How Kalvin Phillips and Jamie Shackleton are inspiring a generation of Leeds United supporters
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For a generation of Leeds United supporters it has been a long time since they could boast a football club to be proud of.
Years spent in the doldrums of League One and the Championship saw many of the city’s youth look elsewhere towards the bright lights of the Premier League following the club’s relegation from the top flight amid financial turmoil in 2004.
United, though, have always relied heavily on the club’s academy production line for inspiration among the community in West Yorkshire.
The likes of local lads Alan Smith and James Milner were lost as the Elland Road side spiralled into the Football League, with the connection to the club faltering amid a range of off-field troubles and various owners.
Jonny Howson – a Morley lad through and through – briefly reignited the flame again as he helped his boyhood team to promotion from the third tier of English football.
Howson, though, was sold on like many before him as he went on to fulfil his career ambitions elsewhere.
Others too have since passed through the academy’s revolving doors – with the likes of Lewis Cook, Sam Byram, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt all bursting onto the scene before making their exit.
In Marcelo Bielsa’s Championship-winning squad – the club’s first trophy in 28 years – there have been new faces that provided some much-needed local Leeds grit and determination to drive the club back to the promised land, with two in particular helping young kids across the city believe again.
“Everybody who plays for Wortley Juniors knows Kalvin Phillips played for us,” Ian Thackray, the Leeds United midfielder’s former youth coach, told the YEP.
“No matter what the kids’ expectations in life are, they can go along and cheer him on and after the games he always goes to the front of the family stand and gives people autographs and shirts.
“He always engages with people who are from the community and he’s usually one of the last on the field.
“He’s always there. He’s just a nice guy. His whole family are.
“Someone told me the other day that he was in the supermarket – and we see him a lot in the West Leeds and Wortley area – a lady had lost her purse so he paid for her groceries.
“That is just him all over. He leads by example. I think Kalvin is the fourth professional that has passed through Wortley over the years but he’s the only one who people recognise.
“At Elland Road I sit next to two guys with their children and the little ones are only about eight or nine, but they’re just mad on Kalvin.
“They’re from Colton Juniors so it doesn’t just fit for us at Wortley. It fits for all the junior teams across the city of Leeds.
“You can’t knock him. He’s been brilliant for the community. I think people in Wortley would only ever turn against him if he signed for Manchester United!”
Kippax Athletic are another junior side who helped shape the early stages of a budding Whites career in Bielsa’s history-makers.
Jamie Shackleton’s emergence into the first team picture in LS11 over the past two seasons has been yet a further tip of the hat to the Thorp Arch production line.
“Leeds have started this year sending out some of the coaches round to local junior clubs,” said John Carter, the junior sides chairman.
“They actually brought a shirt to us that was signed by Jamie. They didn’t know he’d actually come from us at the time, but we do talk about Jamie and how well he has done with the juniors at the club.
“It is nice to see that you have somebody who has come right through the ranks and has come directly from here to go into a professional club.
“The kids have got a proper touch with Leeds United because of it and particularly when you see their faces and the smiles it brings when you get things like the shirt.
“If you know that Jamie Shackleton started at Kippax Athletic it is a fantastic thing to look up to for them.”
Phillips still returns to the place where it all began and hasn’t forgotten his roots.
The 24-year-old has been known to present Wortley’s next generation with their end-of-season awards on occasion, and you can only imagine how it feels for any young supporters.
“He comes and hands out trophies to them all,” Thackray added.
“Last season we had 21 different teams across the age groups and he’ll come and do them both each night because we split it up.
“Our open age team won the West Riding County trophy. He came and did the trophy for that as well.
“There’s a lot of the lads in the men’s team who will have played football with Kalvin at school or at Wortley - so it’s not just inspiring kids.”
The impact and legacy left isn’t just on the local football pitches either, it extends into the classrooms at Shackleton’s old high school St Wilfrid’s in Featherstone.
“He scored his first goal the other week and we shared it on the school’s Twitter,” said Rich Tracey, Jamie’s former Head of Year.
“It’s huge in terms of an impact for students having someone like Jamie come through here.
“He was already with Leeds United when he arrived but he came to us as a five foot kid and he’s progressed into a Premier League footballer.
“It shows that locally there is a pathway for young players and that if you work hard then you can go on to achieve fantastic things.
“You can be someone who comes to school, works hard and can go on to have a fantastic pathway into being a professional footballer or whatever else.
“Having both is there to be celebrated as a school for us.
“He was always very bright and understood as well that it only takes one bad tackle or one opinion that didn’t quite fit his style and he would need his education to fall back on.
“From a school perspective to be able to celebrate someone who has gone on that path and journey through and to share that with pupils is brilliant.”