Midlands-born ‘adopted’ Yorkshireman Matt Heath lives, works and continues to ply his footballing trade in the White Rose county with Tadcaster Albion. Leon Wobschall reports.
PART OF the Leeds United side that made giant strides and delivered a collective V-sign in the direction of the Football League, Matt Heath won’t forget the 2007/08 season in a hurry.
The big defender walked tall and showed considerable defiance as Leeds showed flagrant defiance following the savage eve-of-season blow of a minus-15 point penalty.
It was a campaign in which Heath worked under two permanent managers and ended it out of favour under Gary McAllister and lining up for the United of Colchester not Leeds.
But memories of that season will never fade for the 33-year-old Midlander, who has made Yorkshire his home and has plied his trade in non-league circles for Harrogate Town and Harrogate Railway after leaving his final Football League port of call in Northampton.
Heath will be part of the management team at Tadcaster Albion next season along with ex-Railway boss Billy Miller.
Miller helped work wonders at Station View last term, with his reward being a move to ambitious NCEL Premier outfit Tadcaster and if the togetherness that Heath experienced at Railway and at Leeds is regenerated, the Brewers will have a fair case of success next term.
On his time at Leeds, Heath, who now works at Askham Bryan college, said: “One hundred per cent, it was a highlight of my career, even if I was only there for a couple of seasons.
“But in that period of time, with the minus 15 scenario, and what we went through, it was a time when we really stuck together. But the mentality we had as players and coaching staff and fans, we just felt everyone was against us and we got ourselves out of it.
“Thinking back now, it was a great time and a few of us got together a few weeks ago and we had a seven-a-side tournament at Harrogate Town organised by Seb Carole. Gus (Poyet) came down as well and Leon Constantine and Casper (Ankergren) played and Rui Marques also came down.”
On his route north to Leeds, which turned around after a fraught six months in the wretched relegation season of 2006-07, he added: “I remember at Coventry when Micky Adams was the manager there and he took me from Leicester.
“He took me there for a couple of seasons and things weren’t going great and he just decided it needed a bit of a shake-up. He said to me: ‘There’s good news and bad news. We are thinking about you moving on, but the good news is Leeds had made a bid.’
“It was spur of the moment and at the time, I didn’t realise how big a club Leeds were. When you get there, you realise the fanbase and size of the club and history.
“I joined in the November (2006) and we were bottom of the league and it wasn’t great, as the whole season wasn’t. “Dennis (Wise) was trying to get the players he wanted in and we didn’t have a settling in period. For me, it was a bit transitional, you have just moved clubs and want to get somewhere settled to live and it was a disappointing season.
“When I look back on Leeds, I always think of the next season which was so positive.
“We won the first five games and I think we actually made it into the play-off places by Christmas time, which was a brilliant achievement.
“We had a blend of characters who all worked together and there were no cliques and everyone was behind the manager, right down to all those on the subs bench. None of the subs kicked up a fuss and just enjoyed being part of it.
“It was a great environment to come in and work every day. It was the one of the closest senses of togetherness I’ve ever felt at a club, 100 per cent.
“I have kind of felt that at Harrogate Railway last season and we overachieved there. Very rarely do you get every single member of a team pulling in the same direction. There’s always a little group of players or a couple of players who are against things as they are not playing. But there wasn’t at Leeds at that time.
“We knew what we needed to do and did it for the most part.”
On Wise and Poyet, he added: “Number one, you knew what they had done in the game. Number two, you had to up your game and couldn’t fool them. They joined in the odd five-a-sides and they still bossed it and you knew what they could do and wanted.
“You knew Dennis was the boss. But on the other hand, they played it as if they were your friends. He never wanted you to call him boss, but Dennis.
“They wanted a laid-back mentality where they were part of us. We were all a team. It was a real good blend.”
After a remarkable first third of the season, Leeds were afforded a blow when Gus Poyet left for Spurs and worse was to come in January when Wise departed for Newcastle, with impetus taken from a campaign which ended in ultimate disappointment in a play-off final loss to Doncaster Rovers.
Heath was elsewhere at the that time, having played just once under Wise’s successor Gary McAllister, but he holds no hard feelings.
He said: “I went down to Colchester for about five years and probably played under six different managers there.
“It’s the nature of the beast, really.”
And on the exits of Poyet and Wise, he added: “That’s football, isn’t it? But honestly, it was a shame after going through what we did in that season.
“Maybe we could have gone up automatically if not. But you have got to cherish the memories you have.”