Gary Sprake

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Gary Sprake
Personal information
Full name Gareth Sprake
Date of birth (1945-04-03) 3 April 1945 (age 70)
Place of birth Swansea, Wales
Height 6 ft (183 cm)
Playing position Goalkeeper
Youth career
1962-1963 Leeds United
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1962–1973 Leeds United 381 (0)
1973–1975 Birmingham City 16 (0)
National team
1963–1975 Wales 37 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Gareth Sprake (born 3 April 1945 in Swansea) is a Welsh former professional footballer. A goalkeeper, he played for Leeds United and Birmingham City and also won 37 caps for Wales.

Sprake became known during his career as a goalkeeper who was brilliant, but occasionally prone to appalling mistakes.[1][2] He spent more than a decade as the number 1 keeper at Leeds during a period when they were a dominant side in the English domestic game.

Club career[edit]

Sprake represented Swansea Schoolboys and was noticed by Leeds United soon after he left school and was playing for a local works team.[3]

Sprake joined Leeds as an apprentice, and made a last-minute debut in 1962 when the regular goalkeeper went down with a stomach complaint on the day of a game at Southampton. The call to Sprake, who was still in Leeds, was so late that the club paid for a charter aircraft to fly him to the match, and the kick-off was delayed to allow the 16-year-old the chance to get to the ground, change and warm up. Over the next two seasons Sprake became a regular as Leeds won the Second Division in 1964, and then challenged for the Football League championship title and FA Cup double the following year. Sprake only missed one game in both competitions that season, but Leeds ended with nothing, missing out on the League title on goal average to Manchester United and losing the FA Cup final to Liverpool.

The first of Sprake's two notorious errors came in 1967 when Leeds played Liverpool in a League game at Anfield. Sprake was holding the ball and was set to throw it to the Leeds left back Terry Cooper, only to curtail his throw when he spotted Liverpool winger Ian Callaghan running towards the area he planned to throw the ball. Unfortunately for Sprake, the ball slipped out of his hands behind him and ended up in the net.[4][5] At half-time, the Liverpool tannoy-announcer played "Careless Hands", a record by Des O'Connor, apparently in reference to Sprake's mistake, and during the second half Liverpool supporters on the Kop sang the song repeatedly to Sprake.[6] During his time at Leeds, fans of rival clubs – most notably those of Liverpool – gave Sprake the nickname "Careless Hands" as a result.[7][8]

In the same season Sprake kept a clean sheet as Leeds beat Arsenal in the League Cup final, and he performed heroics behind an overworked defence as Leeds won the Fairs Cup, the club's first European honour.[1] In 1969, Sprake was again a regular as Leeds won the League championship.

In 1970, Sprake and Leeds chased a treble of the League, the FA Cup and the European Cup, but ended up with nothing. The League title went to Everton who won by nine points, and Leeds went out of the European Cup in the semi-finals to Celtic. The FA Cup Final provided the stage for the second of Sprake's most memorable errors.

In the FA Cup final, Leeds were playing Chelsea and took an early lead through Jack Charlton. Chelsea chased an equaliser, but when attacking midfield player Peter Houseman hit a left foot shot shortly before the break, it seemed tame and directionless enough for Sprake to gather it safely. Sprake crouched down to catch the ball as it bounced, and somehow it slipped through his grasp and rolled into the net. At the time, the Wembley surface was in poor condition, with the stadium having hosted the Horse of the Year Show days earlier and having much of the grass turned into hard turf lumps as a result,[1] as well as the presence of a vast covering of sand.

In the second half, Mick Jones put Leeds ahead with just six minutes to go, but Chelsea again managed to equalise with a goal. Sprake suffered a knee injury before the replay, and his replacement – David Harvey – was powerless to prevent Chelsea winning 2–1.

Sprake was still the first choice keeper for Leeds in the following two seasons, but was replaced by Harvey at the tail of both, including the 1972 FA Cup Final. Sprake watched from the sidelines as Leeds defeated Arsenal 1–0 in 1972 with a goal from Allan Clarke and a superb performance by Harvey at the other end. In the same year, Sprake publicly criticised Revie for his treatment of him, and so his relationship with his manager, team-mates and the Leeds supporters soured. He only played once in the 1972–73 season, missed two more Cup finals, and eventually left for Birmingham City for £100,000 (breaking the world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper in the process) to play first team football and regain his place in the Welsh team. Sprake played 504 times for Leeds, keeping more than 200 clean sheets.

International career[edit]

Sprake was the youngest ever goalkeeper to appear for Wales when he made his international debut as an 18-year-old against Scotland in Nov 1963.[9]

Sprake won 37 caps for Wales between 1963 and 1975,[10] making his debut on 20 November 1963 against Scotland at the age of 18.[2]

After football[edit]

A back injury brought Sprake's career to an end at the age of 30, resulting from a near fatal blood clot in his back which forced him to undergo spinal fusion surgery.[2] His severe back problems have been largely blamed on regular injections of cortisone he was given during his early career at Leeds. Since retiring Sprake has undergone seven operations on his back.[11] He subsequently kept his profile low, returning to his native Wales. He was offered £7,500 by the Daily Mirror to make allegations against former Leeds manager Don Revie and club captain regarding match-fixing,[12] however refused to repeat the allegations under oath in court. Wolves' Derek Dougan asserted that he heard no mention of the bribes.[13]

Following his retirement, Sprake worked as a rep for a short period before becoming a borough council training officer in Solihull, a job which he remained in for over 14 years.[2] His biography, Careless Hands: The Forgotten Truth of Gary Sprake (Tim Johnson & Stuart Sprake), was published in 2006.[5] In November 2009 Sprake was given an award by The Welsh FA for his contribution to Welsh football during the 1960s and '70s.[14]


Leeds United
1968 and 1971


  1. ^ a b c Shaw, Phil (21 April 2006). "Black sheep of Elland Road: Wild man of Leeds fights to clear name". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d Culley, Jon (16 November 1993). "Where are they now? Gary Sprake". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  3. ^ Soccer Who's Who compiled by Maurice Golesworthy The Sportsmans Book Club 1965
  4. ^ "Gary Sprake speaks". BBC. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  5. ^ a b "Goalie Gary Sprake's nightmare game recalled in new biography". 14 February 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  6. ^ Murphy, Alex (4 July 2007). "The 50 worst footballers". London: The Times. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  7. ^ Murphy, Alex (4 July 2007). "The 50 worst footballers". The Times (London). 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Soccer Who's Who compiled by Maurice Golesworthy The Sportsmans Book Club London 1965
  10. ^ "Wales – record international players". Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  11. ^ Chaudhary, Vivek (12 August 2000). "Gary Sprake: "Club should pay"". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  12. ^ "Sprake back at Leeds". BBC. 2 October 2006. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  13. ^ "Leeds United, Don Revie and a 40-Year Old Slur". Sabotage Times. 29 April 2011. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  14. ^ "News – FAW Awards Evening 2009 – Winners". Football Association of Wales. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 

External links[edit]

  • Career stats at the Post War English & Scottish Football League A – Z Player's Database