When Leeds fans flocked to Elland Road on a jubilant July night, little did they know that a legend of their Premier League past was a part of the party.
Tony Yeboah may have been sat some 5,000 miles away at his home in Ghana as West Brom lost to Huddersfield to seal his old club’s top-flight return after a 16-year absence.
But such was the 54-year-old’s wish to witness the celebrations in West Yorkshire, he attended virtually via a WhatsApp video call with his Leeds-based friend.
Tony Yeboah was 5,000 miles away when former club Leeds sealed a Premier League return
He was unable to make it to Leeds but joined in celebrations by joining virtually on WhatsApp
‘I was live at Elland Road from over the phone,’ laughs Yeboah. ‘It was very beautiful, the way the people were celebrating. The place was very full.
‘I was not surprised. I know the Leeds fans and they are so crazy about the club. I was also celebrating with my friends here in Ghana because they knew that were it not for coronavirus, maybe I would have had the opportunity to come to the club to celebrate.
‘Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it in person but I am very, very happy that Leeds are back in the Premier League. It has been a long time. I am also happy to see Leeds play against Liverpool in the first game.’
Of course, the mere mention of that fixture makes a generation of football fans think of the man who is speaking to Sportsmail from Ghana’s capital of Accra. And it is all because of one moment 25 years ago, when Leeds hosted Liverpool live on Sky’s first Monday Night Football of the 1995-96 season.
The mention of Liverpool vs Leeds brings back memories of Yeboah scoring against them
Specifically, it was in the 51st minute at Elland Road, when Rod Wallace headed Tony Dorigo’s long ball back towards Yeboah, who then unleashed a thunderous first-time 25-yard volley, which screeched in off the underside of David James’ crossbar.
That match-winning goal has been voted the greatest in Leeds’ 100-year history and has gone down in Premier League legend. Oh, and he hit it with his wrong foot.
‘That goal is one I will never forget in my life,’ admits Yeboah. ‘From my youth, I was a Liverpool fan because of John Barnes. Watching English football on television, you saw John Barnes playing and it made black people so proud.
‘Before that game, I was so determined. I was going to face Barnes, Ian Rush; players I used to adore. I had to prove to them I was also a very good player. Thank God everything turned out to be fantastic.
‘I don’t think David James ever thought I was going to try from that angle. I had a bit of luck with the way the ball hit the bar and went in, but it was very difficult to stop.
‘I am actually a left footer, that is the foot I use to dribble with. But when it comes to shooting, I don’t mind both sides. I can use my right.’
His match-winning goal in 1995-96 has been voted the greatest in Leeds’ 100-year history
That is an understatement, as Yeboah further proved against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park five weeks later, with the stunning second goal he scored as part of his hat-trick in a 4-2 win. This time, he chested the ball down and then controlled it with his left thigh, getting in between two defenders before taking another two touches and blasting it in off the bar, again with ferocious force.
That strike secured Yeboah the Match of the Day Goal of the Month award for a second successive month, and it also pipped his winner against Liverpool as Goal of the Season. But which does he think was his best?
‘I always say Liverpool because of the way the game was, the tension that was there,’ says Yeboah. ‘It was also a very difficult goal because it was a volley. The Wimbledon goal was fantastic but when you compare them, you can see my excitement and the importance of the Liverpool one.
‘Sometimes when I scored some of my goals, I came back home and was thinking about how I managed to score that goal.
‘I love to watch them back even now. When you feel bored, you can always go on YouTube and just watch them. So many quality goals, you never feel bad when you watch them.
Yeboah also admits he watches the goals he scored on YouTube and never tires of doing so
‘I am so proud of them. They give me a lot of memories. If I had not scored those fantastic goals, maybe you don’t call me and interview me right now.’
Yeboah joined Leeds, initially on loan, from Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany in January 1995. His new manager Howard Wilkinson admitted he had not seen the striker play but had ‘watched him a lot on Eurosport’. Within five months, it was Leeds who had Eurovision, as Yeboah scored 12 goals in 18 Premier League games as Wilkinson’s side finished fifth and qualified for the UEFA Cup.
‘He was my best coach,’ admits Yeboah about Wilkinson. ‘He always told the players, “Give the ball to Tony and let Tony score our f****** goals for us”.
‘I was on top form at that time. I could do anything with the ball. Before a game, I always promised the players I was going to score. When the players gave me the ball, if I had three chances, maybe I would score two.’
Such was Yeboah’s instant success, other English clubs took note of a player who was yet to sign a permanent deal at Elland Road. And, as he reveals to Sportsmail, even Leeds’ greatest rivals came calling about a potential move which would have had echoes of Eric Cantona’s seismic switch across the Pennines in 1992.
‘At that time, Leeds were not sure I could play in English football, so they only loaned me for six months and wanted to test me before maybe the could sign me,’ says Yeboah. ‘After six months, I was fantastic and I had an offer from Manchester United. But I decided to stay at Leeds because of the way the fans treated me. I couldn’t have gone to any other club.
Yeboah revealed he rejected the chance to follow in Eric Cantona’s footsteps at Man United
‘I always remember my first game against QPR. I received a pass and my touch was poor, but all of the stadium, everyone was clapping for me. From then, I could see that my future in Leeds was going to be bright. Thank God Leeds United came to my life and I became a very, very great footballer.’
After Wilkinson spent a bargain £3.4million to seal Yeboah’s signature, the forward fired in another eight goals in the first eight league games of the 95-96 season – including those against Liverpool and Wimbledon. He also hit a hat-trick away at Monaco in the UEFA Cup and ended his first full campaign with 19 goals.
However, when Wilkinson was sacked and replaced by George Graham at the start of the following season, Yeboah was injured and then clashed with his new boss.
His final match for the club came at Tottenham in March 1997 when, with Leeds losing, he was substituted for Ian Harte and threw his shirt at Graham before heading down the tunnel. Yeboah was sold to Hamburger in Germany six months later, while Leeds signed Jimmy-Flloyd Hasselbaink.
‘Me and George Graham, let’s say, had a misunderstanding,’ says Yeboah. ‘I am a player who needs confidence, and after he came in, my confidence and everything was totally down, so that was where the problem started.
Yeboah however admitted he had a misunderstanding with George Graham when he took over
‘Unfortunately, one or two things happened. Throwing my shirt, I always feel so sad about that situation and I always try to apologise to the fans. I am not that type of person but because of the frustration, that’s why it happened. Thank God the fans accept my apology and still the Leeds fans love me.
‘It was a disappointment to leave because I was enjoying it. I had good friends and my family loved to stay there. But unfortunately, the change of manager didn’t go well for me and I had to go back to Germany. There is nothing you can do.’
Of all the things Yeboah misses about life in Leeds, one stands out more than most. ‘I love Yorkshire pudding,’ he says. ‘I used to have it after a meal as a dessert.
‘The taste is very good and it gave me a lot of strength when I played. But I had to be careful not to eat too many to make sure I was not putting on weight!’
For Yeboah, moderating his intake was particularly tough given a local food firm latched on to his love of the Sunday lunch staple and started sponsoring him two puddings per goal.
However, the 54-year-old praised Howard Wilkinson as the best coach while at the club
‘I didn’t do any adverts for them, but they knew that I liked Yorkshire pudding and so they sometimes came to the training ground to give me them,’ he smiles. ‘I loved it. Unfortunately, you do not get them in Ghana, but any time I am in Leeds I get one.’
Something else Yeboah picked up during his two years in Yorkshire was golf. ‘I remember Gary McAllister was always calling me to play,’ he says. ‘At the time, I didn’t like golf but he was forcing me!
‘He gave me a set of clubs and I said, “What do I have to do with this?”. He said, ‘”Tony, we are going to teach you”. Now, as I am talking, I am waiting for my 3 o’clock tee time. I have become so addicted to golf. My handicap is 11.’
Yeboah also fondly recalls his nights out in Leeds, led by Lucas Radebe. ‘After games, we would go to a club together and enjoy ourselves. It was all part of team work. We train together, eat together, go out together. That was what it was like at that time at Leeds. The unity was there.’
Yeboah leads a quieter life now. Having once owned his own football club – Yegoala FC – in Ghana, he now runs two hotels of the same name, although he spends more time on the golf course.
The Ghanaian is also confident that Marcelo Bielsa is the perfect coach for the promoted side
He is also a grandfather to 18-month-old Leroy and smiles: ‘I can see that the boy can play football. His legs are very strong. You can see he is taking his grandpa’s footsteps!’
Never far from Yeboah’s thoughts, though, are Leeds United, and he will be watching again on Saturday night as Marcelo Bielsa’s side visit the champions for their first Premier League match since 2004.
‘Bielsa is a fantastic coach,’ adds Yeboah. ‘He suits the club and I like the way he plays. With the support Leeds has, I don’t think we are going to have any problems at all. After coronavirus, I think you will see me there again. I can’t wait to go back.’