Blood, sweat and tears – just run of the mill stuff for a Leeds United player in 1987 as ex-White Ian Baird can testify only too well after the fifth-round FA Cup-tie with Queens Park Rangers. Phil Hay reports.
Ian Baird has not forgotten the aftermath of Leeds United’s FA Cup fifth-round win over Queens Park Rangers in 1987. He spent it in Leeds General Infirmary, receiving stitches in one of two head wounds suffered during an all-in tie.
They say that nothing is gained without pain and that result – forever depicted by images of Brendan Ormsby steaming in seal it at the back post before scaling the fencing in front of the Kop – drew blood and sweat from Baird.
“It was well worth it,” he says. “I was a mess but I lived. That was one of those days when Elland Road was at its best.”
Baird was renowned for his combative style – ‘Bairdy’s gonna get ya’ became the title of his autobiography in 2013 – but on that February afternoon 29 years ago, Gary Bannister, the QPR striker, got him. “My everlasting memory of that game is finishing with two big cuts,” Baird says. “They came from Gary Bannister putting six studs right where it hurt.
“I got stitches in one at the ground but back then, believe it or not, I had a full head of hair so no-one spotted the other. I was sat in the players’ lounge later and felt this trickle of blood down my neck. The club doctor had already gone home so Alan Sutton, the physio, took me off to the infirmary. That was how I celebrated.”
For the club in general, Leeds’ 2-1 victory went down as a monumental result; one of their most compelling at the fifth-round stage. Leeds, under Billy Bremner, were in the middle of an excellent season but deep into a long stretch of second division football. The crowd which packed into Elland Road for QPR’s visit, 31,324, was fully 10,000 higher than the stadium’s average, forcing the club to lock the gates and leaving thousands outside to peer in from a nearby car park. The Yorkshire Evening Post captured photographs of supporters sitting on the roofs of nearby houses in Beeston and the interest in the tie was not lost on Baird.
“The atmosphere was electric,” he says. “I’ve seen the pictures of people on top of their houses and it captured the feeling of a game you didn’t want to miss.
“I drove into Elland Road with John Pearson (the forward who Leeds had signed from Charlton Athletic for £72,000 the previous month) and he said ‘this is what you expect it to be like. This is what it should be like at Elland Road every week. I’m not sure if people were confident or not but it felt like they expected us to win.”
Bremner was no more inclined than anyone else to turn up and enjoy the occasion without making something of it. United’s boss called it “one of the biggest occasions we have had for sometime” and, as Steve Evans’ Leeds will attempt to do at Watford this Saturday, he concentrated on causing QPR discomfort. The West London club, managed by Jim Smith, were a slick, first division team with the keystone of former Leeds trainee David Seaman in goal.
“They were a good side, a pretty side,” Baird says. “The one thing you wouldn’t say about us was that we were pretty. We basically tried to get them by the throat. The conditions were in our favour. We had the sort of pitch which certain footballers now wouldn’t dare to walk on with their pretty pink boots but we were fine with that. And obviously it helped that we got ourselves in front.”
Micky Adams, who started at left-back in place of the cup-tied Bobby McDonald, created the opening goal on 18 minutes with a cross which Pearson nodded firmly into Baird’s path.
The striker had Gary Chivers all over him but threw himself forward to nod the ball past a stranded Seaman, a classic Baird finish.
“I often get sent the photo of me diving over him (Chivers) to get to the ball,” Baird says. “People seem to remember that well. It was the sort of goal I scored.
“It put us in control and it probably made QPR realise that they were in trouble. The pitch wasn’t good for them anyway but it was a proper football day – cold, drizzling, muddy. We were in okay form in the league at the time, solid enough, and I don’t think any first division side would have seen Leeds away as a great draw.”
United had seen off Telford United in round three – a game played at West Bromwich Albion amid concerns about how the local police would manage the tie at a non-league venue – and beaten Swindon Town in round four. At the time of QPR’s visit to Elland Road, Leeds were 10th in the second division but close enough to the top end of the league to be in with a chance of making the inaugural Football League play-offs.
With Baird’s goal in their favour, Bremner’s side had chances to finish QPR off. Rangers threatened an equaliser early in the second half when John Byrne’s shot drew a diving save from Mervyn Day. But in the 66th minute an own goal from David Rennie levelled the tie. Martin Allen’s shot into the box bobbled in front of Rennie who sliced a clearance past Day and inside the goalkeeper’s far post.
United’s deflation was brief and Rennie’s mistake unintentionally set the scene for Ormbsy’s finest hour. With five minutes to play, Leeds forced a corner and Pearson met John Sheridan’s delivery with a glancing touch towards the six-yard box. Ormsby timed his run perfectly, dispatching the ball with a bullet of a header which crashed into the roof of Seaman’s net.
“That was Brendan’s trademark,” Baird says. “He didn’t score many goals and he wasn’t the tallest of centre-backs but he had a tremendous, hanging leap on him. He seized the moment really. The chance was there and he took it. As I recall, we were well worth that goal – and the win.”
Ormsby sprinted off the pitch and leapt up to celebrate in front of the Kop.
“Brendan had come from Villa but he ‘got’ Leeds,” Baird says. “The fans wanted you to play for them and that was him all over. The one thing that team didn’t lack was passion and it was there in that QPR game. We wanted the win and we deserved it.”
Ormsby, who suffered a stroke in 2013, and Baird were banned for Leeds’ sixth-round victory over Wigan Athletic after picking up yellow cards against QPR. Both played in United’s semi-final defeat to Coventry City at Hillsborough, a result which Baird still regrets.
“That could have been our day,” he says. “In the end it was Coventry’s day and it was Coventry’s year (City went on to beat Tottenham Hotspur in the final at Wembley). We were coming home from the semi-final on the coach and I remember Bobby McDonald saying to me ‘you don’t look very upset.’ A lot of the lads were, visibly. I just didn’t show it as much. It wasn’t my style.
“Bobby said ‘I’ll tell you this – these opportunities don’t come round very often. You don’t get to go to Wembley very often.’ I was 22, 23 at the time and it didn’t really register. I thought there’d be more chances. But he was right. I never went closer than that.”
Here’s a look at the match stats from Leeds United’s FA Cup fifth round tie against Queens Park Rangers in 1987, plus the Whites’ route to the semi-finals that season.
FA Cup round five, at Elland Road, Saturday, February 21, 1987: Leeds United 2 Queens Park Rangers 1
Goals: Leeds - Baird 18, Ormsby 85. QPR - Rennie 66(og).
Leeds United: Day, Aspin, Adams, Rennie (Buckley), Ashurst, Ormsby, Stiles, Sheridan, Pearson, Baird (Edwards), Ritchie.
Queens Park Rangers: Seaman, Neill, James, Walker (Lee), Chivers, Fenwick, Allen, Fillery (Maguire), Bannister, Byrne, Fereday.
Leeds United’s 1987 FA Cup run:
Round three: January 11, 1987 – Telford United 1 Leeds United 2
Round four: February 3, 1987 – Swindon Town 1 Leeds United 2
Round five: February 21, 1987 – Leeds United 2 Queens Park Rangers 1
Quarter-finals: March 15, 1987 – Wigan Athletic 0 Leeds United 2
Semi-finals: April 12, 1987 – Coventry City 3 Leeds United 2 (after extra time).
Leeds United’s 2016 FA Cup run:
Round three, January 9, 2016: Leeds United 2 Rotherham 0.
Round four: January 30, 2016: Bolton Wanderers 1 Leeds United 2.
Round five: February 20, 2016: Watford v Leeds United.