One of a clutch of talented youngsters who found success away from Elland Road, Tommy Wright still comes to watch his old team. Leon Wobschall reports.
THE current sight of clutch of cherubic talents giving their all and excelling in the famous jersey of Leeds United is offering a nostalgic rewind for many Whites supporters of a certain age.
Today it is Lewis Cook, who turned 18 on Tuesday, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor strutting their stuff and displaying the precociousness of youth for Leeds and turn the clock back three decades and it was a different class, headed by the likes of Tommy Wright and John Sheridan.
Wright remembers those days of wedge haircuts and the casual scene, and also sadly rampant football hooliganism at Leeds as if they were yesterday.
It was also ultimately an era which became remembered for when Leeds sold off the equivalent of the family silver with himself, Andy Linighan and Denis Irwin all being sold for minimal fees to a smiling Joe Royle at Oldham Athletic.
Plenty more besides went onto secure fame elsewhere – with another mill town in Lancashire benefiting in Blackburn, who signed Scott Sellars for a bargain fee. Then there was Dave Seaman and Terry Phelan. The list goes on.
For a time, the likes of Wright and Irwin enjoyed their place in the sun under a mentor and purveyor of young footballing talent in Eddie Gray – with his sad sacking in October 1985 the catalyst to the crushing of the flower of youth at Elland Road which surely would have blossomed into a radiant assortment.
Wright still remembers those early years fondly, if with a sense of if only.
And with reference to today, he just hopes that Neil Redfearn is afforded the time that ultimately his compatriot Gray never got.
Dunfermline born Wright, now assistant-manager at Oldham, said: “It was a special time. Leeds have had that a few times where they have had the young lads coming through such as Alan Smith and Gary Kelly and we were the same.
“A lot of the credit has to go to Eddie Gray, really. It was a difficult time for the club financially and he gave us our head and had a bit of trust in us. You need that when you are young. They were happy times and I did love it.
“You look at the number of players and what they went on to do such as Terry Phelan and Shez who went onto play in World Cups and Andy Linighan, who went on to score a goal in a cup final for Arsenal. They and the likes of Scott Sellars all played in the Premier League.
“I went to Oldham and it is funny because Joe Royle used to say that if he wanted a player, he would just pop along the M62 to Leeds!
“Looking back, if the club had been a bit more patient looking at the bigger picture, things could have been different. But that’s football.”
He added: “I look at Leeds now and I know Neil (Redfearn) and he’s the right man for the job. He just needs a bit of time alongside Steve Thompson, who I know well. He will be very good for him.
“They have got some great kids and they can do well. They just need time, but you don’t get that in football now...”
The Fife flier, sold to Oldham for a bargain £80,000 in October 1986, had some days to dine out on, none more so than in January 1985 when he netted a hat-trick at a chilly Ellland Road in a 5-0 slaying of Notts County.
His goalscoring debut alongside Arthur Graham against Malcolm McDonald’s flowing Fulham in April 1983 – in a season when the Londoners went so close to promotion is another choice memory.
Wright, who roomed in Barwick-in-Elmet with Sheridan and Irwin said: “I never had any idea I would be playing, although Eddie told me later I was always going to play from the Thursday.
“I just thought I was part of the squad and I made the team. You can’t beat that adrenalin; I didn’t have the time to even tell the family and I just played.
“Fortunately, I scored and remember playing up front with Arthur Graham. Fulham were certainly near the top of the league at the time and had a good team with the likes of Ray Houghton.”
Based in Wakefield, Wright still has clear affinity to Leeds – he is married to a Leeds girl – and that will endure.
He said: “I still live in the area and still go to Leeds games and it is probably one of the first results I look for.
“Playing for a club like Leeds, you don’t really realise what a special club it is until you leave.”