Cult Leeds United Heroes: Mel 'Zico' Sterland

Despite having a name like a pork butcher, Mel Sterland was a hard working right back who played with real passion.
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In the days before prozone and the Premiership turned football from sport into entertainment, where even distinctly ordinary players at bang average clubs earn movie star wages, drive Lamborghinis and sh*g women several echelons above what they could realistically manage if they had a real job, there was a fella at Leeds nicknamed Zico, after the white Pele no less.

Born in Sheffield with a name more akin to a pork butcher than a professional footballer, Melvyn “Mel” Sterland started his career at Sheffield Wednesday where he worked under a holy trinity of Howard Wilkinson, Jack Charlton & Ron Atkinson. The flamboyant assassin Graham Souness then paid £800,000 to take him to Rangers to join their '80s version of Man City today - a collection of expensive imports.

Then in a move that drew a collective “meh” from Leeds fans, Howard Wilkinson brought him to the club in 1989 for £600,000 as part of a revolution that brought the glory days back to Elland Road.

Sterland was no show pony. He always looked a tad overweight, portly even, and in the first stages of hair loss, but gave 100% effort with a passion that bordered on psychotic.

He was capped once for England so his ability was unquestionable. Undoubtedly a man of the people, his autobiography entitled “Boozing, Betting & Brawling” bears testament to his personality.

In his first season Sterland quickly established himself as a fan favourite scoring five goals in 42 league games from right back as Leeds won the Second Division after eight years out of the top flight.

In their first season back they finished a highly creditable 4th and in 1991/92 were crowned the last true champions. Zico contributed six goals in 31 league appearances, however Mel was sadly lost to the Premier League after an ankle injury in autumn 1992, after only three appearances.

Wilkinson had built a machine of a team, glamour provided by ex Chelsea left back Tony Dorigo, the heartbeat delivered by the fab four of Strachan, McAllister, Batty & Speed in midfield, goals from big Lee Chapman and rapier like Rod Wallace, solid centre halves in Fairclough and Whyte, a goalie with a great pedigree in John Lukic.

The essence of the team was Sterland, marauding down the wing, crunching into tackles and banging in free kicks from his thunderous right boot with force and velocity enough to beat two 'keepers.

Mel Sterland knew what it is to be Leeds and to do the Leeds salute. He was a true cult hero.


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