After many months away we are delighted to welcome back our LUFC Retro Series and it’s back with a bang. The first of our new series looks at the life and times of our former battling midfielder… David Batty. Ian Wylie tells you more..
They don’t make Leeds United heroes like David Batty anymore. I was one of the lucky ones; I grew up watching a mediocre Leeds United team flatter to deceive in the English second tier, year in year out (sound familiar?). Yet despite being a seemingly depressing period from a progress point of view, it was a time that spawned no shortage of true Elland Road icons. Not only did we have the all action Ian Baird and the mercurial John Sheridan (I could, and probably will, write a whole article on each), but the late 80s gave us my favourite Leeds United player ever – David Batty.
It was obvious from the start that Batty was something different. Leeds fans have always attached possibly unfair levels of expectation to players that have graduated through the Club’s youth ranks, but here was a kid who could handle it from day one. Day one being his first team debut, at the age of 18, in November 1987 against Swindon Town. Batty was all blonde hair and zest; bombing all over the pitch. Opponents probably felt they had little to fear from the skinny 18 year old kid, until he tackled them! If there’s one thing Leeds fans appreciate more than anything, it’s a player willing to get stuck in when he’s wearing the white shirt. Add that to being a local lad, and Batty really couldn’t lose. Most of us were living out the football career we dreamed of, but would never have, through Batts. The way he played was the way we liked to think we would play if handed the white shirt on a Saturday afternoon.
Batty quickly established himself as an automatic pick in Billy Bremner’s midfield, a place he would make his own for both Club and Country in the coming years. The replacement of Bremner with Howard Wilkinson saw Leeds start to build the midfield that would be renowned throughout football, with Batty at its heart. The promotion season saw him paired with Vinnie Jones, with Gordon Strachan and Gary Speed on the flanks. Can you imagine a central midfield of Batty and Jones today? It would have to makings of a disciplinary nightmare. Yet in all the years I watched Batts I never thought of him as being a dirty player – hard, very hard, yes. He would tackle anything that moved, win the ball, and then give it to someone who could do something special with it. Part of the beauty of David Batty was he knew his limits – you wouldn’t catch him trying something flash, he never looked like he was out to try and impress someone. You wouldn’t catch him shooting that often either. After a goal early in his career against Manchester City at Maine Road (ask your Dads), goal scoring for Batty became a thing of legend. Each Saturday afternoon, as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years since that solitary strike, the cry of “shooooooooooooot!” would go up from the Kop any time he got anywhere near the opposition goal. Or even in their half… I was lucky enough to be there for 2 of his 4 Leeds goals – another against Manchester City, and an absolute belter, when he broke down the right wing, cut in and lashed it past the keeper which, if memory serves, was against Notts County.
Promotion to the 1st Division saw him paired with new signing Gary McAllister. The best Leeds United midfield I will ever see was complete, and Batty was on top of his game. England caps and the 1st Division title followed but Batty was still one of us, still out there every Saturday living our dreams. You could see that Batts was going to be one of those rare breeds – a one Club player, spending his entire career playing for the Club he loved. It came as a huge shock then, when we sold him to Blackburn Rovers in 1993. It seemed unthinkable. Batts in a Blackburn shirt looked wrong. If you think losing Snodgrass, McCormack and Becchio was hard, think back to over 20 years ago when we lost Batts. And then replaced him with Carlton Palmer. The less said about that period the better I think!
If David O’Leary wanted to do something to get the Leeds fans on his side straight away, then it was to play some local lads, something George Graham had refused to do. If he wanted to go on step further, than it was to bring back Batty. He did both, and yet again David Batty stepping into the Leeds team marked the start of something special. His second spell never quite recaptured the glory days of his first period at the Club, due in no small part to a serious injury he sustained on his second debut. The injury led to further health problems for Batts, and we never really saw him at his consistent, brilliant best again. He still gave 110% though – I remember O’Leary bringing him back for a crucial game against Tottenham, after he’d been out injured for weeks. He was the best player on the park that night- one of my final memories of Batty as a player. After O’Leary left Leeds, Batty fell out of favour. Terry Venables didn’t pick him, and his contact with the Club ended during Peter Reid’s time in charge.
David Batty was a unique figure in Leeds United’s history. He will never manage the Club, and you won’t find him popping up on Sky Sports with his opinion on our latest game. He played his part in one of the greatest periods in our history, and then left football behind. All we have are the memories, and the grainy You Tube footage. Memories of a man who just wanted to play for Leeds United and then go and help his Dad on his Bin round. They don’t make them like David Batty anymore.