It’s bad football etiquette to celebrate scoring against your old club, but sometimes manners have to go out the window and into the wind. You can be too polite.
That had been Brian Deane’s problem since moving from Sheffield to Leeds United in summer 1993. “He had been a big fish in a small pond,” said Howard Wilkinson, “And now he was coming up here, where it was a big pond, and there a lot of big fishes in it.”
The manager and his famous title-winning midfield of Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed — David Batty had gone to Blackburn — were wanting a new Lee Chapman to bounce the ball off, the way they had when they’d won the league. Leeds had made Deane their record signing so he could be that player.
But Deane was not the new Chapman. And after six months at Elland Road, he wasn’t playing like the old Brian Deane anymore, either. There had been fan protests at Bramall Lane when he was sold, that would have been multiplied many times had he accepted Wednesday’s offer to cross Sheffield and partner David Hirst. And those fans had a point, as now only the disastrous Swindon were below them in the Premier League. But the only cheers Deane was hearing at Elland Road came when he was subbed off against Oxford United in the FA Cup.
Deane was the target of general frustration that needed an outlet. He’d done some popular things. He scored on his debut, then again at Southampton to spark delirium as Leeds won away for the first time since winning the league. A burst of four goals in five games distracted from protests over the sale of Batty, and with Rod Wallace scoring eight in eight alongside him, Leeds were up in 2nd place on Christmas Day. But after one win in nine, and no league goals from Deane since early December, fans were frustrated that Leeds were drifting first out of the title race, then out of contention for Europe.
Bramall Lane was where the title was won 23 months earlier and, as on that day, the wind was howling through the sunshine, making driving difficult on the M1 and the football unpredictable. Deane was Leeds born and raised but a Blade from 1988 to 1993, from the Third Division to the Premier League, and a stormy day in Sheffield must have felt like going home.
Gary McAllister didn’t let the weather or Chris Kamara keep him from imposing class on the midfield, but the penalty area remained as bewitched as it had in April ’92. Reminiscent of that day, Wallace burst through one on one, and his shot was again deflected into the lottery; Alan Kelly’s save flung it against the crossbar. Speed hit the post, then on the half hour, he gave Leeds the lead.
Storming down the left the way he loved, Deane forced his way around Brian Gayle’s bemused defending and slipped a smart pass into Speed’s path. He still had a lot to do, cutting inside across his marker and shooting inside Kelly’s near post, but he knew who had made it happen, and to whom the goal would mean the most. Speed, Strachan and McAllister all ran to celebrate with Deane, and as the away fans chanted his name, he paused to listen, blowing them a kiss.
Perhaps that was his moment? Not yet. In the second half, dropping deep where he didn’t like to be, he laid off Tony Dorigo’s forward ball, again to Speed. Speed was making for goal but after running into a clutch of defenders at the edge of the area he was confused by McAllister’s help and lost control. The clearance only went to Wallace’s head, though, and Speed flicked the ball into the area, and now this was Deane’s game. He was onto the ball and into the box and nobody was stopping him: his left foot shot bounced the ball into the bottom corner, and Deane was bouncing, inside and out.
This was his moment, and it wasn’t the moment for decorum. “I can still see some of their faces even now in my mind’s eye,” he’d said in the summer, of the fans he was leaving behind. “Every time I think of them it brings a lump to my throat.” Well, bollocks to that now — they could kiss and make up later. It was Leeds Deane was playing for, Leeds fans he wanted to prove himself to, Leeds fans he wanted to hear chanting his name. And they were in the stand at the far end of Bramall Lane, so off he went.
“He’s gone berserk!” says the commentator on the season review video. In Asics’ classic blue and yellow striped kit, Deane sprints along the touchline, yelling in the gale, his arms pumping, past Speed, McAllister, Fairclough. His gaze is inward, to his teammates — he knows enough not to look at the Blades in the stand to his right, because this isn’t about them. This is about Brian Deane, the Leeds United striker, with a goal and assist in a 2-0 win.
It should have been a win, anyway. It might have been a bigger score by then, as Speed had a goal ruled out for offside, but Leeds had a chronic problem with letting teams snatch points away. They protested that when Kamara chipped a cleared free-kick back into the box Jostein Flo was offside before he controlled on his chest and beat stranded John Lukic with a bicycle kick. But they could only blame themselves and the fates’ weird grip on Bramall Lane when, in stoppage time, Kelly’s long punt was allowed to drop in the box and Brian Gayle hit the ball first against the post and second into the net.
Gayle hoped his stoppage time scramble would be as significant in the Blades’ relegation fight as the bizarre own goal he’d scored for Leeds’ title win in 1992. Leeds just hoped Brian Deane would keep scoring. ◉