Leeds United: My Whites playing days - Ray Hankin INTERVIEW

Ray Hankin.
Ray Hankin.
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Leon Wobschall caught up with no-nonsense striker Ray Hankin who enjoyed a stellar 1977-78 campaign with the Whites notching up 20 goals.

Rough, tough and no shrinking violet, Ray Hankin and Leeds United were a marriage made in heaven in the raucous late seventies.

That became consummated in a goal-laden 1977-78 campaign when the old-school, take-no-prisoners frontman wreaked havoc and became a bit of a Geldard End cult hero.

The Geordie won over United’s demanding crowd that season by way of 20 league goals in 33 appearances, while sticking up the proverbial two fingers to the FA suits and others such as Jimmy Hill who openly frowned at his all-action style in the process.

Yes, Hankin knew how to look after himself. But he was more than hired muscle, while he didn’t even see himself as the hardest player at Elland Road back in the day. That was a predator known as Jaws...

The sight of the 6ft 2ins, 13-stone plus north-easterner and Tartan tough nut Joe Jordan must have been a fearsome one for cowering first-division defenders when they faced United that ’77-78 season.

That year, it was a case of Jordan taking the knocks – and a whole load more besides when he made the controversial switch to Manchester United in January 1978 – while Hankin grabbed the goals.

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Hankin’s haul included nine in his first 10 league games and a famous winner against eventual champions Nottingham Forest, inflicting just a third defeat on the Reds in 34 matches after netting following a typically robust challenge on Peter Shilton.

A Christmas double against second-placed Everton in front of 45,000 at Elland Road proved another high, with Hankin forever looking back on that season with fondness after his first year at United was ravaged by a serious knee injury.

Hankin, bought from Burnley for £172,000 in September 1976, said: “I thought I was tough, but by God, Joe was!

“I didn’t think me and Joe up front would work together, but Joe was actually a totally different player to me. He was a lot quicker than I was and my foil really. In the season, I scored all my goals, Joe was great. He was tough, quick and good on the ball, Joe had everything.

“But the rest of the team I played with were class as well. You were talking about people such as Paul Madeley, Eddie Gray and Paul Reaney; people you only dreamed you would play with.

“We had a great side that year. “In terms of matches, I’ll always remember Forest coming to Leeds on a typical Saturday afternoon in Yorkshire, when it was freezing cold with rain. And I’ll always remember scoring the winner that day.

“We also had the likes of Tony Currie and you couldn’t value him in today’s market. He would be worth a hundred million and a truly great player. I treasured my time with Tony at Leeds as he was my room-mate, mate and a great, great player.”

Hankin’s haul proved the zenith of his time at United who he left for £400,000 in March 1980 to join Vancouver Whitecaps.

But while he failed to kick on after that stellar campaign of 77-78, his memories remain largely unsullied of his time at LS11.

Hankin, now 55 and working with adults with special needs back on his native Tyneside, added: “The Leeds fans were great and I never really had a problem. One or two did start to have a go when I wasn’t scoring in my last season (79-80), for some reason, the goals weren’t coming and I was finding it quite hard to get off the mark; I don’t know why.

“For strikers, it’s a confidence-thing and these days people are talking about Torres’ record and things like that and him not scoring goals. It happens.

“But I knew the goals would come back again and they did when I went across to Vancouver.

“Looking back for most of my years at Leeds, I was scoring. In the first year, I was really fighting with an injury, but in the years after, I absolutely loved it.

“I remember Jimmy Armfield signing me, but then he lost his job, which was a real kick for me as I really respected him. But there were great times and I played with some great players and managers.

“Yes, it would have been nice to win something, but obviously circumstances changed. The Bremner’s, Giles’ and all that team started to break up in 1975 just before I joined and I remember Billy was leaving as I was joining the club.

“Looking back, everyone remembers the Southampton game (League Cup semi-final in 1978-79) was very hurtful and losing a 2-0 lead at home and us going down there and conceding a goal in the first 30 seconds or something. I think we pummelled them for an hour and a half, but couldn’t score. But we gave it away at Elland Road.”

After his time in Vancouver, Hankin returned to England and after the briefest of spells at Arsenal, joined up with Malcolm Allison’s Middlesbrough and later played for Peterborough and Wolves before stepping down into the non-leagues in the north east with Whitby Town, Blue Star and Guisborough Town.

A marked man during his time in the lower divisions, Hankin was a regular in the footballing dock at the tail end of his career, infamously receiving five red cards in eight games while winding down his professional career at Posh. Or should that be wound up...

Throughout that whole era, Hankin was scrapping it out, literally, at the bottom of the Football League, a time he remembers with little affection.

He said: “When I came back to play in England, I seemed to lose a bit of interest. Having been there and played with great players, my time was sort of coming to an end.

“When I played for Peterborough, every time I went onto the pitch against opponents, unfortunately all they tried to do all the time was wind me up from start to finish. They were spitting on me, hitting me when the ball was nowhere near – just winding me up. They knew it would light the fuse. But I didn’t need that and I started losing respect for opponents after that.”

Hankin then went into non-league management at Whitby, taking the Seasiders to the first round of the FA Cup before doing the same at Guisborough. He later joined Darlington as first youth-team coach – briefly being handed the managerial post at Feethams in early 1992, but failing to stop the financially-crippled Quakers dropping down to Division Four.

Hankin’s most recent involvement in football was as a community officer at Newcastle United, which ended in him being made redundant before taking the club to an industrial tribunal, settled hours before the hearing.

In terms of returning to the game, Hankin would be open to offers, although he feels the game has changed immeasurably over the years and not necessarily for the better.

He said: “I love the game. But you see all the stuff about Dean Windass and the Gary Speed situation, There’s a lot of pressure now on people in the game.

“Unfortunately, many people in the game now aren’t nice people.

“But I’m always open to offers and I’ll go back in the game if I was offered a decent manager’s job or scouting job or whatever.

“At the minute, I’m putting something back into life really with my work, which is what I always wanted to do. I’ve fantastic memories of my football career since I was a kid at Burnley and was involved in football 25 to 30 years. I loved every minute of it, but know I’ve still got a lot to offer.”