A piece of pub trivia: which former Leeds United player featured in the title of an album written by the band Saint Etienne in 2006?
Describing the man in question as one of the club’s finer goalkeepers would be a clue of sorts were it not for the fact that Leeds have a tradition of fine goalkeepers. In a list of Gary Sprake, Nigel Martyn, Paul Robinson and others, Mervyn Day – name-checked in Saint Etienne’s What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? – comfortably holds his own. That he experienced some of the leaner years at Elland Road was as much a matter of timing as ability.
Ability was on Day’s side from his earliest years. An Essex and England schoolboy of high repute, Day had scouts from various professional clubs travelling across the country to investigate the fuss by the time he turned 15. West Ham United signed him in 1971, initially on youth forms, and Day became the youngest keeper to play in an FA Cup final when West Ham beat Fulham four years later.
At that stage, people talked of a future England international. Day was the PFA’s choice for Young Player of the Year in 1975 and his appearances for West Ham soon passed 100. But injuries and patchy form began to expose him to the competition around him and he was forced to cut his losses with a transfer to Leyton Orient in 1979.
Once again he caught the eye and tempted Aston Villa to invest £15,000 in him in 1983, a snip of a fee. Thirty starts in two seasons gave him a peripheral feel, however, and Eddie Gray put up twice as much money to take him to Elland Road in 1985. It was arguably Gray’s most astute piece of business in either of his two periods as manager.
Day was the essence of a reliable keeper – calm, composed and unspectacular. When Gray parted company with Leeds, Billy Bremner saw no need for a new face between the posts. Howard Wilkinson also trusted Day as a last line of defence, at least until promotion in 1990 took Leeds back into Division One.
Day reached his 600th club appearance during the 1989-90 season and took home the player of the year award but he saw the writing on the wall when Wilkinson paid £1m for John Lukic as part of his preparation for the following term.
Embarking on his second spell with Leeds, Lukic settled in quickly and Day faded to the fringes of the squad. His last year at Elland Road involved periods of coaching, such was his lack of time on the field, and he joined Carlisle United in 1993. Retirement followed soon after.
His only spell of management – brief though it was – came at Brunton Park and ended in 1997 in a ruthless sacking at the hands of owner Michael Knighton. Day was never short of job offers and he assisted Alan Curbishley at Charlton Athletic and West Ham before returning to Leeds for a short stint as head scout in 2010. In a role reversal, he was employed by Simon Grayson – the young defender who used to scrub Day’s boots as an apprentice at Elland Road.
“Mervyn loves reminding me of that,” Grayson said, “but all I’ll say is he was a poor tipper.”