James Milner - Life At Leeds


Gareth Messenger - @G_Messenger

Speaking at the end of 2019, James Milner said ‘it would be amazing in so many different ways’ to play for Leeds again before he retires.

It certainly feels like unfinished business for the boy born in Wortley, Leeds. His affection for the club he first represented began at a young age. He was just 10 when he joined the Leeds United Academy, having supported his hometown club for his entire early childhood.

His earliest memory of the team was watching them win the FA Youth Cup in 1993. He and his parents were season ticket holders and Milner later became a ball boy for the club. 

Milner’s career has been centred on discipline and hard work. Having made good progress at the Academy, Milner was taken on as a trainee after leaving school. However, his father insisted that he attend college once a week to continue his education.

He continued to excel in the youth team, earning call-ups to England’s under-15 and under-17 squads in the process. It earned him an opportunity in the first team when he made his debut at the age of just 16 years and 309 days. He replaced Jason Wilcox against West Ham on 10 November 2002.

The short stint made him the second-youngest player to ever play in the Premier League. On Boxing Day that year, he scored his first goal in a 2-1 win over Sunderland, which made him the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Premier League (although that record would be broken by James Vaughan three years later)

After more appearances for Leeds, Milner signed a five-year contract with them on 10 February 2003. He was then swiftly sent out to Swindon on loan for one month at the start of the 2003-04 season – an experience Milner called valuable experience for him as a player. 

However, despite his impressive performances and the excitement surrounding his ability on a football pitch, he was unable to helps Leeds avoid a complete downturn on and off the pitch. The team became the subject of numerous negative stories in the media, and several first-team players were sold.

Milner said he believed that this experience made him emotionally stronger and taught him how to deal with team problems, but Leeds' eventual relegation to the Championship led to speculation over Milner's future at the club.

Leeds insisted he would not be sold with their chairman saying Milner was “the future of Leeds”. It prompted Milner to reject a move to Tottenham because he deemed North London too far from the family home. But the club’s financial problems worsened, and they were finally forced to sell Milner, who was still reluctant to leave. He said he would depart because it was in the “club’s best interests”.

After playing 54 games for his beloved Leeds, and scoring five goals, Milner left for pastures new. To Newcastle, for a fee of around £3.6m. The next step on his path to unimaginable greatness.