Lee Bowyer - Howard Wilkinson's last gift to the club - Julian Finney
With Wayne Andrews "winning" the vote to be the worst A to have played for Leeds over the last 22 years, our attention moves onto the B's. With 28 players fitting into this category Stephen Clark has decided to divide these into three significant era's starting with those who plied their trade under Howard Wilkinson.
The Howard Wilkinson era was when I fell in love with Leeds United. A dalliance as a young child had been taken away by a cruel father not buying me a season ticket fot the 1979/80 season and so like so many children of that era, I was left with snippets of football on TV and an unhealthy liking for Liverpool.
However as I started work and earned financial independence, I made the choice to start to follow my local team once again, a decision which at the time would prove to be a wise one, with the side on the cusp of entering it's second era of greatness. Whether that decision looks as wise 23 years later after suffering the pain of recent times is another matter.
Howard Wilkinson fielded ten players whose surnames started with the letter B. Included are true legends, cult heroes, a sprinkling of veterans, a couple of youngsters and probably his biggest mistake in the transfer market in terms of buying a player. We'll start with a cult hero who sadly was at the latter end of his time at Leeds when I started my White Watching
Ian Baird was one of the few players who are the exception to the rule "that you should never go back." He was part of the team that reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and suffered a heart breaking loss in the play-offs in 1987. Despite Leeds not going up, Baird did make the step up to the top flight, joining Portsmouth. However an unhappy spell saw him score just once in 20 games before Leeds brought him back to Elland Road. He was player of the year in 1989 and as Leeds geared up for the promotion season in 1989-90, he was undoubtedly the number one striker at the club.
Unfortunately the goals dried up as Leeds made the push for promotion. Despite scoring the first goal of the season, in a 5-2 defeat at Newcastle, Baird would net just four more goals as the season wore on to the business end. One of those though was the winner in a 1-0 win over the Geordies at Elland Road in December. It was a top of the table clash, the first game I attended on the Kop that really meant something. The goal was immortalised in The Crew's classic "We are Leeds" meeting a Mel Sterland cross to end a sweeping end to end move with a classic diving header past John Burridge.
Wilko though was not one for sentiment and with the striker less than prolific he brought in Lee Chapman, moving Baird on to Middlesbrough. He would have one final say in the promotion race, netting twice for Boro in a 3-1 final day win which forced Newcastle into the play-offs, picking up a Championship medal with Leeds winning at Bournemouth.
Baird continued to play for 8 more years taking in Hearts, Plymouth and Brighton among others before ending his playing career by being named in Hong Kong's team of the season in 1997/98 after scoring 18 goals in 22 games fro the superbly named Instant Dict FC.
The young tyro at the heart of Leeds United's midfield in the late 80's and early 90's had all the traits that Leeds United players love. Local born, he gave his all on the pitch, competing for everything in every game. He also proved the old adage about never coming back wrong, enjoying two excellent spells at the club.
Making his debut at 18, Batty soon became the brightest star in the dark days at the end of Billy Bremner's reign as manager. By the time I started going regularly, Batty was part of a fearsome midfield pairing alongside Vinny Jones. By the end of the promotion season, Howard Wilkinson wisely saw that his young star was dipping in performance, withdrawing him for the greater experience of Chris Kamara as the season drew to a close, but when Leeds started in the top flight, Batty was to prove an almost ever present.
He formed part of that incredible midfield alongside Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed. By the end of the 1990/91 season he had become the first Leeds player to play for England since Peter Barnes in 1982. After scoring against Manchester City in December 1987, it would be four years until he scored again. His goal in a 3-0 win over the same opposition sent the Kop into ecstasy, having spent those four years telling him to shoot at every opportunity. He won a championship medal that season, and was part of England's squad at Euro 92, Graham Taylor inexplicably playing him at right back, a role in which he performed admirably.
In 1993 with finances tight at Elland Road, Howard Wilkinson accepted a bid of £3.2M from money bags Blackburn Rovers, where Batty went on to win another championship medal. He then moved on to Newcastle before moving back to Leeds under David O'Leary in 1998. Despite injuring a rib on his debut, Batty became the elder statesman in O'Leary's team of babies, playing a key role in the side which made the Champions League semi-finals.
Unfortunately his Leeds career ended acrimoniously as fall outs with Terry Venables and Peter Reid saw him left out of the side. Eddie Gray brought him back into the fold, but he picked up an injury against Newcastle in January 2004 and never played for the Whites again.
A virtual recluse since his retirement, and not really a big fan of the game, he was last seen at Elland Road in tragic circumstances, paying part in the tributes to his midfield partner Gary Speed. A true legend of Leeds United.
The erstwhile back up keeper of the 1990's, Mark Beeney joined Leeds from Coventry City in 1993. Signed after the transfer deadline, and with Leeds having nothing to play for in thier final game, he was given special dispensation to play in the final game of that season at Coventry but was unable to help Leeds to their first away win of the season, as the game ended 3-3
In 6 years at the club he made just 35 appearances. He did oust John Lukic as first choice on a couple of occasions, notably after Lukic conceded six at Hillsborough in an embarassing 6-2 defeat in 1995. He was thrown into the next game, at home to the Scum on Christmas Eve, a famous 3-1 win. His most memorable apperance was against the same opposition later that season at Old Trafford where he was sent off in the opening minutes, allowing Lucas Radebe to begin building his legendary status as his replacement, keeping the Red Filth at bay until the 72nd minute.
His last appearance was against Sheffield Wednesday in January 1998, filling in for an injured Nigel Martyn. He currently works as a goalkeeping coach at Chelsea. In comparison to the keepers we had at the time, Beeney was a decent back up but never likely to make a push to be a genuine number one. He was still however a 1000 times better than Paul Rachubka.
The current manager may have a penchant for signing players from his Sheffield United days, but towards the end of Howard Wilkinson's time in charge at Elland Road, there was a certain Sheffield bias towards the players he brought into the club. One of them was journeyman centre back Paul Beesley.
The signing of Beesley was a surprise, £250,000 being paid to Sheffield United for essentially a back up centre-back. Over his three seasons at the club he made just 19 apperances, none of them standing out in the memory. With the club possessing David Wetherall and Lucas Radebe, purchasing Robert Molenaar andwith a youthful Jonathan Woodgate waiting in the wings, George Graham shifted him on Manchester City.
He drifted around the lower leagues to the end of his career, briefly popping back up at Leeds as a youth coach. Whilst we moan about the dross who have played in recent years, Beesley remains one of those players who is always mentioned when dragging up the names of the crap to have passed through the club. A strong candidate to win this section.
Now known better as one of ITV's stable of terrible commentators, Beglin's glory days as a player came with the all conquering Liverpool side of the mid 1980's. He bcame first choice left back in the 1986 double team, almost having a scrap with Bruce Grobbelaar in the Cup Final against Everton just before Liverpool got back into the game, one they went on to win 3-1.
A broken leg against the same opposition in 1987 looked to have ruined his career and he never played for the first team again. Howard Wilkinson picked him up in June 1989, but his injury problems persisted and after making his debut on the opening day at Newcastle it would be months before he played for the Whites again.
However come the end of the season, and with Leeds suffering from a left back curse, Beglin stepped into the side for the closing weeks of the season. Although he wasn't spectacular his air of confidence and knowledge of how to win things paid dividends as the side held on to win the title on the last day of the season.
However the injuries had taken their toll and he was forced to retire in 1991 at the age of 27.
The current manager of England's U19's, Blake had a fearsome reputation as a tough defender. He started his career in the Midlands with Aston Villa and Birmingham City before moving to Portsmouth.
He signed for Leeds in 1988, but was already a fringe player by the time I started to go, as Howard Wilkinson preferred Chris Fairclough and Peter Haddock as his first choice central defensive pairing. Blake made a couple of apperances early in the promotion season, stepping in when injuries ruled out the first choices. Again I can't really recall him putting a foot wrong, but he was not as classy a player as Haddock or Fairclough.
Blake was moved onto Stoke at the end of the promotion season, ending his career at Exeter before embarking on his succesful coaching career.
As the 1995/96 season petered out disastrously, Howard Wilkinson threw a host of young players into the side. The likes of Ian Harte and Harry Kewell were blooded as well as many more who simply never made the grade. Jason Blunt was one of the first of those.
Blunt made his debut in a 1-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough, another game where Lucas Radebe ended up in goal following an injury to John Lukic. He played the following week as well, another defeat this time to Nottingham Forest and was never seen again.
His career meandered through the wilderness of the lower leagues, never spending more than two years at a club. Blunt was one of those who came through the academy who just didn't quite have it, unlike the class that were to follow him through and take the world by storm a couple of years later. However one can only wonder how his career would have turned out had Howard Wilkinson remained at the helm.
There can be no more intense a game to make your Leeds United debut in then a fever pitched night against Manchester United, especially when the match marks the first return to Elland Road of a certain Eric Cantona. That was the fate that befell Rob Bowman in February 1993.
Not many people knew about him before that night, and to be fair not many people know about him now. However for one night he was thrown into the spotlight and coped with it. The match was live on Sky TV and Bowman, filling in at right back barely put a foot wrong in a tense 0-0 draw.
He was part of another famous night against Manchester United at Elland Road that season, part of the team which won the FA Youth Cup against a Scum side featuring Beckham, Giggs, the Nevilles, Savage and Scholes.
However that was to be the peak of his Leeds career. Seven games in five years he was released, moving on Rotherham and Carlisle United. Another youth who failed to make the grade.
Howard Wilikinson made Lee Bowyer the most expensive teenager in English Football when he paid Charlton Athletic £2.8M in 1996. All though he would not reap the benefits of his signing, it was another astute piece of business by Sgt Wilko as Bowyer would go on to become one of the greats.
Despite struggling to make an impression after Wilkinsons departure, once he established himself in the team Bowyer became an integral part of the Leeds United side which would promise great things at the turn of the millenium.
His performances in Europe whilst shuttling to and fro from court in Hull during his trial for affray in 2001 became the stuff of legends. His goal against AC Milan at Elland Road illicited one of the loudest noises I have ever heard at the stadium, closely matched by his winner in the 2-1 win over Anderlecht.
Bowyer was perpetual motion, his performances on the right atching perfectly with those of Harry Kewell on the left. His departure was a sour one, a fall out over a fine and a failure to sign a contract seeing him become one of the first to depart as the club financially imploded.
Like most of that side, his star shone brightest in his spell at Leeds, his career since drifting along, the outstanding displays of his time at Elland Road nothing but a memory. Perpetually linked with a return, Bowyer is no longer in the game. His off the field antics probably cost him his England career, the sour ending to his time at Leeds tainting his legacy.
Last, but certanly not the least, Tomas Brolin is not only the favourite to "win" this section but maybe the whole damn thing. However I will state a case for the defence, although not a very strenuous one.
For the 5 years before he joined Leeds in 1995, Brolin was one of the hottest properties in European football. Alongside Martin Dahlin he had torn England apart in Euro 92, before helping Sweden to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1994. Playing in Serie A for Parma, Brolin was at the peak of his powers.
Then he got injured, breaking his foot in a Euro 96 qualifier. From that day his powers began to wane as he struggled to regain fitness. Joining Leeds at first he looked quite decent. A goal against Sheffield Wednesday (albeit off his arse while he laid on the floor) opened his account. A great performance in the 3-1 win over Manchester United was follwed by a goal in a 2-0 win over Bolton. he then netted a brace in a 2-0 win over West Ham. Then it all started to go wrong.
Leeds were hammered 5-0 at Anfield, Howard Wilkinson apparentley berating Brolin for his lack of workrate, Brolin countering that he was here to play as a centre forward, not a right winger. The relationship broke down irrecoverably as Wilkinson began to feel the pressure.
Despite the Leeds fans animosity towards Brolin in retrospect, I was there at Wembley when the crowd were singing "Why is Brolin on the bench" during the 3-0 League Cup Final defeat to Villa. As Leeds fell apart over the closing weeks of the season, Brolin disappeared and began his new career as a professional eater.
His departure from Leeds took almost 18 months with a bitter dispute between the club and player. Eventually paid off, Brolin had a short spell at Crystal Palace, actually playing against Leeds. Overweight and wearing a bandage after a clash of heads with Bruno Ribiero, he cut a comic figure making no impact as Leeds won the match easily.
He retired in 1998 at the age of 27, a fat bloated mess. Since then he has been a sold shoes and vaccum cleaners as well as becoming a professional poker player. At £4.5M he was Leeds most costly signing at the time. He has certainly been thier most costly mistake.
So that's it for the B's who played under Howard Wilkinson. As usual we would appreciate not only your votes in the poll below, but any of your memories on the players above. Please take the time to add your comments below, or tweet us @TIAT_LUFC
Next week we look at the B's who played whilst we lived the dream in Europe and lived through the nightmare of two relegations.
Who was the worst of Sgt Wilko's B Company?
Ian Baird (0 votes)
David Batty (0 votes)
Mark Beeney (1 vote)
Paul Beesley (9 votes)
Jim Beglin (3 votes)
Noel Blake (1 vote)
Jason Blunt (13 votes)
Rob Bowman (0 votes)
Lee Bowyer (1 vote)
Tomas Brolin (107 votes)
135 total votes