- Former Manchester Utd & Leeds Utd Player
Lee Stuart Sharpe (born 27 May 1971 in Halesowen, Worcestershire) is a retired English football player. Predominantly a left winger, Sharpe played joined Manchester United from Torquay United as a youngster in 1988, playing for the club between 1988 and 1996. He won a total of eight caps for England, but his later career failed to live up to its potential after leaving Manchester United in his mid-twenties.
Sharpe moved to Leeds United in 1996, but persistent knee injuries kept him from making an impact on the squad, and he was loaned to Sampdoria at the start of the 1998–99 season. Another loan to Bradford City in March 1999 turned into a permanent deal at the end of the season. He stayed at Bradford for three seasons, but he gradually slipped down the league ladder, eventually moving to Iceland to play for Grindavík in 2003. He retired from professional football in 2003, but achieved renewed fame after a number of reality television appearances. He briefly returned to football in 2004, playing for Garforth Town, but his return was short-lived.
An Aston Villa supporter, Sharpe began his career at Torquay United. However, in his first season with them, after only 16 games, Manchester United noted his potential and swooped to sign him in June 1988 for £200,000, a record fee at the time for a YTS player.
Sharpe made his debut for Manchester United on 24 September 1988 as a substitute in a 2–0 win over West Ham United in the Football League First Division. His first team chances increased in November with the departure of the club’s first choice left winger Jesper Olsen, and were further enhanced when new signing Ralph Milne failed to live up to expectations. Sharpe ended the 1988–89 season with 22 league appearances to his name, although he failed to score and United finished a disappointing 11th in the league a year after finishing second. He played 30 games in all competitions that season.
The following season, Sharpe found the net for the first time in a United shirt, scoring in the 5–1 home win over Millwall on 16 September 1989. He managed 18 appearances in the league that season (and 20 in all competitions), but failed to make the squad for the FA Cup final which United won 1–0 against Crystal Palace in a replay after drawing 3–3 in the first match. Alex Ferguson had chosen new signing Danny Wallace as his first choice left winger for the 1989–90 season.
He played a key part in United’s success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1990–91 scoring with a left foot pile-driver into the top corner in the home leg of the semi-final against Legia Warsaw (1–1). He also famously scored a hat-trick against Arsenal at Highbury in the League Cup fourth round on 28 November 1990. United eventually won the game 6–2. Sharpe himself cites this as one of the best memories in his footballing career. He was now United’s first choice left winger ahead of Danny Wallace, although a new rival for the left wing position was emerging in the shape of highly promising 17-year-old Ryan Giggs.
Having established himself as a left winger, Sharpe earned a call up to the England squad, although he was unable to replace John Barnes as first choice left winger. Unfortunately, he was then out of the game for long periods of time through injury and illness (he suffered from viral meningitis in the autumn of 1992) and when his fitness recovered, the form of Ryan Giggs meant he had normally to play out of position at left back (by now the preferred position for Denis Irwin) or on the right wing, competing for a place with Andrei Kanchelskis who had arrived in March 1991.
Sharpe is well remembered for his memorable goal against Barcelona during the 2–2 draw in the 1994–1995 Champions League season’s group stage, when he spectacularly back-heeled a cross from Roy Keane into the corner of the net. He also got an assist in this game, crossing for Mark Hughes’ opening header.
1994–95 was a difficult season for United, with many players out for significant periods due to injury. Sharpe was one of them, as he missed a string of mid season games due to a fractured ankle, though he had more opportunities to play on the left wing as Ryan Giggs missed a quarter of the campaign due to injuries, and most of Sharpe’s appearances came as a left back as the regular player in that position, Denis Irwin, spent most of the campaign playing on the right side of defence left vacant by a long absence by Paul Parker, though Irwin was back at left back towards the end of the season following the emergence of right-back Gary Neville.
United ended the season without a major trophy, finishing second to Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League as they failed to manage anything better than a 1–1 draw at West Ham on the final day of the season, and losing 1–0 to Everton in the FA Cup final.
By the start of the 1995–96, Andrei Kanchelskis had been sold to Everton and it seemed possible that Sharpe could establish himself as United’s right winger – particularly when he scored twice for United in their 3–2 win over Everton on 9 September 1995.
With Ryan Giggs returning to fitness on the left wing, and Denis Irwin returning to left back following the emergence of Gary Neville as the club’s regular right back, the right hand side of midfield seemed Sharpe’s best opportunity of regular first team action. However, 20-year-old David Beckham made the first team breakthrough that season and left Sharpe with nothing like a guaranteed place in the first eleven, though he was selected in the squad for all but eight competitive games that season, during which United became the first English team to win the double twice. He still took to the field in 31 out of 38 Premier League games, scoring four goals. His first goal of the season came at Blackburn Rovers on 28 August, as a relatively strong United side recorded their third successive league win after being beaten by Aston Villa on the opening day. In their next game at Everton on 9 September, Sharpe scored twice as United achieved an impressive 3–2 win. His next (and final) league goal for United came on 10 February 1996 when he scored the only goal of the game against Blackburn Rovers, as United kept up the pressure on leaders Newcastle who had been 10 points ahead at Christmas. Sharpe also managed two FA Cup goals that season, the winner against Manchester City in the fifth round at Old Trafford on 18 February, and the second in the last minute of a 2–0 home win over Southampton in the quarter finals on 11 March. He was selected as a substitute in the 1–0 FA Cup final win over Liverpool on 11 May, but did not come onto the pitch, though he still picked up his second FA Cup winner’s medal, which was ultimately the last major trophy of his career just before his 25th birthday. In total he played 265 games for Manchester United over eight years, scoring 36 goals.
Despite his injury history, Leeds United signed him for £4.5 million in the summer of 1996, making him their record signing. Again his time at Leeds was beset by further injuries. He made 26 Premiership appearances in 1996–97, scoring five goals, but a pre-season knee injury ruled him out for the entire 1997–98 season and he was unable to regain his place in the team on recovery.
In the autumn of 1998, he was loaned to Italian Serie A strugglers Sampdoria, but soon fell out of favour and in the New Year he returned to England. He signed on loan for Bradford City in March 1999 and he helped in securing the club’s promotion to the Premiership after 77 years outside the top division. He joined Bradford in a £250,000 deal during the summer and helped preserve the club’s Premiership status in 1999–2000.
In 2000–01, Sharpe lost his place in the Bradford team and just before Christmas went on loan to Division One Portsmouth. He returned to Bradford during the 2001–02 season but when his contract expired at the end of the season he was given a free transfer. Following a brief trial stay with Grimsby Town he signed for Exeter City before he moved to Grindavík in Iceland. In June 2003 he announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 32. Just before this, he was rumoured to be on the verge of taking over as player-manager at Bury in Division Three.
In February 2004, Sharpe made a brief return to football in the Kidderminster Sunday League with Hoobrook Crown before signing for Northern Counties East Premier League side Garforth Town the following summer.
Sharpe was capped eight times by England between 1991 and 1995.
Lee is now proving a massive hit on the “after dinner circuit” with his tales and anecdotes of his career with the likes of Keane, Pallister, Bruce, Giggs, Scholes, Cantona and …………… Fergie!!