Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (2024)

Weekly column.

In his latest column for, following the arrival of Daniel James on transfer deadline day, lifelong supporter Jon Howe looks back at Leeds United's top 10 signings.

Howe is the author of two books on the club, ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ - which has been updated as a new version for 2021 - and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.

Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (1)

The £25m capture of Daniel James from Manchester United continues a practice that is as old as football itself; the marquee summer signing. Sometimes it is papering over the cracks, other times it is cause for genuine giddiness. The James signing has sparked great excitement and there is every reason to believe he will flourish as an archetypal Marcelo Bielsa player, and could join the long list of Leeds United legends.

But then many of our greatest players have been home grown. John Charles came through the ranks, a big chunk of Revie’s best eleven too, and the likes of John Sheridan, David Batty, Gary Speed, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate were never paraded with a cheesy smile and a bar scarf.

Then you can factor in a long period of time when football clubs were free to buy players whenever they wanted. Imagine that? Some of our greatest signings were made mid-season; Bobby Collins in March 1962 and both Gordon Strachan and Chris Fairclough on the same day in March 1989. Lee Chapman and Tony Yeboah were bought in the January of 1990 and 1995 respectively, whilst Rio Ferdinand was bought in November 2000. And technically, two of Revie’s greatest signings were bought a couple of games into the season; Johnny Giles at the end of August 1963 and Mick Jones in September 1967.

So with this list we are talking about the off-season summer signings, timed to give bored fans something to get excited about and to pin often disproportionate expectations on. These are the big reveals who stand a bit bemused next to an oversized cheque, who might pose on an immaculate green pitch with Bill Fotherby smoking a cigar (Bill, not the player, although in Vinnie Jones’ case probably both) or on Fullerton Park prior to a squad picture in front of that dreamy blue façade.

I’m not including any of the current squad on this list, given their Leeds careers are far from over. And there should be special mention to pre-Revie stalwarts such as Ernie Hart, Charlie Keetley, Jack Milburn and Jimmy Dunn, who were all summer signings from other clubs, and some post-Revie big summer hits who didn’t quite make the top ten, such as Tony Currie, Mel Sterland, Vinnie Jones, Olivier Dacourt, Robert Snodgrass, and if you haven’t got a soft spot for Luciano Becchio then you must have a heart of stone.

But in chronological order:

1-Allan Clarke

At a then-British record transfer fee of £165,000 this was the quintessential signal of intent and the final piece in the jigsaw of Revie’s classic Xl, as ‘Sniffer’ plundered the cast-iron goals and perfectly complemented the supporting toil of Mick Jones. Signed after the first league title triumph and making his debut in the Charity Shield win versus Manchester City, Clarke would write his name into Leeds United folklore with 151 goals in 366 appearances, and his co*cksure swagger saw him become the poster boy for the Revie team’s brazen confidence.Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (2)

2-Trevor Cherry

Whoever succeeded the great Billy Bremner as Leeds United captain had to be something special, and Trevor Cherry was just that. Purchased in June 1972 from Huddersfield Town, the versatile Cherry had to bide his time, but he was integral to the 1973/74 title win and stayed loyal to the club through its lean post-Revie years, and even after relegation in 1982. 485 appearances says it all.

3-Gary McAllister

Signed prior to the 1990 Italia World Cup after Bill Fotherby stalked him at a golf course and insisted he signed before his price went up after the tournament, our relationship with Gary McAllister was slightly uneasy at first, given our most recent sighting was of him trying to single-handedly kybosh our promotion aspirations with Leicester City. This was soon swept under the carpet though as it quickly became clear McAllister was a signing to take us, quite literally, to the next level. And beyond.

4- Tony Dorigo

A £1.3million steal from Chelsea in the summer of 1991, and an impeccable, high performance defender who solved Howard Wilkinson’s left-back problem but became so much more than just a sticking plaster. The “only posh Aussie” Wilko had ever met brought pace, style and a whole new attacking dimension, forming a tandem assault down each wing with the similarly over-lapping Mel Sterland on the right. Dorigo brought spectacular goals too, and 30 years later remains the yardstick by which we should judge a successful left back.

5-Rod Wallace

Arriving at the same time as Dorigo was Rod Wallace, who similarly added an indefinable element which meant few could live with Wilko’s Leeds during the 1992 title campaign. A £1.7million purchase from Southampton with his twin brother Ray, “little Rodney Wallace” was deadly in terms of pace, finishing and unpredictability. He spanned eras too, staying through the uncertain 1990s until the cusp of the O’Leary years.

6-Lucas Radebe

It’s hard to believe that Lucas was a pretty low-key summer signing and struggled to make an early impact compared to his compatriot Phil Masinga, who was signed at the same time in the summer of 1994. There are few players who now enjoy a more stately and respected standing amongst Leeds fans of all generations. Charismatic and talismanic, Lucas was a warrior in defence, but brought sunshine and love to Elland Road too, and still does.

7-Lee Bowyer

With big shoes to fill following the double sale of Garys Speed and McAllister in the summer of 1996, the pressure was on Lee Bowyer. And did I mention he was also Britain’s most expensive teenager when Wilko splashed out £2.6million on him? Bowyer blossomed into a phenomenal athlete, making over 250 appearances for the club in a seven-year career that set new standards for stamina, Wile E. Coyote-style running and an impressive variety amongst his 55 goals.Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (3)

8-Nigel Martyn

Maybe it was because we were in the middle of a protracted takeover, but the summer of 1996 was a strange time, though we did sign Nigel Martyn from Crystal Palace for a British Record fee for a goalkeeper of £2.25million. And somehow Martyn recovered from his big reveal photo – sat on a motorised lawnmower on the Elland Road pitch wearing a goalkeeper jersey over suit trousers and shoes – to become arguably the club’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

9-Mark Viduka

The undisputed winner in the ‘great touch for a big man’ category, Mark Viduka was a truly unique player. He mixed a balletic poise and delicate feet, with brutish strength and the ability to plunder rakish strikes from all angles. At a time when a bloated Leeds squad was over-blessed with strikers, Viduka was always the main man. An enigma, but a devastating one.Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (4)

10-Pablo Hernandez

It would be unfair to say Leeds United would never have achieved promotion had we not signed Pablo Hernandez – initially on loan – in the summer of 2016, but his dedication, leadership and ability to deliver when it mattered, can’t be overstated. And what can’t be disputed is that leaving him to see out his years in the wilderness of the Middle East would have been wrong on every conceivable level and a blight on the history of football, art and Leeds United.

Jon Howe: 10 Best Summer Signings (2024)
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