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Looking for Eric - In search of the Leeds greats

Rick Broadbent - Mainstream Publishing 9.99 - ISBN 1-84018-351-9

It's always been a terrible burden being a fan of Leeds United, and sports journalist Rick Broadbent knows that better than most. His love affair with the club began just as the Revie era closed in the mid-70s, and he tells it thus: "I first became a true Leeds fan in 1975. I can vividly recall sitting around the kitchen table in a Cornish holiday cottage with my parents and brothers, listening to the European Cup Final on a crackly transistor radio. When Leeds lost, my dad and elder brother cried. I was six and figured this football thing must really be something, to reduce a grown man and an anguished adolescent to tears. Later I would wonder how it was that we ended up in a remote Cornish village without a television, if it really meant that much to them, but for now I was hooked. Line and sinker."

We for whom the magic white shirts are akin to an altar at which to pay tribute share that feeling and will love this book as much as Broadbent obviously loved writing it. Looking For Eric - In Search of the Leeds Greats is a wonderful, wonderful book with Broadbent setting off on a quest to find the once cult hero of Elland Road - Eric Cantona - now better known as the Gallic inspiration behind Manchester United's dominance of the Premiership between 1993 and 1997, and hated almost as much as the latest Judas Iscariot, Rio Ferdinand. As he seeks in vain to track down the gifted Frenchman, Broadbent stops off at the turns to offer us a loving portrait of a number of the greatest players who have donned the white shirt and trod the hallowed turf of Elland Road.

We get highly individual and marvellously observed chapters on Gordon Strachan, Tony Currie, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Bobby Collins, John Charles, Allan Clarke, Lucas Radebe, Albert Johanneson, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, David Batty, Michael Bridges, Stephen McPhail, Harry Kewell, Nigel Martyn and, of course, that man Cantona.

If you're a Leeds fanatic, your mouth will be watering at the mere thought of what you get here.

Broadbent uses the opportunity to tell the story of the club from the 1950s and John Charles up to the end of the 1999-2000 season which ended so tragically with the death of two Leeds fans during their UEFA Cup tie with Galatasaray, and does so with a rare eloquence and masterful touch.

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Ever since a 'dodgy' referee and a crackly transistor radio reduced his family to tears as they listened to the 1975 European Cup final, Rick Broadbent has been both blessed and cursed to be a Leeds United fan. Looking For Eric is the story of his quest to track down the legends of Elland Road and discover if they lived, breathed, ate, slept, loved and hated Leeds just as he had - or was it just a day job? In the course of his travels, Broadbent gathers first hand accounts of the best and worst moments in the club's history, including the championship triumphs, cup shocks and the European controversies, as well as unearthing some intriguing stories and anecdotes. We hear Peter Lorimer's description of Don Revie's neuroses, learn the real reasons behind Gordon Strachan's departure, appreciate Tony Currie's account of his battle with the bottle and discover who had a bust-up with the legendary Pele.

Weaving individual portraits of players like Billy Bremner and Eddie Gray into a colourful history of a club that has inspired so many emotions, Looking For Eric culminates in an amusing account of the author's journey overseas on the trail of the genius - Cantona.

Broadbent's quest provides a revealing insight into the life of the professional footballer and is by turns tragic, comic, farcical, scandalous and heart-rending. Looking For Eric is partly travelogue, partly sport biography, wholly Leeds.

We get rare insights into an extraordinary football story, as the club came from nowhere to dominate the English and European games before fading back to the second division after the departure for the England job of manager Don Revie, and then climbing back under Howard Wilkinson to the top before becoming the bright new hopes as the New Millennium dawned. It's a roller coaster ride and Broadbent recounts it with affection and wit.

We miss out on such names as Duncan McKenzie, Tony Yeboah, Gary McAllister, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Frank Worthington and Gary Sprake, but few real fans could argue with the list of players whom Broadbent features, and he skillfully captures the essence of Leeds United.

He never did find the elusive French genius of the title, but he manages to create a fitting tribute to the wonder of Elland Road. If Leeds United Football Club means anything at all to you, I urge you to read this book.

"Eric was different, all right. And as he stood on the hastily constructed podium outside Leeds Town Hall he blew kisses to the massed ranks of Leeds fans, who has begun to gather early that morning to pay homage to the newly crowned Division One champions. Then, like his team-mates before him, Eric took the microphone and a baited hush hung over the crowd. I caught the eyes of a heavily tattooed skinhead, a painted Tricolour segmenting his face, and I felt an unlikely bond. For all the affection in which we held this Frenchman, who had been unknown to all but the saddest of Europhile anoraks just a few months earlier, we had rarely heard him speak. It was said he didn't parle anglais, but you sensed that was an expedient excuse he employed to avoid being interviewed. Now Eric took centre stage once more and, in tones dripping with continental charm, said simply 'I don't know why, but I love you'."

Vive Les Blancs...

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