Leon McKenzie started his career in football as a 14 year old academy protégé for YTS Crystal Palace, breaking into the first team at the tender age of 17.
His initial impression of the YTS was that it was a brilliant set up and a good platform for any youngster that wished to embark on a football career.
“I did a two year apprenticeship where we had to attend college once a week," he explained.
"To me it was a brilliant set up; it helped kids like me push ourselves to further our career.”
Through dedication and persistence, McKenzie's hard work paid off he eventually broke into the first team while still in his teens.
“It’s like with anything that you are passionate about, there were other players better than me in the academy but the difference in making the next big step up is the person that has most heart and persistence.
"It’s every boy’s childhood dream to become a footballer but to actually have a dream and work to make it a reality is a different thing. I played through the love of the game which helped me break into the first team.”
An impressive achievement
In a career that spanned over almost two decades, his biggest achievement was playing in all the English leagues and scoring in every single one of them.
“I feel blessed to have appeared in all English leagues but to have scored in all of them was a big achievement in itself. Eighteen years of doing something that I loved, it can’t get better than that.”
With the highs of the beautiful game there always come the lows. The loneliness of starting out as a kid and having to grow up fairly quickly and carry the weight of expectation not only from what you put upon yourself but what your team mates and fans expect of you can sometimes prove too much, even for the strongest of people.
“A career in football doesn’t last so you need to make the most of what you have been given.You need to be focused and sensible, work hard but look after your finances.
"It’s always best to have a plan b and kids need to prepare themselves for the gritty side to football. It’s a business more so now that it was 15 years ago.
"My advice to any youngster that is looking to embark on a career in football is that the money is not great straight away. You have to build upon it, make sacrifices, train hard and not be disheartened if you don’t make the first team or if you become injured.
"I felt during my time that there wasn’t enough support, I felt at times isolated and frustrated.
"There needs to be ongoing support for kids starting out. I have a loving family and great friends but I still felt like the loneliest person in the world. The injuries got me down along with personal problems but I don’t regret anything. It has made me the man I am today.”
An inspirational character
Leon McKenzie defines the word determination. His journey has been an emotional one but has proved that with commitment, self-belief and the willingness to not give up anything in life is achievable.
He has now followed in the steps of his father and uncle and entered the world of boxing, and is unbeaten as professional. He is also running his own ’keep fit with Leon’ – for more information check out @bigmckfitness1 for more information.
A fine example to all whom wish to pursue a career in sport. A much grounded individual with heart and real life experiences that enables him to understand people in a way that most couldn’t – a rare quality. A fine example to all youngsters that wish to pursue a career in sport.