Leeds United: Whites hero Dorigo recalls when all the stars aligned

Tony Dorigo
Tony Dorigo
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The Australian-born left-back talks to Leon Wobschall about Leeds United’s 1992 title-winning team, the noise of the Elland Road crowd and David Batty’s famous tackles.

MENTION talk of a club in chaos and ex-Leeds United star Tony Dorigo thinks back to his own experiences. But not at Elland Road.

The classy Aussie was in situ at Leeds in more safe times in the early nineties. Glorious times too, given that United were dining at the top table of English football with a seafront view as well.

How times have changed as Dorigo, now 49, was entitled to reflect upon when commentating at his former club’s game at Charlton last weekend – when there was a mutinous atmosphere on the away terraces and a strong whiff of cordite.

Dorigo had his pick of a number of top clubs when he left Chelsea in 1991 amid a fair bit of discord.

The persuasive words of Howard Wilkinson made him plump for Leeds in a £1.3m move, with lifting the first division trophy at the end of his first season at the club and winning the Fans Player of the Year award for the same year representing full vindication.

Dorigo, speaking to the YEP this week, said: “When I was at Chelsea, I asked for a move halfway through my contract and it was a kind of chaos there.

“We had some very good players, but never felt we’d actually win the big things. We’d win seven or eight in a row, but then we could lose the same amount.

“There was so much happening off the pitch.

“Glasgow Rangers actually tried to sign me for a year and a half and one or two other clubs. I decided to wait until my contract run out.

“But before I was going to head north to talk to one or two other clubs, Leeds came in and I was impressed by Howard’s openness and honesty and thought: ‘right, let’s go there.’”

Dorigo’s acceleration and prowess soon marked him out as United’s best left-back since Terry Cooper was at his pomp in the Super Leeds days and the Melbournian enjoyed some delectable memories in that unforgettable first season of 1991-92, ones he will treasure forever.

Dorigo added: “The noise at Elland Road was the big thing and I remember in my first game that the noise was amazing.

“The Chelsea fans were excellent, but the stands at Stamford Bridge were a bit further back. We I came to Elland Road and heard the fans, I thought: ‘Bloody hell...’

“When Batts made his first crunching challenge, everyone yelled and I just thought: ‘I like this..’ Then, you’d look in the oppositions’ eyes and knew they didn’t fancy it.

“That momentum and support started things off. I remember Man City at home when I scored a great half-volley into the top corner. But Batts got his first goal and I’d never heard noise like it. And mine was a worldie goal!

“It was a great team in every sense of the word. We maybe didn’t have the best players, but all understand what we needed to do for each other.

“In the midfield, Batts won the ball back, Macca hit the fifty-yard passes and Strach was the one who you gave it too when you wanted some trickery and Speedo was the one you put it in the air to. Whatever you told him to do, he’d do.

“It was the same up top, with the lovely balance of a big man and small man.

“You remember those away games. Winning 4-1 at Villa and beating Sheffield Wednesday by six..It was a great time.”

Those scenes of celebration on April 26 when Leeds hailed their 18-year wait for the big prize in domestic football were something to behold as Dorigo remembers, despite having other business to attend to on the international front.

He added: “I remember me and Batts were supposed to be going to Russia with England for a game in Moscow.

“Thankfully, the boss gave me a call at half ten at night and said: ‘Do you really want to leave for Moscow tomorrow morning?’ I just said: ‘I’d really like to celebrate what we have done; is that okay?’

“To be fair, we were both half-cut. But the message got across and I didn’t have to go.”

Dorigo ended up staying until 1997, but Leeds never quite kicked on, with many Whites fans salivating at the prospect at more trophy trails after that heady 1991-92 season.

And it represented a shame to Dorigo, who saw his Leeds career interrupted by injuries.

He said: “It is easier to get the top, but it’s very hard staying there. That’s why I have admiration for those who work the conundrum out.

“There were reasons why we didn’t and we could have done a lot better in certain areas. But it was difficult being champions and the ones who teams raised their games against and it wasn’t the same.

“But for that one year all the stars aligned.”