Rod Christopher – A life in football

Rod Christopher is someone well known for his devotion to football, both as a youth coach and fan of Leeds United. Such is his profile that he has been at times mistaken for an ex-Leeds United player in both real life and on social media – much to his amusement! His life has orbited football, both as an amateur player and now as youth coach, a job he doesn’t mind admitting is more of a passion and love than a source to pay the bills. LS26 Local caught up with Rod for a natter about the beautiful game.

Before coaching you had a decent career playing grassroots football, tell us about your memories, achievements and favourite club from your playing days.

I enjoyed my 23 playing years for the most part, as a left footed striker at West Yorkshire and Sunday amateur league level around Leeds. I began playing proper, organised football at age 17 at Western Juniors FC, who were based at the New Eagle pub in Harehills. Home games were on Shaftsbury fields and we reached the U18s Minor Cup final in my very first season there and I even scored the Semi Final winner against Dortmund. We went on to lose the final 1-0 v Farsley Celtic at Bracken Edge in a really dull match! I ended my first full campaign for Western with 18 goals for the junior and senior teams, then my following pre season included an away 2-0 loss at Scarborough Town and two back to back games against Leeds United Reserves and Youth teams at Elland Road. We lost both 4-0 and 6-0 respectively, with club legends Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner watching on from the sidelines. But that was by far my biggest and best football experience at that point and just being on the same pitch as Scott Sellars, Kenny Burns, Denis Irwin, David Seaman gave me much needed confidence a huge boost going forward. After 2 years there I joined Melbourne FC, much closer to my home in Seacroft. They already had the cream of local talent and a great footballing reputation around the city. It took a full season before breaking into their first team, but once in, I was a regular starter and goal scorer for the next 2 years. Other teams I played for over the years include St Gregory’s, Wilsons FC, North Leeds, Seacroft WMC United and Bardsey. In my final playing season of 1997/98, I played in 4 cup finals with my two teams, winning 3 and earned my second ‘Golden Boot Award’ after scoring 28 league goals for Bardsey FC Reserves in the West Yorkshire League. It was a real high ending my playing days by collecting my award at Fleet Lane in Rothwell. I ended that last season on 58 goals for my two clubs and then headed into the world of professional football and coaching.      

 

How did you become a coach, was it a way of giving yourself longevity in the sport after you had finished playing?

Yes, very much so. By the time the 1997 season arrived, I was becoming bored with playing the game. Skipping training, which I used to look forward to and enjoy. That fire in my belly seemed to be draining and I needed new challenges in life. I had given so much time and commitment for free over the years, but knew it was time to move on and do other things. I had so much to give back to football, but no idea of how I might get onto the coaching ladder. But I decided the 1997/98 season would be my last and I would look for alternate interests to remain active and occupied. Earlier that year I resigned from my full time job of 3 years at Burtons Warehouse in Harehills, so had very little money too. A long time friend who worked at my job centre put me in touch with LUFC, who were offering free FA coaching courses to the unemployed and met ex-Bradford City defender Ces Podd for two interviews at Elland Road. All of a sudden I was attending my beloved, life long supported club 5 days a week. I quite literally went from Warehouse work to coaching youngsters in schools and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Sharpe, who I began mixing with at the ground and at our soccer camps. The first team players and staff gave fantastic support to our Football In The Community Office, which I was now proudly, happily and very enthusiastically involved with. I realised that this work was exactly what I wanted as my future career and that fire quickly returned, and I had a new ambition and purpose. I really enjoyed the notion of earning the badges at a place I have loved since age 13. I stayed at Elland Road for 18 months, before signing up with Manchester United and Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools, where I coached kids all over England, Scotland and Wales for 2 years. After that I joined the Leeds Youth Services and ran a number of weekly, successful youth football groups in disadvantaged areas. I loved and cherished every moment of my 9 years with them!

Tell us why you love coaching youth football.

For me, it’s all about bringing people together and seeing new friendships formed from that. I enjoy group work on and off the field most. Trying to improve young people, not just as footballers, but as young people going into adulthood. Football and it’s many facets can be a great tool to achieve this. I try to implement important life skills and teamwork from my own life and playing experiences to youngsters at my sessions. With regular groups of participants, much can be achieved together, especially if we all remain on the same page and learn, respect and accept the main strengths and weaknesses of each participant in that group.       

Children do copy the actions of their heroes, is it a concern that the game is less physical and players feign injury more to gain advantages? 

Totally. This is a big concern, seeing youngsters dive about, arguing decisions and brazenly cheating to gain an advantage. Certainly it doesn’t help that kids view this on tv, but I do also think coaches could do more to help discourage and eradicate it. Problem is that too much is focussed on winning nowadays. Even at grassroots level I’ve seen coaches turn a blind eye to their own players cheating. Winning seems to be all that matters, which is obviously wrong when working with young players who are very new to the game. Don’t get me wrong – we all like to win, but there is a right and wrong way to go about it. We all know that a few sporting role models and governing bodies could do a little more to help eradicate it too.      

You are a huge Leeds United fan – your favourite players and why?

I always enjoyed watching Gary Speed and Gordon Strachan, which is a little weird given that I was a striker myself! Gordon was our main engine under Howard Wilkinson. Always buzzing around, always looking to make things happen and probing for gaps. He never seemed to run out of energy either and was the first name I looked for in our line up on the scoreboard at games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Speedo was a more cultured player, with an absolute wand of a left foot. He could head a ball well too. I was lucky to meet him many times, around the ground as a fan and socially. He always had time for me and a huge smile and it was such a sad day when he passed away in 2011, but he will never be forgotten.

Best and worst moments as a United fan?

I have 2 for my best. Being lucky enough to follow the lads home and away during our last 2 league title winning campaigns under Howard Wilkinson. What a squad and exciting times they were! My worst? That’s easy! Sitting in the Kop as a season ticket holder during the 2003/04 season and watching us get relegated. 

And this season, 100 years of Leeds United, will it be also a landmark season where we return to the Premier League?

Yep, we are going up! I recall being at the opening day match of last season. We beat Stoke City 3-1. I hadn’t been to a game in a while until then, but just knew that what I was seeing was something of a different planet. Absolutely fantastic football! Thought I was watching a match on Mars, because it looked so alien compared to anything else I had ever seen and that includes Premier League! In the end we just fell short, but this time I really believe the Bielsa brand will take us up as champions!

Tell us about your career and coaching roles at the moment.

I’m currently employed at my life long supported and hometown club Leeds United  as a coach. I’m also a qualified youth worker.
My career is dedicated and committed to helping others, which has been the case for the last 21 years. I still have that fire in my belly and loving every single moment of my involvement.

You can follow Rod on twitter and read about his thoughts on Leeds United and football as well as his other passions!. His Twitter ID is
@rodchristopher9

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