Those who claim that modern football is rubbish might use the January transfer window to prove their point: a new creation, the merit of which has never quite been proven.
The window did not exist 20 years ago but at Christmas in 1994 Howard Wilkinson had a plan for the new year. The following month, he and Leeds United got the marquee signing they’d been looking for: Tony Yeboah at a cost of £3.4m.
Yeboah was a marquee player to those who had heard of him. He was little-known in England if known at all, but in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt the Ghanaian had made a name for himself – an explosive striker with a bodybuilder’s bulk and the power of a 100m sprinter.
In Frankfurt, Yeboah attracted a cult following who went by the name of Zeugen Yeboahs (Yeboah’s Witnesses). There was anger in the city over his transfer to Leeds but Yeboah was one of a number of players who had fallen out with Frankfurt manager Jupp Heynckes. Politics told and the money talked.
In Yorkshire, Yeboah’s legend was destined to be built on his raking volley against Liverpool, his goal of the season at Wimbledon and his technically brilliant hat-trick in Monaco. But he also had a hand in the one of the most satisfying festive wins Leeds have ever produced – a 3-1 victory over Manchester United on Christmas Eve in 1995.
Even now it is clear how badly United needed that shot in the arm. Eight days earlier they were beaten 6-2 at Sheffield Wednesday, a humiliating experience for Wilkinson against the team he quit to manage Leeds. On the same weekend, Manchester United comprehensively outplayed Liverpool at Old Trafford. Leeds must have feared the worst. The festive preparations were evidently complete by the time the match at Elland Road kicked off. Christmas Eve or not, the attendance fell 199 short of 40,000. It took five minutes for Gary McAllister to reward the turn-out with a penalty which left Alex Ferguson spitting.
Nicky Butt was the guilty party, penalised by referee Dermot Gallagher for handling the ball as the visitors defended a corner. “It was given in circumstances that were beyond me,” Ferguson said later. McAllister took the penalty and drove it into the top corner of Peter Schmeichel’s net, registering his 100th domestic goal.
Manchester United replied on the half-hour, courtesy of a rare mistake from Gary Speed. His loss of possession outside his own box left Leeds exposed and Andy Cole arrived to turn home Butt’s cross from short range. Yeboah, nonetheless, was the thorn in Ferguson’s side. While the Scot ridiculed the impact of Tomas Brolin up front, he bowed to Yeboah’s aggressive impact.
The forward reclaimed the lead shortly before half-time, pouncing on a mistake by Paul Parker, and stormed to the edge of box. Denis Irwin played Yeboah onto his supposedly weaker right foot but the striker chipped a deadly finish over the advancing Schmeichel. By then, Speed and Brian Deane had hit the woodwork – Deane with a glorious lob which cracked against the crossbar – and the match appeared to be heading one way. Deane duly wrapped it up when he headed home Brolin’s delivery in the second half.
Ferguson fumed but Wilkinson looked as happy as he ever did. “It’s easier to look good against a team who come here to try and win the match,” he said graciously.
FA Premiership: Sunday, December 24, 1995. Leeds United 3 Manchester United 1.
Goals: Leeds – McAllister 5 pen, Yeboah 44, Deane 73. Manchester United – Cole 30.
Leeds United: Beeney, Kelly, Wetherall, Jobson, Dorigo, Palmer, McAllister, Speed, Brolin, Yeboah (Wallace 86), Deane.
Manchester United: Schmeichel, G Neville, Bruce (P Neville 79), Parker (May 74), Irwin, Keane, Beckham (Scholes 74), Butt, Cantona, McClair, Cole.
Referee: Dermot Gallagher.
Leeds United On this Day
58 years ago: Leeds United played their first-ever game on a Christmas Day, drawing 1-1 with Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. Harold Brook netted for Leeds.
19 years ago: United provided their fans with the Christmas present they all craved with an oh-so-sweet 3-1 win over bitter foes Manchester United at Elland Road, thanks to goals from Gary McAllister (pen), Tony Yeboah and Brian Deane.
14 years ago: Robbie Keane made his debut for United when he came on as a second-half substitute in the clash against Aston Villa, a club he would later join on loan. Initially signed on loan, the Irishman went onto join United permanently in the spring of 2001 for around £12m. Villa triumphed 2-1 that day, with Jonathan Woodgate netting for Leeds.
Eight years ago: Morley-born teenager Jonathan Howson produced a man-of-the-match performance on his full debut for United, providing the highlight of a dour 0-0 draw with Yorkshire rivals Hull City at Elland Road.
Six years ago: Former United player and fan Simon Grayson, above, was named as the club’s new manager after leaving Championship outfit Blackpool. He said: “There’s no other club that I would have dropped out of the Championship for. This is Leeds United.”