Leeds United: A brief stay but no regrets for Mark

Mark Tinkler
Mark Tinkler
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MARK Tinkler may not have struck Premier League gold like a host of his 1993 Uefa Under-18 European Championship team-mates, but you won’t catch the former Leeds United midfielder bemoaning his lot.

Back in the summer of 1993, the north-easterner, now 40, looked destined for a decorated career in the game, after playing his part in England beating the cream of the continent to lift silverware, hardly a regular occurrence over the years.

But while the likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Sol Campbell and Robbie Fowler went onto become household names, Tinkler sadly was destined to plough a footballing furrow in the lower divisions with the likes of York City, Southend United and Hartlepool United.

A golden crop of fresh-faced youngsters from Leeds and Manchester United dominated that England squad, but while the class of ,92 hit the big time, only Noel Whelan went onto cut the top-flight mustard with the Whites, with the likes of Tinkler, Rob Bowman, Kevin Sharp and Jamie Forrester ultimately destined for relative obscurity, by contrast.

For Tinkler, now an academy coach at Middlesbrough, 1993 proved a fateful year with glory beckoning in the FA Youth Cup final when Leeds beat the arch enemy from across the Pennines to win the competition for the first time and then with England.

But just as fateful, for unfortunate reasons, was a serious ankle injury that Tinkler suffered early on in the 1993-94 season, which marked the beginning of the end of what could have been a long and successful Leeds career.

But to his credit, Tinkler is philosophical and remains grateful for some special days with Leeds, even if he’d have ideally preferred a few fair more along with his contemporaries at Elland Road.

Tinkler, who played just 25 games for Leeds before eventually moving to York for £75,000 in 1997 recalls: “There were a few of us, such as me, Jamie, Kev, Noel and Andy (Couzens).

“It was a shame we never stayed in the first team for six, seven, eight, nine years. But that’s football and things change and new managers come in.

“It was still a fantastic time for me at Leeds.

“I still look for their results as Leeds was a second home for me when I went there. When you leave home at 16, you aren’t used to things and don’t know what to expect.

“But the warmth of the club at the time meant a lot to me, being away from home.

“For me, it was like a Leeds ‘family’ and it was a great place to be and I made some great friends who I still keep in contact with now.

“I still speak to Sharpy and Jamie Forrester, who I am still pretty close with and I still meet up every now and again with the boys for a night out in Leeds. I know things could have been different in my football career, but I wouldn’t have changed it.

“I played in the Premier League and won the FA Youth Cup and went onto win a European Championship with England while I was with Leeds.

“Other things didn’t work out, but that’s part and parcel of football.

“I had some fantastic times at Leeds.

“I remember things like Jamie’s goal in the Youth Cup final and it was fantastic to go to Old Trafford and win with 30,000 in and come back to Leeds with 30,000 also in and I remember going around the stadium with the trophy with a bunch of mates who became firm friends. It was an amazing time.”

“I remember my debut at Sheffield United when we lost 2-1, but my home debut when we beat Blackburn 5-2 was a bigger memory and it was fantastic walking out and playing in front of the Leeds fans when they were all singing the songs.

“It was special and something I will never forget.”

Old Trafford played its part in a bittersweet 1993 for Tinkler, the venue being where he and his Leeds team-mates stunned the fabled Class of 92, the most venerated crop of youngsters at Manchester United since the Busby Babes.

Sadly, it was also where he picked up an ankle injury which kept him out of action for six months against a club where he had trials as a schoolboy and a number of players he knew well.

He said: “Manchester United tried to actually sign me as a schoolboy and I went down there.

“There were a few clubs interested. But when I went down to Leeds to have a look around when Dick Bate was (youth) boss there, it seemed the right place to be at the time.

“The senior lads such as Speedo, Gary Mac and Strach were great along with the likes of Steve Hodge, David Rocastle and Scott Sellars. Eric (Cantona) played for a year and watching him train was something special and his ability was out of the ordinary. It was a fantastic first-team and the likes of Chris Fairclough also helped the young lads out.

“But after winning the FA Youth Cup and the Euros, in the following season, I was playing at Old Trafford in August in the reserves and I smashed my ankle.

“I had pins put in it and Man United were great afterwards, as were Leeds. I went home for two weeks and they sent me a big basket of fruit and it was stuff like that.

“But that injury knocked us back and I don’t think I was the same player afterwards, which was a shame, really.

“It was a disappointing time, but you have your setbacks in football.”