Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

A look at connections between Leeds United and Africa.

Gordon Hodgson, Ernest Miller, Gordon Stewart, Ken Hastie

The first Africans to play for Leeds United were white South Africans, and the very first was already a Liverpool legend by the time he got to Elland Road. Gordon Hodgson is still the scouser’s third highest goalscorer, and notched another 51 goals after joining Leeds, aged nearly 34, in 1937. Hodgson also had a record of 56 games, 244 runs and 148 wickets for Lancashire County Cricket, and wasn’t bad at baseball either; he was that sort of bloke. The fifties brought the jet age and a new era of international football, and between 1950-52 Ernest Miller, Gordon Stewart and Ken Hastie all travelled from South Africa for brief spells in Yorkshire. Hastie managed 2 goals in 4 games at centre-forward, before losing his place to a centre-half named John Charles.

Gerry Francis

Although Albert Johanneson is more well known, the first black player at Leeds was Gerry Francis, a native of Johannesburg who was only the second black South African to sign for a British side. The former shoe-repairer trusted his talent enough to travel to England without a club, and was taken on after a trial at Leeds. Francis made 50 appearances on the right wing, scoring 9 goals and producing moments of individual brilliance in the toilsome days of Revie’s transition from player to manager. Gerry was not set to be part Revie’s revolution, however, and left for York City in 1961, working briefly as a postman before settling in Canada.

Gerry Francis

Amazed by his pupil’s ability, and aware of Gerry Francis’ presence at Leeds, Albert Johanneson’s school teacher recommended him to Don Revie and packed him off to Leeds for a trial. The black teenager from Johannesburg became Revie’s first signing, and struggled at first not only with the harsh Yorkshire winter but with the friendliness of his new team mates. Albert hadn’t only come from a place with a different climate, he had come from the grip of apartheid; which made him shy at first of joining the other players in the communal bath, and freeze when they ran to congratulate his first goal: pursuit by a gang of white men had a different meaning in Johannesburg. But once Johanneson began to feel at home in English football, he became perhaps the brightest star of Revie’s emerging team. ‘The Black Flash’ was a swift and skilful left-winger, who would beat three defenders with one “bewitching side-step”, before sending a perfect cross flying onto the head of Jim Storrie. Or, if Storrie wasn’t available, Johanneson would score himself: 15 goals in 63/4 made Albert top scorer in the season that lifted a young Leeds United into the First Division. Johanneson continued to play brilliantly in that first top-flight season; aged just 21, beloved by the Leeds fans and his game constantly improving, he seemed destined for greatness. But it was at the end of that season, in the FA Cup Final, that troubles began for Albert. Always more comfortable when allowed to be just another footballer, the pressure of being the first black player in a cup final, a pioneer, seemed too much for Johanneson who froze on the big stage. The hatchet men of the First Division got the message: despite all the achievements of his journey from Johannesburg, they decided this Johanneson was a coward who could be kicked out of games. Bremner and Charlton did what they could to defend their team mate on the pitch, but the injuries the frequent unfair tackles caused meant Johanneson was off the pitch all too often, where he didn’t enjoy the same level of support. Albert was by nature a shy, quiet and friendly man, not made to resist the abuse of First Division football, or to resist the rise of Eddie Gray in his position on the wing. Johanneson began to seek solace by other means. Gray tells the tale of the team finding that Albert, subbed off at half-time, had stayed in the changing rooms and drained a bottle of whisky during the second half; and the story of Johanneson’s decline into alcoholism and ill-health has often eclipsed the excitement that was present in those first few seasons of brilliant performances for Leeds. When Albert was found dead in his council flat in Gledhow in 1995, aged just 53, it was a shock to Leeds fans for whom his dazzling wing-play was still a fond memory, but sadly not to those team-mates and family members who had tried to help Albert in his later years. Now, led by his daughter Alicia, those who remember do what they can to ensure that Albert Johanneson is remembered as a gifted footballer who combined limitless ability with a bravery and a determination to make a mark, a Black Flash, in a city so far and so different from home.

David Oluwale, Nelson Mandela

He didn’t play for Leeds United, but the death of David Oluwale was a cause célèbre for the Kop at the end of the sixties. A Nigerian who stowed away with his nation’s football team in 1949, Oluwale shifted for 20 years between Armley Jail, High Royds Mental Hospital and the shop doorways of Leeds city centre before he drowned in 1969. His death was the culmination of years of abuse from two police officers, who were chasing Oluwale at the time of his death. To the tune of ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’, the Kop sang: “The River Aire is chilly and deep, Oluwale; Never trust the Leeds Police, Oluwale,” as his tormentors faced trial.

Nelson Mandela slipped up slightly when he appeared in Leeds and thanked “the people of Liverpool” for their support, but 27 years in captivity can do that to your geography. Mandela Gardens was dedicated in his honour in 1983, when he was by no means a universally popular figure, and Nelson visited Leeds in 2001 and 2008, declaring as he did so that Lucas Radebe was his hero. You and us alike, Nelson. Yorkshire might not always have been the most welcoming of places for a black African, but the support for Oluwale and Mandela shows that Loiners will always protest injustice, whoever the victim might be.

Peter Ndlovu and Roy Wegerle

Two players that never played for Leeds, although Ndlovu almost did; despite years of speculation, the Leeds board could never bring themselves to pay Coventry the Half-Brolin that would have bought the Zimbabwean striker. It would have been worth it just to stop him from scoring against us every bloody time. Although Roy Wegerle played for the USA he was a South African by birth, and his goal for QPR in 1990 is probably the best ever scored by an opposing player at Elland Road. Receiving the ball in front of the Lowfields, Wegerle dribbled past Snodin, Speed, Batty, McAllister and Pearson, before shooting between Fairclough and Whyte and past Lukic, earning himself a round of applause from a stunned Kop. The bastard.

Philemon Masinga

The player Geoff Sleight went to scout when he first saw Lucas Radebe. We ended up buying both, and for a while Waltzing Masinga’s partnership with Noel Whelan looked like the strike force of the future; even if Alan Hansen did laugh at Phil’s stumbling, bumbling, but goalscoring run through the Arsenal defence. Whelan’s sale stopped all that, and although Yeboah’s arrival sparked Masinga back to goals again, he couldn’t do enough to ensure a new work permit and departed first to Switzerland, and then to Serie A.

The Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns

The clubs that sold us Radebe and Masinga. The Kaizer Chiefs, of course, live on in Leeds as they lent most of their name to The Kaiser Chiefs, but it was Mamelodi Sundowns that Leeds faced on their only South African tour in 1995; they beat us 1-0. The other game on the tour was a defeat on penalties to Benfica, who aren’t even from South Africa, so that was a bit of a swizz.

Anthony Yeboah

What can you say about Tony Yeboah that doesn’t involve his thighs, his arse, or footballs being kicked very very hard? For the season and a half that the enormous Ghanaian was on top form for Leeds, it seemed like he could do everything: volleys, headers, bicycle kicks, dribbles, tap ins and thirty yarders – he did them all. Parliament/Funkadelic used to claim that Africans were from outer-space, and during that mad month in 1995 when Yeboah scored his signature volley against Liverpool, the hat-trick in Monte Carlo, and the chest/knee/boot/net-breaker at Wimbledon, he really did seem to have come from another planet. George Graham didn’t rate him though so that was that.

Lamine Sakho, Salomon Olembe, Rui Marques, Armando Sa, Tresor Kandol

As Leeds dropped like a shot kestrel post-2001, an almost absurd number of players dropped into the first team, and the agent’s rolodexes span ever faster and faster in the search for anyone who was any good. Peter Reid loaned in half a team at the start of 03/04, most of them via Marseille, and Senegalese winger Lamine Sakho’s man of the match debut made it seem like nothing could possibly go wrong. Salomon Olembe, a left back from Cameroon, looked a fine prospect too, but neither managed more than a handful of games as Leeds were relegated. Angolan Rui Marques brought some much needed butchness to the defence as Wise’s side headed for League One, captaining the team for a spell; he was occasionally joined at the back by Mozambique’s Armando Sa, who now plays in Iran. In the third division, starting on minus fifteen points, it was Congolese striker Tresor Kandol’s performances as the free-scoring, somersaulting foil to Jermaine Beckford that suggested we would make League One look easy; that was the idea, anyway. Kandol’s eventual contribution to promotion was to come on as sub at Norwich, strangle someone, and get sent straight back off. Tresor is now at Albacete in Spain’s Segunda División, where he hasn’t played a game but has had his car towed three times from outside one nightclub.

Davide Somma, Max Gradel, Amdy Faye

The days are long gone when the press would travel to Leeds to see two South African wingers. The cosmopolitanism even of second division football is now so common that The Sun doesn’t think twice about describing Davide Somma, a South African born of Italian heritage who grew up in the USA, as “French”. Good research there, lads. The other Africans in the Leeds squad today are Ivorian Max Gradel, who we all hope will get an international call up if only to see him try and start an argument with Didier Drogba; and Amdy Faye, from Senegal via Stoke City, who could join the ranks of Leeds United’s African legends if he can solve the problem that is our current midfield.


From The Square Ball magazine 2010/11 issue three.