197: David Batty, Leeds United, Merlin’s F.A. Premier League 2000, Millennium Edition Sticker Collection

Today Rich Allinson guides us through the career of a man whose actions in the France 98 World Cup have been remembered by football fans around the world. Long before Zinedine Zidane exited the stage by head butting Marco Materazzi, today’s subject was taking brutality to new levels by bicycle kicking a Tunisian opponent in the face. No booking. No VAR interventions. Halcyon days. Over to Rich.

“Quickly Kevin, will he score?”

“Yes... oh no.”

Now, Brian Moore was an exceptional commentator but that was a daft question. Kevin Keegan had no choice but to answer in the affirmative when what he was probably thinking, like the rest of the nation, was “probably not, but fair play to him for having the bollocks to step up.”

It would be easy to look back on David Batty’s career and think “hard man, not much skill” and a lot of people would point to this penalty miss and his goalscoring record of 8 goals in 438 league games as evidence of his technical limitations, but quite frankly they’d be wrong. To be fair, Batty wore Puma Kings (aka the boots of the bastard) and looked a bit like Sean Bean so he was never going to be regarded as a flair player. However, although he didn’t have the highlight reel skill of a Matt Le Tissier, Batty’s tackling and effective ball playing ability were vital to his team’s successes. In an era where Declan O’Rice and Eric Dier anchor the England midfield in such an insipid manner, players of David Batty’s ilk are sorely missed. This isn’t a nostalgic look back to the “give ‘em a good stud scrape down the shin just to let them know you’re there” era of football, but men who have the ability to robustly yet fairly win the ball and then do something with it are sadly lacking in the modern game. Take Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira or Diego Simeone out of their respective sides and replace them with the nice and sensible Jordan Henderson and they’d be significantly weaker. To give some actual credibility to this argument beyond the viewpoint of an armchair pundit, it is worth noting that Danny Mills, Paul Robinson and Dominic Matteo all included David Batty in their #One2Eleven line ups on Sky TV’s Fantasy Football show. Also, on signing him for Newcastle United, Kevin Keegan commented that that it wasn’t until he worked on the training ground with Batty that he realised just how good a player he was.

Like previous Sticker500 subject Benoit Assou-Ekotto, David Batty was a footballer that didn’t really like football. Batty’s former Leeds United teammates have previously shared stories of him being last on the training pitch and the first to leave. Basically, he couldn’t be arsed with training and just wanted to play a proper game. Despite this, Batty is one of only a small number of players to have won both the ‘old’ Division One and Premier League titles, achieving this with Leeds and Blackburn Rovers respectively.

Batty’s career started and finished with his hometown club, Leeds (Leeds, Leeds) United. He made his debut as an 18 year old in 1987 and quickly drew comparisons with his manager at the time, Leeds and Scotland legend/bit of a bastard Billy Bremner. Indeed, Batty’s ex teammate Peter Swan, in his 2008 biography ‘Swanny: Confessions of a Lower-League Legend’, described how Bremner thought that Batty was a bit lightweight and so he would call him into his office every morning to drink sherry with a raw egg stirred into it in order to build his strength up. Bonkers. Bonkers but effective. Whilst in his first spell with Leeds he won promotion to the top flight in the 1989/90 season. During this time Batty helped his Dad out on his bin round in Leeds, only stopping just before he made his international debut against the USSR in 1991. Batty was a key component in the midfield that also contained Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister as the Yorkshire club went on to surprisingly win the Division One title under Howard Wilkinson’s management in the 1991/92 season. In 1993 Wilkinson decided to rebuild his squad and bizarrely sold Batty on to Blackburn Rovers in order to replace him with Carlton ‘hit Les, Les demand it’ Palmer. Wilkinson was sacked two years later. 

As mentioned earlier, Batts (I have just made up this nickname) won the 1994/95 Premier League with Blackburn Rovers after Jack Walker absolutely Abromoviched it and bought the title. In my previous post on Bobby Mimms I got irritated that Tim Flowers’ understudy wasn’t awarded a winner’s medal that season. David Batty was awarded a medal but refused to collect it as he felt he didn’t deserve it, having missed most of the season through injury. This was an an incredibly noble gesture but I bloody hope Mimms got the spare. Despite winning the title, Batty’s time in Lancashire is probably best remembered for one thing: fighting with Graeme Le Saux, his own teammate. Four minutes into a Champions League game away at Spartak Moscow, Le Saux and Batty accidentally collided going for the same loose ball. Le Saux went flying, looking a bit of a tit in the process. The pair then started trading insults which led the notorious Guardian reading hard man to come out swinging for Batty’s throat like someone’s Auntie Sharon at a wedding disco after one too many lager and limes. Batty gave a cursory shove back but mainly just stood there nonplussed wearing the expression of “what ya doin’ ya daft bastard?” but continued to slag off Le Saux for the rest of the half anyway just for good measure. Spartak manager Oleg Romantsev brilliantly summed up the bizarre incident afterwards: “Before the match I told my players they will be playing against 11 guys ready to fight for each other for 90 minutes – not with each other.” Although the pair sorted out their differences Batty was moved on to Newcastle United two months later, signing on the same day as the enigmatic fruit loop Faustino Asprilla.

On joining the Magpies Kevin Keegan described Batty as “the last piece of my jigsaw.” At the time Batty signed for the club, Newcastle were twelve points clear at the top of the table and as we all know they went to balls it up monumentally, culminating in Keegan having a breakdown live on TV and a second placed finish. This was in no way Batty’s fault but it was funny. What does get lost in all this though was that if the Geordies hadn’t managed to implode then David Batty would’ve gone on to become the first player to win back to back top flight titles with different clubs. Another second placed finish the next season under Kenny Dalglish followed before Ruud Gullit decided Batty’s football wasn’t sexy enough and packed him off back down the M1 to God’s Own County and a return to Leeds United. 

Batty’s second spell at Elland Road was blighted by injury but he was still on hand to help steer David O’Leary’s youthful side to both the UEFA Cup and Champions League semi-finals. Something which was a genuinely impressive achievement, even if it did effectively culminate in them going bankrupt. However, when O’Leary was sacked Batty fell out of favour at Leeds and retired in 2004 following another injury. He has pretty much shunned the limelight and distanced himself from football since. And who can blame him really? 

Batty’s career then was mightily successful. Two top flight titles; two second places; a promotion; European Cup semi finalist; 42 England caps; and played at a World Cup. His type might have sadly disappeared from football but there is no doubting that the game is absolutely all the worse for it.


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