This week, HCST chat to former Hull City centre-back Leon Cort about his time as a Tiger, international football with Guyana, and that goal celebration for Crystal Palace at the KC.
Leon Cort’s professional footballing career started at Millwall in 1998, however, after failing to make a single first team appearance for the Lions, a 21-year-old Cort moved to Southend United on a free transfer in 2001. It was at Roots Hall where Cort began to catch the eyes of bigger clubs, and after three successful years, which included Cort achieving the remarkable feat of appearing in 130 consecutive league games for the Shrimpers, he declined a new contract at Southend, instead deciding to sign for newly promoted Hull City in a move which raised many eyebrows. It later emerged that the then City manager, Peter Taylor, had played a key role in bringing Cort to Hull, staving off interest from a number of other clubs.
Cort explains, “Peter Taylor was 90% of the factor when I decided to move to Hull City. My brother, Carl, worked with him with England and said, “Leon, this guy is unbelievable”. I knew I’d learn a lot from him and he got to know me before I signed. He knew what I was all about and I really appreciated that.”
It was well documented at the time of Cort’s signing that he came from a footballing family, with his brother Carl being a high profile professional footballer, representing the likes of Wimbledon, Newcastle and Wolves. Indeed, in a game between Hull and Wolves in 2006, both Leon and Carl scored for their respective sides – a quite unique event in the Football League.
Cort reflects, “Playing in my brothers shadow was difficult. I always knew I wasn’t as good as him and opposition players tried to wind me up by saying ” you’re only in the game because of your brother”, which is nonsense because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that this game is cut throat, and if you’re not good enough, you don’t last as long. Speaking of footballing family, my brother Ruben Loftus-Cheek is doing exceptionally well at Chelsea, so look out for him too.”
Despite a slow start to his Hull City career during the 2004/05 season, Cort soon became a first team regular, making 44 league appearances and scoring 6 goals. For many Tigers’ fans Cort’s time at the club will remain synonymous with his impressive goal-scoring ability and his defensive partnership with fellow centre-back Damien Delaney, along with his very distinctive heading technique.
“I was extremely happy at Hull. I was happy because the players and fans pushed me. They wouldn’t accept mediocrity and in all fairness I started my Hull career poorly. I was never very technical but knew what I was. I was an out-and-out defender and a goal-scoring defender, and I didn’t pretend I was anything different.”
Cort recalls, “I remember one of my first training sessions I saw Marc Joseph and Stuart Green laughing at my technical work behind my back, and in one game Ian Ashbee saying to me, “Oh, I knew we never should’ve signed you”, that touched a nerve as I was new, but it made me stronger and I thought “okay, I’ll show all of you”, and I did. The players when I arrived were playing below their level and League One was easy for them, obviously that showed as we were promoted that season.”
“I don’t think I’ve met a nicer guy in football than Damo. I’m still in touch and Palace is only a couple miles from my house, so we plan on meeting for a coffee soon and good catch up. We worked well together because we were so different. He was technical and could spray a pass with his left foot. I was more dominating and could get goals which Damo couldn’t. I thought it worked really well and glad people see that now. The fact that was back in 2004/05 and is still being mentioned now makes me very happy as partnerships in football can be forgotten very quickly” he adds.
During his time at City, Cort played with the likes of Ian Ashbee, Andy Dawson, Ryan France and Boaz Myhill, all of whom went on to represent the club in the top flight of English football. Despite only playing with these four players for two seasons, firstly in League One and then in the Championship, Cort believes he always knew they has the ability to play at the highest level.
He explains, “They are real footballers, real warriors in my eyes because they’ve gone through the tough side of the game, like going to Grimbsy on a Tuesday night in League Two. You look what they’ve done and you end up respecting those players more than the pampered stars to a certain degree. As I’ve already mentioned, the players when I arrived were playing below their level. They deserved exactly what they got – to represent the club in the Premier League.”
Following the 05/06 season, which had seen City consolidate themselves as a Championship side by avoiding relegation by 10 points, Cort left the club, deciding to follow Peter Taylor to Crystal Palace for a reported £1.25 million. After two great years at Hull City it is perhaps unfortunate that the image many City fans associate with Cort is a memorable celebration he performed after scoring for Palace at the KC in a 1-1 draw in the September after his move. However, Cort is adamant the celebration was not meant to be disrespectful.
He clarifies, “The celebration was NOTHING against Hull City! I love Hull City. I lost my mind when I scored because of the fee I was bought for, the pressure to impress at Palace and the desire to have a better start than I did at Hull.”
“Also I’ve never scored outside the box so that was a rush within itself. But as I was walking back to my position I said to myself “Leon, what are you doing?” and felt a bit of embarrassment. I scored against Hull in 2008 at Stoke and celebrated nothing like that” he added.
In 2007 Cort swapped Crystal Palace for Stoke City, and went on to earn promotion to the Premier League with the Potters in the same season as Hull City’s play-off victory in 2008. He left Stoke in 2010 and stints at Burnley, Preston and Charlton followed, before his retirement in 2014.
“The comparison with Stoke and Hull is that at Stoke I was a man in my prime, asked to do a job and get it done now with no exceptions. At Hull I was still young and had a chance to learn a bit. For me the pressure at both clubs was huge. The reason being is that the fans, the players and chairman all demand the very best. Adam Pearson and Peter Coates are great men and I have so much time for those two guys.”
Towards the end of his career Cort played international football for Guyana, along with his brother Carl. He made six appearances for the ‘Golden Jaguars’ and scored one goal, during the South American side’s ultimately unsuccessful qualification campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“Guyana was special. To play any international football is special. For my goal against Trinidad and Tobago to be said to be the most important goal in their entire history made my 90 year old grandparents cry. That’s what football is all about. I replay the crowd clip on YouTube and show my kids a lot but they’re bored with it now! However, I loved the whole experience.”
It’s been ten years since Cort left the KC, and two years since he hung up his boots for the last time. However, Cort has remained working in the industry, as well as running his family business, a lifestyle he has slipped into comfortably after retiring.
He explains, “Since retiring I’ve worked as a scout for Bolton, starting last season, which was very enjoyable. I’ve also been running my family business and been completely tied up with young kids and becoming used to life without football which can hit you like a brick-wall if you’re not careful.”
“In all fairness I don’t miss playing now, I think I had a good run over the years and achieved some credible feats. I do miss the feeling of watching teams get nervous as they saw me running up for set-plays, that gave me a real buzz. Being bought for £1.5m three times is something I never thought would happen.”
In total Leon Cort made 86 appearances for the Tigers’, scoring 10 goals, over two seasons. He will most fondly be remembered for being part of Peter Taylor’s 04/05 Championship side that took the club back into the Championship, as well as playing a key role in keeping City in that division the following season.
“I loved my time at Hull. My best memories would have to be promotion in 2005 and then managing to stay up in the Championship during the 05/06 season. Those two feats were huge because of the pressure we were all under. I also think of my first goal against Peterborough away. I needed that goal because at the time I couldn’t get any decent form and fans were starting to wonder ‘who is this guy?’”
“I look back and think of nothing but success at Hull. Great people! Great Stadium! Great Fans!”
Greg Whitaker (@Greg_Whitaker)