THERE is no doubting where Chris Leck’s loyalties lie – and you only have to look at his gum shield to confirm it.
For a rugby player who has proudly worn the colours of Lancashire and England as a junior and Sale and Edinburgh as a professional, it is the blue and gold of his beloved Burnley RUFC that really matters.
“One of the things you can do when you join a club is customise your gum shield,” said the scrum half, who helped Edinburgh to the semi finals of the Heineken Cup just two years ago.
“A lot of the lads go for the colour of the club or for something else but for me, it was always blue and gold.
“So when I was playing up at Edinburgh I would be wearing the Burnley colours on my gum shield.
“The club means everything to me.”
It is no surprise. Burnley is in his blood.
Leck, now 28, has an association with Burnley going back to when he was just four-years-old – dad Phil was a player and then a coach, brother Dom was a player and still is a player at the Holden Road club.
“I didn’t have much choice, to be honest,” recalls the former St Theodore’s High School pupil. “As soon as I could run and pass a ball, I was down at the club training on a Sunday morning.
Despite leaving the club at a relatively early age – he won a scholarship to Rossall College and later joined Sale Academy – he has never forgotten his roots.
“I have always stayed in touch with the club,” he said. “It literally means the world to me. The lads that are there are just brilliant, they are friends for life.
“Obviously I had to leave at 14 or 15 but I have never lost touch with it. I have always gone back to see the boys at events. They are a great set of lads “If it all ended tomorrow they would be the first to welcome me back through the door.”
Leck is currently ‘back through the door’ at his home town club as he attempts to put his rugby career back on track. For while he experienced a career high in helping Edinburgh defeat French giants Toulouse in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup in April, 2012, little under a year later he was forced out of the game with a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action since.
It is an injury that has required three operations and an injury that robbed him of his contract in the Scottish capital.
He remains philisophical.
“I know that if you don’t play for a year you can’t really justify getting a new contract,” said Leck. “There was a new coach at Edinburgh who hadn’t even seen me play so I totally understand why they let me go.”
While Leck admits it has been demoralising being out of the game for so long – especially after the need for a third operation – he remains upbeat and is determined to play top flight rugby once more.
And he has never been one to shirk a challenge – both on and off the pitch.
At Sale, he was battling for the number nine jersey with Welsh and English internationals then when he moved north, he was up against two Scottish internationals – one of them captain of the national team.
But he saw it as a help not a hindrance.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play with some of the best scrum halves there have been,” said Leck. “At Sale, it was Dwayne Peel and Richard Wrigglesworth then Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw and also Ritchie Rees at Edinburgh. For me they were all players I could learn from and players who drove me on.”
It was in his first season in Scotland that he sampled the greatest moment of his rugby career.
Edinburgh, against all the odds, reached the semi finals of the Heineken Cup – the premier competition in European club rugby.
Leck was summoned from the bench with his side trailing 14-7 at half time to tournament favourites Toulouse to help secure a famous 19-14 win.
“I had gone out to play some touch rugby to warm up with the lads at half time when someone rushed out to say you’re on because Mike Blair has injured his shoulder,” recalls Leck.
“That 40 minutes flew by but it was the best moment of my life. The best feeling I have ever experienced.”
Ironically, Leck is playing touch rugby once again, but this time swapping a packed Murrayfield for the familiar surroundings of Holden Road.
For among the newcomers, first team regulars, old heads and youngsters, Leck is once again throwing a rugby ball around.
“It’s been brilliant being back at Burnley and being able to pass a rugby ball again,” he said. “It is the first time I have managed that in 15 months.”
Leck has eyes on playing top flight rugby again and has been in talks with a host of clubs.
But until he gets the all clear from his surgeon, he can’t or won’t commit to anything.
“It wouldn’t be fair to a club or to myself to go back when I am not fully fit,” he said. “At the moment I am a risk because of the injuries.
“But, fully fit, I know I can still do a job at Premiership level.”
While Leck remains unsure about his immediate future he knows that one day he will return to play for Burnley once again.
“When it does finish, I have always said that the first thing I would do is go back to Burnley because that is what the game is all about,” he said.
“I am not really too bothered about playing for a side close by for a bit of cash each week. I am not really interested in that, I would rather go back to my roots.
“No disrespect to those clubs but I would rather go back to where it all began.”
When that day does arrive, hopefully not for a good few years yet, then Leck will once again be able to wear the blue and gold of his beloved Burnley – only this time it will not just be on his gum shield.
REPORT by Steve Tinniswood Lancashire Evening Telegraph