The goalkeeper who helped York City to defy the mighty Liverpool of the 1980s in their Anfield fortress is back with the Minstermen as he delightedly tells DAVE FLETT.

YORK City’s new goalkeeping coach Andy Leaning is looking forward to “giving something back” to the club that launched his career.

Leaning, 47, left Bootham Crescent for Sheffield United 23 years ago but, following spells with Bristol City, Lincoln City, Dundee and Chesterfield, he has made the reverse journey from Bramall Lane, where he has spent the last eight years as part of the Blades’ backroom staff.

The former British Rail employee was playing parks football for Rowntree Mackintosh at the age of 22 when then City manager Denis Smith handed him a professional contract in 1985.

Within months, he was named man-of-the-match at Anfield as City forced European Cup finalists and soon-to-be double winners Liverpool into extra time before succumbing 3-1 in a famous FA Cup replay.

Leaning never looked back and is eternally grateful to the Minstermen as he celebrates a quarter of a century in the game this month.

The Goole-born goalie guru said: “I watched my first football matches at York City as a kid and could have joined the club at 16 but my dad told me I needed to get an apprenticeship so Mike Astbury got his chance instead. I can remember playing for Rowntrees in the North Riding Cup against a team called Nunthorpe and switched on the radio afterwards to hear York had beaten Arsenal with Mick in goal.

“I thought that could have been me and vowed to get myself really fit. A year later, my opportunity came at Anfield.

“I can remember waiting in the tunnel alongside the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Bruce Grobbelaar, who was one of my heroes, and thinking, “What the heck am I doing here? I’m just somebody who was playing parks football a year ago”. But the game went really quickly after that’.

“It was great to get that opportunity. We had some exciting times and it helped to launch my career so it’s good to be giving something back to the club now.

“Everything looks in good shape here so, hopefully, we can go forward and achieve the aim of promotion.”

Leaning began goalkeeper coaching at Chesterfield after hanging up his gloves with the Spireites ten years ago.

City boss Foyle was quick to seek his services after Leaning’s long association with Sheffield United came to an end this spring and landed his man despite subsequent interest from Football League outfits.

About that situation, Leaning added: “When I left Sheffield United, Martin was good enough to ring me and offer me the part-time job. I also spoke to Peter Taylor at Bradford City and, although it would have been a full-time post, I had already agreed to work with York and felt I had to honour that situation.

“The arrangement suits me and it suits York City. I will be looking to pass on my knowledge for two days a week and my priority will be with York City.

“I’m not doing anything else work wise, but will see if anything comes up.”

Leaning’s work in South Yorkshire has not gone unnoticed within the game with protégé Paddy Kenny being transformed from a raw talent into a seven-capped Republic of Ireland international under his tutelage.

“I arrived at Bramall Lane at the same time as Paddy,” Leaning pointed out. “The club spent £40,000 on him and he has just left to join QPR for £750,000, which isn’t a bad return.

“He’s been a stalwart there and played a big part in their success but he was probably ready for a change and the same applies to me. Sometimes you need a fresh challenge.”

Minstermen chief Foyle is always eager for members of his coaching staff to offer their input and ideas on the training ground or in the manager’s office and, as one of a handful of goalkeeper coaches to boast the full UEFA ‘A’ licence, as well as the goalkeeping equivalent, Leaning is happy to contribute in that respect.

He said: “Sheffield United were a very progressive club and I worked with some good managers like Neil Warnock, Bryan Robson and Kevin Blackwell. That gave me a good insight into general coaching and, hopefully, I can help Martin and Andy out if needed.

“They have done really well since coming here, getting to Wembley twice and reaching the play-offs. They are very well organised, the club is professionally run and I’m looking forward to working with them.”

Leaning is keen to establish a strong relationship with City number one Michael Ingham too, saying: “I remember Michael from his previous spell on loan from Sunderland and he’s a very level-headed, even-tempered lad who has done well over the last couple of seasons. At this level, he’s as good as there is around and probably still has an eye on playing League football, hopefully with York City.

“He’s an experienced player who’s just turned 30 and I’ll be working on the areas he feels need improvement, while doing a general maintenance job.”

Leaning will also be nurturing City’s young goalkeepers and hoping to improve the club’s success rate in that area.

During the past ten years, only two York-born stoppers have played between the sticks for the Minstermen and, even then, Russell Howarth managed just six league starts and Arran Reid one. The kind of links with local clubs that saw the likes of Leaning, Neil Grayson, Iain Dunn and Paul Brough joined the professional ranks after cutting their teeth in senior football with York RI and Rowntrees have also been lost.

Taken back another generation, esteemed trio Barry Jackson, David Dunmore and Mick Granger were all plucked from Cliftonville, but Leaning is unsure whether an untapped pool of talent exists on the club’s doorstep now.

He added: “York RI and Rowntress played a good standard of football in those days and you could fill City’s reserves with players from those Yorkshire League clubs. There’s only the York and District League now really and that’s too big a jump.

“You hope there are kids still out there who are inspired enough to become ’keepers as well, but you used to get a lot of good ones in the lower leagues and now there’s a shortage right from the top down. That’s seen in the struggle to find a number one for the England team.

“I’ve got no definite solution to that problem although we have a lot of foreign ’keepers now and that makes it harder for youngsters to progress.”