In selecting a greatest Leeds United international eleven, inevitably a number of significant players will miss out, and yes, I’m glossing over the one international appearance of Tresor Kandol for the Republic of Congo. Leeds first ever international was Willis Edwards in 1926, who along with Ernie Hart and ‘Iron Man’ Wilf Copping formed a daunting backline for Leeds in the early 1930s, all of whom were England internationals. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the likes of Wilbur Cush who served Northern Ireland with honour in the late 1950s, scoring the winning goal in their first ever World Cup Finals triumph in 1958, or Johnny Giles who holds the rare distinction of being an international player-manager for the Republic of Ireland whilst still playing for Leeds, and more bizarrely whilst latterly also holding the same duel role with West Bromwich Albion.
The claims of others such as Strachan and McAllister, who both appear in Scotland’s 50 caps or over Hall of Fame, or Mark Viduka, who captained Australia in the 2006 World Cup Finals, unfortunately don’t quite cut it. Still, the following is a line up of players that have made a noteworthy contribution at international level, whilst also wearing the white shirt of Leeds. It also serves as a reminder that in the insular world of Leeds United, where everyone is born with an ingrained siege mentality and a backs to the wall outlook on the rest of the football world, more widespread recognition and a grudging concession of our qualities has frequently been made in more respected quarters.
Goalkeeper: David Harvey (Scotland)
Whilst only earning 16 caps for Scotland, Harvey merits inclusion for being awarded the honour of the best goalkeeper in the 1974 World Cup Finals, during which he conceded just one goal in three games, as unbeaten Scotland were eliminated on goal difference. That Harvey heroically overcame his evolvement from the Planet of the Apes to perform on the highest international stage, outweighs the disappointing international career of Leeds best ever goalkeeper Nigel Martyn. Just 23 caps for England were a direct result of Martyn’s flat refusal to stand toe-to-toe with David Seaman in the fashion stakes. Martyn shaved his moustache off whilst still at Crystal Palace in the early 90s, but he couldn’t compete with Seaman’s brazen flouting of all good taste and common decency. It is no coincidence that when Seaman began to sport a ponytail in 2002, Martyn promptly retired from international football.
Right Back: Gary Kelly (Republic of Ireland)
Replacing Mel Sterland as Leeds United’s number 2 was always going to be a tough ask, but whilst local pie trade hit the skids, stick-thin ‘friend of the salad’ Gary Kelly made the grade on the pitch. Some time in the summer of 1993 Howard Wilkinson leapt from the bath and startled assistant manager Mad Dog Mick Hennigan with the stark and unadorned epiphany that 20-year old Kelly should be converted from an uninspiring right winger, into the answer to their right back conundrum. Nine months later, Kelly had been an ever-present in the Leeds United side and was dodging Jack Charlton’s flying water bottles in the 1994 USA World Cup Finals. 51 caps in a nine year international career would result.
Left Back: Terry Cooper (England)
The white boots were ahead of their time, as were his marauding forward runs from a deep-lying full back position; think of a three-dimensional Stuart Pearce, with brains. Cooper bamboozled the opposition in his revolution of the ‘defensive’ role and came away from the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico with ringing endorsements from opposing coaches and players like Pele ringing in his ears. The ‘best left back in the world’ he was known as, but sadly a horrific broken leg suffered in April 1972 would curtail his ascent to greatness.
Centre half: Jack Charlton (England)
When you don’t earn your first England cap until you hit 30, it’s perhaps an overdue admission of your qualities. When you win a World Cup winners medal a year later, it’s hard to ignore that when producing a greatest international eleven. A member of a very rare club, and likely to remain so for quite some time.
Centre half: Lucas Radebe (South Africa)
Off the pitch, recognition of your international achievements doesn’t get much loftier than fellow countryman Nelson Mandela referring to you as ‘My Hero’, that is unless you share the Top of the Pops stage with that famous ‘Scotsman’ Rod Stewart singing Ally’s Tartan Army. But Radebe, the most dignified captain and ambassador for the post-apartheid South Africa, received just that, as he guided the rainbow nation through famous appearances in the 1998 and 2002 World Cup Finals
Just 23 caps for England were a direct result of Martyn’s flat refusal to stand toe-to-toe with David Seaman in the fashion stakes. Martyn shaved his moustache off whilst still at Crystal Palace in the early 90s, but he couldn’t compete with Seaman’s brazen flouting of all good taste and common decency.
Midfield: Bobby Collins (Scotland)
The fearless, 5’ 4” Bobby Collins was an almost maniacal nugget of Govanhill granite. Packed into his Lilliputian frame was an audacious, lionhearted desire that intimidated his team mates in training as much as opponents on a match day. Famous for instilling Revie’s win-at-all-costs philosophy on the unfocussed talents of the young Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter, Collins had previously won a raft of medals in ten years at Celtic. In 31 caps for Scotland Collins typified the spirit of the proud nation, even when lining up in the tunnel pre-match and raking his studs down George Best’s calf, with the immortal words as he transfixed him in the eyes ‘that’s just for starters Besty….’
Midfield: Billy Bremner (Scotland)
Not much more can be said about Bremner, other than he was as revered in his native Scotland as much as he was at Leeds, if not anywhere else. Another Hall of Fame inhabitant, who captained Scotland in the 1974 World Cup finals, he is an example of Leeds many deep connections with Scotand. Whilst the likes of Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer made little impact on the international stage, Bremner was the archetypal captain and warrior in the Blue shirt of his country.
Midfield: David Batty (England)
Often criticised for his style of play, anybody who has actually played the game would appreciate the contribution of David Batty to a team. Selected for 42 caps by four separate managers for England (Taylor, Venables, Hoddle and Keegan) Batty seamlessly took to the international stage at the age of just 22. Famous for missing a penalty in the 1998 World Cup shoot-out with Argentina, Batty’s reaction was typical of his procedural and unflustered approach to the game. Not for him the Pizza Hut adverts or the built-up need for a very public redemption years later, just the nonchalant shrug of the shoulders and run-of –the-mill analysis; ‘I thought I’d score’ he said with dripping understatement, ‘I knew he wouldn’t’ his Dad retorted, with knowing realism.
Midfield: Gary Speed (Wales)
Second only to Neville Southall with 85 Wales caps, Speed does hold the record for captaining his country the most times (44). The all-round midfielder that would have earned a similar amount of caps had he been English, Speed served his nation with a trademark professionalism and as an inspiration to his colleagues. He made his international debut at just 21, having only just broken into the Leeds side, and would go on to become Wales manager.
Centre Forward: Allan Clarke (England)
Scoring the only goal of a must-win game on your England debut is quite an introduction to international football. As that goal was in the 1970 Mexico World Cup finals, and was a penalty that more experienced colleagues lacked the bottle to take was quintessential ‘Sniffer’. The cold and detached Clarke was a ruthless assassin who never shirked the responsibility, nor gave up an opportunity to savour his salacious love of seeing the onion bag ripple.
Centre Forward: John Charles (Wales)
Charles played a central role in Wales qualification for and advancement in their only World Cup finals appearance in 1958. Charles was injured and missed the pivotal quarter-final encounter with Brazil in which a Pele goal eliminated the Welsh. It was widely-believed that Charles absence had tipped the scales in Brazil’s favour. As with his Leeds career, Charles won as many caps in central defence with Wales, as he did in the centre forward position, making his goals tally of 15 in 38 international appearances, all the more impressive.
All these players are discussed in detail in Jon’s forthcoming book ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’. This is being written now and is due for release in November 2012. Leeds fans can vote for their favourite players and ensure their nominations are included in the book and the definitive ‘100 Greatest Players’ via the e-mail address email@example.com or via Twitter @lufc100greatest using the hash tag #lufc100greatestvote
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