Jon Howe: Leeds United’s unconventional legends

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Forever supporter Jon Howe publishes a new weekly column every Friday for leedsunited.com, offering fans a view of Leeds United.

Howe is the author of two books on the club, the 2015 hit “The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road” and “All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players” in 2012.

He has also regularly participated in Leeds United’s day program over the years with the fanzine “The Square Ball”.

This week, Jon is watching Leeds United’s unconventional legends…

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In the age of social media, accessible 24/7, it is fairly easy to gain “legendary” status. Hadi Sacko earned it by admitting that he “should have squared” Jordan Botaka because he sort of appeared on “Come Dine With Me”. We throw out the word “legend” without thinking too much, but most rational and balanced fans know which players really deserve it because of their performance on the field.

Off the pitch and outside the regular 90 minutes, it is always possible to become a fan favorite. In the strange and wonderful world of Leeds United, all eyes are on you and all Leeds fans are eager for the next figure to pin their hopes and dreams. And this status can be achieved without once executing a dive head in front of the south grandstand or even touching an opponent before a lovely Kop finish.

Looking back through history, there are many Leeds United players who have supplemented their existing “legend” status with an act that did not really involve playing for Leeds United. Jim Milburn, for example, was the last and youngest of the three Milburn brothers to wear the white shirt – it was not white at the time, but work with me on that – but regardless of 220 appearances for Leeds between 1939 and 1951 he also recommended his nephew Jack Charlton to the club – his sister Cissie’s son – so we have much to be thankful for.

Elsewhere, Paul Madeley followed the “front-end” ethic to the letter when he signed a new contract and left the club to fill in the salary details, because playing for Leeds United was more important to him than the ‘silver. David Wetherall was very popular during his career in Leeds for his famous goals against Manchester United, but he achieved “legend” status for the goal he scored for Bradford City against Liverpool on the last day of the season 1999/00, which helped Leeds United qualify for the Champions League.

More recently, Jermaine Beckford was already scoring goals like a hordes nut squirrel when he uttered his infamous “what shirt am I wearing bruv?” “Phrase in a live TV interview and became completely loved by the united faithful. But there has also been a long line of unconventional legends that are remembered better for their actions off the field than “everything” they did on the ground.

Let’s start with Duncan McKenzie; a cheerful and virtuoso showman in a Leeds shirt, but the only visual reference we see is his ability to jump over a Mini. Marcelo Bielsa would have sleepless nights for a week if he had heard that one of his players had attempted this even when he was still in school. In the 1970s however, that was about all that was going on and we thought of nothing about McKenzie putting forth his boastful claims in front of 19,376 fans before Paul Reaney’s testimony match in May 1976.

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Neil Aspin was a determined and reliable defender in the 1980s; a 240-game veteran for the club, but “Skull,” as he became known, was little known for its elegance or finely crafted performance. Instead, he won our hearts in 1987 when he postponed his wedding because our FA Cup semifinal against Coventry was moved to a Sunday. At the time, we all nodded our heads, but being broader these days, we would of course respect the fact that certain things in life are more important than football, and if the same scenario arose today , we would …… uh ……. maybe realize that we weren’t as liberal and broad-minded as we thought …… ..

Another alternative icon was Glynn Snodin, a grainy and determined player capable of the spectacularly strange goal. But his eternal legacy of Leeds United is credited with the popularization of the “Leeds Salute”. He was probably not the first, but he was certainly the most visible exponent of the exclusive greeting exchanged between the people who “got” it. After the match, at press conferences and pretty much every time he leaves the house since the late 1980s, Snodin is apparently on an individual mission to make sure that this stealthy “nod” between fans of Leeds remains a public curiosity.

Around the same time, Vinnie Jones broke into Elland Road and, in a maelstrom, 14 months left its mark in all areas of urban life. More than his goals against Brighton and Hull City and his wonderful partnership with midfielder David Batty, Jones is lovingly revered for his haircut, charity work, promotional appearances in all of Leeds’ bars and nightclubs, chatting with fans disabled before each game and of course, upsetting a five-year-old mascot for no reason.

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In the new millennium, we have Shaun Derry, who is not known for a dazzling run and finish to mark the winner in his home debut against West Ham United, but for the fact that he had beans on the toast for his pre-game meal after roaming downtown Leeds for a “greasy spoon coffee”. He was truly one of us.

Likewise, David Prutton is more celebrated now than he was during his career in Leeds. Because although he was committed and reliable throughout his 77 matches, he really won our hearts only with a letter he wrote to the supporters when he left the club, when he expressed in a way articulated what playing for Leeds United meant to him.

Finally, we come to Gaetano Berardi, an undisputed fan now beloved, but not in April 2015 after being expelled twice at the start of his career in Leeds and yet to establish himself as the adaptable defender, resolutely devoted and slightly * coughs * enthusiastic that we love today. On the eve of an away game in Charlton, six players mysteriously pulled out of the game with sudden and unexplained “injuries”. Berardi arrived at the club at the same time as all of them, but remained loyal to Leeds United and besieged manager Neil Redfearn while traveling with the team and taking their places on the bench, despite being injured.

Berardi was proven to be “a different sauce”, and like many players before him and certainly now, it has shown that once you “get” Leeds United, there is no better place to be, especially once Leeds United also “gets” to you.



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