Brian Flynn has many happy memories with United, but probably the best was his winner against Manchester United. Leon Wobschall chats with the former Whites favourite.
MENTION the gladiatorial contests between Leeds United and their arch rivals from across the Pennines to Brian Flynn and a broad smile will quickly radiate.
The pint-sized Welshman will forever be etched in Whites folklore, courtesy of one moment one winter’s day at Old Trafford in 1981, which the 55-year-old has dined out on for the past three decades.
And it’s a fair bet that when Leeds were pitted with Manchester United following last weekend’s Carling Cup draw – with the tie having fans and the journalistic fraternity alike salivating at its prospect – that the memories flooded back for Flynn.
Flynn, now in charge of several Welsh international sides just below senior level after distinguished service at club level with Wrexham and Swansea City, will forever be remembered for THAT goal.
It arrived on February, 21 1981 when the workaholic schemer, who spent the second half of the 1970s and early part of the 1980s at Elland Road, arrived right on cue to latch on to a cross from compatriot Carl Harris, who hailed from Neath, just up the road from Port Talbot where Flynn was born.
The rest is history, with Flynn firing past Gary Bailey to herald wild celebrations in the visitors’ enclosure.
The midfield grafter was also at Old Trafford – supporting Leeds, it goes without saying – in January 2010 when Jermaine Beckford laid a near 29-year ghost to hand the Whites a milestone win on the red side of Manchester.
But it’s not as if the goal from Flynn – referred to constantly in the build-up to that FA Cup third-round tie in 2010 – will ever become a small footnote in United’s history.
victories over the team Leeds love to hate like no other are savoured forever and a day, particularly the rare ones in enemy territory and are comfortably worth their weight in gold.
Flynn told the YEP: “Every time I go to Elland Road or pop into Leeds, the Leeds fans constantly remind me of my goal.
“I remember the build up with Kevin Hird playing a really good ball into Carl Harris. I was haring into the box and just thought: ‘Cross it early’. The timing suited me perfectly and the ball nestled into the bottom corner. To be remembered for that is really nice.
“I went to watch the cup tie at Old Trafford and Leeds won that as well. But that was only the FA Cup and not the league! Not a top league win against Man United, so my record still sticks!
“I’d like it to stay that way, although what I really want is for Leeds to be back in the Premiership. If it did happen and Leeds won at Old Trafford, that would be nice.”
While Flynn will be remembered by legions of Whites fans for his golden strike, he had long since gained the respect of punters for his graft and appetite in the engine room for United for several seasons after joining the club from Burnley for £175,000 in November 1977.
A fixture for club and country during his time at United, Flynn – who picked up 32 of his 66 Welsh caps while at Elland Road – was very much the foil for the midfield flamboyance of Tony Currie, who lit up many a dark afternoon in the late 1970s, a time when the country was pretty much on its knees.
While United were not exactly on the canvas after battling to pick up the pieces after the break-up of the legendary Don Revie line-up, keeping their place at the top table of English football was more of a battle, with “upstarts” such as Southampton, Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town threatening to break the big-city hegemony.
One of the many disappointments for Leeds was their gut-wrenching League Cup semi-final defeat to Southampton in early 1979, a result that sticks in the claw for Flynn.
It was a case of so close, yet so far with the fact that a Welshman – Treorchy referee Clive Thomas – played an inadvertent part in United’s two-legged loss to Lawrie McMenemy’s Saints rubbing salt in the wounds.
Flynn said: “I’ll always remember the Southampton game. A Welshman played a big part in that in terms of the referee down at Southampton, who was Clive Thomas.
“I always remember that 50 per cent of the pitch was frozen and unplayable and he went ahead and played it!
“But in saying that, in the first leg we were 2-0 up and we squandered that lead, so it wasn’t that away game that cost us really.
“I had joined the club when it was a transitional period, when the likes of Billy (Bremner), Jack (Charlton), Norman (Hunter) and Johnny (Giles) had left and me, Ray Hankin, Paul Hart and others had came in.
“But in my first four years, if the records prove me right, we finished pretty high up and I remember Jimmy Armfield got the sack after we’d finished in the top 10. Leeds would take that now.
“I hadn’t really wanted to leave Burnley, who had a very good youth policy at that time and a production line of bringing players through. But the policy from the top – the chairman Bob Lord – was that if we were to reinvest in youth development, a player a year must be sold.
“Ray Hankin went the year before I left to Leeds and in effect, I was the next in line. It wasn’t to do with relegation or ambition; I was more than happy at Burnley.
“There was interest from other clubs. I did go down to London to speak to Queens Park Rangers, while Ipswich were involved as well. But as soon as I found out that Leeds were ready and waiting, I had no hesitation.
“Leeds traditionally had a few Welshmen which also helped, even the groundsman, Johnny (Reynolds), who seemed to have been there about 200 years! There was also a clutch of players; Byron Stevenson, Gwyn Thomas and Carl Harris and a big Welsh community.
“Big John (Charles) was also based around there as well.
“I formed a good partnership with TC (Currie), who was one of the best players I ever played with. I enjoyed the partnership, both on and off the field – we got on really well.
“And I have to say that Leeds is a fantastic club and the fans are the best in the world, in my view. We always had huge support in my days there, which was great and Elland Road was just scintillating. This was especially true with evening games when the atmosphere seemed to be red hot – it was great to have those fans on our side.”
Flynn eventually left Leeds to return to Turf Moor, initially on loan in March 1982 before signing on full time with the Clarets eight months later.
After that, lower-league spells followed at the likes of Cardiff, Doncaster Rovers and Bury before Flynn wound down his career with Wrexham, subsequently becoming player-boss.
Flynn helped to put the Red Dragons on the footballing map and restored the club’s reputation as cup kings, with one of the greatest-ever days at the Racecourse coming when his side beat the mighty Arsenal in a massive cup upset in 1992.
A run to the quarter-finals followed in 1996-97 and after helping to breathe new life into an ailing giant in Swansea, country called for Flynn, who has been busy bringing on the next generation of Welsh stars – and a few household names – for most of the past decade.
He said: “I enjoyed club management, although I never played against Leeds professionally as a manager.
“The only time I’ve been involved was when Paul Hart, then Leeds’ youth-team manager, brought a team over for a pre-season game (to Wrexham) and I remember seeing a young Harry Kewell and Stephen McPhail and thinking: ‘What players these are’! They had some great young talent.
“I’m now busy working with the young Wales teams and my official title is ‘intermediate teams manager’.
“I manage the under 17s, under 19s and under 21s and I’m now in my seventh year of doing that.
“The two special ones that I’ve helped to bring through that everyone will know are Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. I identified them at 14 years of age to go to the under-17s – I fast-tracked them, basically.
“In the last international squad, when Wales played Australia, out of the 23 players selected, 18 came through from the under-17s to under-21s. That’s a good quota and we’ve got a good young bunch coming through.”