Leon Wobschall spoke to United nearly-man Alan Maybury, who has no regrets about his time at Leeds which provided a perfect grounding for his career.
IT’S somewhat unfortunate that Leeds United fans’ main memory of Alan Maybury will be of him writhing on the pitch in agony following an industrial challenge from Czech legend Pavel Nedved back in March 2001.
It summed up the Irishman’s luckless spell at Elland Road, which saw him firstly behind club legend and fellow Dubliner Gary Kelly and then an England international in Danny Mills in the pecking order for six seasons before heading to Hearts in August 2001.
Many in the 33-year-old’s shoes would rue their lot at being one of the nearly men at what was a golden time at one of England’s most decorated clubs, but not the versatile defender.
Still plying his trade at Scottish Premier League outfit St Johnstone and fully intent on playing on for a good while yet before turning his thoughts to the coaching realm, Maybury was grateful for what came his way.
He is also the first to admit that when opportunity did knock, he couldn’t take it with both hands and make the step up from FA Youth Cup-winning teen starlet to fully-fledged first-team regular, with a similar fate befalling the likes of Matthew Jones, Lee Matthews, Tommy Knarvik and Jamie Forrester and Kevin Sharp and Mark Tinkler a few years earlier.
Maybury, who made just 18 appearances for the Whites after making his debut as a first-year trainee against Aston Villa in February 1996 at just 17, said: “I spoke to Eddie Gray about this not long ago. I just feel I didn’t grasp some of the opportunities I was given and after that I seemed to be waiting a long time for the next one.
“You must take the opportunities at a club that is moving fast like Leeds. Maybe I wasn’t quite as ready as I – or the club – thought I was. If you don’t take those opportunities, others will.
“But I don’t regret anything. You find your level eventually. Obviously, Gary was a mainstay of the first team and then they signed Danny Mills.
“But I loved my time at Leeds, it was where I grew up and learned my trade. Looking back it was the time of my life. I played in a good youth team and then with older pros such as Gary Kelly, who really looked after me. And how we were coached and brought up under Paul Hart and Eddie Gray ensured it was a great time. With the friends I made and lads I worked with, it was brilliant.
“I found a lot of Leeds fans once I went over (from Ireland) in terms of people I knew from back home who grew up with the great teams in the seventies. Suddenly people like my brother were saying ‘I’m a Leeds fan, I’m a Leeds fan!’ and they couldn’t get over often enough.
“I still look at it as my English club and know a little bit of what’s going on. I’m big mates with Paddy Kisnorbo and still keep in touch with Alan Sutton.”
From good footballing stock, Maybury’s formative years across the Irish Sea were spent at Home Farm Academy, where future team-mates Kelly, Ian Harte and Stephen McPhail also started out – while his four brothers also represented the famous Dublin club.
After captaining the Irish national team at Under-15 and Under-16 level, Maybury headed to Elland Road in the summer of 1995, with his first-team debut, due to a spate of injuries and suspensions, not long in coming at Villa Park.
And that milestone, along with his famous appearance against Nedved’s SS Lazio in a Champions League Group D clash just over five years later are the ones that stick in his mind.
The latter was actually his penultimate appearance for the Whites, who fielded an under-strength side after already clinching qualification to the 2000-01 quarter-finals along with group winners Real Madrid.
United rested several big-hitters with Maybury, who started in midfield, handed a precious outing along with Aussie youngster Jacob Burns – with striker Tony Hackworth coming off the bench.
And while there wasn’t anything tangible riding on the contest, it proved a memorable night full of thrills and spills against a Lazio side who included Fabrizio Ravanelli, Nedved, Claudio Lopez and Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Maybury shone in exalted company, but made the headlines for altogether different reasons after being the victim of an horrendous knee-high challenge from Nedved in the build-up to Lazio’s last-gasp leveller in a 3-3 draw.
He said: “I’ll always remember the Lazio game, I’d been at the hotel all afternoon and David O’Leary used to name the team a couple of hours before there. I saw this flipchart and there was my name and I thought ‘Phew, I’ve got to get my head around this!’.
“I remember Gary Kelly told me to make sure I got a good early touch and I just grew into the game. Although I don’t know what I was doing flicking the ball around Nedved in the last few minutes!
“There had been a bit of niggle before that when he tried to play a one-two around me, I’d blocked him off and he’d had a little kick out. Then when I flicked it past him, he must have thought he wasn’t having this and I caught a sore one on the knee! But he’s a great player and it was a great game to play in.
“Back then, I used to do the commentaries on Radio Aire a lot with John Bradley as I was used to not playing and being up on the gantry. I’ll always remember him saying that I was going to play against Lazio.
“You always recall your debut as well. I remember in the first game of the season we got beat by Newcastle’s youth team and Paul Hart went through us and we were all in the next day. A few of us had to play for the reserves and I ended up coming on in a reserve game the next day playing against Sheffield Wednesday and Chris Waddle. I’d gone from hopefully getting in the youth team to playing against Chris!
“Paul said ‘If you keep playing like that, it won’t be long before you get in the first team’. It didn’t really sink in at the time.
“That was at Christmas, but the next thing I know I was sent home from training and told to get my gear as I was travelling with the first team and I made my debut in the February. It was a whirlwind.”
After loan spells at the likes of Crewe and Reading, Maybury hit the Tartan trail to Tynecastle in a £150,000 deal in August 2001 and quickly impressed for the Jambos under Craig Levein, helping them record successive third-placed finishes in the SPL in 2002/03 and 2003/04 – in an unaccustomed left-back position.
He sampled European nights against the likes of Bordeaux, Basle and Feyenoord and some precious international highs in the green of Ireland, famously being part of the side who triumphed 1-0 against Holland at the Amsterdam ArenA in 2004.
He later returned to England, with Levein raiding his old club to sign him and one-time Whites loan striker Mark De Vries in early 2005, shortly after becoming Leicester City boss.
After spells at Aberdeen and Colchester, Maybury now finds himself back winding down his career north of the border, and while he intends to play on for a few years yet, he has turned his thoughts to coaching.
And while most footballers may be putting their feet up on some sun-kissed beach for weeks come May and June, Maybury will be otherwise engaged in some classroom and training ground in the west of Scotland, while also potentially fixing up a new club.
Maybury, whose one-year St Johnstone deal is up in the summer, said: “Once the season finishes, I’ll have a week off and then it’s nine days before I start my A licence at Largs. After doing some work in the winter and international break, a group of us have been fast-tracked to get through the B licence. I’m a bit of an obsessive with it!
“I worked under Paul Hart and Eddie as coaches at Leeds and then Brian Kidd came in at Leeds. Craig Levein was then my manager at Hearts and at Leicester, I worked under a good coach in Rob Kelly. Even when I went to Colchester, it was Paul Lambert and Aidy Boothroyd and when I came to St Johnstone, Derek McInnes signed me and now it’s Steve Lomas. So I’ve worked with some big names.
“I’ve enjoyed my time in Scotland and particularly had some good years at Hearts after leaving Leeds. They had the right manager and it was the right football club for me. It (Edinburgh) was also the place I set up home and met my wife as well and the right place for me.”