Terrace favourite Ian Baird is still highly thought of by United fans for his goals and attitude when playing for Leeds. Here he recalls his final goal for the club – a stunner to defeat Newcastle in 1989. Phil Hay reports.
Nothing says ‘big game’ quite so much as the psychological warfare which plays out beforehand. Ian Baird has vivid recollections of the last second-division meeting between Leeds United and Newcastle United, and not least of the goal which won it, but his abiding memory involves Vinnie Jones and John Burridge posturing in the gym two hours before kick-off.
The date was December 2, 1989 and Leeds and Newcastle were both starting to smell promotion. Leeds took a beating at St James Park on the first weekend of the season, hammered by four goals from Micky Quinn, but by the end of the year they had Newcastle lodged behind them in third.
The return fixture mattered and a comical stand-off between Jones and Burridge gave the match at Elland Road its context.
Jones, as Baird recalls, was “being Vinnie”; the aggressive, manic character who Leeds had come to adore.
Burridge, Newcastle’s well-travelled Cumbrian goalkeeper, was no soft touch either.
The story goes that during his career Burridge would wear sharpened studs to guard against players who tried to take liberties with him.
But he was physically fit too; still the oldest keeper to play in the Premier League at the age of 43.
“Elland Road was different back then,” Baird said.
“To get to the changing rooms the players had to go through a multi-gym first. Vinnie made sure he was in there when the lads from Newcastle arrived and he started doing what Vinnie did – shouting and screaming, trying to intimidate them and wind them all up.
“Burridge walked in, saw what was happening, went straight over to the bench press and benched 100kg ten times, just like that.
“The tone was set and it left you thinking ‘yeah. This is a big one’.”
The game itself was as fiercely competitive and settled in the second half when Baird headed home the only goal from close range.
The forward had scored in Leeds’ 5-2 defeat at St James Park, a dismal experience which ended with him playing in midfield and “not playing very well”, but goals in between were sparse.
“I hadn’t scored in a while,” Baird said, “or when that goal went in, it felt like my first in a while. It wasn’t that my performance were bad, that wasn’t the problem, but the goals weren’t coming.”
Perhaps mindful of that, the following month Howard Wilkinson allowed Baird to join Middlesbrough and signed Lee Chapman from Nottingham Forest.
Baird’s effort against Newcastle was his last for Leeds.
“It was a nice move – Gordon Strachan sent all 15 stone of Mel Sterland flying down the right wing and he put a cross right on my head.”
A diving Burridge got a hand to Baird’s header but could only push it into the side of his net. Newcastle were beaten and a 1-0 win allowed Leeds to open up a five-point gap beneath Division Two’s second automatic promotion place.
Sheffield United led the table by a single point. Five months later, as the season reached a conclusion, Leeds took the title, Sheffield United claimed promotion and Newcastle were condemned to the play-offs.
“It’s hard over a season to say that individual results make a big difference but some results make a bit of a statement.
“We were flying before that game but Newcastle were flying too.
“We’d both have fancied our chances of beating each other and don’t forget that they’d walloped us at St James Park on the first day of the season.
“They’d properly ruined us. So as much as one win doesn’t get you out of the league, it was definitely important. We felt that at the time.”
Since the end of the 1989-90 season, league games between Leeds and Newcastle have been confined to the Premier League. Leeds have been absent from the top flight for so long that Sunday’s Championship meeting between the clubs at Elland Road is the first in any division for 12 years. Alan Shearer was still tormenting United back then.
Baird saw the 1989 fixture at Elland Road as a 50-50 contest.
This weekend’s match is somewhat different, though intriguing in its own way.
Newcastle have an 11-point lead over Garry Monk’s squad and are well on the way to the Championship title.
Leeds are attempting to shore up sixth place after moving into the play-off zone with a win over Norwich City before the international break.
Barring a low-key draw, Sunday’s result at a sold-out Elland Road will be a healthy shot in the arm for one of the clubs, albeit with two thirds of the campaign to go.
“It’ll be a big statement if Leeds win the game,” Baird said.
“Newcastle have got the money, they’ve got (Rafa) Benitez and they’re already in a position where everyone expects them to go on and get out of the league.
Sunday will be a hard game for them but if they get a win at Elland Road it won’t exactly go against their form.
“But Leeds are in really good shape and credit where it’s due – after a difficult start Garry Monk’s got to grips with the job there.
“For what it’s worth I thought it was ridiculous that Swansea sacked him last year and the way Leeds are going along with him, they’ve got a real chance this season.
“(Massimo) Cellino’s the added ingredient there – you never quite know what will happen with him or if things might blow up under him – but it all feels different to what’s gone on in the past couple of seasons.
“At this stage, you just want to be in the mix.
“All you’re bothered about is being in touch.
“That’s the way Garry will look at Sunday’s game – a chance to stay in amongst it all. Will the result be significant at the end of the season?
“From Leeds’ point of view you really can’t say.
“Either way there’s too much football left to play but it never does you any harm to get the better of the top teams.
“And I think this Leeds side are very capable of doing that on Sunday.”