Leeds United nostalgia: Apprentice who became a master at arch rivals

Jimmy Greenhoff (front, second left).
Jimmy Greenhoff (front, second left).
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FOR JIMMY Greenhoff, footballing stardom may not have ultimately arrived at Elland Road in the Super Leeds era, but decoration was bestowed upon him – albeit elsewhere.

Barnsley-born Greenhoff, like a number of other aspiring United players in the mid-1960s, was a victim of circumstances. Namely in being unlucky enough to be around at a time when United’s embarrassment of footballing riches was comparable to the crown jewels of London.

Let it not be said that Greenhoff didn’t make his mark at Elland Road with his dynamic thrusts, attacking instincts and goalscoring prowess which set him out as much more than a player just making up the numbers.

Unfortunately for him, he had to truly earn his right to play in a midfield and forward line, which was pretty much as good as it gets in English domestic football – ultimately having to move away from Leeds in August 1968 at the age of just 22 on the path to establishing himself as a top-flight regular for a decade.

Part of the Barnsley side which won the 1960-61 English Schools Trophy, Greenhoff, who celebrates his 68th birthday later this month, joined Leeds and served his apprenticeship before making his debut against Southampton in May 1963.

Initially, the young Yorkshireman was an old-fashioned right-half, but with a certain Billy Bremner on the scene, he was pushed further forward, but then two other blessed talents in Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer often barred his way into the first-team.

The likes of Greenhoff, Terry Hibbitt and Rod Belfitt found opportunities hard to come by at times, with patience somewhat of a virtue.

For Greenhoff, his time firmly arrived in the 1966-67 campaign when he struck seven goals as United finished fourth in Division One and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and were knocked out in the final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup by Dynamo Zagreb.

The following season saw Greenhoff claim his first and only pieces of silverware in a United jersey.

With Mick Jones unavailable and Mike O’Grady injured, he was part of the team who triumphed 1-0 against Arsenal in the 1968 League Cup final and also played his part as Leeds lifted the Fairs Cup.

A double-figure haul of 11 goals – only Lorimer scored more in 1967-68 – suggested Greenhoff was finally bridging between being a first player with aspirations to be a firm regular. But it was not to be.

The two legged final with Ferencvaros was truncated with Greenhoff sold to Birmingham City for £70,000 at the start of the 1968-69 season, with the presence of Jones and some other youngsters pivotal in Don Revie’s reasoning for sanctioning the sale, which still surprised many Leeds fans.

Greenhoff soon became a player of note and substance at St Andrews, picking up his first representative honours for England U23s in October 1968.

The second tier was a level that Greenhoff was never destined to stay up for very long, with Tony Waddington’s Stoke shelving out £100,000 to land him in August 1969, with Greenhoff subsequently becoming a legend in the Potteries in the best ever side to represent the club alongside the likes of Denis Smith, Gordon Banks and Terry Conroy.

The Potters reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1971 and 1972, losing to Arsenal on each occasion, lifted the League Cup in 1972 and were a dominant force in the Midlands footballing renaissance, not too far behind Derby County.

Greenhoff was also part of the City side who ended Leeds’ 29-game start to the 1973-74 season at the Victoria Ground in February 1974 and established himself as one of the most respected players in the top-flight, but despite many canvassing for his elevation to the full England ranks, it never came.

After their early seventies zenith, Stoke started to tail off with storm damage to the main stand at the Victoria Ground and a damages bill of £250,000 pivotal in the decision to sell Greenhoff to Manchester United for £200,000 in November 1976 – where he linked up his brother Brian.

Despite being 30, Greenhoff excelled at Old Trafford, picking up an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1977 when he netted the winner in the victory over a treble-chasing Liverpool.

He went onto pick up a loser’s one in 1979, netting 36 goals in 123 games in his time at Old Trafford, which ended late in 1980.

After spells at Crewe, Toronto Blizzard and Port Vale, Greenhoff ended his playing career as player-boss at Rochdale, only to be sacked in March 1984 before joining the Vale coaching staff.

Later, Greenhoff ran his own insurance business in the Stoke area, while continuing to coach youngsters at soccer camps.

He also went on to run a pharmaceutical company in the Potteries, where Stoke fans still hail him one of their greatest ever players.

Thomas Christiansen

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