Welsh winger Carl Harris enjoyed nine years with his boyhood idols Leeds United, but admits breaking into a team full of household names was tough.
BOMBING up and down Leeds United’s right hand flank, fitness was key for winger Carl Harris in a decade at Elland Road that ended in 1982.
Nearly 20 years on not much has changed, keeping trim is still essential for the 54-year-old who is now running his own removals business.
Harris enjoyed over a decade at Elland Road in the 1970s and early 1980s – rubbing shoulders and trading tackles with legends like Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer and Johnny Giles.
To a certain extent, great Scot Lorimer was responsible for keeping Harris’ first-team appearances to 153, but the Welsh ace was still a firm Elland Road favourite and the club remains in the former midfielder’s heart even now he is back home.
Life now revolves around his own business – Neath-based Carl Harris Removals and Storage – a firm the former Leeds star took over from his father-in-law in the mid-1990s.
However, his days in West Yorkshire will never be forgotten, Harris revealing he fulfilled a boyhood dream just signing for the club he supported as a boy.
“I used to support them as a kid when I was in school and that, so to join them was a brilliant experience,” Harris told the YEP this week. “I used to come up to watch them as a 12-year-old, during school holidays and summer time as well. I grew up supporting them, so it was nice.
“Leeds have always been my club and to play for them as well, to play with Bremner, Lorimer, all my heroes and what have you, it was really good.
“Back then, I think they were the best team in England really. They were certainly a major force to be reckoned with.
“We had Bremner, Giles, Eddie Gray, Allan Clarke – I could go on really – and we had a good strong team.
“To play alongside those players was always my ambition.”
The Neath-born Welsh Schoolboy international was just 17 when he first joined the Whites, signing for Don Revie’s side back in 1973.
However, his stay looked like being a short one – the youngster initially suffering from homesickness and quickly heading back to the Principality.
Fortunately for all concerned Harris was soon persuaded to return north and eventually made his debut on April 19, 1975 as a substitute against Ipswich Town at Elland Road.
It was a debut he would always remember.
Asked about his Leeds highlight, Harris recalled: “Johnny Giles was injured so I came on for him and there was only one sub in those days.
“I came on for him and scored the winning goal – 2-1 I think it was. That was a highlight. I was about 17 or 18 and it was great, a marvellous feeling.
“I reminisce now and again.”
As for any Whites regrets they are few and far between, indeed the only two are backhanded compliments – not playing enough games and his eventual departure to sign for Charlton Athletic in 1982.
“I suppose if I had joined another club and played elsewhere I probably would have been playing first-team football regularly – early on that is,” said Harris, who was capped 24 times by his country.
“But to play for that Leeds team, Peter Lorimer was the right winger and he was one hell of a player. To try and oust him out of there was naturally tough.
“When I left Leeds I could have stayed there and I didn’t really want to leave really.
“I joined Charlton in 82 I think it was and I didn’t want to go really, but the manager was changing so much that it was a bit erratic really.
“I didn’t agree terms with Allan Clarke, there was a bit of a mix-up, so my contract was up and I left.”
After three years with the Addicks, Harris went on to have brief spells with Bury, Airdrie in Scotland, Rochdale and then Exeter City before finally returning home to Wales as a 32-year-old in 1989.
That, though, was not the end of the wide man’s playing days, far from it, with Harris going on to enjoy another decade in Welsh football.
Stints with Briton Ferry Athletic, Ton Pentre, Maesteg Park, Afan Lido, Ton Pentre and Carmarthen Town meant the former Leeds star playing until he was 45 – and of that he is extremely glad.
Playing on into the veteran stage also meant he stayed as fit as a fiddle which would prove to be a blessing when he moved on to the next stage of his working life.
Recalling his move back from Yorkshire to his homeland, Harris explained: “Eventually I came back to Neath. My wife is from Neath and my family is so I am back with my family now, that was one of the attractions.
“I have three grown up daughters and they are still around here as well.
“When I came back I was about 33-34 I think and I came into the Welsh League – the League of Wales – which wasn’t a bad standard, and I was keeping fit which I like doing anyway.
“I played until I was about 45 and I enjoyed that time as well to be honest.
“Now I have got my own business set up and I have been doing it the last 14 to 15 years now.
“I was playing part-time, semi pro, part-time, whatever you want to call it, my father-in-law had the business and I used to help him now and again, in between.
“When he retired I carried on then, but I started it up on my own.”
Life for Harris is now very different to his days in Yorkshire when he used to run out in front of thousands of fanatical United fans at Elland Road.
However, the former midfielder feels blessed to have lived the dream of representing his cherished side – and says life now ain’t too bad either!
“You get ups and down in football as well, but it was a lovely feeling running out in front of big crowds and what have you,” he said.
“But I’m enjoying what I’m doing now and I’ve always liked keeping fit. It keeps me active and it’s okay.”
And, while his playing days may now be long gone, Harris still keeps a watchful eye over the Whites’ modern-day fortunes and is keeping his fingers crossed that Simon Grayson can mastermind a 2011 return to the only division Harris knew – the country’s top flight.
United’s former Welsh star sees no reason why Leeds cannot win even automatic promotion this term and all that will then remain is for the former wide man to see them play live!
“I haven’t been to Elland Road since I’ve been back to Wales,” admitted Harris, with a slight degree of regret one senses.
“I’ve been past – to Leeds and to Hull and what have you on numerous occasions over the years – but I’ve never actually been back to the ground to watch a game or whatever.
“I’ve always been meaning to, but I’ve never got round to doing it!
“I know they dropped down into the third tier and got into the play-offs and whatever a couple of times in the last six or seven years, but I always follow them and keep an eye on their results and that.
“I’m still interested in Leeds United.
“Before this season started I thought they might finish about midway, but they are in a play-off spot at the minute and within touching distance of the top clubs as well.
“It would be nice to see them go up automatic really and, if not via the play-offs, let’s hope they can go up that way. That’s where they belong.”