Leeds United: My Whites playing days - Wijnhard INTERVIEW

Clyde Wijnhard.
Clyde Wijnhard.
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IT’S not often that a Yorkshire Old Boys League side can boast a one-time £1.5m Dutch striker in their ranks....

Step forward Shadwell United and former Leeds striker Clyde Wijnhard, who answered the call last season when asked to don his boots by the north-east Leeds outfit.

Now 37, Wijnhard, whose professional career finished back in 2006, was the club’s star recruit in 2009-10, with their home headquarters at Shadwell Social Club a far cry from the splendorous surroundings he was used to in his days at Elland Road and across the A62 at the Galpharm Stadium with Huddersfield Town.

But the muck and nettles of grassroots Saturday afternoon football is just fine for the affable Dutchman, happily settled in north Leeds after the end of his competitive playing days, with Shadwell just a fresh port of call following a nomadic career which took in stints at seven Football League clubs, a brief foray with Portuguese outfit SC Beira Mar as well as spells in his native Holland with Willem II and RKC Waalwijk – after starting out as a junior at Ajax Amsterdam.

Wijnhard has also been stoking his footballing fires with Aston Villa’s Old Stars line-up, after first being asked to guest for the Midlanders a few years ago despite never wearing the claret-and-blue, with his love of the game and desire to keep his competitive juices following shining through.

On how his soccer path took him to Shadwell, Wijnhard – who has also played for Harrogate and District League outfit Bramham – said: “One of my good friends, Robin Armstrong, is the manager there. Since I’ve been in Leeds, we’ve been friends really and he just said, if I wasn’t doing anything, if I’d like to play for his team and I said: ‘No problem!’

“I’m not sure about the standard...Saturday football is...different, let me say!

“I still play as a striker and think I scored about 20 goals last season. Of course, you never lose it! All the other players are all Leeds United fans, you know how it is in Leeds!.

“Playing is in the blood and will never leave, the passion is always there. Nothing has changed and I can watch football all day.

“Nearly every Sunday, I usually play with all the ex-players at Aston Villa, many of whom played for the team who won the European Cup in 1982 such as Gordon Cowans and Tony Morley and play a lot for charity.

“When you play with ex-pros the level is different. One of my friends, Richard Sneekes, used to play for West Brom, and we’ve played for Villa because they haven’t had enough (ex)-pros.”

After retiring, Wijnhard has been involved in several businesses ahead of setting up a lighting company called Green Tree Energy Solutions in Leeds, which specialises in eco-friendly lighting.

While jumping on the green-orientated bandwagon, Wijnhard, who ex-United chief George Graham bought from Willem II for a seven-figure fee in the summer of 1998, helps both young Dutch and English footballers gain trials with professional clubs in England, where the footballing landscape is truly international.

On life in civvy street, Wijnhard said: “I’ve done a few things and started out with a charter company hiring out yachts and cars.

“Now I’ve got my new company with energy lighting. Everyone knows about the green issues on the planet and everything going to waste and the thing now is saving money and energy. So I had a look into things – and don’t do the yachts and cars anymore. I just thought you need to have (a business) involving something we need every day – you need food, water and light and I thought about an idea involving those. It’s now a fairly good product and everyone is aware of it and of course, it’s good for the environment.

“In addition, I’ve been helping young players find clubs since I’ve retired and meet up with football agents and managers.

“I brought over Shelton Martis who plays for Doncaster. I took him to Darlington and he did really well and then he signed for Hibs. After that, he signed for West Brom and he’s having a good career.”

Wijnhard’s time at Elland Road was somewhat of a flash in the pan and just two months into his debut season, he saw the man who had brought him – Graham – replaced by David O’Leary, with his fortunes promptly nosediving.

Eventually, the forward found his way to ambitious Huddersfield Town in a £750,000 in the summer of 1999, busy throwing the cash around under Steve Bruce in their quest for the top-flight in 1999-00 – and the Dutchman fully justified the fee by hitting an impressive 16 goals in a fine debut season when he was Town’s top-scorer.

It proved his playing peak in England, with Wijnhard’s world crumbling after being involved in a horrific car accident in September 2000 – in which he was fortunate not to lose his life after crawling from the blazing wreckage of the Mercedes jeep he was travelling in after it veered off the A1 in North Yorkshire.

Wijnhard suffered a badly-broken arm and required a four-hour operation to pin a compound fracture, with his footballing career understandably put on hold.

By the time he had fully recovered, Bruce was gone and Lou Macari at the Terriers’ helm, someone he didn’t see eye-to-eye with – and it was onto pastures new again, making the short switch across the Pennines to Oldham.

On his footballing odyssey in England – Wijnhard, who played with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Kanu and Marc Overmars as a junior at Ajax and admits to having a soft spot for Arsenal along with his adopted ‘home’ city of Leeds – said: “Before coming to Leeds, I had interest in Holland and other countries. But I always wanted to play in England and when Leeds came in, it was quite an easy decision.

“I don’t know how long Leeds had been interested, although I know Chris Kamara actually came to scout for Leeds and watch me.

“In the beginning when I first came, it was fantastic and we had a good group. There was a good atmosphere in the team and that (1998-99) season, we did quite well.

“George brought me over, but it was difficult when he left as the new manager had new plans and players come and go.

“I spoke to O’Leary about what his plans were and I wasn’t in them. You see it a lot of times, you think do you just pick up your money or get involved somewhere else and play again? I came to England to play football and the money was a bonus – and I didn’t come to sit on the bench.

“I had an opportunity and Steve Bruce really wanted me in his team. And when a manager wants you so much, it was an easy decision.

“But I’ll always remember my first goal for Leeds at Southampton and we had some talented players such as Kewell, Bowyer, Woodgate, Paul Robinson, Jimmy and the Terminator, Robert Molenaar, Lucas and Gary Kelly. The side had a good balance.

“After going to Huddersfield, I was doing really well, but then there was the car accident.

“The hardest thing was actually not playing after being involved in an accident, which wasn’t my fault. But of course, I’m still here, so I’m not complaining because I could have been six feet under the ground!

“It took me 18 months to recover and get back playing again, but things had changed and Steve had gone. He had played at the highest level and could understand the players and I had very good relationship with him. But unfortunately, things changed when he left.

“I ended up playing for Oldham, Darlington, Macclesfield and Brentford and it wasn’t that different. It’s still the same game, but in a lower division and it’s the biggest buzz you can have when you go on the pitch.

“Of course, when you play for Leeds at Elland Road, the noise is a bit different. It’s incredible.

“Living in Leeds, I still follow how Leeds are doing every week and everyone wants them back in the Premier League. And with how they are doing this season, you never know.

“I hope they can make it.”