David PruttonCult heroes. Every football fan has them but they’re such a mismatched bunch of oddities, it’s hard to isolate characteristics every cult hero shares – the defining traits that make them a cult hero.

I put this question to fans on Twitter and the response was predictably mixed. ‘Limited yet hard-working’ was a common theme, with examples such as Andy Hughes and David “Jesus” Prutton given as examples.

It’s certainly a trait many cult heroes share, but not one that’s entirely universal. Take Dominic Matteo for example, a man who continues to draw admiration from fans long after his retirement, one of the most popular cult heroes we’ve ever had. Sure, he was no Patrick Viera, but to call him “limited” would be to do him a huge disservice. Playing alongside and against some exceptionally talented footballers, Dom Matteo never looked out-of-place.

Hard-working seemed to cover everyone until Eric Cantona’s name was dropped, another player you couldn’t describe as “limited”. The Frenchman wasn’t lazy, but he was so naturally gifted, football looked almost effortless to him. Cantona was the 90’s answer to Lionel Messi, he performed feats of footballing genius without breaking a sweat.

One thing a lot of our cult heroes seem to have in common is that they didn’t spend the majority of their career at Elland Road. Ian Baird, Chris Kamara, Vinnie Jones, the other names listed so far and a few more besides, all had relatively short spells at Elland Road that belies the level of hero-worship they still receive.

Chris Kamara, the ultimate football journeyman, played only 20 games for Leeds yet still remains popular. Howard Wilkinson lost the plot and shipped Eric Cantona off to Manchester United after less than a year at the club, Vinnie Jones lasted only a season and half, Andy Hughes and David Prutton spent just three years at Elland Road while Ian Baird and Dom Matteo had four years each.

Duration of spell may be one of the things that separates cult hero from outright hero, but it can’t be the only factor or Leeds United fans would have a hundred cult heroes from the last two decades alone. It has to be combined with something else, the thing that makes fans remember these figures more fondly than other players.

The best response I received from anyone on Twitter was personality. Whether they’re a slightly unhinged madman like Vinnie Jones, a bit of a joker like David Prutton and Chris Kamara or the fans just find them easy to relate to like Dom Matteo and Andy Hughes, all cult heroes have very distinctive personalities which make them stand-out from the crowd.

For one reason or another, all cult heroes are likeable. We hated seeing Eric Cantona propel Manchester United to a new era of dominance, but no one ever blamed the Frenchman for that. We were grateful for the short spell he had in White, for the awe-inspiring performances he put in. Leeds fans loved Eric Cantona.

I’ve had this conversation with other Leeds fans many times, and everyone seems to remember where they were when his sale was announced. For me, it was halfway to the Yorkshire Dales en route to my Aunt’s house when news broke over the radio. The world seemed to stop for a minute as my Uncle stared blankly at the radio, perhaps waiting for the presenter to retract the statement. I was very young at the time and didn’t really understand what was happening, but a player who made only 28 appearances for Leeds had reduced my Uncle to silence, too devastated for words.

It was my Uncle’s reaction that makes the moment so memorable. I’d only just started attending games at Elland Road around that time and had never experienced the raw emotions the sale of a popular player can produce. I’d go on to experience it many times of course, Alan Smith’s sale is one example, but Cantona’s sale came at a time when we were Champions. It didn’t make sense.

Maybe then, the mark of a cult hero is the emotions they make us feel and the stories they leave behind. Dom Matteo’s San Siro goal, David Prutton’s farewell letter, Andy Hughes’ dancing, the two goals Ian Baird scored against promotion rivals Newcastle United AFTER we’d sold him, every cult hero made their mark, leaving behind memories which stir emotions of great joy, celebration and sadness, memories we still discuss many years after the player departs.

Separated from outright heroes like Lucas Radebe and Billy Bremner by ability, success and/or duration of stay, cult heroes still have a special place in the hearts of every Leeds United fan, but who was your favourite? Those featured above have been added to our poll, but feel free to share your own personal cult heroes and thoughts on what makes a cult hero in the comments below.

Cult heroes - Who was your favourite?

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  • Jimmy

    I would add Becchio to that list personally despite his acrimonious exit (but no worse than Cantona’s!).

    How about Gary Kelly or Radabe too? Nigel Martyn?

    • TSS

      All three of those players would class above ‘cult’ hero. Cult heroes are separated from outright heroes by something or another – eg. duration of stay, ability, success.

    • Arnie

      I don’t think Becchio’s “acrimonious” exit was entirely his fault! Blame Warnock for that. And like you say it doesn’t detract from his contribution to the club’s cause.

  • daz

    Radebe for me

    • TSS

      Radebe wouldn’t class as “cult” hero, he’s an outright legend.

      • Ev

        Thats true TSS but if your talking non footballing impact ??? What about his history off the pitch, what he represents (mandella Anti apartate, getting shot, a hero for black africans)….. surely thats more than just a footballing legend ?

        • TSS

          Yes. He’s a legend in every sense of the word. He’s the only footballer I’ve ever met who left me starstruck. In fact, he’s the only celebrity I’ve ever met who left me starstruck, and that’s quite a lengthy list, they used to pass through a place I worked almost daily.

  • Kevin Scorah

    Tony Currie anyone?

    • Morcar’s Hill

      Only just looked at this but TC was my very first thought as soon as i saw the topic. Loved the way he would cheekily clap his own 60 yard passes. Instant control, look up and in one effortless movement ping a cross field diagonal pearler to a team mates feet . Then he’d just stand there hands above his head and clap. Great chapter on him in a book called mavericks dedicated to 70’s Icons.

      • Irving08

        Legend and cult hero rolled into one. Best player of his generation and one of the all-time greats.

  • Kevin Scorah

    With a possible dash of Peter Barnes !

  • Michaelclarke

    Nigel Martyn and hasselbaink for me

  • Gonorrhe_de_Ballzack


    • TSS

      I did consider Yeboah, he was a great player, one of my all-time favourites, but I don’t think he had the personality to class as a cult hero. It’s so tricky to define.

      • Gonorrhe_de_Ballzack

        True, his personality wasn’t the most distinctive, but I’d say his self-professed addiction to Yorkshire Puddings was the sort of quirk that makes a cult hero.

  • craig

    I have so many but my Era my age none other than 100% for me David Batty……..

    • totally agree Batty has always been my hero

      • MK_81

        I’d say Batty too. 110% Leeds and just did not give a s**t. He was the Honey Badger of footballers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

        • James Barlow

          Batty’s a legend surely?

          • philyew

            Yes, surely more than a cult hero? One of the all-time greats for the club.

          • Irving08

            Batty classifies as a cult hero on TSS criteria – a player of modest abilities with an attitude that endears him to Leeds fans.

          • philyew

            A home town player, who made over 300 appearances for the club over two spells. He also picked up 42 senior England caps. I think you are doing him a severe injustice in every sense.

    • torpsta

      Yeah for sure, David Batty was iconic.

  • From the era I started watching United, I’d nominate George Meek, a 5’2″” flying winger. Clever, fast and enthusiastic (just what we need now)

  • Peter Haddock…

  • Steve A

    Oh I feel old…. Duncan mcKenzie

  • Bradleyjames

    Personally, I think growing up at the same time as Alan Smith was playing some of his best football, he would always have to be my first choice. But then again, like you said, does it make him a cult hero? Or was he just a local lad, living the dream, working hard for the white shirt, that’s why we all loved him?

  • Yearn

    My cult hero and favorite player of modern times is CARL SHUTT. Hard-working, never-complain, funny lad.

  • yorxman

    We sure as hell haven’t got one at the moment!

    • Tyler75

      Dioufy ?

      • Grumpy

        Together with Rudy Austin. Cult heroes in the making.

  • Arnie

    I don’t think Dom Matteo can be regarded as a cult hero on the basis of one goal, even if it was in the Champions League. I think they have to have a bit more about them than that. Vinnie Jones obviously fits the bill because of his larger than life personality. Didn’t he go on Wogan shortly after Wilko signed him? Anyone remember?

    I reckon you can be much more creative with your list. There’s only one foreign player on there for a start and I won’t mention him.

  • markman

    for us oldies,cant you add Billy Bremner.?

    He does after all have a statue.

    a legend tops a hero

    and Bobby Collins

    • TSS

      Exactly – “a legend tops a hero”

      Cult heroes are a group of players somewhere between your average Leeds United player and outright legends like Bremner.

  • Tyler75

    What about the ‘so useless it was funny category’ ?
    Close call between Roque Jr ,Tresor Kandol and Encoch Shawumni

    • TSS

      We did a worst signing ever poll. Kevin Nicholls won that.

      • Irving08

        Obviously they were not around in the 1980s then !

    • Koh Samui Whites

      Tresor Kandol for me pal.I,ve a good pal who supports Millwall and apparently they love down there lol.

  • markman

    gary kelly

    gary sprake for hurling ball into own net

  • Jester

    what about Jack Ashurst or Ian Snodin? They made the late ’80s team interesting! Loved watching them play

    • Koh Samui Whites

      We had some proper baloons during that time.Anybody remember David Harle,Brian Caswell,Jim Melrose and Ronnie Robinson. Gives me shudders thinking about it.

      • Irving08

        And not forgetting, John (pukes up the previous night’s at the side of the pitch) Donnelly and ‘the boy’ Buckley.

  • James Barlow

    James Milner. Local lad done good. Youngest scorer ever. And Nigel Martin. Best keeper we’ve ever had.

    • James Barlow

      Tony “best goal against West Ham” Dorigo.

  • spellz

    Billy Bremner, Mark Viduka, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gary Speed, Tony Yeboah, Harry Kewell, Noel Whelen, Erik Bakke, David Wetherhall, John lukic when I think of all of these heroes names I think of our great club the list could go on and on and on if I was to pick a standout for me it would have to be Smudgey as he justs love Leeds United and wore his heart on his sleeve a great character and injurys aside was a super talent too, nice thread TSS.

  • LieutenantCool

    If Somma leaves this summer would he qualify? Can’t help but love the bloke….had bad luck with injury that’s all!

  • David Rocastle

  • I think Cult Hero develops because quiet often they will be hard grafters, and often play out of their skins in positions that aren’t their natural position. Such as Andy playing left back against Man United, et al.

  • Gordon Strachan and John Sheridan

  • henrymouni

    Bobby Davison!

    Frank Worthington!

    Jim Storrie!

    Mel Sterland!!

    Arthur Graham!

    • Irving08

      Definitely Big Jim and Mel St.
      Wilf Copping – the man fathers of my Dad’s generation sought to imitate when tackling 8 year old sons (ouch !)

  • Koh Samui Whites.

    Neil Aspin,Danny Mills,Mervyn Day spring to mind for me,but i will always love Alfie Inge Haaland for his classic comment about what an honour it was to play for the real United.Proper Ledge.

  • kev raunds

    Haaland,no question,the man was superb

  • Murph

    There are some great shouts on here – none more so than Peter Haddock, who should qualify either for his sterotypically northern working class name (which I haven’t even thought of for over 20 years!) or his dodgy moustache. David Batty has to be of legend status incidentally; this is irrefutable, not even up for debate. But, my outside cult hero shout is for Max Gradel in recent times…

  • Chips n gravy mmmmmm

    Robert molenaar? Menacing hulk of a defender with a classic no nonsense style of play. I’d also like to suggest Rod Wallace and Brian Deane, 2 of my 90’s era favourites. Add Felip Da Costa to the ‘so shite’ category. David Batty deserves a statue at Elland Road, i would bow before such legendary greatness.

  • Chips n gravy mmmmmm

    ” Who put the ball in the Man U net………. David Wetherall” ! Great memories of been in the kop that game, oh how i laughed when Roy ‘overrated shite’ Keane was stretchered off. And Haaland abusing him as he layed writhing in agony after injuring himself while trying to commit a cynical foul, poetic justice.

  • craig

    Proper no nonsense real yorkshire lad wonder what Batts is doing now.

  • Kevin Scorah

    Some excellent shouts, but I’m still sticking with Tony Currie. In the days when the disabled could park their cars at pitch side, I remember him chatting to those fans whilst taking his time over a corner. Then giving a handshake while the ball was in the air before a genial wave and a jog back to the action. A genius of a player and a brilliant bloke.

    • Irving08

      Best English midfield player I have ever seen.

  • Tony Yeboah any day for me

  • Jimmy the red

    Eddie Gray johnnie giles all Leeds team of 70s cult heroes and all internationals super leeds

  • Crangy92

    David batty, I was devastated the day we sold him to hilly billy rovers

  • Greek Cypriot Whites

    Yes Batty was my hereo too and so was Cantona, what talent he had and before that Tony Currie another gifted player to have graced Elland Road

  • Deno

    Sorry but it has to be cult hero from the past a guy from north of the border, who taught Billy everything he new and a guy who had his thigh snapped in an act of footballing butchery in a Europe. ………….Bobby Collins

  • Paul Iddiols

    It may be a century ago but where are the names of John Charles, Bremner & Charlton and above all Mick Jones and as for Cantona I think that there could only be one boss and at that time it had to be Howard and not EC.

  • Anderson0701

    Some might not agree, and I’m not saying he’s my favourite cult hero but I think he should be eligible for cult hero status not least for his performances in the FA Cup (mainly the first game against Arsenal) and for the fact that his dad was a great of our biggest rivals….Kasper Schmeichel. I also think it was disgraceful how he received a lot of blame from Grayson for the teams goals against record which was really down to poor defence.

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