Leeds United: Counting down to discover the No 1 cult hero at Elland Road
WHAT makes a cult hero?
It is not talent that defines the players that fans take into their hearts. It is not even longevity, but
can be as simple as the effort with which a player plays, the way he talks or the way he
embraces a club.
Cult heroes can be good, they can be bad, and they can also operate in a bizarre middle ground
that leaves half of a stadium up in arms and the other half applauding.
Leeds have had their fair share over the years. It’s time to celebrate those who will never have
statues built of them, but deserve a place in Leeds United’s history nonetheless.
Throughout this week, I will be counting down my own top 20 chart and you will be free to provide your comments at the end of it.
So here goes with my opening selections:
20. Kevin Hird
Mention the name Kevin Hird to any Leeds fan over a certain age and you’ll get one word thrown back at you: “enigma”.
Hird could play anywhere on the right-hand side of the pitch, if he wanted to, but it was never clear which Kevin Hird would turn up on any given day.
He was the most expensive full-back in English football when he was signed.
In terms of what made Leeds fans love him, few will forget the goal Brighton which nearly kept Leeds in the top flight 1981/82.
At the same time, there were large swathes of fans who will tell you that he was nothing more than a clumsy work-horse.
No-one will ever really understand Hird, but that does not stop the affectionate way Leeds fans talk about the man they nicknamed ‘Jasper’.
19. Robert Molenaar
When Emile Heskey was one of English football’s top prospects, rather than the walking meme he became in his later career, he came to Elland Road with Leicester City expecting another easy day.
He left two hours later, bruised and broken, having come up against the man that Leeds fans came to call The Terminator.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger would have struggled in the air against Robert Molenaar, a bulky £1m George Graham signing who helped shore up the Leeds defence.
His debut against Heskey is the stuff of legend, with Molenaar sending him straight into the West Stand on their first aerial duel.
Molenaar’s sheer size is still spoken of in Biblical terms, the Leviathan at the back as Leeds tried to rebuild.
Only a true first team player at Leeds for just over a season, that does not stop Leeds fans from holding him in great esteem.
18. Patrick Kisnorbo
In the case of Patrick Kisnorbo, there’s almost a sense of what might have been.
The Australian central defender came into Elland Road and almost immediately helped fix what had been a porous back-line.
He was integral as Leeds stormed to the top of League One, and the image of him on January 3rd, bloody, bandaged and bruised after the Whites beat Manchester United, has become one of the most iconic photos in Leeds history.
With his head constantly bandaged, he rejected plastic surgery as that meant he would have had to miss games - something he could not accept.
However, Kisnorbo was cut down in his prime at Leeds, suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon towards the end of the 2009/10 season.
He was named in the PFA Team of the Year despite the injury.
Kisnorbo stuck around for another three seasons but the bruising centre-back was never the same again.
In terms of heroism though, there are few who put their body on the line for Leeds like Kisnorbo did.
17. Lee Bowyer
If you were to craft the perfect Leeds United player on the pitch, it would be quite difficult to end up with a finished product better than Lee Bowyer.
Fans of the side that reached the Champions League semi-final can recall memories of Bowyer running up and down the right-wing, a Duracell Bunny of a footballer, never stopping and never giving up.
He epitomised David O’Leary’s ‘babies’, the sort of player that European opposition could never really come to terms with, someone who had a staggering affinity with the fans.
Even at his lowest ebb, with Bowyer on trial for causing grievous bodily harm with intent and affray, he kept performing on the pitch for Leeds. In fact, many would point to that period as his best run of form.
His departure was acrimonious, Bowyer refusing to sign a new contract after falling out with O’Leary, but few fans regard him with anything but affection.
He now owns a carp fishing lake in France, and there seems very few ways more apt for a former Leeds player to see out their retirement.