Excellent Batty Interview

Discussion in 'Leeds United' started by Whitejock, Dec 28, 2015.

  1. Whitejock

    Whitejock Well-Known Member

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    Credit to Moscow White.

    I told someone recently that Batty was now a master butcher somewhere. I decided to check it out, and he's not, In the process, I stumbled on this 5 part interview from July 2015 by Moscow White. Definitely worth a read. One of my favourite players ever at ER.

    http://www.thecitytalking.com/david-batty-leeds-united-interview-1/

    It’s by far the nicest evening of the year so far, and we’re spending it with David Batty in his garden in North Yorkshire. The sun is shining, and his wife Mandy has served up an enormous chocolate cake. The twins George and Jack are relaxing with the family dog, Reggie; and the only intrusions on David’s peace and quiet are the sounds of birds singing in the trees and sheep bleating in the fields around him, and us, asking daft questions about the rumours about what he’s been doing since he retired from football when he left Leeds United in 2004.

    Has he been living in a caravan in Filey?

    “No.”

    Did he put on a disguise and take a fake name, and become a superbike champion?

    “No.”

    Did he open a butcher’s shop?

    “No. I actually heard the butcher one. It was on Wikipedia wasn’t it? Said I’d become a master butcher or something like that, in Cumbria? And I think there might have been a fish shop mentioned. But no.”

    ••

    David Batty played 351 games of football for Leeds United, but on the November afternoon in 1987 when he made his debut, against Swindon at Elland Road, all the attention was on Bobby Davison. He was a £350,000 signing from First Division Derby County and there were big expectations; he delivered with a goal. But by full time it was the tiny blond in midfield, ten years younger than Davison, who was in the headlines.

    “It’s Bremner Batty” read one, the reporter quick to note that “the style, aggression and physical presence is remarkably similar” to legendary captain, manager, and David’s mentor, Billy Bremner; and that, “Twice he was spoken to by the referee after leaving his mark on Dave Bamber, Jimmy Quinn and Jon Gittens — all hefty six-footers.”

    The tackling that trademarked Batty — and typecast him — was there from the start, as was the ability to sweep all the opposition’s carefully drawn tactics from the chalkboard and replace them with a gameplan of his own, with two deft touches and a well chosen pass.

    He attacked, too. Wearing 7, he first caught the eye with bursts from midfield, inside right, into the penalty area, shooting just wide. It was all there, in that first game against Swindon in 1987. You just had to choose to look.

    ••

    “It seems weird, that,” says David. We’re talking about his two spells at Leeds, and his place at the heart of two of Leeds United’s best ever teams. First, there was the First Division title side, the only team not managed by Don Revie to bring silverware to United, and a team defined by its midfield: Batty, McAllister, Speed and Strachan. Then there was the millennium revival; no trophies, but a close resemblance to glory, and again it was all about the midfield: Batty, Bowyer, Dacourt, Kewell.

    “It’s weird,” says David. “I would say midfield was the strongest part of those teams, but it’s weird you including me in that, because I don’t — the others are all good names in the game, aren’t they? They’ve all achieved.”

    It’s a good point here to remind ourselves, and David, that he played more than 400 league football matches at the top levels; he won the Second Division, the First Division, the Charity Shield, and the Premier League (although, after missing most of the season, he didn’t accept the medal); he played in the semi- finals of the Champions League, played 42 times for England, played in the European Championship, played in the World Cup.

    Batty didn’t just pass the time in all those games, on all those stages. He passed the ball. And he passed the ball better than a lot of players who have been regarded, before and since, as world class. Those of us who watched Batty play — and properly watched him, not just in highlights or clips — watched the rise of Barcelona and Spain this past decade and remembered David Batty, ahead of his time. Dictating possession before possession stats were cool; swarming around attackers the moment they got the ball, the moment of greatest vulnerability, the way every kid at Barça has drilled into them; passing and passing and passing, and keeping the ball, because the ball is everything. If Leeds were Barcelona, Batty would be Xavi or Busquets.

    “Well, more Busquets,” says David. “I wouldn’t be Xavi. People used to have a go at me for passing sideways and backwards, but I’ve always believed in that. Why not just keep the ball? While you’ve got the ball, they haven’t, and I prefer to have it. It’s hard work getting it back, especially when you’re playing against better teams. You almost never do.

    “I used to love when a midfielder would go beyond me, but then he’d try to pass into the striker, so I’d just get it from the striker. His touch might not be right, or the pass might be difficult to control, and I’d be straight onto him and getting the ball off him. The centre halves used to love me playing in front of them.”

    Centre halves loved him, but TV directors didn’t feel the love for a player who loved nothing more than reducing a glitzy highlights reel to charred celluloid. No matter how hard they worked to cut him from the highlights, Batty always worked harder to cut the ball away from the strikers; and what the TV viewers didn’t see, the fans in the stadiums loved, not just for the way he stopped opposition attacks, but for the way he started theirs. The TV didn’t show that, either; they wanted dribbles and volleys, but David Batty wasn’t made for telly. He was a football connoisseur’s footballer, and if he was on your team, you saw his best, and loved him for it.

    “I’ve always been appreciated by the teams I’ve played for,” he says. “First of all because they knew I was trying my best. That’s a basic requirement from a fan: that at least you try. I can imagine the frustration at Newcastle this season. I saw the fans with their flag, saying ‘We demand a club that tries,’ and there’s nothing worse; you’re paying your money and you just want to see someone get their finger out and do their best.

    “If you can’t play, so what. At least give it your best. And everyone could see that I did that, I think.”

    ••

    David Batty didn’t start for Leeds at Bournemouth in 1990. It was a game that could — and did — change everything, and manager Howard Wilkinson favoured the experience of Chris Kamara ahead of the youthful exuberance of Batty. As he often was, Wilko was right; Kamara was superbly matched to the tension, and placed the cross on to Lee Chapman’s head that launched United back into Division One. But Batty did get his cameo.

    With seconds remaining, he was brought from the subs bench to the touchline, ready to take Carl Shutt’s place. Bobby Davison walked over to Batty and pounded him encouragingly on the back. With a start Batty stopped adjusting his socks and span round to identify and glare out the perpetrator of this assault. Davison, looking chastened, translated the back- smacks into a thumbs up and retreated to a safe distance. Batty turned to face the pitch again, grinning. I can’t be sure, but I think David Batty punctuated the most agonising seconds of football Leeds United had known in years by punking Bobby Davison.

    He wasn’t done. On the footage, the camera follows as he trots leisurely on to the pitch; then captures his sudden change of pace; and four seconds after crossing the white line, Batty has mugged Bournemouth’s unsuspecting Paul Shearer, taken the ball off his toe before Shearer even knew he was on the pitch, and is racing with it towards the goal. He’s all on his own, the rest of the Leeds team forming a nervous defensive rank of ten behind him, and Shearer soon catches him and bundles him to the floor; but as fifteen second substitute appearances go, Batty’s here wasn’t a bad one. And you suspect that he, alone out of all the players who had so much depending on them that afternoon, enjoyed the game.

    ••

    “Things in those days just seemed so much simpler,” says David. “I just used to turn up and play. And enjoy it. There wasn’t anything in the background.

    “I don’t know how to explain it. But you just used to be a young lad, go training, and then play on a Saturday. And you’d just love it because that was what you always wanted to do.”

    The First Division title in 1992 was the obvious high point of the Wilkinson era, but for a lot of fans there is still something special about the two seasons before that one, when Leeds won Division Two and then finished fourth in Division One; something makes them as vivid and memorable today as the title win itself. In Division Two there was the Vinnie Jones factor; but throughout there was the feeling that comes with forward momentum, of being propelled forward to somewhere, not caring where. And, week after week, Batty was in the thick of it, racing Vinnie to be first into the celebrations, rushing to the stands, fists pumping, jumping over his teammates after another goal, another win.

    “I loved that,” says David. “I absolutely loved that. Looking back now, and hearing myself talk about it, I realise that as a boy I loved that. On the way up, to achieve things, you’re desperate to achieve them. But when you do achieve them, you’re just on to the next thing.

    “It’s like as a kid you think about playing for England, and think it must be amazing. But then you’re actually there doing it, and you come back, and you’ve got another game on Saturday. You’ve got to produce an equally good level of performance every time, or else you’re going to go down, so you’ve just got to maintain it all the way. Every three days you’ve got to keep doing it. And as a result of that, it becomes a job.”

    Batty was raised at Elland Road by Billy Bremner, the inspiration of Leeds’ greatest ever team, and we asked if Billy ever spoke to David about how that team maintained its level of performance over so many seasons, from 1962 to 1975.

    “He didn’t,” David says, “But having said that, that team didn’t win what they should have won, did they? So possibly they were able to maintain it because, having finished second so many times, success was still there to go for.

    “Definitely on the way up, under Bremner, and in the early days with Wilko, we were still wanting to achieve. Isn’t it funny, that: we were in the Second Division, and we had a few good players in there, and nowadays you’d be talking about how those good players will be sold. That fear in the back of your mind, that the more successful you are, the more likely it is to be disbanded — as a player you just know you’re never going to build anything.

    “But that was never mentioned, was it? Selling. It was the Second Division, but that wasn’t the mindset. It was: we’re going to be successful.”

    ••

    In the summer of 1992, Chris Fairclough’s head stopped a long Liverpool clearance, and as the ball bounced on the lush Wembley turf, David Batty brought it under control with his chest and passed it back to Chris Whyte. Batty moved into space between the three Liverpool forwards, and when he received the ball again from Whyte, he turned and ran with it towards the centre circle. He placed a smooth diagonal pass to the right, to Gary McAllister’s feet; McAllister was tackled and the ball ran loose. Gary Speed couldn’t win the next tackle, but Batty walked calmly onto the loose ball and, with a stroke of his right foot, steered the ball away from five Liverpool defenders and directly into the path of Rod Wallace. Wallace sent the ball into the space in front of him and caught up with it in the penalty area; there he turned, looked, and passed to the penalty spot and Eric Cantona. One more kick from Cantona and Leeds United, the champions of England, led in the Charity Shield, 1-0.

    ••

    “It seems a long time ago,” says David. “I can’t remember any games, really.” It’s funny what David Batty doesn’t remember about how Leeds United won the league in 1992. When we mention the decisive game at Bramall Lane, the 3-2 defeat of Sheffield United that all but sealed the title, something stirs in the memory.

    “I saw something the other day — I don’t know whether I dreamt it now, but was there an own goal in there, a crazy own goal?”

    Only the craziest and most famous and joyful own goal in many Leeds fans’ lifetimes; as Brian Gayle, under pressure from Cantona and Wallace, headed the ball absurdly over his own onrushing goalkeeper: the goal that sent the title to Leeds.

    “That’s what it was,” says David. “I have seen that, I didn’t dream it. There was a programme, Football Mavericks, on ITV4 or something the other week. And Cantona was on there, so that’s where I’ve seen that goal.”

    It’s a reminder that while fans and players share a common bond and a common passion, they see very different games, and remember very different things.

    David does remember a goal by Rod Wallace against Everton that season — “Rod was sharp. Wasn’t that a cracker in the last minute?” — but he remembers that game this way, the way it felt to play:

    “I used to love games coming into winter, autumn time, where you play in light and then come out for the second half and it’s getting a bit dark. And then the back end of the game when the floodlights are on, it was class. Brilliant.

    “The First Division was a big change. There were all the new grounds to go to. Everything was like… the First Division. Wow.

    “The first game, Everton away, when we walked out for the warm up, it was everything you dreamed about. Massive ground, perfect pitch. Massive crown on it. That’s what I always thought of as a proper pitch — where you wouldn’t be able to see the players’ feet on the other side. That’s what Everton was, a bowling green. That’s what everything was, that first season back.”

    It’s impossible to imagine it happening now, but Leeds took the First Division as if it was theirs by right. Howard Wilkinson found the perfect mix of trusted workers and raw talents, and drilled them and drilled them until they were unstoppable. First in the Second Division, fourth in the First, then Champions. Easy.

    “It’s funny, because I’m not a bighead,” says David. “But when I used to go and play football against some teams with some good, big name players in midfield, my aim would always be to get the better of whoever I was playing against. And there were some games where you’d be playing against them and you’d just — you’d bully them. You’d just have an easy game. And we were playing against some big teams, big players.”

    The Leeds team at the start of the nineties made winning look easy, partly because players like Batty, Speed and McAllister were coming into their prime, developing together at the top of the league. But it was built on hard work, to get that team strength.

    “In the Championship year they always talk about the midfield. Strachan. Gary Mac. Speedie. Although when you say ‘Speedie — midfield’, I always thought of Speedie as a winger, and I don’t class wingers as midfielders. Strach would be more inside than Speedie, so he was a proper midfielder.

    “Then you say Chappy, and he did the end result that you want a striker to do. He used to frustrate the hell out of me because his first touch was poor, but you can’t criticise him — he wasn’t there for that, was he? He produced his goals.

    “But then people don’t remember the others. Rod Wallace. Chris Fairclough, when you look at the clubs he played for, he was a real athlete, and a real nice lad as well. So was Chris Whyte. Just basic, decent, ordinary lads.”

    Plus, dominating headlines during a dramatic nine-month stay, one extraordinary Frenchman. “Cantona was the luxury player. He didn’t really work hard, and he did what he wanted when he wanted. But because of the little bits of class he’d give, it was worth it. As players, you’ll go and work and give him the ball, because he produces something that wins games, and it’s worth it.

    “I don’t really remember what I thought when he left. It doesn’t really affect you as a player because you see players come and go, that’s the nature of the game. Based on what I saw when I played with him, I’m surprised when he’s ranked alongside George Best as one of Manchester United’s all time greats, but I suppose he wasn’t at Leeds long enough to really see his best.”

    Right up there, though, was Gordon Strachan.

    “The best player in that team,” says David. “Definitely. From him coming to the club, to us winning the title, there’s no way we’d have done it without him. He was an example to everyone, whether you were young or old.

    “He must have been about 32 when he came to Leeds. When I got to that age, I never realised I was so old; because when I was at Leeds and he came in, it was like an old man had come. So obviously players must have looked at me like that! But Strach was definitely the driving force in any success Leeds have had, because apart from that and the Revie era, there’s been none, has there?”

    Apart from that April afternoon in 1992. What David does remember is sitting on the sofa in Lee Chapman’s house, as ITV broadcast the players’ reaction to winning the league, when Manchester United were beaten 2-0 at Liverpool in the late kick off.

    “Oh yeah, at Chappy’s? I’ve never seen it since. Who went there? Me, Gary Mac, was it Speedie? Oh, it was Eric.” We remind David how presenter Elton Welsby spoke to them all via a link from a studio at Anfield; that Chapman was pretending to translate into French for Cantona. “Oh yeah! Haha. I can just hear him.

    “They were great times, though. I look back and think everything was easy. It was simple. Just go play. And we’d invariably win, because we were the better team.”

    ••

    Roberto Mancini had seen enough. Twice in a minute he’d watched Batty go through a Sampdoria player, taking body and legs and ankles and getting nowhere near the ball as he bundled them to the floor. And now the Sampdoria captain had had enough. He raced across the pitch, shoved Batty, stuck his finger in Batty’s face, twice, Batty swatting the hand away each time, like it was an irritating butterfly. It was a preseason friendly at Elland Road, and Batty had decided to liven things up a bit. As the crowd chanted his name, Batty made exaggerated gestures to Mancini to calm down.

    Soon Mancini had the ball, and was kicked for having it by Batty. His eyes said murder; Batty winked at McAllister. Then the ball rolled out of play, and it was between Batty and Sampdoria’s left back Marco Lanna to claim the throw in. Batty claimed the ball, and for good measure sent Lanna over the advertising hoardings, head first.

    Nobody took kindly to that. When the brawl subsided, Batty was placed in purgatory at the side of the pitch by the referee, who was asking Howard Wilkinson to show Sampdoria mercy and substitute his player. Wilko wasn’t going to let any referee dictate his team to him, and gestured to Batty — get back on.

    Moments later Lanna sought revenge by running the length of the left wing to slide two-footed into Batty. Batty calmly stepped out of the way and called across to McAllister. “See that?” A grin. Another wink. And the crowd: ‘Marching on Together!’

    “It was a friendly, wasn’t it?” says David now. “So you could do what you wanted. And it was an English ref. In the end he just told Wilko — take him off. But I think Wilko enjoyed it as well. It was just funny. Everyone was laughing.”

    Everyone, maybe, but maybe not Mancini.

    ••

    “I think Wilko must have sensed that the players we had had gone far enough,” says David. “I was the first to go, and I was thinking I needed to go. I struggled all my career with Wilko anyway.”

    Wilkinson and Batty didn’t laugh together much longer. The first season after the title was a near-disastrous brush with relegation; the season after that, David Batty was a Blackburn player by Christmas.

    “The League Manager’s Association weren’t happy when I wrote about him in my book [in 2001], and Wilko possibly took it personally. But it was just his style of management that I didn’t like. He was so detailed; he was too serious for me.

    Keegan and Dalglish, they just told you to go out and play. But obviously Leeds didn’t have the level of player overall for that, so we had to play to a system, and I found it hard to play in.”

    Wilkinson indulged Batty to a certain extent; he knew enough about Batty’s lack of concentration in training to leave him out of set-piece practice, to send him away with his own ball — with his name written on it. And he knew enough about Batty’s talent and application in games to make sure he was one of the highest paid players at the club, and one of the first names on his teamsheet. And Batty, for his part, had no argument with the results of Wilkinson’s methods — for as long as the results were wins.

    “We did well when I came back under David O’Leary, but we didn’t win anything then, did we?” he says. “We had a different type of player, and it was more enjoyable to play in and probably more enjoyable to watch. But Wilko’s team was more effective, which is what it’s all about. It was a winning formula.

    “I think the success we had kept me happy at Leeds. If you’re winning, you enjoy it. But when you stop winning, it becomes hard work to play in, because you’re not getting the rewards. We got our success and I’d get my enjoyment on a Saturday, but when that ends, it becomes boring, with no rewards for it.”

    When we ask about a fabled piece of management from the 1992 title run-in, when Wilkinson got the squad together after a 4-0 defeat at Manchester City and told them what the side would be for the remaining games to collect the points to win the league, we see clearly how that approach must have frustrated David.

    “Well, I can’t remember any of that,” he says. “If it was a meeting, I probably switched off. But everyone knew what the strongest eleven was anyway, so did we need to be told? Like me, I probably knew I’d be playing; the rest of the midfield, we’d be playing, wouldn’t we? We knew what the goal was. This was what I didn’t like about meetings. I knew what my job was. Get the better of my opponent, and if I did that the team was probably going to win the game, because midfield is such a crucial area. So everything outside of me doing that was secondary.”

    Blackburn was a change at the right time, and brought a Premier League winners’ medal; there were no trophies at Newcastle, but there was something Batty, who often looked like the most disciplined player on the pitch, valued as much as the glory: freedom.

    “When I went to Newcastle it was class. It was unbelievable, like fantasy football. I was in midfield with Rob Lee, then Peter Beardsley in front. Left would be David Ginola, then right was Keith Gillespie. We had Faustino Asprilla, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer…

    “What I loved playing under Keegan and Dalglish was that we could do what we wanted during the week, as long as we produced on the Saturday, because that’s what it was all about. Whatever worked for you, as long as you play well. Just as long as you go out, beat that team, then go on to the next week and do it again.”

    ••

    Germany, a side filled with world champions, a midfield to fear. Lothar Matthäus, Thomas Hassler, Andreas Möller. Within five minutes of his first start for England, at Wembley in 1991, David Batty had Stefan Effenberg on the floor; the referee blew sharply for a free kick, but Batty gave him the same look and the same gesture he gave every ref; a calm lack of expression, making a ball with his hands to show he’d won it. Twelve seconds later the referee blew again, and this time it was Karlheinz Riedle on the floor, and again Batty just walked away. Let Riedle roll around; it didn’t matter.

    A little later Batty intercepted a cross in his own penalty area and, pursued by Thomas Doll, made for the corner flag; there, he resisted the easy option to hit the ball upfield, and instead turned steadily back towards his own goalkeeper, fending off Doll’s tackles, and passing the ball to safety. That was Batty’s night; fending off a tackle, passing to a team mate, and receiving, over and over, the appreciative applause of the Wembley crowd.

    ••

    “When you make your debut for England, at the very beginning, it’s the pinnacle of your career,” says David. “It’s one of the boxes ticked, and it’s great because nobody can take it away from you.

    “And then it just becomes normal. Yeah, you play in the World Cup, but it’s still just another game in a different country.”

    If it hadn’t felt like that, you wonder what might have become of David Batty after he missed the game-settling penalty against Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final shoot-out in 1998. Lesser players might have cracked up; lesser players probably wouldn’t have taken the penalty anyway. But David Batty has never been defined by that moment, any more than he would have been if he’d scored and England had gone through, and carried on and won the World Cup. It wasn’t about that. It was a penalty shoot out, and when you take a penalty, you either score or you don’t.

    “That’s the attitude I had,” he says. “If you get too high after playing well then it’s a big drop. Likewise if you get too low. If you’re on an even keel, it’s easier to handle everything.”

    It might seem an odd attitude for someone playing a game so skewed towards moments of adrenalin and glory, but playing for England meant a zero-sum game, with a rapid descent for the players at any time from hero to zero. From the moment you’re picked to play, you’re on to a loser.

    “The problem with playing for England, and it still exists now, is that you’re so highly criticised at that level that there’s not much to gain from playing. There’s not much appreciation for your efforts. You just know that you’re going to get hammered in the press the first time you get beat, or if you don’t play up to expectations — and you can’t ever match the press’s expectations. You go to the World Cup, and you just know when you lose you’re going to get hammered.”

    If it hadn’t been for a missed penalty, it would have been for something else; unless England did the unthinkable and won the World Cup outright, failure was a matter of when, and how, and how much flak would follow. “There’s not much positive to take from that,” says David.

    Later, when we look through some of the memorabilia David collected during his career — or rather, that his dad, his harshest critic, biggest fan and tireless archivist collected — we see what playing for England did mean, that the press couldn’t touch. Yes, it meant recognition of your talents, and your efforts; but here among the shirts David collected from opponents is some of what it really meant: the opportunity to share a pitch and compete with some of the best players in the world.

    “Thomas Hassler,” says David, pulling a heavy, green Adidas jersey from the cupboard, from all the way back in 1991. “They beat us 1-0 and he ran rings round us. Class.” The shirts pile up around us; Cantona’s for France, Popescu’s for Romania, shirts from games against Italy, Sweden, Brazil; McAllister’s for Scotland, Speed’s for Wales. Shirts from international games and Champions League nights; McAllister again, for Liverpool, and Speed again, for Everton; even old Leeds team mate Mike Whitlow’s from Bolton. All kept.

    They all bring memories back, alongside his own shirts; the Leeds home and away worn all through the 1991/92 season, the England shirts from Sweden 92, France 98, from B internationals and U21 games. With England, David didn’t want the hassle. But he never lacked the pride.

    “It’s like anything, the longer time goes,” he says. “People used to say you don’t appreciate it while you’re playing, because you just play one game and then you’re straight onto the next, so you never realise the magnitude of the games you’re playing in, or what you’ve achieved. It’s only later, when you’ve packed up, that you look back.”

    ••

    Newcastle sprayed the ball around Elland Road, tracing triangles across the Yorkshire turf. Their passes were slick and precise, but there was something missing from their midfield: David Batty. David Batty was now back in Leeds’ midfield, and alongside him was Lee Bowyer, lung- bursting energy and desire that didn’t drop, whether it was to win the ball or to score with it. The passes weren’t taking Newcastle any nearer the goal, but each one allowed Bowyer and Batty nearer to the ball, honing in on it until, finally, a player is vulnerable. A loose touch and he’s lost, turning one way into Batty, then the other into Bowyer, and now there’s nowhere left to run. Batty takes the ball, passes to Bowyer, and Leeds are on the attack.

    Bowyer scores the first goal; then it’s Batty’s cross that is headed in by Kewell for 2-0. Alan Shearer scores twice for 2-2, but just when Leeds were struggling to find their flow again, Batty pauses with the ball in space in his own half, looking at the field ahead of him. He passes forward to Bowyer, Bowyer gives the ball to Darren Huckerby, Huckerby pulls the ball across and Michael Bridges scores the winner, low into the corner of the net.

    ••

    “I was quite happy at Newcastle, but over time the signings just weren’t what they should have been,” says David. “And David O’Leary had said that if I was ever ready to come back to Leeds, to just let him know. When he took the job I was never going to go anywhere else.”

    Real Madrid made a late bid to take him to Spain, but Batty took a different, less expected route to the Bernabéu, and to the Champions League, and the biggest stages in Europe.

    Unexpected, because like in 1990, Leeds seemed to be operating on pure forward momentum; but in retrospect, that team — Martyn, Woodgate, Ferdinand, Dacourt, Viduka and the rest — like many Leeds teams, should have achieved more.

    “Harry Kewell was one of the best players I played with,” says David. “He should have gone on to become one of the world’s best, with the attributes he had.

    “Like speed; nobody was quicker than him, and then his strength. I used to say to him, why don’t you just knock it by the full back and out run him? Don’t mess about with stepovers and that. He should have done a lot better.

    “Lee Bowyer was like an old school footballer, where all the preparation doesn’t mean anything. He used to live on McDonald’s, and just used to be an engine. He was amazing.

    “He’s one player that people don’t think of. I don’t know if he was a great player, but he was a very good player who should be remembered more fondly and appreciated more. Maybe if that team had won something he would be remembered as a great player.

    “Lucas Radebe was so down to earth. Just a really nice lad. I don’t think he was on a lot of money when he came to Leeds, but O’Leary sorted him with a good contract because of what he was doing. He deserved it.

    “He was very similar to Colin Hendry in that he’d train and play the same way. There’d be no in between. He’d hurt you in training, just come right through you, no matter who you were — everybody would be complaining, but he was such a nice lad it wouldn’t go any further.”

    What went wrong, after such euphoric highs, has been the subject of almost constant debate — well, argument — in the decade since, especially as, far from being a launchpad for greatest successes, the O’Leary and Ridsdale era triggered a chain reaction that sent Leeds United to the lowest point in their history.

    “It was so close, yet so far, wasn’t it?” says David. “But then if they’d qualified again for the Champions League the following year, would they have just spent even more?

    “It seemed one or two buys too many, just for the sake of it, just because they could. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon and enjoyed the ride. The players were getting rewarded, and you’re going to say yes to it, aren’t you? That’s just how it goes — if someone offers you a wage packet you take it.

    “I was the union man, and when Gordon Taylor came from the PFA I saw the wages the lads were on, and it was just unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it. They still compare to what players are getting now — massive money.

    “We were still a good team after the Champions League. There’s always pressure at big clubs, so it wasn’t pressure, was it? You just go out and enjoy every game, and the expectancy levels; the better the player, the better they should be able to take pressure in their stride. But as soon as you slip out of the top four… we knew we needed to qualify for the Champions League again, because we’d been there. As players we wanted to get there again.

    “I just think other teams were better. I don’t think it was a change. Maybe some of them got a bit soft with their money, I don’t know. But it definitely soured things. It would have been great. I would have loved to have come back and won the league.”

    ••

    Anderlecht had not lost at home in 21 matches, but they had not had to face a team like this one. Leeds had overcome expectations by qualifying from the Champions League’s first group stage, and now they felt no limitations to their own possibilities; whatever the rest of Europe might think. Neither Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven or Lazio had won at the Constant Van Den Stock stadium, but by the time David Batty received the ball in midfield from Alan Smith it was already 2-0 to Leeds. Batty controlled the ball with his left foot and passed with his right back to Olivier Dacourt, who passed it forward again to Mark Viduka, who backheeled it first time across the path of Batty, now facing the goal. He stepped left and stepped left and with his first touch passed the ball, between two defenders, in front of the fast-moving Smith, who touched the ball once more. That was 3-0.

    ••

    “I packed in at the right time,” says David, “and maybe I should have retired a bit earlier, because my back was just killing me.”

    It was the right time, but not the right way. Batty’s last season at Leeds was the club’s last season in the Premiership, when all the mistakes of the Ridsdale years became heavier than the club could carry. With relegation near, and administration and bankruptcy not far away, Batty was at the centre of things, not on the pitch — where he was effectively ostracised by caretaker manager Eddie Gray — but off it, where he was at the centre of chief executive Trevor Birch’s attempts to rescue the club’s financial situation — and its reputation.

    “Looking back it was a relief to finish, because of all the stuff that was going on,” says David. “It wasn’t the same club. When you get older you see things for what they are anyway, and the game had changed from when I started. It’s all about money, and you’re just a piece of meat, and nobody cares about you. And you see that for what it is when you’re mature, when you’re older and you’ve seen everything.”

    The crunch point at Leeds came when the players were asked, via Batty as their union representative, to defer 25% of their wages, so the club could put £2.5m towards paying an ever growing band of creditors.

    “I still maintain I was right in what I said at the time,” says David. “It was always the same — go to the players, because the players are getting us relegated. From the fans’ point of view that was right — yeah, take a deferral because you’re crap, and you’re getting well paid. The club were always going to do that because it was the easy option, and they couldn’t fail with the fans.

    “We had meetings with all the players, and I was saying this to the lads: as it is, we’re going to get relegated, because we’re crap. And these so-called star players, they were all desperate to get away — they were all lining up their moves for the end of the season. So I said to them, why don’t we go to the club and say, sell those players now. Get rid of the players who want to go, pay the debt off, and the ones that will be left will be the players that want to play for the club.

    “The players were all up for it, but the club wouldn’t have it. Trevor Birch said they couldn’t do it because in the fans’ eyes it would be accepting relegation. On paper they’d be selling their best players. But we were rubbish anyway! We were bottom of the league. I still maintain we wouldn’t have been much worse as a team. We’d have had players that were going to fight. Not all this about fighting for the shirt; I mean fighting because they want to be in the team, giving everything because they’ve got something to prove.”

    The stories in the press told fans only that the players, led by Batty, had refused the deferral; and the fans, looking for unity in the club’s fight for survival, took that as just another betrayal; led, this time, by one of their own.

    “I said to Trevor Birch, I know it’s all about PR and the club looking good in front of the fans. But I don’t give a **** what anybody thinks, so you can say what you want to the press. So he did. And it was all turned around so that I was the bad lad.

    “I got hammered in the press, and then I played at Newcastle and did my ankle after I’d been out injured with my ankle already. That was my last game for Leeds. I heard rumours that I daren’t turn up and play a game in front of the fans because I was going to get hammered over the deferral, but I just physically couldn’t play.

    “When old players in the past used to say their knees were knackered or their ankles, with me it was my back, and it was the right time to pack it in. I never used to be able to train properly, with my joints being worn, which then made my muscles go into spasm, which then meant I couldn’t run, so I was just bent over all the time. The first year after I’d played, I couldn’t really even walk around town. I’d be bent over, I just couldn’t.

    “I had the chance to go to America, and looking back it would have been great to go play. It just wasn’t possible. There was no enjoyment to running around in discomfort.”

    It wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for Leeds United and David Batty. The Champions League had been so close, with the hometown kid back at the heart of everything, but injuries and acrimony meant David was just glad, in the end, to get away.

    “I think back sometimes and think I could have been a better pro,” he says. “I know I was a proud person, and that when I was losing my place in the team I didn’t take it too well. But then I never had in my whole career, because I was so determined. That was true for most players, but I think I worked harder because of my lack of natural ability. I was based on my hard work.

    “From being eight years old, to the end, every game was a big test for me, to apply myself and be dedicated. And I took being dropped or being subbed personally, and I’d hate it. I was a team player in how I played, but it was difficult to be a team player when I wasn’t playing. Looking back now, I wish I had taken it like an old pro should have, with a bit of grace I suppose. But then, that isn’t me. And if it was, I wouldn’t have been the same player.”

    ••

    A cold afternoon at Elland Road at the start of February 1992. Notts County’s Dean Thomas wishes the ball would stop bouncing; he wishes David Batty wasn’t racing down upon him; he wishes there was a team mate within twenty yards of him. Instead there is only Leeds’ Rod Wallace, who watches as Batty beats Thomas in the air, as Batty lands first and races after the ball as it crosses the halfway line. Batty takes a touch, and there is only Charlie Palmer between him and the goal; and fifty yards of pitch. He takes three more touches, left foot, right, right, and now there’s only fourteen yards, and Steve Cherry, the goalkeeper. Batty has run the length of the pitch, and he doesn’t stop here. What he does here is launch the ball into the top corner of the net, and keep running, his right arm aloft, rushing straight to the Kop, the thousands of fans, rushing straight to him. Unforgettable.

    ••

    “I watched the FA Cup Final, and Kieron Richardson was there, playing for Aston Villa. I thought, bloody hell, how is he still playing? Because I played with him, and I’ve not played for ages.”

    Football is always looking for its next superstars, but the landscape actually takes a long time to change. That’s why, when players of his generation are so visible either as pundits, managers, or still playing, Batty’s absence from football’s scenery is so noticeable. And the rumour mill about what he’s doing now is so lively.

    “I wasn’t interested in the coaching side. That’s the transformation from playing, isn’t it? But that never interested me.

    “I see some people that are managers now, and it’s like, I can’t believe they’re a manager. Knowing everything about them, I just can’t see how they’re a manager now, in charge of fellas.

    “Simon Grayson was definitely in that category — just a quiet lad. And it was like that when Speedie became manager of Wales. I’d not been with Speedie for a lot of years, so he had obviously become a man and got his coaching badges, but I still think of him as when I played with him, which was just young lads. So I was like, how is he manager of Wales? But you just grow up, don’t you?”

    And some players, when they quit playing, can’t quit football; there’s something else that keeps them there. But not Batty.

    “I think to be a manager you’ve got to love the game as a whole. I just used to love playing, and that was it. I just can’t see stress in that way being enjoyable. The build up to a game, and then the release when you’re playing a game, that’s enjoyable. But as a manager, getting frustrated with players? And you know for a fact you’re going to get fired at some point. I wouldn’t like that, either.”

    Nothing the game offers post-retirement seems to hold with it any of the things that held Batty to it when he played it. Anything — or almost anything — was worth it when he was a player, because he got to play. Without playing, nothing is worth it.

    “Being told what to do and when to do it — that’s the thing that, as I became older, I found harder. Being told when to meet and what to eat. It’s against all that I am anyway, and the older you get, you have enough of it. I just wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And that’s basically what I’ve done since I’ve packed up. I’ve kept myself fit, so that takes up a lot of my time, and then just enjoying my leisure time, which is doing what I want.

    “When I got a family my goal was to get to 35, which was when footballers got their pension in those days. And when my contract got me to 35, it was like I’d achieved all I wanted to achieve for my family. I was comfortable money-wise, so I could retire, and I couldn’t physically do it anymore anyway. And I didn’t have any interest in other sides of the game.

    “I’m happy. And I’ve not got bored of it. I’ve had no desire to go back to football. I had a chance with bikes to set a team up and be involved, but it came right at the end of my career when I was wanting to have my weekends to myself, and I’m happy just watching.”

    Maybe the drop from the public eye is only understandable if you truly understand what it’s like being in the public eye; if you knew what David Batty gave up to play football, you’d know why he doesn’t want to give anything up anymore.

    “I had the chance to do Dancing on Ice,” he says. “And I can’t even skate anyway, so that was a non-starter. But as a player I was monitored that closely, and criticised so much in the national press — at the time it was water off a duck’s back, but why do I want to give somebody the chance again now to say, ‘Look at him, look what a knobhead he is’? I’ve had enough of that, of people judging me — people judging me on what I was best at, my job.

    “I’m lucky. I admit that, and I realise I’m fortunate to have had a career and be in the position I’m in. As soon as I had kids, I had a responsibility to my family. And I was always a home bird, so I’d go play and then I just loved getting home. That never changed. At the World Cup, as soon as we got in the changing rooms after the shoot out, I was looking forward to getting home and seeing my kids — so football didn’t matter. I could detach. I’d give my all. And then that was me finished with football.”

    ••
     
    #1
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2015
  2. Infidel

    Infidel Well-Known Member

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    <applause><applause><applause> WJ, enjoyed reading this article, good find.
     
    #2
  3. Eireleeds1

    Eireleeds1 Well-Known Member

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    Excellent. More of a book than article nearly. Interesting take on why the players refused to take the 25% wage deferral. I was disappointed in them and batty in particular at the time but see their point now
     
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    Last edited: Dec 28, 2015
  4. davy

    davy Well-Known Member

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    Great read Jock, real insight into his thought processes. <ok><ok>
     
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