Posts Tagged ‘Howard Wilkinson’

My time at Leeds United. Part 5. Not wanted so out of the door

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment


Under the radar Noel Whelan had crept above me in the pecking order and started the next season in the first team. Noel was a real hard-working player. The sort of player any manager would want  in his  team and someone you knew would give 100%. He wanted to learn too and did everything asked of him by Howard Wilkinson and Mick Hennigan. He wanted to chase lost causes and was willing to close down defenders while I was more concerned with flicks, back heels and trying to score spectacular overhead kicks at every opportunity. I didn’t know it but I was becoming lazy. Noel really kicked on and became a regular in the team and deservedly so.

I didn’t play in the first team until January of that season. It was the FA Cup third round at home to Crewe Alexander. Rod Wallace was injured and Noel Whelan had gone off the boil a tad as young players do from time to time. We won 3-1 and I managed to score my first senior goals. I got 2 that day and was absolutely buzzing again. I kept my place for the next 2 matches after that. Ipswich at home and Blackburn Rovers away.  I did absolutely nothing in either of those 2 matches with the latter being my last Premier League match. Alan Shearer demolished us that day as he so often seemed to whenever he played against Leeds United.

After that performance Howard Wilkinson must have decided that I was not up to Premier League standard and my attitude didn’t help at all. Looking back I couldn’t agree more. I had shown glimpses of a decent player but I had not managed any kind of consistency. A few years ago I saw Arsene Wenger being interviewed and the quote he used was ‘inconsistent means not good enough’. He was relating to his Arsenal team at the time but it made me realise that this was so true about me. That is maybe one reason why we see cup shocks from time to time. Most players at lower league level can produce a performance which is above that of their status but can they repeat it game after game? The answer is no of course . That is one reason why players find themselves in the lower leagues.

But it was a slow process which led to my exit from Leeds United and I was to be in massive denial that my top flight career was over. I had another  18 months to run on my contract. I tended to sulk from time to time in despair at not being involved with the first team. Not the kind of attitude any manager wants to see. Even if I was the best player in the world, which I certainly was not, nobody likes to see people sulking round the place. It must have looked like I was a real brat.

I was offered a loan to Scarborough who were then in the old Division 4. I turned that down. Fortunately an opportunity arose to go on loan to Southend United who were in the second tier. Peter Taylor was in charge at Roots Hall with Colin Murphy his assistant. .

After a couple of games there I found myself out of the team. Inconsistency was to blame again. So I was left with the decision of staying at Southend for another month in the reserves or returning to Leeds and playing in their reserves. A no brainer really. Southend was miles from home with nothing much to do so back I went.

In the final year of my contract Gordan  Strachan had semi-retired. His days of playing at the top-level were at an end and he had taken the role of coaching and playing in the reserve team. This came as a breath of fresh air to me.

So when Gordan Strachan began coaching us there was actually some great technical and tactical input and because he had the career he did I had total respect for him. An absolute legend. He coached and played in the reserve team that season. I felt like I improved greatly. He actually had me running aroung, working hard and scoring goals. But it was too late. My less than perfect attitude and inconsistency  had  caused Howard Wilkinson to kind of give up on me.

Some time after that a chance to go on loan Grimsby Town came along.  Their talisman striker Clive Mendonca was struggling with injuries which paved the way for me to get some games under my belt. I managed to score my first league goal of my career in my second match at home to Sunderland. It was screened live on ITV on a Sunday afternoon, before Sky had bought lower league football. It was a rare header in a comfortable victory. Again though the consistency factor affected me and I found myself out of the team after 5 or 6 matches. You could say that I was a confidence player at that stage. Thinking about it though who isn’t a confidence player? Gradually the rejection from Leeds had affected me. Since my Leeds United debut to my time at Grimsby I found myself to be quite a different player. At Leeds I was always looking to score a goal, to get a shot off from almost any angle. I wasn’t scared to miss. A year or two later I found myself always looking to pass and take less responsibility and find the easier option. Was it confidence? I’m not really sure but I certainly was less of a player because of it. That season fizzled out and it was back to Leeds where I was now out of contract.

Being out of contract didn’t worry me at all. Leeds did offer me a contract though. Not because they wanted me particularly but from a legal point of view. If they offered me a contract then they could ask for a transfer fee for my services. Brian Laws, Grimsby Town manager mentioned that he would be interested on signing me permanently but not if there was a fee involved. If I was free then he would consider it was his thinking. I didn’t pull up any trees while on loan at Grimsby but my age and pedigree was enough to have him interested. It was time to move on though. I was 20 now and needed to be playing on a more regular basis.

So over that summer I just waited for the phone to ring. And waited….and waited….and waited. I even bought an answer phone so as not to miss all of the phone calls that would come my way. That was a waste of money because the phone didn’t ring once.

Ouch !!

Back to Leeds then for pre-season training. They held my registration and had to keep paying me on a month- to-month contract. Surely in pre-season I would be on the move? Actually no. Nothing. I heard a sniff of Bradford City showing some interest but that quickly disappeared. September was now upon me and the first team were preparing for a UEFA cup tie away to Monaco. There were 23 players training, including me, and an 11-a-side practise match was being selected. I found myself being the odd man out. No surprise really. I had asked to leave. But when Mick Hennigan asked me to play the role of a linesman I had to draw the line somewhere. Although I was on the ‘least wanted’ list I wasn’t going to let them take the p**s out of me. I refused point-blank, grabbed a ball and jogged over to the other training pitch to train alone. I must have been shouted to return three or four times by Mick Hennigan but I was not backing down now. At the end of the session Howard Wilkinson came over to tell me that he was giving me a free transfer.  It felt very strange. Even though I knew I would be leaving I didn’t think it would be in this manner.

I would like to say thank you to the sponsors of this blog: JJB SPORTS who have a 3 for 2 offer.


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