The greatest goals never scored: David Batty, Leeds United vs Arsenal, 1999
David Batty didn’t play football to score goals. David Batty played football to make things easier for his team-mates and tougher for his opponents.
Goals, just like the fame and attention which comes with being a title winner and England international, weren’t for him.
In over 600 career appearances for club and country, Batty scored nine times. When talk turned to Batty during an interview with Robbie Elliott, his former Newcastle team-mate remarked: “How he didn’t score more goals given his ability with his left and right foot is incredible.”
Due to his reputation, whenever Batty did score, it was usually worth the wait – no matter whether the goal was spectacular or not. Cries of “shooooooot” came from the terraces every time he ventured into the opposition half, and pandemonium followed on the rare occasions he listened to the advice and managed to put the ball in the back of the net.
Appearing on the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast – named in a roundabout way in Batty’s honour – Tony Dorigo recalled how his maiden goal for Leeds United was overshadowed by the midfielder’s first goal in four years.
“The first goal that I scored for Leeds was at Elland Road against Manchester City,” Dorigo said. “The ball came out from a corner, it bounced, and I’ve half-volleyed it, pinged it, right into the top corner. It was a very good goal and I was delighted.
“A few minutes later Batty scores. Oh. My. God. It was like an earthquake, the noise. It was a shitty tap in, doesn’t matter, mine was forgotten. You felt the warmth for David Batty. Fantastic.”
Batty’s four goals for Leeds United all came in his first spell at the club. While his return to West Yorkshire brought with it the experience of losing a Champions League semi-final, financial implosion and ultimately relegation, the greatest injustice is that it didn’t involve a wondergoal against Arsenal.
Leeds’ re-signing of Batty from Newcastle United in December 1999 coincided with their fixtures against Arsenal developing a nasty edge. He was the perfect player for this kind of battle.
A cantankerous enforcer skilled in the dark arts of shithousing, Roberto Mancini still has nightmares about facing Batty in a pre-season friendly with Sampdoria. Another of Elliott’s memories saw him cheerfully ponder: “He could have been a serial killer and we wouldn’t have known.”
Tensions were already high when Arsenal visited Elland Road in May 1999 needing a win to maintain the pressure on Manchester United in the title race. Nobody expected Batty to light the touch paper by watching a ball cleared into the air and stretch to fire a 30-yard volley agonisingly past the post.
It’s probably for the best the ball didn’t hit the back of the net. If, as Dorigo says, Elland Road was rocked by an earthquake when Batty scored a “shitty tap in” against Manchester City, we would still be trying to rebuild the foundations of the entire country had he thundered in a volley that would make
Tony Yeboah Luke Ayling blush.
It was no surprise that Batty was thriving in such an atmosphere. Arsenal’s centre-backs Martin Keown and Tony Adams were both losing their heads trying to handle the relentless tirades of teenager Alan Smith, whose own man-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude was inspired by growing up as a child with posters of Batty on his wall.
The Gunners created plenty of chances but were clearly becoming increasingly rattled as they squandered one after the other. Leeds, meanwhile, kept the visitors on their toes by testing out David Seaman with their own vibrant attacking play.
Batty even tried a repeat of his earlier antics, tormenting Seaman into scrambling back towards his own goalline to clear an attempted lob from 30 yards.
Leeds United are often at their best when they have nothing to play for but the thrill of spoiling somebody else’s fun.
Shortly afterwards, Harry Kewell crossed the ball to the back post, where it was met by the head of a diving Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and powered into the back of the net, inspiring one of the greatest photos ever taken inside Elland Road as Arsenal fans witnessed their title hopes slip away.
It was fitting Hasselbaink was the man to finally grab the goal that decided the contest. As Leeds’ glamour player at the time, that’s invariably what he did.
David Batty, on the other hand, didn’t play football to score goals. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun along the way.
By Rob Conlon