United's number one of the '80s talks to Dave Callaghan about the goalkeeper's art, his days at
Elland Road and his new role at Second Division Carlisle United
When it comes to producing top-class goalkeepers in this country things just ain't what
they used to be. That's the verdict of former Leeds United favourite Mervyn Day.
Mervyn, now first team coach at Second Division Carlisle United, has every right to pass comment on the situation. He was a fine practitioner of the goalkeeping art during nine seasons with Leeds United.
"The best keepers in this country nowadays are mostly foreigners," moans Mervyn. "Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United is the best in the country at the moment. He's outstanding. As far as domestic goalkeepers are concerned David Seaman is head and shoulders above his nearest England rivals."
Day isn't alone in his assessment of England's number one. The England coach Terry Venables seems to have plumped for the Arsenal man, a former Elland Road junior, as his choice between the sticks.
Ask day for his views on why standars have dropped and he'll give you a definite answer. He blames the Football Association for the influx of foreigners into the British game.
"It's usually cheaper for clubs to import players than to pay the going rate for home produced ones," Day says. "I think there should be stricter controls. We just aren't producing the keepers we used to. In my day, Britain was renowned throughout the world for the quality of goalkeepers we turned out."
The former Elland Road star does have a point. He played in an era that boasted the likes of Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence and Pat Jennings - great keepers by anybody's standards and all of them British.
It seems hard to imagine, but it's over a decade since Day swopped the claret and blue of Aston Villa for the white of Leeds United. The deal that brought him to Yorkshire was put together in just a couple of hours. "I'd had a fall out with the Villa boss Graham Turner." Mervyn recalls. "A call came through from the-then Leeds United manager Eddie Gray. When Graham Turner called me into his office, I only had to think about the offer for two seconds. I had no hesitation in moving to Leeds even though it meant dropping down into the old Second Devision."
Day had won top honourswith West Ham and was part of a Villa side which had just a few years earlier lifted the European Cup. So why the lack of second thoughts about moving north? "I had played against the great Leeds side of earlier times," he remembers. "I knew they were sleeping giants with every chance of returning to the top flight."
The Leeds United side Mervyn joined was one crammed full of quality players. " We had the experience of people like Peter Lorimer. Frank Gray was still there, but David Harvey had recently retired after his knee packed up. Eddie wanted a bit more experience at the back and that's why he brought me in."
A glance at the Leeds United squad shows the kind of talent there a decade ago. Andy Ritchie, Scott Sellars, Denis Irwin, John Sheridan and Andy Linighan were all strutting their stuff in the Leeds first team. "It's just a shame most of those players went on to better things with other clubs," says Mervyn. He's got a point. Irwin is a cornerstone of the Manchester United defence, Sheffield Wednesday's Sheridan is a highly valued member of Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland side and Sellars, now with Bolton, has enjoyed success at a host of clubs.
Mervyn firmly believes that Eddie Gray's team should have helped the club to return to the First Division much sooner than it eventually did.
"Eddie wasn't given the time to finish the job he started," says Day. "He was under pressure to reduce the wage bill. That meant selling the players who could have won us promotion."
When promotion eventually came under Howard Wilkinson, it gave Mervyn one of the most cherished memories of his playing career. It's an Elland Road highlight he shares with former Leeds skipper Gordon Strachan.
"Supporters will remember the title-winning side a couple of years later, but promotion from Division Two was my personal highlight. It was the culmination of five years of hard work. It was the goal I'd been aiming for since joining Leeds from Aston Villa back in 1984."
These days Mervyn is a Carlisle United man through and through, even though he still lives in the Leeds area. In 1993 he moved to the Cumbrian club and has since become first team coach alongside manager Mick Wadsworth. "I've retired from playing," says Mervyn, who's now turned 40. "The knees aren't what they used to be."
But the former goalkeeper is enjoying the new role. "We came up from the Third Division last season and life in Division Two has taken a lot of getting used to. It's a bit of a jump in class. "We have had our fair share of problems. Derek Mountfield was injured for a long spell and has since moved on to Walsall. Things are coming together, though. We have just taken Garry Bennett from Sunderland, there's a new stand going up and the future's looking roy."
Like most ex-United players, Mervyn still takes a keen interest in goings-on at Elland Road. "I've been to see Leeds a couple of times this season. The line up is totally different from just two or three years ago, but it looks very exciting," he says.
"I've not had a chance to look at Tomas Brolin in the flesh, but he's a world class player and he can only help improve the side. Tony Yeboah's been scoring spectacular goals and the team is as tight as ever at the back, so it's looking good for Leeds."
So, what of the future? What ambitions does Mervyn Day have? Well, apart from seeing a few quality British goalkeepers coming through the ranks, his hopes are fairly simple. "I just want to be successful in football," he says.
For a player who was such a sterling servant at Elland Road, I'm sure every Leeds United fan will drink to that.