Leeds United: My Whites playing days - Arthur Graham INTERVIEW

POINTING THE WAY: Scottish wide man Arthur Graham revelled in a central striking role against Wolves.

POINTING THE WAY: Scottish wide man Arthur Graham revelled in a central striking role against Wolves.

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A picture-book hat-trick against Wolves will always be the top Elland Road memory of former Scottish international forward Arthur Graham, as Leon Wobschall discovered.

Not many players are able to bask in the glow of notching a hat-trick for Leeds United, let alone three.

Arthur Graham can, although you don’t have to press him long for him to tell you which one he recalls the best.

The date was Saturday, September 5, 1981 and the headline in the YEP’s Green Post that night said it all. “King Arthur Rules” – not in deference to firebrand Yorkshire miners’ leader and soon-to-be NUM national president Arthur Scargill, but a tricky Leeds United and Scotland winger.

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Handed a roving commission up front, Graham terrorised the harassed Wolverhampton Wanderers defence that early autumnal afternoon at Elland Road, notching all three goals as United claimed their first Division One win of the campaign in a 3-0 triumph in front of a crowd of 20,216.

And to make the occasion even sweeter the TV cameras were there to record Graham’s exploits, in the days when regional highlights were the order of the day, with the dulcet tones of a fledgling TV commentator by the name of John Helm describing Graham’s feats the following lunchtime in YTV’s Football Special.

The 58-year-old still has a video of the game, bought for him some years later by his daughter, and a photo of that milestone afternoon hangs at his West Yorkshire home.

Stick

Despite his treble tonic, Graham, who still has connections with United through his work as an academy coach, insists he wasn’t the star man on the pitch that day against John Barnwell’s Wolves.

According to the Scot, that mantle belonged to United legend and fellow Glaswegian Eddie Gray, who turned in an exemplary display in his 400th league game for United.

But the headlines were hogged by Graham who hails from Castlemilk, the same Clydeside suburb as Gray – the previous United player to celebrate scoring a hat-trick at Elland Road, in a 5-1 routing of Leicester City in March 1978.

Graham said: “The Wolves game will always stick out for me, though I also got hat-tricks against Valetta and Birmingham.

“I’ve still got the Wolves hat-trick on video somewhere, though I haven’t seen it for a while now. You still keep hold of those things and it’s probably the highlight I remember from my time at Leeds.

“It was a televised game and I remember Eddie playing left-back that day and he was the best player on the pitch.

“I was playing as a makeshift striker and Eddie crossed the ball perfectly and I went diving in for the first goal with a header.

“I remember the third one as well. Peter Barnes took a corner from the left-hand side and I just controlled it with one foot and smashed it in with the other into the corner. That was a bit special, in front of the Kop as well.

“I’ve got a picture of it as well when I controlled it and hit it in. I remember Andy Gray was on the post for them and in the picture, the ball just goes above his head into the top corner and he’s diving and trying to get it away with his head. So, I’ve got a nice picture of him missing it!

“I mainly did play wide, but when I did play as a makeshift striker, as I did against Wolves, I scored a few goals, considering. I probably could have scored a few more with a bit more time on my finishing, as sometimes I hurried it.”

Finding the net certainly wasn’t a problem for Graham at the start of 1981-82, the Scot crowning a top-notch performance in the game prior to the Wolves encounter by netting United’s goal in a 1-1 draw against Everton at Goodison Park.

His treble against Wanderers took his tally to four with the season in its infancy, as many as he managed in the whole of the previous campaign, but the presence of £930,000 then club-record summer arrival Peter Barnes on the wing allowing Graham a freer role.

Sadly, the goals and the wins soon started to dry up for Graham and Leeds, who promptly went on a eight-match winless streak in league and cup, the sign of things to come in a season that proved to be truly wretched on and off the field.

A brief winter upturn, which saw Kenny Burns brought into bolster the back four, did help steady the ship a little and the arrival of Frank Worthington in the spring provided some badly-needed firepower in the quest to avoided the dreaded drop.

But Worthington’s haul of nine goals in 17 matches proved futile and the last rites were administered, amid all manner of vicissitude, at the Hawthorns on May 18, 1982 when serious crowd trouble dragged United’s name through the mud.

United famously failed to get the point they needed to survive at West Brom, losing 2-0 with Stoke City’s subsequent home win against the Baggies condemning Allan Clarke’s men to the third and final relegation slot as they accompanied Albion’s Black Country foes Wolves and Middlesbrough into the second tier.

Graham recollects: “Relegation was quite hard to take for a while and it just went to show how you can easily be dragged into it. Some clubs are fighting to avoid relegation from the first game. But it was a shock for us to go down, definitely.

“I couldn’t believe we went down that season. My hat-trick was quite early in the season and we had an OK start and then just got dragged into it. Before we knew it, we were right in it, but we always thought: ‘Ah well, we’ll get out of this.’

“But we never did. I remember when we played Aston Villa in the last month of the season and they were in the old European Cup final and we thrashed them 4-1. I thought that might be us getting back on a run and up the table, but it then seemed to go pear shaped.”

Quickest

While United toiled to get out of the old second division, a return to the big time beckoned a year later for Graham, who headed over the Pennines to Old Trafford in August 1983 for a brief spell in the sun with Ron Atkinson’s Red Devils. That preceded a stint back in Yorkshire at Bradford City.

But it’s his time at Elland Road which Graham savours most after taking the well-trodden route south of the border to seek footballing fame, joining United from Aberdeen as a 24-year-old in July 1977.

While his treble against Wolves will always take pride of place, there’s also the not inconsiderable matter of recording one of the quickest hat-tricks ever in Football League history against Birmingham City in January 1978 to recollect fondly.

For the record, United triumphed 3-2 at St Andrews with newspaper reports crediting Graham, whose nickname fittingly was lightning, with goals in the 65th, 67th and 69th minutes. A victory inspired, not for the first time, by Eddie Gray.

A major source of dispute was Graham’s opener, with Blues keeper Jimmy Montgomery convinced Gray’s cross had curled out of play but, if truth be told, the major bone of contention all these years on for Graham is when the goals were actually scored!

The Scot’s other triple whammy arrived on the picturesque Mediterranean island of Malta in September 1979, at Valetta’s Gzira Stadium to be precise, in front of 18,000 spectators and a home side made up mainly of head-waiters, accountants and machine operators.

His haul in the 4-0 victory in the Uefa Cup first-leg encounter provided the polish for United’s first European foray since that infamous and black night in Paris in May 1975 and was another source of pride for the wing man.

He said: “I can put three hat-tricks on my Leeds’ CV, which can’t be bad. It’s a good achievement and I’m pleased with that.

“People still talk about the Birmingham hat-trick, though I’ve got to be honest and say I thought I got two goals just before half-time and then right after it. I’ll have to check it out! But it was just nice to get a hat-trick.

“There’s also the hat-trick in Malta, although I can’t really remember much about that. I do remember the pitch wasn’t really grass, but a hard chalky surface, that was probably the main thing.

“I loved my time at Leeds and I still coach and have got big connections with the club and hopefully we can get back up where we belong soon.

“I think Simon Grayson has done a great job, I must admit. He’s not really bought any big players in, has he?

“He and the staff should be commended because they are in with a lot of clubs who have thrown a few quid at it as well and clubs with money who have come down from the Premiership too.

“It’s a tough league to get out of and we’re doing well. If we can be in the play-off places, it’s a case of seeing what happens and you never know.”

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