Leeds United: Freed Whites fan reunited with friends

TOGETHER AGAIN: At the Moorgate Pub, Kippax, Leeds, are, at front, Gary Edwards with Billy Burton, and at back, Simon Turnpenny, Richard Hazelgrave, Paul Turnpenny, John Cooper, Peter Thompson and Richard Seymour.
TOGETHER AGAIN: At the Moorgate Pub, Kippax, Leeds, are, at front, Gary Edwards with Billy Burton, and at back, Simon Turnpenny, Richard Hazelgrave, Paul Turnpenny, John Cooper, Peter Thompson and Richard Seymour.
0
Have your say

When this group of friends was last together, Leeds United were champions of England.

Back then, in the autumn of 1992, they could never have imagined that one of their number would spend most of the next 20 years languishing in jail in the Philippines.

Now, though, United fan Billy Burton is rebuilding his life in Britain following his pardon for a drug smuggling conviction.

And, after a few weeks of acclimatising to his new-found freedom, Billy has enjoyed a long-overdue reunion with his footballing band of brothers.

They got together in the Moorgate pub at Kippax for an evening when two decades of hurt disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Thalidomide victim Billy, from Wetherby, said: “It was an unbelievable night, quite overwhelming really. It just shows how friendships can stretch right around the world and over so many years.

“We were mainly talking about football and reminiscing about the scrapes we used to get into. The lads haven’t changed a bit – they’re still ugly and they’re still not very funny!”

Billy, 49, is planning to mainly follow Leeds to away games next season.

He is also teaming up with Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke to launch an anti-drugs campaign for schools.

And Billy revealed that the Foreign Office has asked him to appear in a series of commercials for TV and YouTube, warning people not to make the same mistake he did.

He said: “They reckon that, rather than using actors, to have someone that’s actually been there will be more effective.”

Billy was given a 30-year jail sentence after being caught trying to smuggle 12lb of cannabis out of the Philipinnes on Boxing Day 1992.

He was pardoned on the grounds of ill health last December but bureaucratic delays meant he did not return to Britain until April.

Billy’s final Leeds game before his ill-fated trip to the Philippines was the home leg of United’s European Cup tie against Rangers in November 1992.