A towering colossus has gone… but his soaring header will forever live on. As the great Gordon McQueen passes on, his pal Joe Jordan lauds a ‘brilliant person with huge heart who lit up any room’
- Manchester United and Scotland icon Gordon McQueen has died aged 70
- OBITUARY: McQueen was a rumbustious presence and embodied Scottish spirit
- The ex-footballer had been battling dementia, which left his family devastated
Gordon McQueen’s special place in Scottish hearts has been secure ever since the day he sailed through the Wembley sky and scored one of the most famous goals in the history of international football’s oldest rivalry.
It was pure majesty. An enormous leap and a powerful header, arrowed down from upon high into the bottom corner. England’s goalkeeper Ray Clemence had no chance. ‘I don’t know why he bothered diving,’ McQueen would joke about that day in 1977. ‘He never even got it on the way back out.’
They had worked it out in training. Asa Hartford clipped a free-kick into the penalty area and McQueen came in on the run. Tall, athletic and elegant, like a long jumper as he took off. Golden locks flowing, he climbed above everyone.
An extraordinary spring and natural timing were his big assets as a footballer. They helped make him one of the finest central defenders of his era, a champion at Leeds United and an FA Cup winner at Manchester United.
Tragically, these same gifts probably shortened his life and it has been much harder to reflect on his commanding presence in the air, or to enjoy that goal against England, since his vascular dementia diagnosis two years ago.
Gordon McQueen (centre) rises to head home for Scotland against England at Wembley
THE LINE-UPS IN 1977
ENGLAND 1 SCOTLAND 2, WEMBLEY
England: Clemence, Mills, Neal, Watson, Greenhoff, Hughes, Talbot, Kennedy, Channon, Francis, Pearson. Scorer: Channon 87
Manager: Don Revie
Scotland: Rough, Donachie, Forsyth, McGrain, McQueen, Hartford, Johnston, Masson, Rioch, Dalglish, Jordan. Scorers: McQueen 43, Dalglish 59
Manager: Ally MacLeod
Illness gripped him quickly and his death on Thursday at the age of 70 is a reminder of the chilling link between repeatedly heading the ball and brain damage.
‘Gordon was magnificent in the air, he took pride in that and practised hard to get his timing right,’ said Joe Jordan in the first days after the diagnosis confirmed what McQueen’s family and close friends had feared for some time.
McQueen and Jordan were pals for half a century. They lived in the same digs when they moved to Leeds and left Elland Road for Manchester United within a month of each other. They represented Scotland together. They were the best man at each other’s weddings and their families holidayed together.
In the summer of 1975, Bayern Munich were trying to sign Jordan after beating Leeds in the final of the European Cup, a game drenched in controversy which McQueen missed through suspension after a red card in the semi-final against Barcelona.
The Leeds players were by the pool on an end-of-season break in Spain when a waiter told Jordan he had the manager of Bayern on the phone for him.
McQueen was also a bloody hero for Man United as they won the 1983 FA Cup at Wembley
Sensing a wind-up, the two mates decided McQueen should take the phone call. Pretending to be Jordan, the centre half told Dettmar Cramer he’d be up for a move to Munich but only if they signed McQueen as well. In fact, it was really Cramer, who explained that he was fine at the back with Franz Beckenbauer and ‘Katsche’ Schwarzenbeck.
‘He was my best mate,’ Jordan told Mail Sport on Thursday. ‘He was sharp, he was quick with a response. He was a very funny guy. He was great company. He was loyal. He never changed and we remained friends when our careers finished.
‘I’m very fortunate he was my friend and we were very fortunate to have the careers we had. Now he’s gone and in some ways I’m glad he’s in peace. I don’t want to remember him as he’s been in the last couple of years.
‘But I will, I have to. I know it has been tough for his wife Yvonne and his family. I know it’s tough for any families looking after people with this horrendous illness. How many times are we going to have to ask before someone finds a way to help these footballers and their families? And not only the famous players like Gordon.’
MCQUEEN’S LIFE AND TIMES
– Born in Kilbirnie, Scotland in 1952 and played originally as a goalkeeper but switched to a defender. Signed for St Mirren aged 18 and played 57 games for them.
– Joined Leeds in 1972 and scored 15 goals in 140 games. Was suspended for 1975 European Cup final. Moved to arch-rivals Manchester United in 1978 for £500,000, saying: ‘Ninety-nine per cent of players want to play for United, the rest are lying.’
-Played 184 games for United. Also won 30 Scotland caps and scored five times. After retiring, managed Airdrieonians for a year and coached Middlesbrough twice.
McQueen started out in goal like his father Tom — who played for several Scottish clubs and spent three years at Accrington Stanley — before moving into central defence.
By 18, he signed for St Mirren and was soon attracting interest from Don Revie, who thought he had found a long-term successor to Jack Charlton.
Revie paid £30,000 to sign him at the age of 20, and the Leeds title win in 1973-74 owed much to the defensive solidity of McQueen and Norman Hunter.
After nearly six years at Leeds, McQueen moved in February 1978 for a British transfer record of £500,000 to Old Trafford, where he spent more than seven years, making 229 appearances and scoring 26 goals.
McQueen’s (R) great friend Joe Jordan (L) says he was a ‘brilliant person with huge heart’
‘He was a perfect fit for Manchester United with his flair, courage and big personality,’ said former United captain Bryan Robson, who took McQueen on to his coaching staff when he was in charge at Middlesbrough.
‘That’s why the fans loved him. Most importantly, he was a brilliant person with a huge heart. He lit up any room he walked into.’
McQueen won the FA Cup in 1983 and scored in the 1979 FA Cup final defeat by Arsenal, turned in with his left boot, but his soaring Wembley header at the same end for Scotland in 1977 is the one that will live on.
McQueen, pictured with his daughter Hayley back in 1983, was a loving family man
It was the opening goal in a 2-1 victory for Ally MacLeod’s team, ranked fourth in the world at the time and dreaming big about a World Cup in Argentina. The Tartan Army invaded London, tore up the turf after and demolished the goalposts.
‘Without question, the moment most people ask me about,’ McQueen once said. ‘There must’ve been 75,000 Scots inside Wembley that day and 475,000 if you count the number of people who’ve told me they were there.’
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