Leeds United nostalgia: Debut goal as good as it got for Strandli

Frank Strandli''.
Frank Strandli''.
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FOR Scandinavian striker Frank Strandli, all his dreams came true on one winter’s afternoon almost 22 years ago – but sadly it proved spectacularly fleeting.

The Norwegian’s brief place in the sun at Elland Road arrived on January 30, 1993, almost a year to the day since Howard Wilkinson had signed another European forward – and ultimately a far more successful one at that by the name of Eric Cantona.

While Cantona helped United lift the old Division One title in 1991-92, Strandli’s debut goal, 11 minutes after entering the fray following his arrival from £350,000 from IK Start, proved the one highlight in a turgid time at Leeds.

His transfer was ultimately a flop, although not quite of the super-sized variety that saw Swedish forward Tomas Brolin hardly ingratiate himself during his horror time in West Yorkshire after joining Leeds for the equivalent of a king’s ransom.

After two goals in 16 appearances, Strandli headed back to his homeland to SK Brann in November 1994 thoroughly chastened and entitled to be bewildered by the whole experience.

At the end of the decade, the FourFourTwo magazine ranked Strandli as United’s worst ever player with Howard Wilkinson’s description of him as a “young David Hirst” taking on a certain degree of infamy.

It was not Wilko’s finest moment.

Moreso after trailing Strandli for some time making initial enquiries in October of 1992 but being unable to tie up a transfer from IK Start until the beginning of 1993, with Strandli completing national service and in no position to secure an immediate work permit.

But on that January day, everything came together, however briefly, and a bit of a fairytale came true and Elland Road was partly Strandli’s.

For almost an hour, the 20-year-old – a member of the Norwegian branch of the Leeds United Supporters Club – witnessed a laboured performance from the hosts, who flattered to deceive in their flat title defence in 1992-93 with the Teessiders on top.

But after coming on, it took him just 11 minutes to liven up a muted crowd in the best way possible against a Boro side who had battered Leeds 4-1 in the reverse fixture at Ayresome Park in August.

The deadlock was broken when Gary Speed, the stand-out player in a low-key Leeds performance, danced around two Boro defenders on the left before delivering a cross which was fired home from six yards out by the left boot of Strandli.

The goal deflated Boro, who included former Whites players John Hendrie and Tommy Wirght in their ranks, with both finding the net in the victory on Teesside, which set the tone for a tough and sobering campaign for Wilkinson’s champions.

Ahead of Strandli’s strike, Lennie Lawrence’s side actually had the best of it, with a first-half goal from Paul Wilkinson from close range ruled out for offside.

But Boro’s fire was put out by the Strandli strike as they started to look every inch a side in relegation trouble – they made the short journey down the A1 on the back of a run of one league win in seven matches.

An unlikely source struck United’s second in the shape of David Batty, netting his first Leeds goal in almost a year, 363 days to be precise.

Gordon Strachan started the move deep in his own half before releasing Batty to fire the killer second past Stephen Pears.

In the last minute, gloss was afforded for the hosts when Chris Fairclough volleyed in Strachan’s corner.

The win lifted Leeds above Boro in the table, with their strong home form – the win was their eighth in 13 matches at LS11 – helping to mitigate for some horrendous statistics on the road, where Wilkinson’s side were still awaiting their first win bonus of 1992-93.

But all the talk that Saturday evening was of a Norweigan lad called Frank.

After the game, Wilkinson showed sooth-saying qualities in delivering his typically under-stated verdict on his new signing.

He said: “He found it hectic. He will have to adjust or go under.”

You weren’t wrong, Howard..

For anyone wondering, Strandli was forced to retire by a groin injury at the age of 28.

Bizarrely, at the age of 36, he attempted to resume his playing career as a central defender with FC Lund, a team who occupied Norway’s seventh division.

One can presume that did not develop with any great degree of success either.