Leeds United: My Whites playing days - Linighan INTERVIEW

Andy Linighan in match action for Leeds United.

Andy Linighan had a two-year spell at boyhood club Leeds and later had success at both Norwich City and Arsenal.

LEON WOBSCHALL chats with the defender.

FOOTBALLER-turned plumber Andy Linighan would have been forgiven for turning on the waterworks when boyhood club Leeds United signed him in May 1984.

Bursting with pride, the Teessider, who passed his City and Guilds qualifications in plumbing two years earlier, couldn’t get down the A1 fast enough and it wasn’t exactly a wrench – if you pardon the pun – to leave his hometown side of Hartlepool United and start his odyssey at Elland Road under a noteworthy purveyor of young talent in Eddie Gray.

Defender Linighan – who turns 49 later this month – fondly recounts wearing the old United Lions Cabinets home strip of the early to mid-1980s, which he still has.

More’s the pity that, like others of that era such as David Seaman, Tommy Wright, Denis Irwin, Scott Sellars, Terry Phelan and John Scales, he wasn’t part of the fixtures and fittings at Elland Road for too long, with the restoration work undertaken by Billy Bremner not involving any of that sextet in his grand plan after he replaced former team-mate Gray.

Linighan, who runs a plumbing business in Hertfordshire, said: “I was a big Leeds fan when I was young. I remember watching the 1973 cup final and I had my head in my hands when (Jim) Montgomery made that double save...I knew then that it wasn’t going to be our day.

“I couldn’t afford to go to the games, but Leeds were my team. My elder brother, Mark, was a big Man U fan, mainly because of the strip and we used to have a bit of banter.

“I remember that me and my wife, Wendy, had just got married when the chairman at Hartlepool told me that Leeds had come in for me. It was the end of the (1983-84) season and I’d supported Leeds as a lad, so I didn’t have any worries about signing for them.

“I think there was a record out at the time or somewhere near called Re-united and it feels so good. I was around 18 or 19 singing: ‘Leeds United and it feels so good’!

“To this day, I still have my strip and everything and I think it was Lions Cabinets that sponsored us – I can just about still get into it!

“Eddie was there and Peter Lorimer and David Harvey had come back. Joe Jordan was at Juventus or somewhere, but he was also training with us at the time.

“Eddie looked after me and made me feel at home straight away. There was also Denis Irwin and Shez (John Sheridan) and we lived in Barwick-in-Elmet, just off the A64.

“We had a good little click there and Denis, Shez and Scott Sellars lived in the same digs.

“We had a good crop of players, but we were just a bit young. Eddie was all for the young players coming through, but with Leeds being such a big club, it was about getting out of that (second) division quick.

“I remember at the end of the 1984-85 season when Birmingham got promoted and we had an outside chance of going up. that was when all the trouble started, a young lad got killed and there was the Bradford fire on the same day.

“It was a nightmare. I remember running off the pitch and players were getting downed by Birmingham fans; Gary Hamson and Mervyn Day took a couple of blows.

“The referee told us five minutes before the end that we’d have to run for it. There were police horses on the pitch and everything.

“I remember that the Millwall game was a nightmare as well.”

Like fellow Barwick residents Irwin and Sellars, it was a case of “go west” in your search to develop your footballing career under the shrewd guidance of Joe Royle at Oldham, with the canny Scouser picking Linighan up for a bargain £55,000 in January 1986 and making a handsome six-figure profit on him when he sold the towering centre-half to Division One side Norwich City for £300,000 in March 1988.

And having been discarded by Bremner, Linighan remembers those two famous play-off instalments between the Latics and Leeds in 1986-87 like it was yesterday – and the obvious bitter pill of defeat.

He said: “When Billy Bremner came in, he made it clear that I wasn’t his cup of tea. He said that to me and the writing was on the wall when I twisted my ankle one day and it was up like a pudding.

“We had a midweek game and he came into the treatment room, looked at me and said: ‘Norman Hunter used to play with them (injuries)’.

“I moved over to Oldham, although I still lived in Leeds. I remember scoring against Leeds the first time they came to Boundary Park and also when we finished points in front of them in third position. In any other season we’d have gone up, but we went out of the play-offs on away goals.

“Once you are released you always look forward to the games against your former club and proving yourself – it doesn’t matter whether you have left on good terms or not.”

Linighan’s career was ultimately propelled to new heights at Carrow Road where the north-easterner helped the Canaries to fourth place in the top flight in 1988-89, when they also reached the FA Cup semi-final.

But he is mainly remembered by football fans for his time at Arsenal, who he joined for £1.25m in July 1990 and more especially for his last-gasp extra-time goal to settle an FA Cup final replay against Sheffield Wednesday in 1992-93.

That year the Gunners won a domestic cup double, with Linighan also picking up a league title winner’s medal in 1991-92 and a Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup medal with the north Londoners in 1993-94 as an unused sub.

He also started the same continental final the following year in Paris, when George Graham’s troops were agonisingly pipped 2-1 by Real Zaragoza, famously thanks to a miraculous shot from the halfway line by ex-Spurs ace Nayim.

Yet despite some halcyon days with a footballing institution in Arsenal, Linighan insists the happiest time of his career was in East Anglia.

He said: “My only regret is that I didn’t play in the first division until I was 28.

“But I really enjoyed my time at Norwich and that was probably the best club for me. I enjoyed the football and we tried to play total football. It was also a nice family club with good people, despite being out of the way and not a big club.

A few of the lads who were there aren’t doing too bad now, such as Mickey Phelan with Sir Alex (Ferguson).

“At Arsenal, I was more of a squad player and never a good watcher. But the cup final and getting the winning goal was obviously a high.”

For legions of players who retire, entering the real world outside is something that is the stuff of nightmares, away from the cosseted “bubble” of football, particularly at the top level.

For Linighan, a sense of perspective was always there, given his hard-working roots in the north-east and his background in plumbing, with the defender now very much a normal guy going about earning a daily crust – with the umbilical cord to his former footballing “life” pretty much cut when he hung up his boots in 2001.

He said: “I just liked the playing side of football and having a big family with five kids I didn’t fancy the coaching stuff and all that. I didn’t enjoy being away from home all those years at Christmas and Easter time. After 20 years of that, coaching wasn’t for me.

“The camaraderie in my playing days with the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh lads was always good, but it has changed a bit with all the foreigners coming in and with the agents pulling all the strings.

“What I do now is great and I enjoy having banter with the tradesmen and stuff like that.

“I left school at 16 and didn’t sign schoolboy forms or anything. All my mates were moving on to Middlesbrough, but I was playing for Hartlepool’s youth team and we got through to the semi-finals of the Youth Cup, I think.

“I then signed as a part-time professional, but did my City and Guilds in plumbing.

“It was a good crack, because I was on more money than the tradesmen who were teaching me at 17 or 18. “I remember going on holiday to Majorca and the chief executive of the council that employed me as an apprentice was on the same beach.

“I walked past him and he had to do a double take! He said: ‘What are you doing here’? And I just said: ‘The same as you’!”

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