By Paul Moroney
- Paul got in touch with a very interesting tale – check out his comprehensive site, Leeds Stats, for more
In 1982, Leeds United found themselves having to acclimatise to reduced circumstances – relegated to Division 2, only seven years after the notorious European Cup Final that denied the Revie era players of their denouement.
Eddie Gray, a substitute on that controversial night in Paris, had led the forlorn battle against the drop and was richly deserving of the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year Award. Now as player-manager, he was tasked with assembling a team around him to live up to the expectation of being tagged as joint-favourites with Queens Park Rangers for promotion.
Unfortunately, while Leeds were still considered a big club, the reality was that their gates had regularly been plunging far below 20,000 even while top-flight football had been on offer. Former England defender Brian Greenhoff was given a free transfer after the final riot-besmirched fixture of 1981-82 and, once relegation was confirmed, further belt-tightening would clearly be necessary. Record signing Peter Barnes was loaned to Real Betis to slim the payroll, winger Carl Harris exited to Charlton for a nominal fee and fellow Welsh international Brian Flynn returned to Burnley in November, after five years’ service in United’s midfield. At the end of that month, Sunderland came knocking for maverick marksman Frank Worthington.
While Worthington negotiated a move to Wearside, Gray teamed up the home-grown pair of Terry Connor and Aidan Butterworth at Barnsley on November 27. Though Butterworth had been a regular starter, netting six times, Connor had recently replaced him following a disappointing Milk Cup exit to Third Division Huddersfield. So, at Oakwell, Connor was the man in possession of the number 8 shirt and Butterworth took over the number 9 vacated by Worthington. Though Butterworth was on target in a 2-1 defeat, appendicitis would prevent his new strike partner from featuring again until New Year’s Day.
A goalless draw at Middlesbrough ushered 1983 in and the diminutive duo in the same shirts they had worn five weeks previously. Both players then expressed a perhaps surprising preference for having the sturdy, dependable number 8 on their back rather than the more glamorous and daredevil 9.
For Connor, it was the number he had worn in youth football. Butterworth had similar reasons but also a wariness of following some legendary names who had donned the number 9 shirt, “In my mind the number 9 always was associated with a big target man…at Leeds we had two of the best ever in my opinion: John Charles and Mick Jones and also Joe Jordan thinking about it. For me, there was a bit of not being worthy of the number 9 and maybe the expectation and the style of play that went with it”.
Faced with this dilemma, Gray came up with an incentivised means of settling the issue, stating: “Whichever player scores has first choice of the number he wears in the next game and keeps that shirt until the other finds the net.”
On January 15, Butterworth volleyed the winner against Grimsby, his first goal since the one at Barnsley. He thus reclaimed the 8 shirt (short-sleeved, whereas Connor preferred long) for a 3-3 draw at Derby, in which neither player scored, and for three meetings with Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round. It was in the first replay that Butterworth briefly enjoyed his most celebrated moment in any Leeds shirt – stabbing home on a gluepot of a pitch (after great approach work by Connor, let it be noted) to break the deadlock in the last minute of extra-time. Elland Road erupted…only to witness Graham Rix’s curling free-kick creep inside John Lukic’s near post to save the Gunners. To compound the disconsolance felt in the home dressing room, a coin toss decreed the further replay would take place at Highbury.
There the tie was finally settled by another late Rix goal, but not before hopes of an upset had been raised when Connor levelled the scores, following up after Arthur Graham’s shot had been tipped on to the bar. He duly regained the 8 shirt for the next two games, both drawn. The second of these was a high-scoring affair as six goals were shared with Chelsea. Butterworth headed his tenth of the campaign and took the coveted jersey for the trip to Brunton Park a week later.
At Carlisle, Connor put Leeds ahead but missed out on the ancillary prize when his partner responded in kind to double the lead. The bigger picture was the Cumbrians’ second-half fightback condemning Gray’s men to a sixth draw in seven games, a recurring feature of their season which kept them perpetually on the fringes of the promotion race. It would have become seven in eight had Kevin Hird not popped up with a late winner against his old club, Blackburn. With neither attacker on the scoresheet, Butterworth would wear 8 for a third successive time – another journey north to face star-studded Newcastle.
The focus now switched to who would wear the number 1 shirt. Veteran keeper David Harvey was back in the fold after a gap of over three years and a spell at Vancouver Whitecaps, displacing the wantaway Lukic. It was not a joyous return as a Chris Waddle strike and a contentious Kevin Keegan penalty ensured the resurgent Geordies would leap-frog Leeds, though both were a long way adrift of third-placed Fulham.
There was some consolation for Connor; a goal twenty minutes from time that meant he would make what proved his farewell appearance for his hometown club in his favoured shirt. That was at Charlton on March 19, the game also marking the end of Allan Simonsen’s brief stay at The Valley. Leeds kept their slim promotion hopes alive when John Sheridan, emerging midfield star and future resident at number 8, drove home the only goal.
There was a feeling that the similarities between Leeds’ two front runners extended beyond their favourite number. Certainly Eddie Gray thought so, which led him in transfer deadline week to take the opportunity to trade the livewire Connor for Brighton striker Andy Ritchie in search of “a better balance up front”. It should be mentioned that Ritchie had no reservations about wearing 9 and made a goalscoring debut against Crystal Palace in the traditional centre-forward’s shirt.
It may have been considered a blessing by the programme editor too, who had struggled to keep track of the game of switcheroo. The statistics page erroneously printed Connor as 8 and Butterworth as 9 in the line-ups for the Derby game and the original Arsenal tie, with the legacy that almost all Leeds United statistical books and websites still repeat these mistakes.
However, for Butterworth, it was a sad day when Connor left Leeds, “Me and TC always got on well…I had the highest regard for him as a footballer and a person,” he said. The kit number competition instigated between them was “a bit of fun,” adding: “It didn’t come about as some precious stand-off between two fragile egos, me and Terry are certainly not like that – we’re from Leeds for God’s sake!”