Monday, 15 November 2010

189 Mark Leonard

Mark  is  fourth  from  the  left  in  the  centre  row

Position :  Forward  (also  played  in  midfield  and  at  centre  half)

Played:  1991-92 ;  1996-97  to  1998-99

Appearances :  (first  spell)  9 ; (second  spell)  80

Goals :  (first  spell)  1  ; (second  spell)  6

We reach  a  significant  milestone here as  we  come  to  the  first  player  in  this survey to have played alongside Gary Jones.

Mark was initially signed for around £20,000 from Bradford in March 1992 to fire us into the play-offs. He was originally picked up from Witton Albion by Everton in 1982 but never played for them, making his League debut for Tranmere in March 1983.He was then freed and picked up by Crewe. He scored 15 goals in 54 appearances but was allowed to join Stockport in February 1985. Despite a modest goal return of 23 in 73 games, he attracted a £40,000 offer from Bradford in September 1986 and spent nearly 6 years there scoring 29 goals in 157 appearances though in some of those games he played at the back.

My Stockport-supporting friend spoke very well of him as an aggressive centre forward although due to injuries, most of his games in his first spell were at centre half. His only goal was a bit messy where he headed it against the bar and it came down and bounced in off his shoulder. He didn’t look very impressive in the pre-season games in 1992 so it was a welcome surprise when Preston came in with a bid of £50,000 just before the season kicked off and their hand was duly bitten off.

Preston’s investment was rewarded with 1 goal in 22 games and Mark acquired the not-so-affectionate nickname “Leotard”. A year later he was offloaded to Chester for free and started his long association with Graham Barrow. He scored 8 in 32 games as Chester won promotion from our division in 1994. Mark quickly rejoined Barrow at Wigan later that year and scored 12 goals in 64 appearances for them ( I got the evil eye from a policeman for calling him a “ fat bastard” when we played them at Springfield Park ). He was one of Barrow’s first signings when the former came to Rochdale saying Mark was “one of the best professionals I’ve ever worked with”.

Mark was nearly 34 when he re-signed for us and his pace and energy levels were diminishing which made his other shortcomings more apparent. In his first season back he played at centre forward with Steve Whitehall pushed out wide (which earned him the instant enmity of Mr P). He brought some physical presence to the front line but didn’t score until January and ended the season with 4 (including a very impressive one in the penultimate game at Carlisle, probably his best game in a Dale shirt) in 37 appearances.

He should have been discarded at the end of the season but instead he was put into midfield as a replacement for the departed John Deary. Given how poor his distribution was this was lethal. He gave the ball away for the only goal in a 0-1 defeat at home to Torquay on 29.11.97. I remember that well despite not being at the game as I was at my own wedding reception at the time. However my best man and ushers rushed back to see the game after the ceremony and returned for the evening do bearing tales of the full horror. Understandably my wife’s reaction was “serves them right”. Another moment of magic I recall was at Mansfied in January 1998 where Mark rolled his marker and only had to slip the ball five yards into the run of Ian Bryson who was completely unmarked. This simple pass was beyond him and he toepoked the ball into touch to howls of abuse from the Dale faithful. It was around this time that it was beginning to dawn on most of the support that Barrow wasn’t the man to bring home the bacon and his perseverance with this increasingly inept player was just one aggravating factor. I remember Mark giving an interview to the M.E.N. where he said he thought he was getting stick because of his past association with the manager; er no, it was down to your own uselessness, you deluded wanker. He still got the odd game up front ,each one more embarrassing than the last. Fortunately he picked up a knee injury and didn’t play after March; our improved form   in  the  last  few  games  might not have been a coincidence.

Unbelievably he was kept on for 1998-99 on month-by-month terms which he allegedly accepted with good grace stomping down the corridor shouting “I thought I had mates !” We had to endure another 9 appearances (including a truly woeful game upfront away at Wigan in the League Cup) by which time he was little better than a pub player before the knee injury ended his career. After his final appearance as a sub at Rotherham in October 1998 he hung around like a malignant ghost for a while; I remember him sitting in Studd’s with a little huddle of Barrow groupies before a game glaring at anyone who came in trying to work out if they’d been one of those giving him stick.

It’s also worth pointing out that this supposed model professional twice got sent off for fighting when we were already a man down (both times it was a certain Keith Hill who got the other red card).

After retiring, Mark took up crown green bowling  and won the Merseyside Merit tournament in 2001.

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