering which football mercenaries we might be recruiting for the season ahead, in order to raise a glass to the memory of Paul Madeley and his legacy of decency, service and loyalty. A better servant to the club he loved you will not find, and I say this in the full knowledge that his team-mates were from the elite end of the stars of that time. That Madeley’s name is a watchword for the qualities listed above, when his contemporaries at Elland Road could also be described thus, says so much about his status in the pantheon of Leeds United legends.

Versatile, dedicated, unselfish – irreplaceable.  RIP Paul Madeley, 1944 – 2018

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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. 

Get IIIIIIINNN!!! Leeds Legend Noel Whelan is a Cult Radio Star   –   by Rob Atkinson

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel, Leeds United hero past and present

Get IIIIIIINN!!! Noel Whelan, Leeds United hero past and present

How bizarre, and yet how typical of this ugly duckling of a Leeds United season, that one of the main cult Whites heroes of the moment should be an employee of Derby County FC. Not that it hasn’t happened before, one way or another. Season 1991/92 threw up a couple of candidates, with Brian Gayle ex-Man City but on the books of Sheffield United, taking the honours as he scored the own-goal that finally turned the race for the last ever Football League Championship firmly Leeds’ way. No such rich prizes are at stake this season, and we have to look off the field of play for the hero I’m talking about. Take a bow Noel David Whelan, Academy Coach at Derby County, lifelong Leeds fan and the best thing to hit the airwaves in these parts for a long, long time.

When you listen to national radio, you want impartiality (not that you get it, not as a Leeds fan). It’s annoying if such an allegedly disinterested broadcaster shows bias, they get phone calls and irate letters. But local radio is a horse of a different colour. What you want then is a bit of parochial loyalty, a touch of blinkered self-righteousness. If the ref’s having a ‘mare – or even if, in truth, he’s just not giving the lads quite as much as he might – you want the regional radio guys to get hot under the collar about it, to have a bit of a rant or moan. It saves you the trouble and it also gives you that warm feeling that maybe you’re not just paranoid, that those buggers really are out to get us. Listen, you splutter to your significant other, I said to you that the ref was bent and the lino was blind or bent or stupid. Thom/Adam thinks so too. Bloody told you, didn’t I?

Sometimes though, the local guys can be a grievous disappointment in this regard. Forgetting that they’re not national commentators with all those boring rules and restrictions, some of our home-based broadcasters and summarisers can make the mistake of being so determined to be fair, that they lean over too far the other way, ending up calling every decision against Leeds, excusing the incompetent git of a ref, justifying the actions of those cheats and animals in the opposition ranks. This is extremely bad news for the fan glued to a crackly radio at home. That, by the way, is perilous stuff at the best of times. Radio commentary is just plain scary. Every shot is arrowing straight for the far top corner of your keeper’s net, every Whites passing move breaks down, we never get the bounce of the ball. It’s horrible and not good for the hypertension at all. And then, on top of all that, you get some ever so reasonable guy who, when the commentator screams, Penalty for Leeds! Surely that was a penalty!! – this laid-back, too-fair ex-pro will simply drawl, nah, never in a million years, he went down too easy, never a pen. Forbye, it wisnae in the area. Thwarted, you grind your teeth anew and feel the blood pounding insistently in your ears. It’s so bad for the health.

I’m not naming any names in that respect (but Eddie, for Christ’s sake get your act together and remember who you’re supposed to be supporting) – what I will say is that Norman Hunter, always reliable in terms of seeing the world through Leeds-tinted specs, is sadly missed from our local airwaves. But happily, the Advent of Noel has brought us a new hero, and he makes even Norman seem like a model of bland neutrality. When play is ongoing, there’s always a bit of Whelan wit and wisdom interspersing the description of the commentator. His Leeds-ness oozes from every pore and permeates everything he says. It’s simply wonderful.

Any Leeds fans will always look forward to any Leeds goal – it’s the longed-for climax to any foray forward and confirmed atheists have been know to offer up sincere prayers for that – ahem – moment of fulfilment. But in these days of Whelan, long may they last, there’s a little extra bonus to any Leeds score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! you hear this demented, exultant voice thundering, rattling the commentary gantry and the windows of nearby houses, and doubtless attracting sidelong looks of disapproval from more ordinary, everyday mortals. Noel Whelan is not here simply to provide the professional’s point of view on the intricacies of play and team-shape. He’s here to see Leeds United win, and he wants it with his very guts. You can hear this in his voice, you can tell he’s kicking every ball and a good few of the opposition. It’s a tremendous feeling; like having your own personal, Leeds-centric representative up there in the commentary box where you’d secretly long to be yourself, instead of being surgically attached to this bloody radio.

Noel Whelan is the fan who really did live the dream, graduating from the terraces to don the Shirt and score goals for the club he loves. As a professional, when his career took him in a different direction, he made the best of it – not without the odd mishap, particularly at Coventry – and carried on scoring goals. Memorably, he scored for Boro against Man U in the Cup, and gave the old Leeds salute to the bitter cockneys who sat in the stand, hating him for his Leeds-ness and for scoring against their favourites. And all the time, he’s been Leeds, down to the very bone – and we’ve loved him for it, largely from afar.

Now his playing days are over, and – ever the pro – he’s earning his living still as part of the game, passing on his knowledge and experience to the Academy of a club other than Leeds. How odd that must feel to a man who so clearly has United in his DNA. But it doesn’t affect his deep and abiding partiality for the Whites; give him a mic, put him up there to watch the lads play – and he’s still passionately Leeds, desperate to see them win, straining every sinew as the Shirts toil away for the cause.

And then – we score. Get IIIINNNNNNN!!!! GET in! If things are going particularly well, a chorus of Marching On Together is not unheard of; though his singing would win few awards, the sentiment is pure gold. A model of impartiality Noel is definitely not – and that has endeared him to thousands of people for whom radio coverage is the only viable option. For those people, Noel is just like being there, or at least the very next best thing – he wants to win as much as you do and he celebrates like the fellow fan he is – as well as feeling the pain just as acutely as we all do when things are bad.

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything cannot help but feel that such passion, such absolute devotion to our one and only, beloved football club, is wasted whenever it’s not being employed in the United cause. Noel is not the first Leeds fanatic to pursue a career elsewhere. It was a standing joke at Newcastle that David Batty just couldn’t wait to be back at Elland Road. Whenever their team coach passed within sight of the stadium, his team mates would be at it, they’d rib Batts, telling him he’d be back there before long. And of course, he was. But when he wore another shirt, Batty fought and battled for that shirt, as a pro always will. I’ve seen Noel Whelan score against Leeds – it was in George Graham’s first game in charge, down at Coventry – and he looked utterly gutted and apologetic. And, naturally, he still got an ovation from the White Army that day.

Maybe Noel Whelan will one day be a part of Leeds United Football Club once more. Surely, he would grab the chance, should it ever arise – even in the sure knowledge that most such returns end in tears. But in the meantime – it’s wonderful to listen to him in his matchday stints on t’wireless, shamelessly biased, proudly Leeds, giving it the full throttle when we score, damning the officials who conspire against us. It’s simply just what is required, just what those fans out here in Radioland need.

Noel Whelan is a tonic. Every club should have one but, happily – and despite what the Derby County payroll people might imagine – he’s ours. And he’s the very Acme of one-eyed, tunnel-visioned, brilliantly biased, raucously supportive presence that any Leeds fan simply loves to hear as part of their commentary experience.

Other, more pallid broadcasters – please take note.

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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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.

13 Years Ago Today, Leeds United Edge Out Liverpool With “The Duke” At His Best – by Rob Atkinson

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The bare facts hardly do credit to a stunning afternoon at Elland Road on November 4th 2000.  An injury-hit Leeds United faced old enemies Liverpool in Premier League game which saw Liverpool take a two-goal lead, get pegged back at 2-2, take the lead again – and then finally succumb 4-3 in the archetypal see-saw football match.  Leeds had won, and Australian centre-forward Mark Viduka had gone one better than the traditional striker’s dream of a hat-trick in a high profile victory.  Viduka – the Duke – had scored all four, single-handedly breaking the hearts of the Reds whose manager Gerard Houllier was left speechless with shock and disappointment.

In truth, Liverpool were well-set for victory as they cruised to an early two goal lead through Hyypia and Ziege, taking advantage of slapdash Leeds defending.  The home team were weakened by the absence of regulars like Nigel Martyn, Lucas Radebe, Harry Kewell, Danny Mills, Michael Duberry and Michael Bridges.  Bit-part player Jacob Burns started and Danny Hay would come on as one of only four fit subs – this was very much a patched-up United side.  After such a start heads might have gone down in the Leeds ranks, but Alan Smith was still up for the battle, chasing every cause and closing down in his unique combative style.  It was a typically aggressive piece of Smithy harrying that saw Leeds back in the game after 25 minutes, as he blocked a Ziege clearance and saw the ball bounce right into the path of an onside Viduka in the Liverpool area.  No further invitation was needed; the burly Aussie executed the most delicate of chips to beat Reds keeper Sander Westerveld all ends up.  The teams went in at the interval with Liverpool ahead 2-1 – but some of the momentum was back with Leeds.

Shortly after the start of the second half, United were level – and this was a goal to remember.  Gary Kelly broke swiftly down the right, looked up and delivered a pinpoint cross which Viduka met with a towering near-post header, sending the ball arrowing high into the net for a fantastic equaliser.  The effervescent Smith then missed a clear chance to put Leeds ahead, and that looked a costly error when Liverpool surged back in front just after the hour.  Berger crossed from the left to find Vladimir Smicer who cleverly worked himself the space to slide his shot past a despairing Paul Robinson and into the net.  A bitter blow for a makeshift Leeds side that had hauled itself, against long odds, back into the game.

Many indeed would have expected Leeds to crumble at this point, but to their eternal credit they stayed competitive and kept fighting.  The next goal was always going to be crucial; a fourth for Liverpool would certainly have finished Leeds off.  However, the game’s sixth and best goal saw Mark Viduka complete his hat-trick with a finish of amazing artistry for such a big man. Former Evertonian Olivier Dacourt saw a powerful shot blocked by Ziege, but managed to feed the rebound first time through to Viduka at the right edge of the penalty area.  Most strikers would have tried to get a shot off, but Viduka, spinning unpredictably through 360 degrees, threw off the attentions of the Liverpool defence and finished sublimely into the far corner.

At this stage, the overjoyed Leeds support would probably have settled for a draw that had, at one point, looked like being more than they could dream of.  But Viduka was not finished yet.  Only three minutes later, he finally ended Liverpool’s chances with a fourth goal which, it must be said, owed as much to a generous linesman as it did to the Duke’s skill and lethal finishing.  The Leeds striker was surely offside as the ball reached him yet again in a threatening position inside the Liverpool area – but he didn’t hang around to see if a flag went up or a whistle blew.

In the event, neither happened and Mark Viduka produced yet another delicately-crafted finish, the ball arcing beautifully over a committed Westerveld and dropping into Liverpool’s net.  4-3 now and pandemonium as Leeds led for the first time, as unlikely a scenario as you could possibly have imagined after only 20 minutes of this incredible game.  Liverpool fought to the last, but so did Leeds to hang on grimly to their hard-won advantage.  Dacourt finished the game barely able to move, the Liverpool players finished it hardly able to believe what had happened to them.  The contrasting body language of the jubilant United manager O’Leary and his crestfallen Liverpool counterpart told the story of this result and of a game that will always be a part of the folklore surrounding this long-standing rivalry.

Liverpool had fought gallantly and lost.  Leeds had defied the odds and their injury toll to win.  But the undoubted hero of the hour, thirteen years ago today, was beyond any shadow of a doubt the United centre-forward Mark Viduka.  The Duke – Leeds United legend with his own permanent place in Elland Road history.

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.

Beckham To Retire At Last

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

Beckham: Hanging Up Boots

So, the day has arrived at last.  An icon is to depart the game.  England’s “Goldenballs”, the man with the most famous metatarsal the world has ever seen, he of the sculpted facial furniture with chiseled jaw and cheekbones to die for, David Robert Joseph Beckham OBE is finally to quit the game he has – more or less – adorned since 1995.  Everybody is sitting up and taking notice at what is the end of an era.  Leyton Orient have felt it necessary to remind the world in a timely tweet that the Coiffed One is to make his last appearance against French side Lorient – NOT the English League One denizens L.Orient.  Thanks for clearing that up, lads.

 My first memory of David Beckham is necessarily hazy – I was quite intoxicated, and stood high up in the away end at The Theatre of Hollow Myths as Leeds United’s all-conquering youth side trampled the budding superstars of Man U into the turf on their way to an eventual 4-1 aggregate FA Youth Cup win.  That was in 1993, and it was some small measure of compensation for the transition from our status of Last Real Champions to that of Man U as first holders of the Premier League Plastic Trophy.  As the new era dawned, an epic career was off to an inglorious start, but it was destined to contrast starkly with the doomed efforts of that night’s winners.

Since then, even so jaundiced an observer as I must admit that Beckham has scaled Olympian Heights, and on one foot, too.  No less a footballing authority than the late, grating George Best described him in less than glowing terms: “He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn’t score many goals. Apart from that he’s all right.”  Not that he was bitter or anything – but maybe the fact that Beckham’s earnings in any given calendar month eclipsed the entire career earnings of the self-styled “Greatest Ever” had touched a raw nerve or two.  Whatever Bestie might have thought of the shortcomings of Becks talent-wise, the London boy could surely have taught him a thing or two about application, dedication and – crucially – not being caught with his pants down before important semi-final matches.

That ability to dedicate himself and make it big, on the back of a less-than-completely full box of tricks, certainly redounds to Beckham’s credit.  His habit of creating the most spectacular results with one swing of that cultured right foot did him no harm either.  On loan at Preston as a youngster, he created a stir by scoring direct from a corner, and not too long afterwards, establishing himself in the Man U first team, he looked up from just inside his own half at Selhurst Park, and lobbed the ball mightily over the back-pedaling ‘keeper Neil Sullivan to score an outrageously long-range goal against long-ball merchants Wimbledon.  The most famous exponent of this type of effort up to that time had been a chap called Pele, who tried it in the World Cup; but Pele had missed.

The path to World Superstardom was not, however, always strewn with rose petals.  Attitude problems surfaced, petulance would be a problem throughout most of his career (not an uncommon problem among graduates of the Man U finishing school), there were run-ins with his irascible mentor Ferguson, and he could be impulsive too.  He saw a young lass on a pop video, and he decided on the spot to marry her.  His judgement on that occasion at least was reasonably sound, or so it seems; the marriage is still going strong and from tacky beginnings with a wedding that would have figured large in any style guru’s nightmares, the couple have built a family with their weirdly-named brood and two large fortunes securing a stable future for all concerned.

So how will Beckham best be remembered?  Some will say as the archetypal Man U fan – he was born and raised in London after all, which is a headline qualification for that status.  Others will remember his flirtation with the extreme edges of fashion – his famous experiment with girly clothing as he sported a sarong, for instance.  But whatever he did, whatever style he either aped or created, there were millions queuing up to follow his every footstep.  He had the knack of capturing the hearts of a whole generation with the totality of the Beckham package – the talent, the looks, the style, the pop-star wife.  Some of it was grossly kitsch, Beckingham Palace was the venue for many sins against the Manual of Good Taste.  Some of it took your breath away with the sheer, daring nerve of it – the revelation that his son Brooklyn was named after the site of his conception had people offering up prayers of thanks that the tender moment hadn’t taken place in Peckham.  Subsequent male children were named Romeo and Cruz and then a girl arrived to be lumbered with the curiously android-like Harper Seven.  There is, after all, no accounting for taste.

Some will remember the iconic free-kicks for England, the most famous of which secured his country’s automatic World Cup 2002 qualification.  What people forget is that, had we been doomed to the play-offs, we might have taken Germany’s easier route to the Final – but who ever knows what fate might hold?  In the end, England and Beckham, together with his famously bust metatarsal, appeared in the global tournament, but for once Beckham wasn’t really up to it, and it was his half-hearted, half-baked, half-fit attempt at a tackle which let Brazil in for the equaliser at the quarter-final stage, the Samba Stars going on to eliminate England 2-1.

But whatever you might think of Beckham, my fondest memories of him will be in that England shirt – not for his flashes of temper, leading to notorious dismissals, but for the massively evident pride with which he wore the Three Lions over his heart, the utter commitment and dedication with which he put himself about the pitch in the England cause, be it merely as a star player, or eventually as captain of his country.  Nobody set a better example of leadership than David Beckham when he had that international shirt on, and nobody could ever doubt on those occasions that everything else – the endorsements, the mansions, the publicity stunts, the lurid tales of his off-field life – all of that was secondary to his intense, burning patriotism.  If that alone had been enough, England may well have had three winners’ stars to embroider above the Three Lions on the Shirt, instead of that solitary one.

So it’s farewell, Goldenballs.  He was a player of his times, a man who would be a superstar  among superstars, someone who would attract fan fervour and inspire adulation and hero-worship out of all proportion to his essentially modest character – and some would say disproportionately to his talent too.  Be that as it may, it’s unlikely we will see such a phenomenon again, unless the ingredients are coming together even as we speak, and yet another cockney Man U fan is bubbling under up Salford way.  You just never know.