Lee Chapman reminisces about 'the highlight of his career'

Last updated : 05 September 2021 By ROSS HEPPENSTALL

Lee Chapman spent this week sunning himself in Ibiza with Leslie Ash, his wife of 33 years, and reflecting on a career which made him one of English football's most prolific goalscorers.

The 61-year-old, who played for over a dozen clubs, found the net 179 times in English football's top flight – more than Thierry Henry, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Gary Lineker.

An uncompromising, old-fashioned centre forward, Chapman's goals fuelled Leeds United's First Division title glory in 1992 and, while he represented England at Under-21 and B team level, a senior cap eluded him.

British football underwent a seismic transformation in the early 1990s and Ash – then a star of popular sit-com Men Behaving Badly – and Chapman became the original Posh and Becks.

It wasn't all glitz and glamour, though, as Chapman recalls: 'Leslie and I met at a party in London in 1986 and the paparazzi started following us then.

'But it grew particularly intense when we won the title at Leeds in 1992, at a time when football was changing was beyond all recognition with the Premier League about to kick off.

'All the tabloids would follow us everywhere and we couldn't work out how they always knew where we were – it turned out they put trackers on our car.

'They were getting big money for the pictures and it was difficult to deal with at the time.'

Ash also fought a near-fatal superbug infection which she contracted while in hospital.

Chapman, and the couple's sons Joe and Max, were warned she may not survive.

'It was a pretty horrific period because Leslie was extremely ill,' Chapman recalls.

This week, though, the couple were lapping it up on the Balearic Isle, having recently become grandparents for the first time.

'Joe's wife had a baby boy, Lucas, and becoming a granddad has been amazing,' Chapman says with a huge smile.

'Leslie has recovered from her illness and her acting career is taking off again now.

'We've had our ups and downs but have been together for 35 years now and married for 33. I think that's an achievement in itself.'

Chapman, whose father Roy played professionally but died of a heart attack aged just 49 in March 1983, was born, fittingly, in Scorer Street in Lincoln.

Chapman junior made his name at Stoke City before ill-fated moves to Arsenal and Sunderland.

In August 1984, however, a switch to Sheffield Wednesday under Howard Wilkinson ignited his career.

After four prolific seasons with the Owls, and a brief spell in France, Chapman was signed for Nottingham Forest by Brian Clough.

'Within a few months, we won the League Cup, the Simod Cup and finished third in the league,' says Chapman.

'The contrast between Howard and Cloughie could not have been greater.

'Brian didn't really focus on training and it was all about motivation on a matchday.

'He was brilliant at that and he ruled by fear. He would do things you couldn't possibly get away with nowadays.

'Howard was meticulous and on a Friday you would practise set-pieces relentlessly, attacking and defending.

'We were ultra-prepared and worked on formation a lot too.

'Cloughie was off the cuff but Howard would study videos of our opponents in incredible detail and even give us dossiers on them. He was definitely ahead of his time.'

Chapman dropped down a division to join Leeds in January 1990 and, four months later, his header sealed a promotion-winning victory at Bournemouth amid raucous scenes.

The following year, the Yorkshire giants finished fourth in the First Division when Chapman was the league's top scorer with 31 goals.

Twelve months later, Leeds memorably pipped hated rivals Manchester United to the title in the season before the Premier League kicked off.

'Sergeant Wilko' remains the last English manager to win the English top flight and Chapman says: 'It was a fantastic midfield with Gordon Strachan, David Batty, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed.

'The dressing room camaraderie was brilliant and that team created so many goals for me, especially Strach, who was inspirational.

'That season we won the title, Howard had been saying all year "let's try and finish runners-up".

'But Man U literally fell apart and we were champions. It was the highlight of my career.'

In August 1992, Leeds beat Liverpool 4-3 at Wembley in the Charity Shield with Eric Cantona scoring a hat-trick.

Cantona, though, moved to Old Trafford three months later and inspired Sir Alex Ferguson's team to their first league title in 26 years.

Leeds? They ended the 1992-93 campaign without a single away win and finished 17th.

Chapman says: 'Eric was very much a loner and Howard had a few issues with him when he wasn't starting games.

'In the title-winning season, he mainly came off the bench and then the following season Howard changed our style of play to cater for Eric.

'It was a lot slower and we nearly got relegated. It was a dreadful defence of the title, which I blamed Howard for.

'Howard then sold Eric to Man United, who played the way he liked to play and allowed him to become the player he did.'

Chapman was also unhappy about the way his time at Elland Road ended after being sold to West Ham in September 1993.

He remembers: 'One of Howard's coaching staff asked me "the manager wants to know if you would put up with not starting half of the games this season".

'I said I wouldn't be happy at all and was transfer listed. I think it was wrong to have let me go.

'I get on with Howard now, but he just made some wrong decisions. Then again, don't we all?'

Chapman and Ash live in Chelsea Harbour and he has a season-ticket at Stamford Bridge to get his regular football fix.

Chapman has also run his own bar called '@ Bar & Bites' on London's trendy Clapham High Street for the past 20 years.

He says: 'I go to Chelsea with my mates and we have a few beers afterwards, but Leeds is obviously the club closest to my heart.

'I love what Marcelo Bielsa has done but I still think Leeds could sometimes do with a Plan B or C and maybe be a bit more devious and nastier at times.

'But Dan James gives them another option and I don't see why they can't kick on again and secure another top-half finish – and perhaps even push for the top six.'

Patrick Bamford, Leeds' current No 9, could today achieve what Chapman never did by winning a senior England cap in the World Cup qualifier against Andorra.

Chapman adds: 'Bamford has improved immensely under Bielsa but I'd still like to see him be a bit more aggressive.

'Centre halves nowadays want to be ball-playing midfielders but, as a centre forward, you've got to rough your opponent up.

'I think I would have scored a lot of goals in today's game, but I look back and I'm happy with what I achieved and where life has taken me.'