One of the most easily recognisable figures on a football pitch in the ’70s and ’80s, Gordon McQueen was loved as an all-action, big centre-back so typical of the time.
His tall frame and blonde hair made him easy to pick out, he was more attacking than many at the back in those days. 40 goals was a testament to a man who was an important weapon for his side at set-pieces.
My abiding memory of McQueen came in the 1979 FA Cup Final. Manchester United had been second-best to Arsenal for most of the game. Arsenal had led 2-0 from just before half-time. United had a free-kick about 20 yards out on the right and there were just four minutes left on the clock. The ball was played into the area. Predictably, McQueen was there in the thick of it but the ball came right through everyone to Jordan at the far post. He controlled it on his chest but with his back to goal just turned it back into the melee around the penalty spot. Surrounded by yellow shirts McQueen was first to react and turned it in first time past Jennings.
The match epitomised everything about the big Scot as he jogged back to his place in defence, his mane of blonde locks flowing as he appeared to command his troops into battle. United were back in it and McQueen was marshalling his forces. It almost worked as McIlroy took on the mantle and levelled soon after.
The fact Arsenal won a minute after being brought back level may well have summed up his career. Revie’s Leeds were often bridesmaids. The United of the ’70s and ’80s were too, and as for Scotland…..
We were only just getting over the news of John Hollins’s death this week when it was announced McQueen had also died, a day later.
In January 2021 he was diagnosed with vascular dementia. At the time his family said;
“he wanted footballers of today’s generation to know there may be risks with persistent heading of the ball”
Yesterday the family announced he’d died at home following complications with his dementia. They released a statement;
“It is with the heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of Gordon, who died at home in the early morning today, leaving behind his wife Yvonne, daughters Hayley and Anna, son Eddie and his beloved grandchildren Rudi, Etta and Ayla.
“We hope that as well as creating many great football memories he’ll be remembered most for his character.
“Our house was always full of friends, family and football just as it was in his last few months as he fought so bravely in what became a very cruel battle against dementia.
“The disease may have taken him too soon but he definitely lived life to the full, the ultimate entertainer, the absolute heart and soul of every occasion, the most fun dad anyone could wish for.
“Huge thanks goes to the wonderful staff at Herriot Hospice Homecare for their outstanding care, the utterly incredible Marie Curie team who were there at the end with Gordon’s wife and daughters and Head for Change for the emotional support and respite care.
“Also to our wonderful friends and family who rallied around at the worst of times, going above and beyond, for that we are so very grateful.”
Born in Kilbirnie, 20 miles southwest of Glasgow, in June 1952 he began his career at St. Mirren. His performances soon caught the attention of scouts and it wasn’t long before the big clubs in England came calling.
Leeds United offered £30,000 in 1972 as Don Revie saw him as the ideal successor to Jack Charlton. He was part of the league title-winning side in 1973-74 as he forged a strong partnership at the back with Norman Hunter.
In the European Cup the following year he scored three times as Leeds reached the Final. Unfortunately, it was a match he missed as a sending-off in the Semi-Final against Barcelona had him suspended for the match in Paris. An infamous game saw Leeds lose 0-2 to Bayern Munich.
McQueen’s form in the league title season saw him earn a call-up to the Scotland squad. He made his debut alongside four other Leeds players when selected for a friendly in Belgium, as preparation for the World Cup just a fortnight later.
They lost 1-2 but McQueen’s form was enough to see him included in the World Cup squad but he didn’t get to play in any of Scotland’s matches.
He had to wait almost 12 months later before he tasted success in an international shirt when they beat Portugal 1-0 at Hampden Park.
After a disappointing British Home International Championship where they were humbled 1-5 at Wembley, McQueen’s proudest moment to date came in Bucharest in June 1975. He was selected as captain of his country. It empowered him so much he scored his first goal too. A late equaliser in the European Championship qualifier.
The Home International Championship in 1977 was a much happier time for him. He scored in the 3-0 win over Northern Ireland at Hampden, then again as they won 2-1 at Wembley. That was a game made famous by the pitch invasion of the Scots when Wembley was trashed.
Four months later he was in the side which beat Wales at Anfield to secure a place at the next World Cup in Argentina.
His Leeds teammate, Joe Jordan scored one of Scotland’s goals that night. Four months after that both men left Elland Road for their arch-rivals, Manchester United. The £500,000 fee made McQueen become the most expensive defender in Britain.
The move was controversial as both clubs were rivals but McQueen was adamant it was the right move for him, coming out with a famous quote;
“Ask all the players in the country which club they would like to play for and 99% would say ‘Manchester United’. The other 1% are liars.”
He’d made 172 appearances for Leeds, being voted the clubs Player of the Year twice (1974-75, 1976-77).
He spent seven years at Old Trafford with probably his best season in 1979-80. He scored nine goals that season as they finished runners-up to Liverpool in the league.
After losing the 1979 FA Cup Final, he was more fortunate in 1983 when United beat Brighton. He remained at Old Trafford until 1985 when he was left out of the FA Cup Final side. He’d played 229 times for the Red Devils.
Redcafe.net, the ‘unofficial Manchester United website’ described him;
“Gordon McQueen may not have been the greatest centre-half Manchester United ever had, but he was certainly one of the most entertaining. The blond giant provided a gloriously exciting spectacle as he soared above the opposition, whether to clear his own lines or to launch one of those murderous attacking headers that became his trademark.
Then there were those mazy, lolloping left-wing dribbles past three or four defenders, an added and very occasional delight indulged in only when his side were a few goals to the good. Such adventurous sorties, on which somehow he brought to mind a lovably clumsy, overgrown puppy, further endeared him to most Reds fans, who had taken him to their hearts from the moment of his arguably overpriced £500,000 transfer from Leeds in February 1978”
His international career ended in 1981 after 30 caps. He never got to play in a World Cup despite making two squads. In 1978 injury stopped Ally McLeod from being able to pick him.
After leaving United he had a brief spell in Hong Kong before deciding to move into coaching. He got the job as manager of Airdrieonians, but after a year his old United teammate, Bryan Robson, asked him to become reserve team coach at Middlesbrough.
It was Robson who was one of the first to pay tribute to the big man;
“He was a perfect fit for Manchester United with his flair, courage and big personality, and that’s why the fans loved him.
“Most importantly, though, he was a brilliant person with a huge heart. He lit up any room he walked into, and that’s how he should be remembered.”
Lou Macari, who played with him at United and for Scotland also paid tribute;
“RIP Gordon, friend and teammate. Biggest character in football, large as life, funny, full of desire. Took to Utd like a natural and loved the roar after one of his runs.
“That awful illness robbed us of the real Gordon, heart goes out to family, wife Yvonne was a 24/7 warrior for him.”
After his time at Middlesbrough came to an end he had 10 years or so as a pundit on Sky’s Soccer Saturday before being struck with laryngeal cancer in 2011. He beat that but it was dementia finally got him.
Social media has been full of people wanting to pay tribute to the man.
Leeds United supporter and author of the “Cocker Hoop” biography of his father, Les who played for Leeds tweeted;
“Known Gordon McQueen since we were toddlers in 1950s living next door to each other as both our Dads played for Accrington Stanley. Gordon’s Dad the keeper, then my Dad and Don scouted him for LUFC almost 20 years later. Gutted today, thoughts with the family”
Manchester United paid their own tribute;
“Everyone at Manchester United is heartbroken by the loss of our beloved former defender, Gordon McQueen.
“Our love and condolences are with his family at this terribly sad time.”
Leeds United’s tribute was short but poignant;
“LUFC is saddened to learn of the passing of former defender Gordon McQueen at the age of 70, following a battle with dementia.”