Leeds United: ‘Mighty Flynn’ calls tune at Old Trafford

Brian Flynn.
Brian Flynn.
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MENTION the name of Brian Flynn to Leeds United supporters and thoughts will invariably turn to one late winter’s day in 1981.

The date was February 21, and the territory was enemy soil. Old Trafford, Manchester – to be precise, with Flynn’s oh-so-sweet strike sealing a milestone win over the Red Devils.

Seasoned Whites followers know the script. Kevin Hird to Carl Harris, who hailed just up the road in Neath from Flynn’s birthplace in Port Talbot.

Harris’ cross is latched onto by the pint-sized midfielder, whose finish evades home keeper Gary Bailey and nestles in the bottom corner.

It remains Leeds’ last league win on the red side of Manchester, although Jermaine Beckford did famously lay a near 29-year ghost when he struck the only goal of the game in a delectable FA Cup victory in January 2010.

As memories go to dine out on, Flynn, now 59, admits he will gladly take ‘81 and all that’.

The Welshman told the YEP: “I must admit because of all the contact I have had watching Leeds games, there must have been 40,000 Leeds fans there that day!

“They all say: ‘I was there when you got that goal!’ 40,000 must have been hiding at Old Trafford.

“I was actually at the game when Beckford scored, but that was a cup tie, which is a bit different. But I am proud of my goal and it’s still on my CV.”

Flynn’s time at Elland Road, which stretched not too far shy of five years from 1977-82 was a period when Leeds struggled to cope with the break-up of comfortably the best side in the club’s history.

Greats from the Super Leeds era hung up their boots, moved on or saw their powers wane, with Jimmy Armfield, Jimmy Adamson and then Allan Clarke somehow entrusted with trying to keep the club at the top table of English football. Or arrest the slide, as others would say.

That time encompassed Bob Paisley’s Liverpool and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest being in their prime. There were other threats too from the likes of Southampton and Ipswich Town.

Replacing greats proved an onerous task. For every decent buy such as Flynn and Tony Currie and Arthur Graham, there were some expensive duds including Kenny Burns, Alex Sabella and the most spectacular failure of all, Peter Barnes, who arrived for a colossal £930,000 at the start of the 1981-82 season – a campaign when Leeds were jettisoned back to the second division.

On some tough years at Leeds, especially in the early eighties which culminated in relegation, Flynn said: “You can’t just blame one person. It was a collection of mistakes and wrong decision-making.

“It was mainly down to which direction the club wanted to go in and the lack of planning.

“There was very little structure in place, certainly on team building. You built a team over two or three years, not two or three weeks.

“It was sad. But you get what you deserve.”

Playing alongside a gifted creative force in Currie proved a highlight for Flynn, who won 32 of his 66 Wales caps at Leeds, with their on-pitch chemistry clear for all to see in the late seventies before ‘TC’ was sold to QPR in August 1979.

Flynn, who joined for £175,000 from Burnley in November 1977 and went on to make 152 league starts, said: “I came in after Ray Hankin and Arthur Graham, but before Paul Hart and it was good to be part of.

“Jimmy Armfield was great; he knew how to pick players to play in certain teams, although there wasn’t as much rotation in those days – far from it.

“Of the best players I ever played with, Tony was up there. We complemented each other in so many ways and we became good friends as well, which helps as well.

“In football, you are like ships passing in the night and aren’t always big pals with your team-mates. But Tony was brilliant and we still keep in touch now.”

The pair were part of a Leeds side that blew a golden chance at League Cup glory in the winter of 1978-79 against Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton.

Leading 2-0 at home in the first leg, Leeds were pegged back by two goals with the Saints winning the return, as Flynn bitterly recalls.

He rued: “We were 2-0 up at home and then went to the Dell. I remember Clive Thomas putting the game on and he was someone I knew very well. But half the pitch was frozen and half was playable.

“It was a game which shouldn’t have gone ahead, but because it was a semi-final, we did and we lost 1-0. Southampton was a tough one, I must admit ...”

Flynn was part of a decent-sized Welsh contingent at Elland Road, with compatriots including the late Byron Stevenson, Gwyn Thomas and Carl Harris resident at the club during the majority of his time there.

Also regularly on the scene at Elland Road back then was the Gentle Giant himself in revered United great, John Charles, as Flynn fondly recalls.

Flynn said: “I got to know John and remember playing with him in a charity game with Leeds ex-players.

“Back then, it was really active and you had to take your turn to play and there was a rota and I remember playing in Keighley on a Sunday morning once.

“Big John played and he must have been in his fifties. I always remember saying: ‘I’ll play, I will do that.’

“Just because I wanted to say I had played with John Charles, whether it was a charity game or not.”