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Postby Forever Blue » Fri Feb 19, 2021 2:07 pm

The new life of Leo Fortune-West, the colossal Cardiff City cult hero with a special message for Bluebirds fans

By Glen Williams

Friday 19th February 2021

Think back two decades and Cardiff City Football Club was a completely different beast.

Plugging away in Division Three, no Bluebird fan could envisage what was to come in the ensuing 20 years, but what a ride it has been.

We think back to that team, the Sam Hammam era, the one so many City fans loved at the beginning of the millennium, and a number of names immediately stick out.

One of those is, of course, colossal striker Leo Fortune-West, who was front and centre during that promotion to Division Two, now League One of course, back in 2001, scoring 13 goals during the campaign.

And he believes that promotion paved the way for the Premier League promotions and Wembley appearances in the years that followed.


"I've always said that you are rarely lucky enough to be part of a promotion team," he said .

"You kind of write yourself into the city's history. Ultimately, you look at Cardiff, where it was and where it is now, and my involvement was at the very start, once Sam Hammam came along with his revolution, City fans dreams really became reality.”

"Where we are now, in the Championship, is still in part down to where we came from and that promotion from. If you don't go up in that League Two season then you don't attract the players to go up again.

"So each team contributes towards the next."

In fact, Fortune-West can pinpoint the one game which, in his mind, made that special group of players believe they were on the journey to something special.

"For me there is always a game that sticks out and that game always gives you a belief," he says.

"I think we played Leyton Orient at home and we won the game 3-2 having been 2-1 down and after that game the belief swept through the whole team.

"It was a good team with lots of good players, but at some points it was kind of disjointed. But that game made everyone believe where we were destined for."

Fortune-West, now 49, admits that there was something of a transition going on during that period.

There were established players who were Cardiff City through and through and then there were players who were the faces of Hammam's new-look Bluebirds.

Fortune-West joined just before Hammam's takeover was complete so was somewhere in the middle ground and he concedes there were kinks which needed to be ironed out as Cardiff embarked on a new and adventurous journey.

Of course, the overriding memory from that time was when City came back from a goal down to beat Premier League-topping Leeds United in January 2002 courtesy of that Scott Young strike.

"That was an amazing game," he recalls fondly. "Leeds were at the pinnacle, they got to the Champions League the year before and were top of the league when we played them.

"A star-studded team. So to come from behind to beat them was an amazing feat, spurred on by the fans. A truly amazing day.

"It's always funny, because you beat Leeds at home, top of the Premier League, and then you draw Tranmere away, which is a bit of a downer, but that's life!"

Leo Fortune-West caused havoc in the Leeds defence on the day Cardiff won in the 2002 FA Cup

I notice that whenever he references Cardiff, he still says "we", he has never lost that affiliation with a club he clearly still has strong ties with.

"Yeah, you never lose that!" he replies.

"With all your promoted teams you have got a very special place in your heart. You realise it more when you're older that the work we did back then is so special.

"You're so fortunate to do it that it stays in your heart. Cardiff, for me, I've just got to close my eyes and think back and I've got some amazing memories.

"It will always be a place in my heart."

There were ups and downs when it comes to Fortune-West's career at Cardiff, for whom he scored 23 goals in 92 games. He counts that Stoke City play-off game as a major disappointment, while he was omitted from the team for the play-off race the year after when Andy Campbell's strike sank QPR at the Millennium Stadium to send the Bluebirds soaring to the Championship.

But he has a healthy outlook when it comes to looking back on things which perhaps didn't go his way.

"It's not about looking back with regret, it's about looking back with pleasure," he says.

He still follows Cardiff's triumphs and tribulations closely to this day and has enjoyed watching the Bluebirds scale the heights of Premier League promotion.

It is a source of frustration for him, though, as it is all Bluebirds fans, that their visits to the top flight have been so fleeting.

Because Fortune-West is a firm believer that Cardiff, with a few tweaks, has the structure and the fan base to thrive in the best league in the world.

"Cardiff needs to be higher than where it is. Because the city can sustain a team in the highest league," he says.

"It is just making that step up. I know we have got there twice before but it is always very difficult when a team comes up from the Championship. You try to keep faith with the players that got you there, but sometimes that's not going to be enough.

"By the time you realise it, it's too late.

"I think Cardiff will be a Premier League team [again], because they have got the city status and they have got fans that can sustain it.

"It's an incredibly hard league and hard standard. You've got the influx of all the European players, which makes it the best league.

"People say the Premier League is the best in the world, but the Championship would be on a par with the other top European leagues.

"If you are a Cardiff fan, though, you want to be pushing for the Premier League."

Leo Fortune West is carried off the pitch at York's Bootham Crescent.

Now out of the game, Fortune-West has settled in Sheffield, where he works in social services, assessing elderly people to ensure they can manage at home.

He dabbled in football management with non-league club Amthorpe Welfare in 2012/13, but that was his final dalliance with the touchline.

While he admits playing football was the absolute pinnacle, his current job brings him a different kind of fulfilment.

"It's completely different," he says. "My outlook on life is very different.

"When I look back to playing football and when I first became a professional, I realised I laughed more in the first three months than in the three years prior.

"So I was fortunate to be in that environment for so many years. That has helped me and shaped the person I am. I am very grateful.

"Footballers are very modest anyway and happy to engage with people. It helps me that what I do in social services helps me. It's about that, meeting people."

But for someone with such a wealth of footballing experience under his belt, was there any temptation to scratch that itch again?

"Honestly, you see so many players who try to forge out a career in football and playing and coaching is very different," he says.

"Hours-wise, it's very different, what they expect of you. For me, what I found, what I did was the best years of my life, but that's over.

"Sometimes, you try to eke out a career in coaching or scouting, it takes the edge off what you achieved as a player.

"Enjoy it while it lasted and then you move on."

That is quite the realisation for a man who enjoyed so much success during his career, counting four promotions on his CV.

But he speaks with a man who is content with the path he chose and Cardiff City was a big stop on that journey, made all the more special by those who supported him on the Ninian Park terraces.

For the thousands who screamed his name for three years, he has a message.

"Thank you for all the years. I will never forget you.”

"The team is etched into my heart and will be until I die. Keep supporting your lads."
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Postby worcester_ccfc » Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:40 pm

Good read there.

Great bloke is Leo :thumbright:
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Postby MoodyBluebird » Fri Feb 19, 2021 3:56 pm

I bumped into him outside the Western Mail office once and chatted to him for a few minutes about the game. I think he was injured at the time. My impression of him was he was a very humble, approachable and likeable guy and reading that piece about him seems to bear that out.
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Postby Nin Ian » Fri Feb 19, 2021 4:39 pm

MoodyBluebird wrote:I bumped into him outside the Western Mail office once and chatted to him for a few minutes about the game. I think he was injured at the time. My impression of him was he was a very humble, approachable and likeable guy and reading that piece about him seems to bear that out.

Bumped into him in the car park before a game, was with my (then) young son. Leo was a true gent, stopping to chat with and sign the programme for my boy.
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Postby Escott1927 » Fri Feb 19, 2021 5:27 pm

My first away game was York. Drew 3-3 with a hat-trick from leo, promotion and a pitch invasion. Still got the pullout from the echo as I could see myself on my dads shoulders. Great times :bluescarf:
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Postby Willo Cardiff » Fri Feb 19, 2021 6:53 pm

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Postby Jimmy Scoular » Fri Feb 19, 2021 8:11 pm

A gentleman and a very bright one to boot. He was in one of my groups at the Open University in Cardiff. If I can remember he
always scored firsts. No side whatsoever a genuine guy he loved Cardiff the people the city and especially the fans. He did not know I was a bluebird I was his lecturer so I thought it best left. One of life's good people. A privilege to know albeit briefly.
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Postby rumpo kid » Fri Feb 19, 2021 11:28 pm

His name was Earnie.. and he used to play up front with Fortune West..
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Postby powysblue » Sat Feb 20, 2021 10:01 am

Nice interview and it is always great to hear about our past players done well and are doing well - a "where are they now" section might be nice. :thumbup: :bluescarf: :old: :clap:
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Postby cardiff 74 » Sat Feb 20, 2021 11:48 am

Always liked Leo fortune west be in my team every week
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Postby valleyrambill » Sat Feb 20, 2021 12:33 pm

Leo is still a regular down the city seen him many times and he is a real nice bloke
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Postby Ibby » Sat Feb 20, 2021 9:18 pm

:clap: :clap: :clap:
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