After he joined the FA Cup holders in 1972, and while the team was reaching another FA Cup Final and the Cup Winners’ Cup Final, breaking records as it won the league and getting to the European Cup Final, Trevor Cherry was the odd man out.
He was almost always in the team during those three seasons, taking over at left-back from injured Terry Cooper, but in a first eleven that many said was the best in the world, Cherry was the only starter who was not an established international. Not only that, he hadn’t even won a cap; signed from Huddersfield Town for £100,000, Cherry was a major part of some of the Revie team’s greatest achievements, but he didn’t play for England until 1976.
It was Don Revie who picked him for England, and he at least recognised his qualities, as did the Leeds supporters, although his contribution has been underplayed in the years that have passed since. Perhaps that’s because, younger than Bremner, Hunter, Giles and the rest, it was his fate to stay with Leeds during the decline, all the way to Division Two.
As United’s greatest team broke up in the second half of the seventies, Cherry gave the best years of his career to forlorn efforts at making Leeds what they had been before. Cherry, Eddie Gray and David Harvey were all born within a month of each other, and were now in their prime; with youngsters Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen and signings like Tony Currie, fans were optimistic that Leeds had the nucleus of a team that could recapture glory. But manager Jimmy Armfield was replaced by Jock Stein for 44 meandering days, then Jimmy Adamson for two disastrous years; Jordan and McQueen quit for Manchester, and Harvey, Gray and Cherry, who looked like kids when they played with Bremner and the rest, suddenly looked very old themselves.
Cherry was captain, and if you squinted a little, you could see a resemblance to the great skipper he had played alongside in the good times. Cherry never approached Billy Bremner for quality, but he did his best to match him for effort; despite playing there for three years, he was always out of position at left-back, and rarely got to play in his preferred position at centre-half. Instead he gave full commitment to playing right-back and in Bremner’s old position, wearing number four at the heart of midfield. Taller but less intimidating than his mentor, Cherry had the same unkempt mane of hair, brown rather than ginger, and watching him in the closing stages of an FA Cup 5th Round win over Manchester City in 1977, with two fists clenched, roaring encouragement at his teammates, you could see he had watched Bremner and learned.
Moments earlier Cherry had scored what proved to be the winner in that match, a goal that summed up his style and for which he is best remembered. Bursting into the box, he fought off a defender to meet a knockdown but had his shooting attempt blocked; dragging himself up from the mud, he was first and he was bravest, getting to the ball as keeper and defenders closed in, whacking it into the goal. Stylish? Not at all. But stylish wasn’t always Leeds United’s style.
Dropping into Division Two didn’t suit them at all, although Leeds had to wear it for the next eight seasons. Cherry stayed with Leeds until an offer to become player-manager at Bradford City tempted him away in December 1982, the last nineteen of his 482 appearances — the tenth most of any player at Leeds — contrasting starkly with the glories of his first. Nobody could complain about how Trevor Cherry had led Leeds, as the club declined around him and Eddie Gray, and nobody could be more disappointed about where Leeds ended up. ◉
(Originally published in The Square Ball Summer Special, 2018)