In the ongoing series, we look at the wide men who have graced football fields all over the World playing for Wales. The next player we look at is Carl Harris, a winger who played in the great Leeds United side in the 1970’s and then went on to play for a number of clubs until finally retiring from playing in 1997 with Carmarthen Town in the League of Wales.
Carl Stephen Harris was born on the 3rd November 1956 in Neath. Carl was spotted by Leeds United, the team he adored as a boy, and when he had the opportunity as a schoolboy, he would travel up to watch his favourite players play. In 1973, Harris fulfilled his dreams by signing for Leeds United. Leeds at the time were stacked with fantastic players such as Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray just to name a few, and all of these players were managed by the legendary Leeds United Manager, Don Revie. It was a fantastic time in the history of Leeds United.
However, only after one week of being in West Yorkshire, the young Welshman was homesick and went home to be with his family in South Wales. Leeds clearly believed this young man had huge potential and was worth pursuing and they sent none other than John Charles, a fellow Welshman and one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game to persuade him to come back. Carl was persuaded he would return to Leeds.
In November 1974 just a few days before his 18th birthday, Carl Harris made his debut for Leeds United as a substitute for the injured, Peter Lorimer. Leeds were playing the Hungarian Champions at the time, Upjest Dosza in the second round of the European Cup. In April the following year, Harris made his League debut for Leeds United, again as a substitute this time for Johnny Giles against Ipswich Town. When Harris came on Leeds were trailing by a solitary goal, but Trevor Cherry the English international equalised. In the second half, Harris followed up a shot from Bremner which was parried by the Ipswich keeper, Laurie Sivell. Harris took a shot with his weaker foot, his left and managed to get the ball into the back of the net. Harris had scored on his League debut for his boyhood heroes and also had scored the winning goal at Elland Road.
To become a regular in the side was very difficult for the young Welsh winger. Harris was a right-winger and trying to get into the side instead of the other right winger at the club was Peter Lorimer a Leeds legend and a Scottish international. The two players were very different in their styles of play but both played on the right side. Lorimer played the position narrowly, relying on linking up more centrally with his central strikers, normally Mick Jones and Allan Clarke by playing passes in looking for a return pass, or he would cut in from the right looking to unleash one of his trademark long-range shots, earning him nicknames such as “Hot Shot” and “Lash”. Carl Harris was an out and out winger. He would supply crosses from the right-hand side to his strikers, more often than not after beating his opposing full-back with his electric pace. Harris though skilful, used the strength of his pace, to wrong-foot the opposition and then knock the ball past them and race onto it. He was lightning quick and this trick worked so many times. Mick Mills of England, Ipswich and Southampton fame, a player who made more than 700 League appearances over a 23-year career said that Harris was the most difficult player he ever faced. High praise indeed.
Wales came calling for Harris and in March 1976 he made his international debut against England at The Racecourse, Wrexham. Similarly, to his career at Leeds at the time, Harris found it very difficult to get regular starts for Wales with players such as Robbie James, Alan Curtis, David Giles, Mickey Thomas and Leighton James all battling for the wide positions so the competition was tough. He eventually played 24 times for Wales, his last cap being again against England in 1982. Just to back up what I said about competition for places, the most consecutive games he played for Wales was eleven. Harris did get on the scoresheet once for Wales that being in a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in 1981 in Ankara. It was the winning goal in a one nil victory.
After 170 appearances for Leeds in all competitions in 1982, Harris left Leeds United after a disagreement over his contract with the manager and ex-teammate Allan Clarke. Harris had scored 29 goals for Leeds in all competitions and just one season prior to him leaving Elland Road, Harris has been the top goal scorer for the club with 10 goals. Harris joined Charlton Athletic for a fee of £100,000. Harris picked up a number of injuries whilst at The Addicks and did not reach the playing heights he had at Leeds, he did 76 times for the London club over 3 years, scoring 7 goals. Harris then joined Bury but prior to that, a move back to Leeds looked a real possibility. Harris was training with the club to prove his fitness and had a few outings for the reserves, however, during this period, Eddie Gray his former teammate was sacked as manager and Harris were never offered a new playing contract by the club.
Harris played 2 years for Bury and then left and had short spells at Scottish side, Airdrie (managed by another ex-Leeds player, Gordon McQueen), Rochdale and Exeter City. In 1989 whilst with Exeter, Harris left the professional game after 16 years it seemed his football career had come to an end.
In 1992, Harris resurfaced back playing in Wales for Briton Ferry Athletic and he would play for another 5 years at Ton Pentre, Maesteg Park, Afan Lido, Ton Pentre (again) and finally Carmarthen Town. When Harris finally retired in 1997 when he was 45 years old. The searing pace may have slightly cooled but he still had the ability to play at League of Wales level up to his decision to retire.
Carl Harris now runs a removal service back in his hometown of Neath, and by all accounts is still in very good nick which if you are shifting heavy furniture and other household appliances certainly would be a requirement! Carl Harris may not be a well known as some of the other wingers covered in this series, but he certainly deserves his place in this collection. A fine winger, one of the quickest I have seen who when fully fit was a sight to see and I am sure a nightmare for the fullback given the task if marking him.