NINETEEN years have passed since former England winger Lee Sharpe left Leeds United, following his controversial move from arch rivals Manchester United.
“I still walk in the local pub and get called a Scummer which is always nice,” laughs Sharpe, who lives in Chapel Allerton. “But it’s all a bit of banter.”
The former winger also admits that three years at the Whites promised more than they delivered with Sharpe making just 37 appearances and scoring six goals.
Yet Leeds now holds a special place in the heart of the winger who deeply hopes the Whites can, at long last, return to the Premier League in which he plied his trade.
Sharpe was just 25 when Howard Wilkinson’s Whites splashed out a then joint club record fee of £4.5m to land the winger’s services on August 10, 1996. Just one month later, Wilkinson was sacked and replaced by George Graham who the winger says never really planned on utilising him the same way.
Nevertheless, the winger still made 30 appearances in his first season at Leeds – scoring six times – and the first of those goals will live long in the memory. “I think probably my goal against Wimbledon in the Kop end was one of my favourite times,” he recalls.
I am very proud that I was part of a fantastic club with great history and I was fortunate enough to play with some fantastic players.Lee Sharpe
“I took it past Vinnie Jones and then curled it in the top corner with my right foot in front of the Kop end. That was a pretty special moment.”
But in the following pre-season the wide man snapped his cruciate ligament, ruling him out of the entire forthcoming campaign. After making five appearances under Graham the following term, David O’Leary was then brought in as the club’s new boss and Sharpe featured just twice before being shipped out on loan to first Sampdoria and then Bradford City whom he joined permanently in March 1999.
But the legacy of a still enjoyable three years at Elland Road lives on with Sharpe who hopes the club’s premier support is rewarded with a long-awaited promotion.
“Obviously I was a little bit disappointed that it didn’t work out quite the way I wanted it to at Leeds,” said Sharpe.
“The change in managers didn’t help with George Graham and him being so defensive minded. Then I snapped my cruciate in the last pre-season game and had a year out, so that was a bit of a killer. Once I came back, George didn’t want to seem to play me and even David O’Leary didn’t want to play me either so it was a bit of a difficult time really.
“But I am very proud that I was part of a fantastic club with great history and I was fortunate enough to play with some fantastic players, and I made some really good friends.
“I still live in the area so I still love the place. I loved the fans who were fantastic considering it was such a risky move coming from Man United to Leeds United. There’s not many players who do it and I think the fans were really good with me to be fair, apart from a handful that gave me a bit of stick. But I love it over here, I love Yorkshire and I love Leeds people.”
Sharpe initially remained living in Manchester for the first nine months of his time at Leeds but made the switch after endless weeks of frustrating travel.
He laughed: “The M62 was doing my head in so I moved over in ’97 and I have been there ever since.”
After eventually leaving for Bradford, spells at Portsmouth, Exeter City, Icelandic club Grindavik and then non-league Garforth Town followed before the former footballer started appearing on TV screens in a different capacity with appearances on shows such as Dancing On Ice and Celebrity Love Island. These days Sharpe is an occasional after-dinner speaker who is also about to release a coaching football app.
The ex-White and his partner, Lucie Gardner, became engaged last March when Sharpe proposed on Ladies’ Day at the Cheltenham Festival.
The couple will be married in Italy next summer and have two young children, five-month old Lily and 18-month old Leo.
But the million-dollar question is, will they be encouraged to support Manchester United or Leeds? Sharpe laughed: “That’s been taken out of hands. My missus is from Cheltenham and my missus’ dad is a Tottenham fan so he’s said as grandad can we make him a Tottenham fan so we can take him to the Spurs games when he gets older. It saves me a decision to have to make. But who knows, he will get brought up in Leeds so once he starts going to school and getting put under a bit of pressure he might end up putting a Leeds shirt on...”
Lee Sharpe was speaking at the McDonald’s & Lancashire FA Community Football Day in Astley. These football days are taking place across the UK this summer, giving thousands of children the chance to enjoy the game. www.mcdonalds.co.uk/communityfootballdays