Leeds United: My Whites memory match - John Hawley INTERVIEW

John Hawley in match action.
John Hawley in match action.
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Former Leeds United striker John Hawley’s Elland Road career only lasted 18 months, but it was an eventful time, including a 3-0 win at Chelsea.

A SHARP-SHOOTER nicknamed Sundance was the quickest on the draw during a showdown at the Bridge in 1978 – but the hero himself remembers it more for the nailing of Chopper and a young pretender known as Butch.

No, we’re not talking about the Wild West, but a capital duel at Stamford Bridge – although back in that menacing steel toe-capped era on the terraces when punk was the rage, maybe there was a bit of a correlation.

And the pre-match music did, ironically enough, conclude with the theme from famed Spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...

Back in the seventies, Chelsea versus Leeds United was always a bit of a ‘high noon’ lock-up-your-daughters fixture and back on September 2, 1978, the biggest gunslinger in town was a man from way out east – the East Riding that is – in the shape of John Hawley.

Nicknamed Sundance because of his likeness to film star Robert Redford, who played that part in the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid film, rifled in two goals and set up fellow tormenter Arthur Graham for another to pile on the pain for the Blues.

It was a milestone afternoon for Hull lad Hawley, who grabbed his first top-flight goals for United following his £80,000 from his hometown club in May 1978 and their manager Jock Stein – with that golden victory proving the highlight of the Scot’s brief spell south of the border.

Over 34 years on from that afternoon, the memories have dimmed slightly for Hawley, now an auctioneer and antiques dealer in his native East Yorkshire.


But the five-figure fee shelled out by Jimmy Armfield to sign him certainly looked a bargain that day, with the two-goal blast kick-starting Hawley’s Elland Road career in a memorable 1978-79 that ended with him being crowned top-scorer for United with a haul of 16 in 33 games.

Ironically, Armfield never went onto watch his signing play, leaving United around a month after Hawley agreed the switch across the M62, but his nifty bit of business certainly proved money well spent.

That early autumnal day, Hawley and United got off to the proverbial flyer against Danny Blanchflower’s Blues and the game was only 58 seconds old when Tony Currie, playing despite a leg injury, sent blonde-haired, moustachioed goal predator Hawley clear on the right and after drawing giant central defender Micky Droy out of position, his fiercely-struck centre was only parried by veteran keeper Peter Bonetti – but straight into the path of the onrushing Arthur Graham, who slotted the ball home.

United proceeded to dominate, although their superiority wasn’t confirmed until Hawley took centre stage on 75 minutes, heading in Peter Hampton’s cross following a bewitching move involving the late Byron Stevenson and Graham.

United – en route to securing a third successive clean sheet of the campaign – applied the coup de grace in the 89th minute, with Hawley sealing a first away success of the campaign, latching onto Frank Gray’s accurately-delivered free-kick before bringing the ball under control and bundling the ball home to propel Leeds up to fifth in the table, with the Whites going onto finish in that position come season’s end.

Hawley recalled: “If I remember rightly Chelsea’s full-back was Ron Harris and Arthur Graham absolutely tore him to pieces. He was brilliant that day, he was just flying and everything went for him and he really won the game and supplied the ammo.

“On his day, he was a great player and he certainly had a good day that day. Ron had seen quicker days, but he got slaughtered in that game – not that I’d tell him that to his face...

“Ron was sharp enough in the tackle, but wasn’t sharp enough that day, that’s a fact.

“But looking back, Tony Currie was our real star back then. I remember on that day against Chelsea, he was up against a very good young player in Ray Wilkins, but Tony totally put him in the shade on the day. There was a bit of rivalry between him and Tony when he got in the England side and certainly we all thought Tony was a much better player. His ability was frightening and he was a very, very gifted player.

“For me, it was nice to score past Peter Bonetti. We actually went onto play together and have a summer season in America, funnily enough and become friends

“I can’t really remember my goals, although I should imagine I knocked them in with my belly from about six yards away! Most of my goals were scored that way!

“I used to score a lot of scrambled goals, one’s where I’d sneak in and fall over. I wasn’t a gifted player by any means. But I could can take the good kickings and get a goal or two.

“And I was happy with scoring so many goals (16) that season, I was more surprised than most people.”

Soon after the Bridge triumph, Stein headed back to his native Scotland to take over the national team – after a brief 44-day stint in West Yorkshire – with Maurice Lindley handed the caretaker reins at Elland Road, minding the shop for the second time that season before the arrival of Jimmy Adamson from Sunderland in November 1978.

That decision ultimately had longer term ramifications for Hawley and despite finding the net with regularity that season and looking the business alongside Ray Hankin, he never saw eye to eye with Ashington-born Adamson and was eventually moved on to Adamson’s former home at Roker Park – moving to the Wearsiders for a £200,000 fee after just over one season with the Whites in October 1979.

Hawley remains disappointed that he couldn’t stick around at Elland Road and endear himself further to the United faithful after a promising first season at the club, but at least he provided a few choice additions to his footballing scrapbook.

While netting twice against Chelsea, who went onto lose a colossal 12 games during a dire season which saw them win a meagre five league games all campaign and finish firmly rooted to the bottom of the old Division One, Hawley also famously netted at Anfield in a 1-1 draw for United in November.

Bob Paisley’s Reds swept nearly all before them in a peerless campaign which saw them use just 15 players en route to the title, with only United and Everton managing to take away anything from Fortress Anfield that 1978-79 season.

Hawley notched a brace in a fine 4-1 turn-of-the-year win at Loftus Road and went onto fire doubles in the New Year against Norwich City and Southampton, although mention of Lawrie McMenemy’s Saints for any of United’s players that season is likely to conjure up THAT League Cup semi-final when United infamously spurned a 2-0 first leg lead to painfully bow out 3-2 on aggregate with Wembley in sight.

While that was a seasonal low, United could at least look back at the end of the season on a progressive run which saw them return to Europe after finishing fifth, their best campaign since Don Revie’s departure.

Looking back overall at his only full season with United, Hawley said: “There weren’t any great expectations as Leeds didn’t pay a lot of money for me. I don’t think many expected that much of me, especially since the manager soon got sacked after he bought me! I never played under Jimmy Armfield, even though he was signed me.

“I’d broken a bone in my foot and he’d signed me at the end of the season and when I nipped over for pre-season training, I didn’t know a soul there – or even which dressing room to got into. I remember sitting next to Peter Lorimer and Paul Madeley thinking: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

“But I managed to settle in and score some goals, which always helped. I can’t remember scoring many good ones, although I did score at Liverpool and at the Kop end as well.

“It seemed to work up front with Ray (Hankin). We were two big blokes who could hold our own. Although Hanks was the only person who made me look slim!

“I was as rough and ready as Ray to be honest, even though Ray was bigger than me. Ray was a good header of the ball and he had quality on the floor as well.

“We got on well, but we had some quality players. Obviously, Tony Currie was a super player and then there was Brian Flynn, who would run all day. It was a privilege to be there; Paul Madeley was a sublime player and I don’t think I ever saw him break sweat.

“But Jimmy Adamson came in and me and him didn’t see eye to eye and that was it really. But I was disappointed to leave and I loved being at Leeds and was down when I left. But I went to Sunderland and we won promotion immediately. But I’d have definitely stayed at Leeds, but it wasn’t my choice at all. People make up their own minds and the manager didn’t like me.”