FORMER Claret Peter Leebrook may have left the professional game in his early 20s, but it was far from the end of his life in football.

Leebrook had signed as a YTS at Turf Moor at the age of 16, made his debut at 18, helped Burnley stave off an exit from the Football League seven months later with a last-day win against Orient, and then left the club by the time he was 20.

From the moment he made his first trip to Turf Moor from his home in the Midlands, he knew Burnley was the club for him. So when the time came to move on it was always going to be difficult to find somewhere else that ignited the same passion inside him.

“I went down to Aldershot who were still in the fourth division in those days. It was a three-month trial period but I just didn’t enjoy it,” Leebrook told the Lancashire Telegraph from his home in Arizona. “When you come from a place like Burnley, going to Aldershot, it was soulless.

“I went back to education to become a PE teacher. I left school at 16 with nothing really, so I went back and did a BTEC and then I did a degree up at Newcastle.”

During his studies Leebrook went down the semi-professional route with clubs such as VS Rugby, Whitley Bay and Shepshed.

But his biggest enjoyment from football came via the British Students team, and a career highlight in 1993 that saw him lead the GB side out at the World Student Games in Buffalo, New York.

“That was as good as playing pro for me, it was a great experience,” Leebrook said of his time with the students.

“Les Reed, who is now at Southampton, was running it and I still keep in touch with him.

“I carried the flag at the Buffalo Bills stadium with 80,000 people there for the Student Games – that was amazing. We had Steve Backley in that GB team, it was a great experience.”

Leebrook is now 48 and is technical director of the SC del Sol youth club in Arizona, home to more than 50 teams and 800 players.

It’s a far cry from his days at Turf Moor, although he remains a regular visitor to Burnley. He was back in May for the celebratory dinner 30 years on from that Orient game and every summer he brings teams from SC del Sol over to experience English football, which always includes a trip to the place where Leebrook’s own career began.

His decision to emigrate ‘across the pond’ has worked out well, but it wasn’t planned when he initially made his way over to the States.

Leebrook takes up the story: “In the summer I used to come over with a few mates and do some coaching, mostly in New Jersey.

“I got the feel for coaching and I coached the team at Newcastle Poly and we won a few championships.

“I broke my leg playing for Shepshed and came out to Arizona to see a friend to get right, and I ended up staying here. It’s worked out well and it’s a great lifestyle.

“I’m the technical director (at SC del Sol), I’ve got one team myself and then I oversee the coaches, the curriculum, player development.

“It’s a youth club so it’s six to 18. We’ve got about 50 teams and about 800 kids, about 15 full-time staff and 24 staff overall. It’s a big operation but it’s a bit more of a business over here as well now.”

As technical director of a big youth team, Leebrook is well placed to assess the transformation of football in America.

He can see improvements being made Stateside, but feels the passion might not yet be all-encompassing as it is back in the UK, which is why he feels the trips back to England can be so important for the youngsters.

“This is why I do these tours to the UK. There are so many other sports here – basketball, football, hockey – it’s generations away for me from getting that generation that are soccer first,” he explains.

“At half-time in a soccer game here there’s parents throwing American footballs around.

“There is a passion for it but it’s not the real passion that we see in the UK. You go to a place like Burnley and then you see it.

“That’s why I love these trips, I do with kids in the club and it ignites them to get a feel for it at a young age.”