Ian Baird was one of the talents that Leeds fans held on to during the dark and disappointing period of the 1980s, his ability giving fans a reason to keep going.
Signed for £50,000 from Southampton, Baird had not yet done much with his career. A tally of five goals in 22 games for the south coast club suggested that.
He won over the Leeds fans, however, despite a less than incredible goalscoring record at the club. Admittedly, 33 goals in the 85 games he played for Leeds during his first spell is not a bad record, but similarly, it’s not the sort of record that hero worship is built upon.
What captivated the Elland Road faithful was his attitude, work rate, aggression and skill.
Ian Baird gave Leeds fans something to believe in, when turmoil had taught them not to believe repeatedly over the previous few years.
The extent to which Baird was respected was demonstrated by the fact that he was made captain of the club by the club’s greatest ever captain, Billy Bremner.
Bremner led the side in what would turn out to be a false revival, reaching the FA Cup semi-final in 1987.
Leeds would also come close to promotion that season, reaching the play-off final, drawing on aggregate. In a one-off replay to decide who would be promoted, Leeds lost 2-1 at St Andrews.
With promotion off the table, Baird’s performances attracted interest from other sides, especially Portsmouth, who ultimately signed the player for £285,000.
Baird struggled in his attempt to help Portsmouth sustain their top flight status, however, scoring only one goal in 20 games.
With Portsmouth struggling financially, Leeds returned for Baird and resigned him for a fraction of the sale price, only £120,000.
He resettled immediately, winning the club’s player of the season award in 1989.
The arrival of Howard Wilkinson, the man he refers to as the gaffer even to this day, heralded Leeds’s most successful period since Revie’s glory days. Wilkinson used Baird during the promotion season, but with Lee Chapman signing, he was deemed surplus to requirements and sold to Middlesbrough in January for £500,000.
The cult hero still looks back on his time at Leeds with fondness, as he did before the recent publication of a book about his career, Bairdy’s Gonna Get Ya!
He said: “Leeds will always be a special club for me.
“The fanaticism of the supporters when I was there was unbelievable.
“I wasn’t the best player in the world, but always gave 100 per cent and for me to play for Leeds made me so proud.”
Luckily for Leeds, Baird still had a say in helping the title arrive at Elland Road.
His two goals for Middlesbrough on the final day consigned Newcastle to defeat, and meant that Leeds’win in Bournemouth secured them the title on goal difference over Sheffield United.
Baird had played enough games before his departure that he was even given a medal, and has retained his place in the affections of Leeds fans since.