Sunday’s meeting between Leeds United and Newcastle United at Elland Road is the first for 12 years. Carl Livesey spoke to Ian Baird who played a significant role in the 1989 encounter.
IT was a Second Division meeting between the two Uniteds that stands out in the memory of former Leeds striker Ian Baird.
Apart from his winning goal, Baird’s abiding memory involves Vinnie Jones and John Burridge posturing in the gym two hours before kick-off.
The date was December 2, 1989 with both sides battling for promotion.
Leeds had been hammered at St James Park on the first weekend of the season, Micky Quinn scoring four goals, but went into the return fixture in second place with Newcastle third.
Jones, as Baird recalls, was “being Vinnie”; the aggressive, manic character whom Leeds fans had come to adore.
Burridge, Newcastle’s well-travelled Cumbrian goalkeeper, was no shrinking violet either. The story goes that during his career ‘Budgie’ would wear sharpened studs to guard against players who tried to take liberties with him. But he was physically fit, too; still the oldest keeper to play in the Premier League at the age of 43.
“Elland Road was different back then,” recalled Baird. “To get to the changing rooms, the players had to go through a multi-gym first. Vinnie made sure he was in there when the lads from Newcastle arrived and he started doing what Vinnie did – shouting and screaming, trying to intimidate them and wind them all up.
“Burridge walked in, saw what was happening, went straight over to the bench press and benched 100kg 10 times, just like that. The tone was set and it left you thinking ‘yeah. This is a big one’.”
The game itself was as fiercely competitive and settled in the second half when Baird headed home the only goal from close range. The forward had scored in Leeds’ 5-2 defeat at St James Park, a dismal experience which ended with him playing in midfield and “not playing very well”, but goals inbetween were sparse.
“I hadn’t scored in a while,” continued Baird. “It wasn’t that my performance had been bad, that wasn’t the problem, but the goals had not been coming.”
Perhaps mindful of that, the following month manager Howard Wilkinson allowed Baird to join Middlesbrough and signed Lee Chapman from Nottingham Forest. Baird’s goal against Newcastle was his last for Leeds.
“It was a nice move – Gordon Strachan sent all 15 stone of Mel Sterland flying down the right wing and he put a cross right on my head,” recalled Baird.
A diving Burridge got a hand to Baird’s header but could only push it into the side of his net.
Newcastle were beaten and Leeds had opened a five-point gap beneath Division Two’s second automatic promotion place.
Sheffield United led the table by a single point. Five months later, Leeds took the title, Sheffield United claimed promotion and Newcastle were condemned to the play-offs.
“It’s hard over a season to say that individual results make a big difference but some results make a bit of a statement,” added Baird before continuing: “It’ll be a big statement if Leeds win on Sunday.
“Newcastle have got the money, they’ve got (Rafa) Benitez and they’re already in a position where everyone expects them to go on and get out of the league.
“But Leeds are in really good shape and credit where it’s due – after a difficult start, Garry Monk’s got to grips with the job there. It never does you any harm to get the better of the top teams and I think this Leeds side are very capable of doing that on Sunday.”