LEEDS UNITED’s STELLAR hopes for Alan Maybury may not have been realised, but his time at Elland Road remains a truly enriching one.
The Irishman is the first to admit that he failed to take the chance when opportunity did knock for him to make the step up from FA Youth Cup winning teen starlet to fully-fledged first-team regular.
In truth, it didn’t help Maybury that club legend and fellow Dubliner Gary Kelly and then an English international in Danny Mills were above him in the pecking order, with the right-back moving to Hearts in August 2001.
But he still took plenty from his time at the club, particularly from two coaching mentors and footballing sages in Eddie Gray and Paul Hart, which he is now helping to utilise as a development coach at Falkirk.
Maybury, now 36, said: “It was difficult and you had to be a real star at Leeds then as a young player.
“I remember speaking to Eddie Gray years later in an interview and said I didn’t think I got some opportunities that I deserved, but that I didn’t take some I was given.
“He said: “Son, if you don’t take them, they will stop giving you them.” Which is a fair point.
“I also remember Eddie’s opening line in the same interview. He said: ‘We thought you were going to be the best right-back Leeds ever had, what happened, son?’
“I did have high hopes in the youth team and reserves, but never really established myself. I was a bit-part player.
“I think I had a good mentality, but maybe I also got injured at the wrong time and didn’t deal with it very well.
“It was only when I left that my mentality was better with dealing with these things and maybe I wasn’t quite the player they thought I was going to be.”
He added:“They were still great days. I remember in my first year, I stayed at Roundhay in digs with Pete Gunby in what was Mr Fotherby’s old house and remember getting the bus to training and getting lifts to training in the second year if we were down early enough.
“We trained in the old car park around the first team and it was a brilliant place to be.
“I tell the young lads now that those days are the time of your life.
“Paul and Eddie were the right type of coaches and were black and white and told you how it is. It was only later in my career that I learned to appreciate that, although they always looked after us.
“You knew where you stood with them and I liked that. They were fair.
“I remember bumping into Paul at Leicester seven or eight years ago and I still wasn’t really sure what to say to him as he still had that aura over me!
“We had some great young players. Steve McPhail, Nicky Byrne and Harry Kewell were there with me. I was in the second year and (Jonathan)Woodgate and (Paul) Robinson were in the first year. I remember one meeting; I think it was at the start of a new year.
“And Paul was writing about what we were going to win – the league, FA Youth Cup, the League Cup.
“That was his belief in us and the work-rate he instilled in us to drive us on.
“I try and instil the mentality of what it takes to be a footballer in the lads at Falkirk. You want players to enjoy it and be self-motivated or they fall back the wayside.”
Maybury came to Leeds from Home Farm, which has proved fertile ground for United, with Kelly, Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail also starting out there.
Unlike that trio, Maybury couldn’t establish himself in the first team, much like fellow 1997 FA Youth Cup winners Matthew Jones, Lee Matthews and Tommy Knarvik and several others.
Maybury played just 18 times for Leeds, but the memories remain vivid, with his debut as a first-year trainee at Aston Villa in February 1996 being right up there.
A more fateful game came in March 2001 when he was on the receiving end of a heavy challenge from Czech legend Pavel Nedved in a 3-3 Champions League draw with Lazio at Elland Road – Leeds fielding a makeshift line-up having qualified for the quarter-finals.
Maybury, who joined Leeds in the summer of 1995 and went onto play for the likes of Hearts, Leicester and St Johnstone, said: “I remember my debut. I came in on Friday morning to train and then got called into Paul Hart’s office. I was told to get my stuff as I was travelling with the first-team who weren’t training until the afternoon.
“I did that and Paul called me back in and he must have known. He said: ‘If you do play tomorrow, make sure you don’t let anybody down.’ I actually played centre midfield and was supposed to man-mark Tommy Johnson and he never played.
“I played with Gary Speed at one side and Gary McAllister at the other. Dwight Yorke and Savo Milosevic played up front for them and Paul McGrath played and Gareth Southgate. It was unbelievable. I felt I did all right, but he took me off at half-time. I was no centre-midfielder!
“Then there was the Lazio game. The daft thing is I only knew at the last minute I was going to play.
“I had sort of converted into a midfielder a little bit as Frazer Richardson was coming through and Gary Kelly and Danny Mills were there.
“I remember Gary from the kick-off saying he wanted to give me an early touch and fired the ball at me and I did well to control it. It settled me down and I grew into the game, but then I got carried off at the end.
“But I loved it at Leeds. Looking back, I wished I could have played more. But it was my own short-comings; I am not blaming anyone else.”