John Buckley was one of a number of players who had served manager Billy Bremner during his time at Doncaster Rovers and subsequently followed the Leeds United legend to Elland Road in the mid 1980s.
Born on the 18th of May, 1962 in East Kilbride, the winger began his career at Queens Park before signing for Scottish giants Celtic. From there he joined Partick Thistle and following some fine performances which raised interest in his ability, he signed for Bremner at Doncaster Rovers.
It was in June 1986 that Buckley signed for Leeds United but after initial talks, the move looked dead in the water:
“Billy had contacted me to advise he thought I would excel in the Second Division, a fee was agreed with Doncaster but I rejected Leeds’ initial deal which wasn’t satisfactory.
“I spoke to Dave Cusack, the Rovers manager, and agreed to go back and talk to Billy. A new deal was on the table and I duly put pen to paper.”
Leeds United were about to embark on an extraordinary season. Many fans around at that time recall the campaign with great fondness as the Whites chased glory on two fronts. They bowed out of the FA Cup at the Semi-Final stage before suffering more heartbreak when losing the play off final replay in extra time, despite taking the lead.
John made his Leeds debut as a substitute, replacing John Stiles, away at Huddersfield Town. A goal from John Sheridan was enough to earn Leeds a point and break a sequence of lose one, win one.
The Scotsman retained his place on the bench the following weekend for a home game against Reading and this match would provide his finest moment in the classic strip worn in the 1986/87 season.
Leeds had recovered from 2-0 down to level matters and Buckley, who had come on for Peter Swan, fired a late winner in front of the Elland Road Kop to earn Leeds three points which seemed highly unlikely at one stage in the afternoon.
Buckley admits that as a winger he gained as much satisfaction from providing assists as he did scoring but he retains fond memories of that strike:
“It was a tremendous experience to score the winner at Elland Road, on my home debut. I enjoyed every goal I scored throughout my career and I will always remember that one.”
The following week, he made his full debut away at Bradford City in place of the suspended Ian Baird but that was his last involvement until the 1st of November.
John eventually got a run in the side, albeit three games, following a disastrous 7-2 defeat at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground but he would be restricted to just two more appearances before the end of the season. One of those was as a substitute as Leeds beat Queens Park Rangers to earn a played in the FA Cup Quarter Finals.
During his short time at Leeds, in which he only made ten appearances, John battled back from a knee problem and was out for four months with an injury to his coccyx, suffered in a reserve game against Manchester City.
“The coccyx injury was a bad one and I struggled to walk for four months. It was an utterly frustrating time; and although those injuries dealt me cruel blows, I thought I deserved a fairer crack of the whip whilst playing in West Yorkshire.
“Ironically my last game for Leeds was at Elland Road against Reading, the side who I’d made my home debut against. I came on as a substitute in a 0-0 draw.”
“Like all of the lads, I would have died for Billy Bremner, I idolised the man but I couldn’t get a regular place in the squad and being a footballer, I just wanted to play football.”
Following loan spells at Leicester City in March 1987, who were then in the First Division and Doncaster Rovers, in October 1987, John was on his way out of Elland Road in a permanent deal:
“Billy didn’t want me to leave but I didn’t want to be in the reserves and I’d spoken to Port Vale and Motherwell but following talks with Rotherham United manager Norman Hunter it took me five minutes to decide to go to Milmoor, despite having to take a pay cut.
“Unfortunately, Norman was sacked just weeks after I had signed which I wasn’t too pleased about but I was playing regular football and that was the most important thing for me and my career.”
John won a Fourth Division championship medal with Rotherham in 1989 and was a firm favourite with the fans before re-joining Partick Thistle in October 1990. A spell at Scunthorpe United followed before a return to Rotherham in 1993. However, things did not quite go to plan when, in his fourth appearance, he suffered a fractured skull against Plymouth Argyle following a clash of heads with a member of the opposition. He retired from football aged just 31.
Although it was brief and largely frustrating, John holds some great memories of his time at Elland Road. He recognised the passion and what it meant to play for Leeds United:
“Leeds fans have always been different class and it was a pleasure to play for them. I just wish that I’d been given more opportunities to show the supporters what I was capable of.
“There were some great lads at the club, the banter was first class and I have to say that Ian Snodin and John Sheridan were two of the best players I ever played alongside.
“Speaking of Snod, there was a classic incident when he was driving Bairdy and me in to training one morning. His car overheated so he pulled over and lifted the bonnet. When he took the radiator cap off, boiling hot steam covered his face and he was stood on the hard shoulder screaming: “Get me a f****** flannel! Get me a f****** flannel!
He needed hospital treatment before he returned to Elland Road a few days later and the lads had hung loads of flannels on his peg in the changing rooms with a sign which read: “You wanted a f****** flannel, so we got you a f****** flannel!”
John is still involved in football, working with the Doncaster Rovers academy following a spell as manager of the Doncaster Belles and admits he is saddened by Leeds’ plight in recent times:
“All the facilities are there but investment is needed and the takeover has to happen. Leeds is a massive club and needs to be in the Premier League.
Thank you to John Buckley for giving me his time and the opportunity to write this article.