LET’S face it, not many Londoners are afforded the warm embrace of Leeds United’s multitudes.
But Jermaine Beckford is one of the few exceptions. The striker was plying his trade with non-league Wealdstone, while working as a windscreen fitter for the RAC when United came calling in March 2006 to beat a number of clubs on his doorstep in the race for his signature including the likes of Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Watford.
The £50,000 fee would ultimately be repaid many, many times over with the deal going down as one of the best in the club’s illustrious history, with his value becoming inestimable.
Yet it took a profitable loan spell at Scunthorpe United to light Beckford’s goalscoring fires in the Football League, with Leeds reaping an ever bigger harvest in 2007-08.
Beckford – who celebrates his 30th birthday next Monday – finished as United’s leading goalscorer with 20 goals and was named the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ before backing it up superbly with 27 league goals and 34 goals in all competitions in the 2008-09 season.
That represented the best haul by any Leeds player since John Charles scored forty-three during the 1953/54 season. But despite putting League One defences to the sword for two seasons, Beckford’s exploits couldn’t yield promotion and therein lie the problem, with a number of rival clubs starting to circle and the Cockney justifiably keen to showcase his talents at a higher level.
A summer of disquiet in 2009 saw him reject a new deal and be placed on the transfer list, only to be taken off it in July, with the club rejecting two bids for a player whose contract expires at the end of the following season.
It was to Beckford’s immense credit that he didn’t let all the fuss regarding his long-term situation affect his day job – scoring goals and plenty of them for the third season running in 2009-10.
He may have been destined for pastures new, but the final chapter in Beckford’s goal-laden United career provided him with the perfect send-off and two sweet moments which have seen him enter Leeds folklore and ensure wherever he returns to Elland Road, he will be afforded a warm reception.
His 19th-minute strike in front of the Stretford End will be recollected forever and a day by the 9,000 United fans who headed over the Pennines to Old Trafford in January 2010 and thousands of others who joyously watched Leeds create the shock of the FA Cup third-round by sinking Manchester United in their own back yard.
As sweet as that strike was, it was Beckford’s leaving present against Bristol Rovers on May 8, 2010 in front of 38,234 fans on a nerve-shredding spring afternoon at Elland Road which had more lasting ramifications.
Beckford’s 63rd-minute goal helped bring an end to three painful campaigns in third-tier football, with ten-man United – as is often their wont – doing it the hard way to finish in the second automatic promotion slot and avoid the cursed play-offs.
The wide-eyed, tongue-sticking-out celebration of the striker, wearing the captain’s armband in his final outing for the club, also became the stuff of legend. Beckford, now plying his trade in the Championship at Bolton, has had one or two moments to savour since at Everton, who he left United to join in the summer of 2010 and Leicester City and Huddersfield Town. They include a goal in a Merseyside derby at Anfield.
But none have truly touched his two choice goals in January 2010 and May 2010 for drama and importance, with those moments ensuring he will always be revered by Leeds supporters.