“Dylan Kerr, who was largely in the background, played every now and then but he was always at the front in training,” says Strachan. “And Vinnie led the group along. We didn’t need a fitness coach. We had three or four players to drag everyone in their wake. We didn’t need anyone to tell us our heart rate was up there. It was always up there but our attitude was ‘never mind, we’ve got to go again. If you feel you can’t go, stay with me. I’ll be there. Stay with me until you drop. We made ourselves super fit.”
They lost 5-2 at Newcastle on opening day without the injured Jones but he returned from the bench for the first home game against Middlesbrough and was an instant hit, greeted with fervent acclaim when he came on and set up a flukey winner. For a while he was everywhere in the city, hooking up with countless commercial partners yet at the forefront in every community endeavour, giving his time to charities and hospitals, taking David Batty and Gary Speed under his wing and behaving with such charm and dedication that the city’s affection for him is undying 30 years on.
His influence on the field was equally profound. Although he concentrated on winning the ball, giving it and intimidating the opposition with a snarl, his touch grew increasingly assured and he scored some cracking goals, especially a volley from 30 yards against Hull and a deft near-post finish to beat West Ham in October.
Leeds went top after a 2-0 away victory over Middlesbrough in early December and stayed there for the rest of the season, not without several dicey moments in the run-in. Leicester’s equaliser at Elland Road in their penultimate game left them at the mercy of others if they had ended the match with only a point and, with seconds to go, that seemed their fate until the captain Strachan, gaunt, he says, with worry, arrowed a left-foot shot from 20 yards into the top corner, his 16th goal of the season.
“Every now and then I get a feeling in my left foot that is the same feeling I had when I scored that goal,” Strachan says. “Every training session, every run I had to school, every time I threw up and had been sick because of training, every knock back I got, every horrible game I played in, it was all kind of destined for that one moment. It made it all worthwhile. Just for that one moment. I can always live off that for the rest of my life.”
Chris Kamara set up Lee Chapman’s winner in the final match at Bournemouth which earned promotion on the south coast during an afternoon of larceny, looting and affray by some of the thousands of Leeds supporters who made the journey down. For the country, understandably, it overshadowed their achievement. Away from the condemnation and wounds inflicted by some of their fans, the players emerged from their brief dressing-room party to board the coach for the long journey home.
“I found myself a quiet spot at the front of the bus and just sat there for five hours with a stupid grin on my face,” says Strachan. “I don’t think I spoke to anybody. That was my celebration. Winning the top league [in 1992] was a bonus. Most of us who were brought in there, and for Howard as well, we had to get promoted. It was the main thing. Because of the momentum we built up over a couple of years we were able to go on and win the top league, but for me 1990 was just huge. Winning the Second Division was far, far more important for the club and for me.”
Extracted from The Biography of Leeds United, by Rob Bagchi (Vision Sports Publishing, £20). Available at shop.visionsp.co.uk.