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Ridsdale and I Part 4- Strachan, lagers and menthol cigarettes!
Thursday, 1st Apr 2021 20:42 by Mark Monk

As my tale of watching Leeds during the Ridsdale era continues, we get to March 1989 as Howard Wilkinson began to assemble the side that he was going to guide to promotion in the following season.

As well as moaning about the state of the bathroom, its is likely that my children will tell you that another thing I often say is that you cannot truly appreciate how good, or great a player is, until you actually see them perform in the flesh.

The game today is full of stats and armchair pundits. Personally, I cannot stand watching matches on TV, again to appreciate the good and the great actually are, its about what they do off the ball as well as on it. This is why, at the time of writing I'm praying we don't lose Raphinia in the summer of 2021!

Back in the good old days we didn't have such thing as transfer windows, you could basically sign anyone at any time, until what I think was the last Thursday in March. The papers were awash with reports that Leeds were about to swoop for 31-year-old Scotland and Manchester United winger Gordon Strachan, who was also being pursued by the man who took him to Old Trafford in Ron Atkinson.

Atkinson ironically had taken the Sheffield Wednesday managers a month earlier after Howard Wilkinson's successor in Peter Eustace, aka Peter Useless by a Wednesday supporting mate, had been sacked.

Although Leeds were within touching distance of the Division Two play-offs, just three-points off sixth according to the programme for the visit of Portsmouth on March 25th 1989, Strachan could have been almost forgiven for wanting to stay in the top-flight and reunite himself with the man who'd brought him south from Aberdeen in '85. However he bought into the Leeds vision outlined by Wilkinson, the Chairman Sir Leslie Silver and Managing Director Bill Fotherby.

I was more excited than most. Just over a year earlier I'd gone with a Derby supporting mate on a snowy February evening at the Baseball Ground to watch The Rams take on Man U. It was the night that Derby's own Scottish winger, Ted McMinn who's joined from Rangers smashed in a howitzer of a goal, which I missed as my disgruntled Derby pal had long made for the exits with his side trailing 0-2; Strachan had been impervious that night, irresistible.

On a pudding of a pitch, under barely illuminated floodlights in that ram-shackle old stadium, his shock of ginger hair and forays down the right earning the baying contempt of the occupants of the Popside and Colombo terraces below me, if I remember rightly Strachan scored one and set the other up.

Strachan made his debut against Portsmouth, along with Chris Fairclough, the former Nottingham Forest defender who signed on a loan-to-buy deal from Spurs. Wilkinson also sold striker Bob Taylor to Bristol City and as part of the deal reunited himself with Carl Shutt, a striker he'd discovered whilst at Wednesday playing for non-league Spalding.

Wilkinson (pictured above in the Portsmouth programme having received a kind gift of a state of the art entertainment system to watch his football videos on! Marcello Bielsa would surely approve!) confessed in his pre-match notes that he'd pursued Strachan for several years, receiving a "polite no" from then humble-old Alex Ferguson. He claimed his first-call on arriving at Elland Road the previous October has been to Ferguson, who again declined. Strachan got a warm welcome, as did Chris Fairclough of sorts.

Back then, burly black footballers were often saluted by racially stereotypical chants of "Bruno! Bruno!" 're the Boxer Frank Bruno. Noel Blake, himself a former Portsmouth player received the same dubious accolade. On that day, three ex-Pompey players were in the Leeds side, Vince Hilaire and Ian Baird.

Baird's spell at Fratton Park was forgettable and indeed the small band of travellers from the South Coast took every opportunity reminding him of how wasteful his brief spell there had been. However, Bairdy had the last laugh, heading home the winner and celebrating wildly in front of them in the South Stand sending the majority of the 27,049 crowd, which included me, home very happy!

Strachan meanwhile got the man-of-the-match award which was a crate of lager. Nowadays it is unthinkable but him being a rariety of being a teetotal Scot, he apparently was unimpressed. It ended what had been a weird week for me. Unable to go to Barnsley away the previous Sunday, I'd been set up on a cinema date by some so-called friends.

I cannot even remember the film, I do remember the not-so lucky lady chain-smoked those awful Consulate cigarettes and my clothes stank of menthol mint. Plus she wasn't impressed with the fact that I had dirty fingernails, at the time I was working in a factory dismantling lorry parts, but it paid me £100 a week which was a lot of money back then for a 17-year-old.

No second date but least I had Gordon Strachan to look forward to!

And if you can’t wait for the next episode to appear on toellandback, you can sneak a peek at my blog by clicking on this link.


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