John Pearson: Forgotten Man of the LUFC Renaissance

Scarlett returns…again!! This time fulfilling a brief to offer memories of one of the lesser lights of her formative Leeds United years, John Pearson…

My Dad, bless him, often recalls the tale of how dismayed he was that his son, my older brother (Scumbag), took a shine to egg chasing rather than football, shattering Papa Gray’s dream of taking his son to Elland Road every other Saturday.

Fast forward a couple of years …  acting in a fit of self preservation to prevent a scolding, erstwhile Princess Scarlett, 6 or 7 at the time, decided a good way to avoid said telling off would be to embellish father’s passion of Leeds United for a distracting moment. LIFE CHANGING MISTAKE!

While the tactic may have worked – I can’t quite recall – Papa Gray refused to let the subject drop. As such, from that point on, conversations between father and daughter were almost exclusively limited to the subject of Leeds United, there was no way he was letting me off the hook. With my father’s dreams reignited he enthusiastically trashed my would-be childhood of dolls and dressing up and replaced it with Subbuteo and Saturday trips to see Leeds United!

The Class of '86/87

The Class of ’86/87

In March 1987 Papa Gray took me to Portsmouth, he had a business meeting there but he sold it as an opportunity for me to see HMS Victory and all that history jazz that goes in one ear and out the other. The evening was freezing cold but I’ll never forget it as dad took me to my first football match at Fratton Park, my first glimpse in the flesh of these Leeds United superheroes he kept telling me stories about.

I remember standing at the front peering over the edge of a wall; I remember the Leeds fans singing someone’s name in silly high pitched voices (a man I now know to be Alan Ball, it took a while for me to understand that one!); I vaguely recall randomly shouting out names of people I thought were Leeds players and my dad sympathetically correcting me as they either weren’t playing or had left or retired or plain and simply just didn’t play for Leeds; I also remember the game ended 1-1.

It was during this era that the player I have been asked to write about was plying his trade for the Mighty Whites. What’s really strange, almost to the point of an Arthur C. Clarke mystery investigation, is I remember his name, I remember he played for Leeds, I can picture what he looked like, I know he must have played in games that I went to, but, can I remember any noteworthy contributions he made to said games? … No!

Introducing John Pearson, the Lord Lucan of my formative football watching days as a child! So what could I tell our younger fans about Big John (I say that in terms of height … ah hmm, let’s call him the Duke from now on).



I can tell you from memory John was a tall, beanpole striker in the days when football shorts were short, too short for tall, beanpole strikers and Lowfields stood where Whiskers (Ken Bates) swanky new hospitality boxes live in the East Stand. Ironically, The Duke came to Leeds probably around the same time that Whiskers was trying to install electric fencing down at Chelski.

My Father once, cruelly described a cardboard cut out on a rainy day as being potentially more effective than John Pearson, and that would support my hazy memory of him being crap in the air for a big (tall!!) man. I have vague recollections of this man extending himself on to tip-toe and flicking his mop of brown hair in the general direction of a football as it sailed harmlessly over his head.

I do remember one occasion, Lee Chapman went “face-surfing” along the red grit at the side of the pitch during the early stages of a game at White Hart Lane and The Duke was brought on in his place. Needless to say, Leeds didn’t score in that game, thankfully neither did Tottingham.

Maybe the stats will reveal something more cheerful. The Duke was brought to Leeds by Billy Bremner  in 1986, making the journey up the M1 from South East “Laaaandon”, Charlton (or Charl-on as their fans seem to refer to them). It was a return to Yorkshire for The Duke who was born in Sheffield and started his career with the Wendies. He cost Leeds at the time the princely sum of £72,000.

FA Cup Semi-Final day

FA Cup Semi-Final day

In his 15th game for Leeds, he scored first League goal for the Whites in an away game at Shrewsbury – interestingly he never scored a goal for Leeds in Cup competitions . In his first 6 months at the club, Leeds progressed to FA Cup semi-final, losing to Coventry and came up against his former employers Charlton (or Charl-on) in the first ever Play-Off Final. The final was played over two legs and went to a replay at St. Andrews, which needed extra time before Leeds ultimately lost to goals by someone that had barely ever scored before or since (Peter Shirtliff). Not that we need reminding of that.

Perhaps, one out there for speculation and debate, The Dukes finest hour, or 90 minutes, for Leeds came in a home game in 1988 against Sheffield United. For a man whose Leeds goals were at a premium, he sure let his dislike and hatred for the blunt half of Sheffield show as he scored a hat trick against them in a 5-0 DRUBBING at Elland Road . Yes, it’s Shefflield United so let’s rub it in and emphasise the word drubbing! He scored another goal of note against the Blunts which shall come on to shortly … very shortly.

During his time at Leeds, the club also won promotion to the then Division One, now the Premier League. Now for a fact which I’d forgotten, I think there’s something about John Pearson that my brain successfully manages to suppress to a deep dark corner, but wait for this … hold the front page, The Duke scored a top flight goal for Leeds! Oh yes he did and I bet you can guess who he saved it for … hell yeah, it came at Bramall Lane against the hapless Sheffield United in a 2-0 win for Leeds.

Shortly after his aforementioned substitute appearance for Scarface Chapman at White Hart Lane, in March 1991 The Duke was loaned out for a successful, very successful as it happens, loan period at Rotherham where he scored 7 times in 11 games. This was the beginning of the end for The Duke at Leeds, who was sold to Barnsley, for a profit (!!), £135,000, at the end of the 1990/91 season. The Duke also went on to feature for HullCity, Carlisle United, Mansfield Town and Cardiff City  before retiring (if I missed anyone it’s Wikipedia’s fault not mine! Got it?!?!?).

Proper kit!

Proper kit!

In all, The Duke played 99 league games for Leeds scoring 12 goals (remember, four of those came in two games against Sheffield United), he also featured in 28 cup and play-off games scoring a big fat zero. To be fair, to speak seriously about the man in a time when I was too young to appreciate his merits, he was credited in many quarters for his work in creating goals for others, it’s a shame the retrospective assists stats aren’t available to highlight his good work.

I understand, to this day that John Pearson holds the record for substitute appearances for Leeds United with 60 of his total of 127 appearances (league and cup) coming from the warmth of the substitutes bench.

Maybe next time they’ll give me someone easier to write about, you know a Russell Doig or a John Buckley maybe, or how about Imre Varadi (known as Ray to his friends dontcha know!)?

Follow Scarlett on twitter @ScarlettLouiseG


3 responses to “John Pearson: Forgotten Man of the LUFC Renaissance

  1. I went to nearly all the home games during that period ( I was only 15 at the time).
    In the defence of John Pearson, he was not the worst on the pitch, John Stiles always stole the show as number one donkey.
    Apparently he is a comedian now, …. He was then.

    Sydney White

  2. Pingback: John Pearson: Forgotten Man of the LUFC Renaissance | Fear and … #LUFC | Trends·

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