Never say never again?

31 May 2015 04:00pm, by YorkshireSquare


With the transfer window opening and clubs lining up to make their signings for the new season the rumours always start with former players returning. It used to be Alan Smith sat in his car in the East stand car park, playing NetEnt's Reel Rush game no doubt. But in recent years the rumours have centred on Beckford, Becchio and Gradel. It’s easy to see why, Beckford played 147 times for Leeds scoring 84 goals, Becchio scored 86 goals in 219 appearances whilst Max Gradel lit up the pitch with his speed and feistiness. But should a player ever return once they have departed Elland Road? Can it ever be as good second time round? Here are a few who made that return;

John Charles (1947-1957, 1962)
The Gentle Giant (Or Il Gigante Buono) is regarded the greatest Leeds player outside the Revie era. As a centre half no one could beat him in the air and as a centre forward he was lethal. He holds the scoring record in a season for Leeds United with 42 league goals in 1953-54. He made 327 league and cup appearances for Leeds scoring 157 goals before moving to Juventus for a world record £65,000 at the end of the 1956-57 season. He was voted the greatest ever foreign player to play for Juventus, winning 3 Italian league medals with the club.

In 1962 Charles returned to Leeds United but found it hard to readjust to the English game. After only three tough months he moved back to Italy signing for Roma. He only managed ten games for Roma and with injuries piling up he moved to the lower leagues in the UK having spells at Cardiff, Hertford and Merthyr Tydfil before retiring in 1974. His return to Leeds many not have been a success but he will ever be regarded as perhaps the greatest all-round footballer ever to come from Britain and one of the best players ever to play for Leeds United.

Peter Lorimer (1962-1979, 1984-1985)
Leeds' youngest ever first team debutant just short of his 16th birthday, his powerful shots on goal earned him the nicknames "Lash" and "Hotshot" from the fans, especially after a newspaper recorded one of his shots at 90MPH! His shooting aside, he was a superb right winger and his crosses to the Leeds forwards were deadly accurate. In his first spell at Leeds he won the first division twice, FA Cup and League Cup once, the Fairs Cup twice and one Charity Shield. Lorimer left Leeds for Toronto Blizzard in 1979.

Lorimer returned to Leeds United and played under his younger former team mate Eddie Gray. Leeds had slipped down into the second division at this point and a 37 year old Lorimer played a key role in the midfield. During his second spell at the club Lorimer broke the clubs goal scoring record, 238 goals from 676 appearances. He retired from Leeds shortly before his 40th birthday in 1985 whilst playing under another ex-teammate Billy Bremner. He would go on to play for another former teammate, David Harvey, at Whitby Town.

Ian Baird (1985-1987, 1988-1990)
Baird moved to Leeds from Southampton in 1985 for £75,000. A robust striker, his aggression often got him into trouble with referees but he was United’s top scorer in 1986-87, before he moved to newly-promoted Portsmouth to play First Division Football in June 1987 for £285,000. A hard up Portsmouth allowed him to return to Leeds for £185,000. The advent of Lee Chapman saw him move on to Middlesborough for £500,000.

Always a crowd favourite in his time at Elland Road, where he was the arch-typical battering-ram centre-forward, never asking for favours nor giving any, the fans always knew there was always a chance of a goal when he was around, whether scored by himself or resulting in a goal for others, who profited from his honest endeavour laced with a not inconsiderable amount of skill. He made 190 appearances and scored 57 goals.

Scott Sellars (1983-1986, 1992-1993)
Born Sheffield 1965, he turned professional with LUFC in 1983 and soon became one of a number of talented youngsters encouraged to play open football by Manager Eddie Gray, but struggled with the physical aspects of the game. He asked for a transfer and joined Blackburn Rovers in 1986, where he won a Full Members Cup medal, was capped at England under 23 level and won promotion with them before leaving to rejoin LUFC in 1992.

Howard Wilkinson had sought to build a strong squad for his assault on Europe, but the midfield at that time was very settled with Strachan, Batty, McAllister and Speed unmoveable, and Hodge, Rocastle and Sellars totally on the outer. The fact that he could never seem to remain uninjured for long did not help his cause. It was no surprise when he left for Newcastle United in 1993 and quickly returned to the Premier League as Kevin Keegan’s Magpies swept to the First Division title. A talented left-footed midfielder, he made 90 appearances, scoring 14 goals.

Lee Chapman (1990-1993, 1996)
Chapman began his professional career with Stoke City in 1978, where he once recorded a hat-trick against Leeds. After establishing himself at Stoke, his career faltered and he played with Arsenal, and Sunderland before Howard Wilkinson took him to Sheffield Wednesday in 1984. He netted 69 goals in 149 games for the Owls before taking on an unsuccessful sample of French football, which quickly saw him return to England with Nottingham Forest, where he won League Cup and Zenith Cup winner's medals. He joined Leeds in 1990 and led them to the Second Division and First Division Championships in quick succession. He played 171 games and scored 80 goals. He left in 1993 for Portsmouth.

During the 1996 season Chapman was signed on loan when Howard Wilkinson found his attack badly affected by injuries and suspensions. His debut was at Elland Road in a two nil victory over West Ham. Brolin scored both the goals and Chapman was involved in the first of these on 26 minutes, just a minute later though he was sent off for an elbow. His second game was away at Anfield where Leeds were thrashed five nil. After serving his suspension Chapman returned to Ipswich, perhaps not the greatest return ever.

David Batty (1987-1993, 1998-2004)
Born Leeds in 1968. After signing professional in 1985 Batty was only 18 when making his debut and impressing with his tackling and speed as he was picked for England under 21's. A superb ball-winner and passer he was an integral part of the 1992 Championship winning team. He gained 14 of his 42 full England caps with Leeds before a surprise £2.75m transfer to Blackburn Rovers in 1993. He was their Player of the Year and added a further Championship medal to the one already won at Leeds in 1992. He joined Newcastle United for £3.75m in 1996 where he narrowly missed out on three.

Batty returned home for £4.4m in 1998 for a 6 year stint at the club. His return debut did not start so well, picking up a rib injury that would keep him out for the next 15 games. On his return however he was a vital piece of the jigsaw, a solid experienced player in O'Leary’s young side. Batty featured 116 times in all competitions during his second spell at Leeds but failed to add to his goal tally despite shouts from the Kop for him to “Shooot” on regular occasions. Injuries meant he played little beyond 2002 and he retired from football in 2004. For two seasons though he was integral to that exciting Leeds team.

Brian Deane (1993-1997, 2004-2005)
Born Leeds in 1968, Deano starred with the Leeds City Boys but after playing with the Leeds Youth team in 1984, he was allowed to join Doncaster in 1985 where his powerful displays saw him snapped up by Sheffield United. A target-man Striker, he became a prolific scorer and soon won 3 full England caps. It took a massive £2.7m to gain a return to his birthplace. Although voted Supporters Player of the year in 1994-95, he failed to live up to his goal scoring reputation but had a fine spell on the left-side of the attack with Tony Yeboah, which ensured European qualification. In 1997 he returned to Bramall Lane for a fee of £1.5 million.

Dean returned to Leeds for a second spell during the 2004-2005 season, signed on a free transfer. His second spell at the club lasted little more than half a season before he signed for Sunderland in March 2005. In 31 appearances Deane scored 6 goals. The most memorable game is the 6-1 victory against Queens Park Rangers at Elland Road where he notched up 4 goals and 2 assists. At 36 years old this was his first and only hat trick for Leeds United. It was however the highlight in an otherwise uneventful return.

Fabian Delph (2006-2009, 2012)
Delph signed for Leeds from Bradford in 2001 at the age of just 11. He was given his debut at Leeds as a substitute in the final match of the 2006-07 season at Derby County on the 6th May 2007. Leeds turned down two offers for Delph in the January 2009 transfer window. His good form continued and he was nominated as League One player of the year and won the Football League "Young player of the Year" award. Ken Bates had claimed Delph was not for sale however, on 3rd August 2009, it was Aston Villa who signed Delph at an undisclosed fee, thought to be in excess of £6 million.

On 20th January 2012 Delph was loaned back to Leeds United until 25th February 2012. He made his first appearance of his loan spell on 21st January 2012 in a 3-1 win over Ipswich at Elland Road. He had played five games but in the fifth appearance at Coventry City on 14th February 2012 he received an ankle injury. On 16th February he returned to Villa Park for treatment and it was much more serious than at first thought and it would keep him out for the rest of the season.


For more information on Leeds players past and present and a fantastic history of Leeds United please visit Oz White’s Leeds United FC History.