"What a journey" - Hero of Hillsborough Leon Clarke leaves Sheffield United with a special place in Blades fans' hearts

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"What a journey it's been," began the statement, posted on Leon Clarke's Instagram feed as the striker officially waved goodbye to Sheffield United yesterday.

The post was accompanied by a montage of some of Clarke's greatest moments in a red-and-white shirt, yet so many more were missing; chiefly his two goals in a 4-2 Steel City Derby victory over his old club Wednesday.

Signed for a paltry £150,000 from Bury, Clarke had something of a reputation when he was unveiled as a Blades player. United, remarkably, were the 17th club of the striker's nomadic career since he came through at Wolves and with various rumours and claims about attitude issues, only the bravest fan would have predicted what followed.

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Injuries limited his contribution throughout United's promotion season, but instinctive finishes against the likes of Chesterfield and Northampton, on the day United finally escaped the clutches of League One, showed what Clarke was capable of. Six goals in his last six games of that season followed, including a ridiculous volley away at Port Vale, and he finished United's top scorer in the Championship with 19 goals. His brace at Hillsborough was followed up by two more against his boyhood club Wolves, who went on to win the title, and there were fireworks in November when he scored nine goals in four games, including a remarkable four-goal second-half salvo against Hull.

His dealings with the media were limited - Clarke didn't seem to relish interviews, put it that way - but was always good value when he opened up. He did a nice line in self-depreciation - once asked about his knack of scoring against former clubs, his deadpan reply was: "Well, I've had enough" - and his fairy tale United story had a final chapter written last season when, at 34, he made his Premier League debut.

The only shame is that there was not a full house at Bramall Lane towards the end of the season to give him the send-off he deserves.

But whatever happens, he will still hold a special place in the hearts of many Blades fans. Leon the lion. The hero of Hillsborough.

What a journey indeed.

Leon Clarke celebrates one of his goals at Hillsborough - Simon Bellis/SportimageLeon Clarke celebrates one of his goals at Hillsborough - Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Leon Clarke celebrates one of his goals at Hillsborough - Simon Bellis/Sportimage

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