Two of Brian Clough’s three signings as Leeds United manager were doomed from the start.
For Jon McGovern and John O’Hare, the distrust that plagued Clough for 44 days bothered them by association.
They were Clough’s men from Derby County and unfairly treated in the same manner as a coach who seemed hopelessly lost in the confines of West Yorkshire. Duncan McKenzie proved an exception – a crowd-pleasing showman who came and went from Elland Road with popularity achieved and intact.
Leeds were thrilled to be rid of Clough after United’s board pulled the trigger in the autumn of 1974 but McKenzie’s view of the managerial style of the next incumbent, Jimmy Armfield, was less than glowing. Among his memories of two seasons at Elland Road was the shock of Armfield’s refusal to start him in the 1975 European Cup final.
Bought from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1974, McKenzie slipped in and out of United’s team in his first year, but scored 13 goals and gradually convinced Armfield to use him regularly. McKenzie was in form and in high enough regard to believe he would figure against Bayern Munich in Paris. Trevor Cherry thought likewise.
“Jimmy called me and Trevor in his office,” McKenzie recalled. “He said ‘you two have been brilliant, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. But this is Don Revie’s team’s last chance and I’m going to pick his players.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Armfield’s tactics in Paris were not demonstrably wrong. History shows that United’s 2-0 defeat owed more to the dubious influence of referee Michel Kitabdjian than it did to the exclusion of McKenzie or Cherry. But McKenzie’s take on the likeable Armfield was clear enough. “The problem with Jimmy was that he couldn’t make up his mind,” McKenzie once said. “He was too nice, a lovely man. He tried to keep everybody happy. We used to joke that the manager’s indecision was final.”
Clough paid Forest for £250,000 for McKenzie and pursued him in typically eccentric fashion. McKenzie was living in Borrowash at the time when his phone rang. “Duncan McKenzie? It’s Brian Clough. Now don’t mess me about, son – do you want to play for Leeds United or not?” McKenzie replied positively. “Well pack your bags and see me in Sheffield in half-an-hour,” Clough said. “Victoria Hotel.”
Clough matched the terms offered by Forest and McKenzie, in a huge leap of faith, signed three blank contracts. Clough delivered on his promises but was soon gone. “Revie and Clough hated each other’s guts,” McKenzie said. “Don had built a family at Leeds and Leeds appointed the enemy.”
What appealed to the crowd was McKenzie’s ability to entertain. He lit up Paul Reaney’s testimonial in 1976 by famously jumping over a Mini. That acrobatic stunt was his last act at Leeds and he moved to Anderlecht for £200,000 that year.
McKenzie does not rank among the club’s greatest players but those who followed Leeds in the 1970s would have been poorer without two seasons of inconsistent but unique entertainment at the hands of a man whose autobiography dubbed him The Last Fancy Dan.