Daniel Chapman: Here's to the Leeds United memories, from Strachan against Leicester to Beckford against Bristol Rovers, to Phillips against Birmingham
“It’s a fair act from God,” said Marcelo Bielsa, after Kalvin Phillips scored the first goal of Leeds United’s second hundred years.
It’s about time: perhaps God is finally wilting under the pressure from Don Revie, Billy Bremner et al. If this fair act is setting the tone, hopefully this is the start of century two, the one when Leeds United win.
Phillips’ goal was perfect, the sort of moment that gets thrown out of script meetings for carrying too much symbolism to feel true. It was the plot device that saved the glitter cannons perched on the West Stand roof from becoming the first unwitting metaphor of the Peacocks’ new century, a ticker-tape parade called off and packed away, except perhaps for one lonely misfire, heralding a 0-0 draw.
If you were feeling nostalgic – and if you weren’t, what happened? – Phillips’ goal looked a little like Jermaine Beckford’s against Bristol Rovers in 2010: the loose ball won by Jack Harrison, cosplaying as Bradley Johnson, who drove into the left channel and forced the ball across.
The finish, as Phillips fell and slid and scuffed his shot past the keeper, had a bit of David Batty against Manchester City in 1991; somewhere on Teesside, Jonny Howson was being made jealous by a score alert. Paul Madeley, whose walk to Elland Road was even shorter than Kalvin’s, would have been pleased to score it.
I wonder if Kalvin Phillips will be remembering that goal for as long as Jermaine Beckford has been describing his against Bristol Rovers, or that other one with the song.
Or, for as long as Gordon Strachan has been talking people through his strike against Leicester City to save our promotion chances in 1990, struggling to describe it better than John Helm’s commentary: “Have you ever seen a better goal? And have you ever seen one better timed?”
I once asked Strachan about that goal and, in his own way, he outdid Helm.
He said he could still feel the ball leaving his foot, and made a vague gesture with his left leg, as if resisting his memory’s urge to take his whole body back to the South Stand and enact the moment again.
It was a surprising recollection, that he could still feel it like a bruise that won’t fade, but I was surprised again in the same interview when he had to be reminded about our League Cup semi-final against Manchester United the next season.
“Did we?” he asked me. “I’d forgotten all about that.” A two-legged tie against his former club, against the manager he’d grown up with at Aberdeen, with a Wembley final at stake.
I remember it vividly, but I was a kid watching on television. Strachan was the captain on the pitch, and couldn’t remember a thing.
“Was it the one when Chappy had his face stitched up?” he asked, and that was what he remembered: seeing Lee Chapman playing just a week after he fell, unconscious and face first, onto Tottenham’s running track. “That was terrible. But no, I don’t remember anything about that game.”
There were so many games, and a players’ perspective is so different from a fan’s, it’s hard to reconcile our memories. We all saw different things.
Royden Wood, the Peacocks’ 89 year old former goalkeeper, was asked last week about playing with John Charles, one of the greatest there will ever be, and he fondly remembered tearing strips off young Charles in the changing rooms for his defensive mistakes.
Charlton, in turn, has often remembered how the Gentle Giant once pinned him up against the wall for stepping out of line.
Then Don Revie had the memory, as a new manager, of dodging a full tea cup launched at him by Big Jack, and how he decided after that to save his post-match criticism for Monday mornings.
One of the sweet and tantalising stories of the centenary celebrations has been watching the mingling of memories, as players from different eras stood shoulder to shoulder for a squad photo encompassing decades.
Cameras also caught a dream-like convention of centre-forwards, Allan Clarke holding court with Eddie Nketiah, Luciano Becchio and Jermaine Beckford.
The most unexpected moment of Saturday’s celebrations was when 35,000 at Elland Road watched Beckford arm in arm with Howard Wilkinson, walking together, reluctantly, off the pitch.
Their memories are full of Leeds United, and it was beautiful to share the making of another memory with them.
Some things are unforgettable.
Here’s to more like them.
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.