SHERIDAN DICTATES: LEEDS UNITED NOSTALGIA

LEON CONSTANTINE

A proven goalscorer at League One level, having scored 38 goals in just 18 months at Port Vale, Leon Constantine joined Leeds United in the summer of 2007 as the club was about to experience life in the third tier of English football for the very first time.

Constantine was born in London in February 1978 but was a relative late-comer to professional football. He made his league debut for Millwall in August 2000 before turning out for seven different clubs over the next seven years.

His impressive scoring record at Vale Park alerted scouts from various sides playing at a higher level and the striker turned down a move to Barnsley in the January 2007 transfer window:

“I was desperate to play in the Championship but a move to Barnsley didn’t feel right so I decided to see my contract out at Port Vale and assess my options during the summer.”

It was that summer that Leeds United came calling and Leon turned to a friend and ex-Leeds United player for some advice:

“I knew all about Leeds and the history of the club but I spoke to Dubes (Michael Duberry) and asked him his opinion. I had several offers and felt that I had proved myself in League One but Dubes told me that if Leeds United come calling, you don’t turn them down.

“After travelling to Yorkshire and meeting Denis Wise, I was really impressed with the way he spoke, the training facilities and the stadium. I couldn’t say no and the deal was agreed although I couldn’t officially sign until the club had come out of administration.”

Leeds United Football Club was at its lowest. Administration at the end of the previous season had confirmed relegation and Wise was left to cobble a squad together without any financial backing:

“Several players came in that summer and it’s fair to say that we were all pinching ourselves that we were Leeds United players.”

The squad set off for a pre-season tour to Germany but Constantine suffered a nightmare start:

“I  was eager to get started but I never envisaged what was in store.

“In one of the friendlies we played over there I had a coming together with the opposing centre back and immediately felt a severe pain in my leg which meant I had to leave the field.

“After receiving treatment, wearing a ‘space boot’ and resting the leg, I began a light exercise program but the leg began to swell and I was sent for an x-ray.”

The x-rays revealed that the leg was broken, the news stunned the new man and the staff at Thorp Arch and it would be October before he was able to return to training.

During the period that Leon was out injured, Leeds had suffered a 15 point deduction but had started the season in devastating fashion:

“It was incredible, Denis and Gus created a siege mentality and the confidence was sky high. I went to all the games and although it was good to see the lads tearing the league apart and Tresor (Kandol) and Jermaine (Beckford) scoring for fun, it was very frustrating as I wanted to be out there in the thick of the action.

“The team spirit was as good as I had known it anywhere else. Six or seven of us would go out after training for something to eat, the social life was good and every one of the players held the manager in high regard.”

Having won their first seven league games, the run came to an end at Gillingham when a late equaliser for the hosts secured them a point in a 1-1 draw but there were more problems for Leeds:

“Tres and Jermaine were sent off and with Tore Andre Flo and I out injured, Denis had to turn to the loan market for a couple of centre forwards. I was becoming desperate to get fit and get involved. Also, I have to say that the injury to Tore was a huge blow, he was a big influence around the place.”

It wasn’t until the 3rd of November that Leon Constantine made his Leeds United debut in an away fixture at Carlisle United:

“I replaced David Prutton after 76 minutes but unfortunately we were beaten that day. It was disappointing but on a personal level, I was mightily relieved to be in the squad and on the field.”

Constantine’s full debut came in a low-key fixture ten days later as Elland Road hosted Johnstone Paints Trophy football for the first time. In a competition renowned for paltry attendances, Leeds fans broke the mould as almost 19,000 witnessed a shock home defeat to Bury:

“It was brilliant to finally start a game in a Leeds shirt and I got off to a flier with a goal after just eight minutes. I was so pleased that I kissed the Elland Road turf but the evening ended in disappointment as we were knocked out of the tournament.”

Soon after, Leon suffered another injury, a broken toe, meaning a few more weeks on the sidelines but he was soon back fit again:

“I was involved in the squad and made my first league start away at Walsall in the middle of December but had to wait until New Years Day for my next action.

“We were 3-0 down at half time against Oldham Athletic and I was in the gaffer’s ear for him to give me a chance, promising him I would score. He put me on for the start of the second half and within about 20 seconds I had pulled a goal back.”

In another cruel twist of fate, the injury hit striker suffered a broken arm and to this day he still has a plate in the arm as a result of the operation.

Unfortunately, that afternoon against Oldham would prove to be the last time that he played for Leeds United:

“Denis left the club at the end of January and I never hit it off with his replacement Gary McAllister. He refused to give me a chance and in March I was loaned out to Oldham Athletic for a month before being allowed to leave on a free at the end of the season.

“The time under Denis and Gus was fantastic. Everyone got on and the place was buzzing, that all changed when McAllister came in and the players didn’t seem to have the same confidence.

“There were some great lads around the club. Tresor Kandol and Jermaine Beckford formed an incredible partnership, Seb Carole was a superb, much underrated footballer and I have all the respect in the world for the physio, Harvey Sharman, who helped me through some very dark, difficult times.

“I still wonder why the club is in such a predicament and I hope that one day soon Leeds United return to the Premier League. No disrespect but to see clubs like Burnley in there and Bournemouth looking like they’re on their way there, whilst Leeds seem to lurch from one crisis to another, is a disgrace.” 

Thank you to Leon Constantine for his time and giving me the opportunity to write this article.

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