Although playing for Don Revie’s Leeds was a career high for Roy Ellam, scoring the winner for the Terriers against United was also an unforgettable experience.
THE A62 derby will always have extra-special resonance for Roy Ellam.
The 69-year-old remains the last player who made the transfer from Huddersfield Town to Leeds United – in August 1972 – and as a Town season-ticket holder, can’t wait for the resumption of the big West Yorkshire derby on December 1.
On the Town side at least, the two clashes with United are the main games for anyone associated with the blue and white and Ellam has more reason than most to remember one particular joust over four decades ago.
The date of September 25, 1971 will forever stand out for the no-nonsense centre-half, unlikely goal hero in Town’s 2-1 victory over United in front of 26,340 mostly ecstatic punters at Leeds Road.
It was a small crumb of comfort in what proved a largely awful 1971-72 campaign for Huddersfield, their last one in the top flight of English football.
Don Revie’s Super Leeds line-up and Ian Greaves’ Town ended up at opposite ends of the table, the latter firmly anchored to the bottom after just six wins in 42 matches.
In contrast, the Whites went desperately close to a famous league and cup double in their centenary season, with Derby County winning Division One by a single point after Leeds were controversially ordered by Football League secretary Alan Hardaker to play their fateful final league game at Molineux just 48 hours after winning the FA Cup.
While that painful 2-1 defeat still rankles with seasoned United fans, it would have been rendered insignificant had Revie’s men not slipped up on the road against bottom six sides Coventry City, Southampton and most damagingly, Town.
On that autumnal afternoon at Leeds Road, it was Ellam who played the telling hand, blasting home a rebound 13 minutes into the second half after Gary Sprake had parried Jimmy Lawson’s effort following Les Chapman’s corner – while marking Revie’s card ahead of moving to Elland Road the following summer.
United, playing in red, were minus the services of Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, Eddie Gray and Mick Bates with the game coming just three days after a Fairs Cup play-off assignment in Barcelona.
Reserve players Rod Belfitt and Huddersfield-born Chris Galvin were handed rare starts and it was Town who drew first blood courtesy of a brilliant scissors-kick from Lawson on 17 minutes.
United dusted themselves down and restored parity two minutes before the interval when Peter Lorimer set up Jack Charlton for a leveller.
Ellam – more known from slugging it out with opposing forwards – saw his name in lights at the other end of the pitch on 58 minutes, with United’s best chance of salvaging something arriving when Terry Cooper smashed a long-range effort against the bar with ten minutes left.
On being the talk of the Town, Hemsworth-born Ellam – brought up as a Barnsley fan ahead of playing for all of West Yorkshire’s professional clubs – first Bradford City and then Town and United – recalled: “I’ll always remember that game. We had two seasons in the first division and looking back, Town fans relish those days. And that win over Leeds was particularly memorable along with promotion at Middlesbrough (in April 1970) to get into the first division and the famous cup game over West Ham (in February 1972).
“Leeds were a real power and it was them and Arsenal who were the teams leading the pack back then. But really, Leeds were THE team. A great manager and great bunch of players; you couldn’t speak too highly of them.
“While it’s a long time ago, I do remember Big Jack playing centre-forward in the last 20 minutes, like he used to do anyway as if Leeds went behind, you’d usually see Jack up front.
“I marked Jack and he was one of those grumpy players on the field! I think Leeds thought they had a divine right to beat everybody, which is a fantastic mentality to have. Jack had a bit of a spat with me after the match saying stuff. But it was a great day and I must admit I’ve still got it on video, I’ve kept it for my grandkids.”
And on his goal-den moment, he added: “I scored directly from a corner kick and from what I remember there was a bit of a melee.
“It just dropped in the goalmouth and I got it on my left foot and just whacked it and it went in.
“I remember Gary Sprake saying to me: ‘I had no idea where that was going big fella, when it dropped at your feet.’ I just said: ‘You had no chance of knowing because I didn’t know where it was going when it dropped on my left foot!’ It was all banter and the lads celebrated that success as they weren’t too many. Especially against Leeds,who were a great, great team.
“In all fairness, I only scored something like eight goals in my career. I was the one who always stayed at the back and just went up for corners to cause a disturbance and chaos and upset people. Usually it was a case of letting the lads get the knock-downs.”
That victory was part of comfortably Town’s best sequence of the season – a return of four wins in five matches.
But it was pretty much downhill all the way after that with Greaves’ side winning just two of their remaining 32 league matches – the shock success over United being just one of four at Leeds Road in 1971-72 with Town failing to win a league game from November 1971 to season’s end.
That line-up was promptly broken up with the summer of 1972 seeing Ellam and classy central defensive partner Trevor Cherry make the short move to Leeds, while star striker Frank Worthington also left amid the fall-out of relegation.
Suffice to say, the rot had well and truly set in at Town, who went on to drop into the Football League basement in 1974-75.
While Cherry went on to sample halcyon moments with the Whites at both club and international level, it was in marked contrast to Ellam, largely forced to do the equivalent of bang his head against a brick wall as he found it nigh on impossible to break into one of the greatest-ever club sides.
But Ellam, who played just 11 times for the Whites before rejoining Town in 1974, remains grateful for being given the opportunity to join one of football’s genuine giants at the height of its powers.
On heading to Leeds, he said: “I played alongside Trevor for about five years at Town and we had a terrific understanding and I’d imagine Revie had thought about that.
“He was a fantastic partner. Ian Greaves used to say how we dovetailed together and that we knew each other’s jobs and could instantly read situations.
“I used to get the batterings and looked after the big fellas and Trevor used to pick up the pieces. I always said we’d have a couple of lads who would play for England and they both did in Trevor and Frank Worthington.”
He added: “I will always be grateful for joining Leeds. To go there when they were top of the tree was fantastic. The squad of players they had there was absolutely amazing.
“I know it’s hard to do comparisons, but I don’t think I’ll live to see a squad like the one Leeds had, which was phenomenal.
“Even the fringe players were still blooming good ones. They would have got in anybody’s squad and most teams. One of Revie’s secrets was that he had got players on tap who he could bring in and replace people.
“To be fair, Don was a bit of a tinkerman when he’d say switch it around if Leeds had a big European game coming up. He was of the pioneers of that as he had the squad to do it. I think in terms of my Leeds United career, I probably played more European than league games.
“Although he was very, very loyal in terms of putting his first 11 out there for the big games.
“Looking back, I didn’t start very well at Leeds and on my debut at Chelsea, we got stuffed and ended up with nine men.
Then six months later, big Gordon McQueen came along and pushed my nose out and I was essentially a squad player.
“Then Bobby Collins took over at Town and they came and asked for me back and I went there.”
Despite failing to establish himself in the big time at Leeds, Ellam still holds the club in high regard, while his enthusiasm for the game is as big as it was in his playing days.
Especially when it’s derby time and he is truly spoilt for choice next season.
“I go to watch Town with my grandson and I must admit I was sick as a parrot and fed up with League One.
“So I’m absolutely delighted Town have got out of there now. They should have a great time in that league as they now play Leeds United, Barnsley, Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley. They are going to fill the away end of the ground most weeks.
“The local derbies will add that extra spice to it for Town.”