(Leon Carling, above, during his first spell at Bishop Auckland, alongside Chairman Steve Coulthard)
Experienced and highly-sought after central defender, Leon Carling, may be 34-years-old, but still has plenty left in the tank to shore up any Northern League, even Evo-Stik, back line.
This Season, and not for the first time, the Teessider will pull on a Two Blues jersey having turned out for the club during the 2016/17 season under Nathan Haslam and Steve Riley, admitting now that he “returns to Heritage Park to take care of unfinished business.”
Winning pretty much everything available to him, on a Saturday and a Sunday, the only trophies missing are the national competitions, Leon regularly giving his all, and leaving it all out there on the field.
His is a career which in the early days saw him play for Darlington legend Andy Toman at Guisborough Town, and for the iconic Jason Ainsley at Spennymoor whilst also turning out for the famed Hetton Lyons CCFC on a Sunday, yes, that Hetton Lyons who tor all asunder in the Durham & District Sunday league, and beyond.
In returning to Heritage Park though, following a successful spell at Marske United winning the Northern League title, and with it promotion to the Evo-Stik, and reaching the semi-final of the FA Vase (losing over two tough, hard-fought legs with rivals Stockton Town).
“It’s the one that got away, the FA Vase, the one thing I’ve not won yet,” admits Leon.
“I had a great spell at Marske under Carl (Jarrett) and myself and James Fairley won the league there and should’ve won the Vase as well.
“Those two games, with Stockton, I’d love to play those again but it wasn’t to be, maybe this season.”
Although it was a seemingly easy sell from Bishops manager Ian Chandler to bring Leon to Bishop Auckland, the player was torn between his loyalties with Jarrett and Marske, and the need for game-time.
Admittedly not a hundred percent going into last season Leon is one of those players who’ll always be available, even if crawling onto the field, and will still give his all.
“I didn’t start last season due to some niggles but was able to play when needed,” continued Leon.
“Yes, I was available when needed but it was tough, a bit of a nightmare really due to a lack of fitness but I managed that, and a couple of brief spells at (Northern League sides) Shildon and Thornaby.
“Chan though is like me and is as honest as the day comes.
“He didn’t promise me anything and it’s an honour to come back to the club as it’s the only one I’d have gone back into the Northern League for and too good an opportunity not to.”
Having played for forward-thinking clubs such as Spennymoor and Marske, among others, throughout his career, the long-term aspirations of the Two Blues, and the playing staff he joins, were heavy factors in his return.
“I want to work hard and earn my spot on the playing field,” insists Leon.
“The aspirations for myself, and the club as a whole, are the same, good progression and promotion from the Northern League, and winning that elusive FA Vase.
“Alongside myself and James though, we’ve also got players like Denver Morris who has a winning mentality, and Andrew Johnson up top who is as experienced as they come.
“AJ is, like myself, old school, and there’s still a few of those about – people like Craig Marron and Ross Preston and Danny Earl, in fact Danny, I see a lot of him in young Connor Short who is here as well.
“He’s certainly one to look out for and is very much in the same ilk as Danny, just younger.”
As for the new season, with aims towards one of those three promotion spots, hopefully as champions, and maybe an FA Vase, something the manager is accustomed to with four to his name, but Carling and the Two Blues are still awaiting their first, Leon and his team-mates are rearing to go.
“We just to aim high and go for it, no matter who stays or goes,” concluded Leon.
“Having been away from the league I’ve not looked at the changes for the new season so to me, they’ll be refreshing and it’ll be an interesting campaign with some decent sides challenging, sides like Shildon, West Auckland, Whickham, and those who’ve been promoted as well will need considering.
“As for myself, I never left my stamp on the club that last time I was here so I’ve unfinished business and a point to prove.”
Read announcement of Leon’s return to the Two Blues, with thoughts of Ian Chandler, HERE
(Images courtesy of Club Photographer, Peter Jackson)