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The Leon Knight Interview

Any player who nets 34 goals in 98 starts for a club, including 27 in a promotion campaign and a winning penalty in a play-off final would normally be considered a club legend. Leon Knight isn’t what you would describe as normal though.

Despite his goal scoring exploits for Brighton and Hove Albion, the diminutive forward has polarised opinion like no other player in the Seagulls history. Some say: “Leon Knight – he’s alright”, while others find their blood boiling at the mere mention of the man.

A very public falling out with manager Mark McGhee lead to Knight being sold to Swansea, where, following the Albions relegation from the Championship at the end of 2005-06, he said: “It was terrific to see Brighton go down. I was absolutely delighted they got relegated. You cannot understand how happy I was.”

Speaking to four years on, Knight admits that it was mistake to come out with such a comment: “It was anger fuelled at the time. In your line of work if someone angers you, you say something that you don’t mean. It’s the same in football but in football sometimes it gets blown apart and then people take it out of proportion. I didn’t mean it, I want Brighton to do well.”

So, where did it all go wrong for Knight? A flying start to his Albion career under Steve Coppell persuaded the manager to fork out 100,000 to Chelsea following four goals in three games on loan, and it looked like the club had found the ideal replacement for Bobby Zamora. Coppell only lasted another two months in the job though before heading off to bigger and better things with Reading, which lead to McGhee being appointed. From there, it was all down hill for Knight.

“Mark McGhee didn’t like me from the beginning. Me and Coppell, we worked really well together. Mark McGhee, it’s not as big (the problems) as everyone says it is but the little comments that were said, the little actions that he did that the fans have seen – stuff like the handbag incident (Knight, unhappy at being subbed off, reacted badly, leading McGhee to make a handbag gesture towards the South Stand), I didn’t like it and that’s what breaks a relationship down. A relationship that hasn’t really fully gelled, it’s going to take its toll.”

Despite being a prolific goalscorer, Knight found himself shunted out in wide midfield positions during the clubs two-year stay in the Championship. It was another decision that added to the already strained relationship between manager and player.

“I wasn’t happy about it, but I did those things for the team so you can’t really say I’m self centred and this and that that I see on the internet because I played out wide, out of my position and everything for the team. I did certain things for the team and you didn’t hear me complain about it once. I didn’t like that position but I did it”

Following Coppell’s departure, Knight also struggled to get on with the other members of the coaching team, assistant manager Bob Booker and first team coach Dean White.

“He (Dean White) just didn’t like me for some reason. When Steve Coppell was there, we got on well and then as soon as he left I don’t think Dean White liked me, but when you are in a job in that situation you have to go with the manager.”

“Me and Bob Booker got on really well but that changed towards the end a little bit where I think Mark McGhee probably brain washed him a little.”

Knight also had some well documented bust-ups with long serving Albion players Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter.

“Me and Oatway had a run in. Throughout the whole country if you had an insider at every single club, every single day, every single training session, there would be a bust up at at least 10 of those clubs throughout the leagues every single day.”

"Me and Chippy just didn’t get on and that was fine. Andy Cole and Teddy Sherringham didn’t get on and it didn’t matter. I trained right next to Chippy but I didn’t speak to him, I said hi, good morning, and that was it. It’s not that it got to the point where I wouldn’t speak to him, we just didn’t get on. When a mistake was made he would have a go at me a bit more than he would other people and I would have a go at him a bit more as we didn’t really see eye to eye with each other, but we got on with the job. We did what we had to do and we were successful. He scored a lot of important goals and I scored a lot of important goals.

Knight still regrets the way in which his Albion career finished, and the long road down to the world of the free agent via Swansea, Barnsley, MK Dons, Wycombe, Rushden and Diamonds, Thasivoulos Fylis, Hamilton and Queen of the South that he has found himself on since leaving Withdean.

“I was unhappy the way it ended. It’s hard to just put it down to one thing. It was on going things that happened, so for me to just say one thing wouldn’t be fair. In the end, he (McGhee) decided to leave me out the squad completely and I felt that that wasn’t right. We were doing ok at the time and we weren’t really in a bad position and for him to do that, I just felt like my time has come to an end here so I moved away to Swansea”

Despite the hatred that he has faced from Seagulls fans since leaving the club, he still considered his time at Brighton as the best of his career. His favourite goal came away at Rushden and Diamonds in a 3-1 win, while obviously his most important was the penalty in the 1-0 win over Bristol City in the Division Two play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, giving supporters one of the most memorable days in the clubs history.

The saddest thing of all about the Leon Knight story is that a player with such natural talent has fallen so far as to be released by a Scottish First Division side and currently finds himself clubless. While fans of the sides that he has played for since leaving the Albion will, like Seagulls supporters, point at a perceived attitude problem as being behind the reason, the fact that he has attempted to build bridges with the supporters of the club whom he upset the most indicates that, just maybe, there has been a much needed change in his outlook towards the game.

Knight knows that he is in last chance saloon now with how low his reputation is within the game – and that could be his most powerful weapon. A Leon Knight hungry to prove himself will pose a danger to defences at most levels – it is now just up to a manager to attempt to get the best out of him in the way that Steve Coppell could and Mark McGhee couldn’t.

Oh, and for those of you who are interested – his favourite filling for a sandwich is tuna. Leon Knight – he might be alright!

Listen the full audio interview 14 Minutes 13mb Direct Download