By George & Tom Chellis
In a week which saw Billy Bremner voted best Football League captain of all time, the love and adoration that Leeds fans have for players that give everything for the badge has never been clearer. Hugely passionate but also highly respectful of the club’s traditions, old and young Leeds fans alike admire the club’s greats and a player’s status as a Leeds United legend, once earned, is something that lives on long after your playing days are over. Bremner and his coach Revie may be the most venerated Leeds men of all time, but other names such as Lucas Radebe, Peter Lorimer and John Charles stoke nostalgia, rose-tinted stories and recollections of better days amongst even the most battle-hardened supporters. The continued admiration that we as a fanbase have for these elite few got us thinking however – who is the most underrated player ever to pull on the famous white shirt? Who is the true unsung hero of Leeds United? We asked a few of our twitter friends and here is an evaluation of some of the names that were put forward...
Undoubtedly the greatest spell of success that has ever been seen at Elland Road was during the Don Revie era. This team was full of superstars; the 1970s precursor to the crazy gang of Bremner, Charlton, Lorimer, Giles and Clark et al combined robust and often brutal defence with attacking flair and unbreakable team spirit. One name however, suggested by @ChicagoWhite, is mentioned with far less frequency than others – Paul Madeley. Madeley, who sits fifth on the all-time list of domestic appearances with 536, was Leeds born and bred and played with such flexibility that it earned him an England call up to play centre back alongside the great Bobby Moore. His love for the club was unquestionable, once signing a blank contract and leaving then manager Jimmy Armfield to decide his wage saying: “I’ll leave it to you. I just want to play for Leeds”. His dedication to the cause was unbeatable, playing in every position besides goalkeeper during his Leeds career, and it evident that his name, while respected, should be elevated to a status similar to that of Bremner.
Following Revie, Clough’s well-documented nightmare at Leeds and Armfield’s period of mid-table obscurity, Leeds plunged into footballing darkness. In October 1988, with the team 21st in the Second Division, Howard Wilkinson was the man given the challenge of dragging the Whites back into England’s football elite. His success at the helm is undeniable; promotion in 1990 and title winners in 1992. However after a period of inconsistency, Wilkinson was fired and George Graham and David O’Leary were left to reap the reward of Wilkinson’s graft behind the scenes. The significance of Wilkinson’s work at Leeds should not be underestimated and, without his development of an effective youth infrastructure in the form of the academy, Leeds would not have the worldwide reputation for developing players that it has now. Indeed, the core of O’Leary’s side including Kewell, Woodgate and Smith were developed under Wilkinson’s tenure. Ultimately, Leeds fans should be eternally grateful for one of his decisions in particular: the signing of Lucas Radebe for just £250,000.
O’Leary’s success and subsequent destruction of Leeds United left the club in an extremely precarious situation. With no money and no players of note, Leeds fans were left clinging onto distant memories of glory as they travelled to League One matches at footballing Meccas such as Stockport County and Wycombe Wanderers. As @LeedsAllOver and @chris_newsom point out, however, one player has subsequently proved his qualities greatly exceeded those of the Leeds team he found himself in. Bradley Johnson played for 3 seasons at Elland Road and was played out of position by McAllister, criticised by fans regularly and even let out on loan by Grayson. It is no wonder then that, upon returning from isolation on the south coast, he requested a transfer. Norwich City was the team who picked him up and his move has since proved the catalyst for yearly raids for our best players by the East Anglia outfit. Since his switch, Johnson has established himself as a Premier League regular and a fan favourite at Carrow Road. He has played with an enthusiasm and aggression that he never showed at Leeds and perhaps Grayson and the fans (myself included) will look back at Johnson as the one that got away
The players mentioned are just some of the names that were suggested for this article, and you will find a list of the others below. The level of respect among the fans for players that leave everything on the pitch is staggering, and it is a key factor in instilling the Leeds United values in the next generation of fans. No matter who your favourite player is (or who you feel deserves more from the fans), Leeds United supporters are always searching for their next legend.
Neil Kilkenny, @curran_steve
Dennis Irwin, @waynesnodin
Peter Haddock, @waynesnodin
Eirik Bakke, @jakerleedsblog
Mick Bates, @LeedsintheBlood
Luciano Becchio, @Jordan_Armo
Carl Shutt, @dodgylufc
Gary Kelly, @lufcstats
Andrew Hughes, @LeedsEditor
Rod Wallace, @LeedsEditor
Robert Snodgrass, @BakkeTheNet
Robert Molenaar, @TSSLUFC
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