Leeds United nostalgia: Limelight eluded defender Beesley at Whites

Paul Beesley.
Paul Beesley.
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Summer clear-outs are an annual event for English football clubs and a regular occurrence at Leeds United.

United’s close-season in 1995 was very different, however, as Howard Wilkinson went as close as managers ever do to keeping faith with his first-team squad.

A £250,000 deal for Paul Beesley was the long and short of his business in the transfer market, a lone signing at a time when broadcasting revenue and the expenditure of the Premier League was rapidly growing.

Beesley was a tall, hard centre-back with hundreds of Football League appearances behind him and a no-nonsense reputation; a Wilkinson player as far as his attitude was concerned. Sheffield United had broken a club record by signing him from Wigan Athletic in 1990 and named him as their player of the year in 1993 – a year in which Beesley was ruthlessly dropped before the Blades’ all-or-nothing FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.

The defender called that moment “gut-wrenching” and after contributing to a successful fight against relegation in the weeks that followed the Wembley tie, his influence at Bramall Lane waned.

He arrived at Leeds as cover for an established and settled defence. In front of the 30-year-old were Lucas Radebe and David Wetherall, centre-backs who Wilkinson trusted and two largely immovable objects.

Beesley picked up the odd appearance at full-back but struggled for chances in his regular position. At that stage, the rot was starting to set in under Wilkinson and Leeds finished 13th in the Premier League during Beesley’s only full season at Elland Road, the 1995-96 term. The club were held back by a mediocre attack and a mixed defensive record.

Injuries played their part in restricting Beesley and when Wilkinson fell on his sword in 1996, George Graham’s appointment promised a change of thinking at Leeds and a predictable focus on the organisation and discipline which underpinned his successful years in charge of Arsenal.

Beesley witnessed the early months of the Scot’s period as United boss but was always on the fringes and likely to leave. A peripheral player at Elland Road, it said much about his reputation as a capable defender that Manchester City took him in February 1997 for a fee of £500,000, twice the figure paid by Leeds to Sheffield United.

His switch to Maine Road began the slow slide towards retirement and Beesley moved through Port Vale, West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool before returning to his non-league roots and finishing his playing career with Ballymena United in Northern Ireland.

For a brief time in 2007 he returned to Leeds to work as Under-18s coach but his involvement did not last for long at a club whose existence in that horrible year was threatened by insolvency.

He and his family had made national headlines two years earlier when they narrowly escaped a serious house fire which destroyed their home near Chesterfield.

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