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John Saunders (centre-back) 1971-72

John Saunders was one of a number of centre-halves signed by Leeds United as manager Don Revie sought to find a long-term successor to the veteran Jack Charlton in the early 1970s, but he never played a first team game during a 15-month spell at Elland Road.

Saunders was born in Newport, Wales, in 1950 and played for Welsh Schoolboys before being given a contract by Birmingham City. He remained at St Andrews for three years but failed to break through and joined hometown club Newport County on a free transfer in 1970.

Saunders managed to earn a first team spot for the Fourth Division Welsh club and was got a lucky break in 1971, when he came to the attention of Leeds United.

Apparently, fellow County player Ronnie Radford (who a year later scored a famous FA Cup goal for Hereford against Newcastle) heard that Leeds, for whom he played reserve team football in 1961/62, were looking for a deputy for Charlton. Radford recommended that they should come and take a look at Newport defender Steve Aizlewood.

There was some confusion when a scout came down to watch a game in which Aizlewood wasn't playing and mistook Saunders for him. Altogether Leeds watched the big six-footer six times in the 30 games he played for County and eventually agreed to sign him on 19 July 1971 for a fee of 10,000, with the promise of further payments if he won a Welsh cap or played a stipulated number of first- team games for United.

Don Revie said at the time, 'We are hoping he will develop into first-team material.' Saunders was delighted with the move, saying, 'It's a great chance for me and when such opportunities are there you must try and take them.'

Saunders played a number of pre-season games for United and, when there was a spate of injuries, came into contention for an unexpected first-team debut. He was called into a party of 17 that flew out to Spain in September for a match against Barcelona to determine which club should become permanent holders of the Fairs Cup trophy. Unfortunately, he failed to make either the starting eleven or bench and never again came as close to a first-team appearance for United.

A month later, Saunders was injured in a clash of heads while playing for the reserves against Blackburn and was unconscious for five minutes. He was taken to hospital for an X-ray and had to stay overnight with concussion though no serious injuries were sustained and Saunders fully recovered.

With Jack Charlton coming towards the end of his playing days and John Faulkner moving on to Luton Town in March 1972, Saunders had hopes he would get a first team opportunity. Those ambitions were seriously dented when Revie signed Roy Ellam and Gordon McQueen and on 2 October 1972 Saunders joined for Third Division Walsall in a 10,000 deal.

He became a mainstay of the Saddlers' defence for the next three years and featured in the club's FA Cup giantkilling run in 1974/75. They drew 0-0 at Old Trafford against Manchester United before beating them 3-2 in a replay at Fellows Park with young striker Alan Buckley scoring twice. Saunders shackled Newcastle's Malcolm Macdonald in the fourth round and a goal from George Andrews was enough to secure a 1-0 victory. Walsall went out in the fifth round after losing 2-1 to Birmingham.

Saunders suffered a bad injury a few months later that led to him retiring in November 1975 after two goals in 99 league appearances for Walsall.