‘Mr Leiston’ Blake Saker plays 300th league game for club
- Credit: James Ager
Commitment and loyalty are fading attributes in every level of football these days. Not so for Blake Saker. After almost 10 years of service he recently made his 300th career league appearance for Ryman League Premier side Leiston. WILL RIDGARD caught up with the defender to talk about his time at the club he loves.
Blake Saker first joined Leiston in 2003 and, although he has flirted with spells at Felixstowe & Walton United, Brantham Athletic and Lowestoft Town, he is very much part of the furniture at Victory Road after a glittering career on the non-league scene.
Saker made Leiston history by becoming the first player outside of the immediate area to sign an FA contract for the club, something the full-back, who can also play wide midfield, still remembers clearly and fondly.
“I remember the chairman, Andy Crisp, coming to see me and signing the contract in my kitchen at home!” recalls Saker.
Leiston were then in the Ridgeons First Division and ex-Tottenham trainee Saker, who also saw homesickness cut short a spell at American A-League side Minnesota Thunder, will never forget his first appearance for the Blues.
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“It was all a bit surreal really. I remember making my debut away at Downham Town on a park pitch and thinking ‘what the hell have I signed up to?’
“I came after being recommended by Glen Driver, who I was friendly with.
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“He introduced me to the manager at the time – Steve Wright – and I remember him saying minutes before kick-off ‘if he’s rubbish he’s going straight back!’
“Thankfully I must have done alright as I stayed and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Now, 300 games later and after a host of achievements and memories that will never be erased, Saker, now 32, is very much at home at the Suffolk club.
He said: “Ever since I signed everyone has been really welcoming.
“I’m really close to the fans and have always been treated really well.
“Even when I signed for fierce rivals Lowestoft and came to watch Leiston the fans were great and I really appreciated that.”
After Leiston won promotion to the Ridgeons Premier League in the season Saker signed, the fans’ favourite then went on to play an integral part in the club’s successive promotions in 2010/11 and 2011/12 under the guidance of Mark Morsley.
“Winning the Ryman North straight after winning the Eastern Counties is probably my fondest memory as a player,” said Saker.
“It was an unbelievable season.
“We had such a good team with such a good team spirit – easily as good as the one we’ve got now.
“We got off to a flyer at the start of the season and although we wobbled slightly at the end, we absolutely smashed it.”
However, Saker, who also recalls the club’s famous FA Cup run in the 2008/09 season which saw them turn over Conference side Lewes and force a replay against now League Two outfit Fleetwood Town, was brought back down to earth with a bang ahead of Leiston’s opening season in the Ryman Premier.
“I remember receiving a phone-call from Mark Morsley in the summer saying that he was looking for more defensive full-backs at a higher level and that he was going to go with Sheridan Driver,” Saker recalled.
“It really shocked me if I’m honest. I didn’t think it would happen and had no idea it was coming but Mark was the boss and he made the decisions.”
After debating his options, Saker originally signed for Brantham Athletic, back in the Eastern Counties League, before then joining one of Leiston’s main rivals, Lowestoft.
Mainly a bit-part player for the Trawlerboys last campaign, Saker jumped at the chance to rejoin Leiston this summer after then-Blues boss Danny Laws secured his signature.
“It was a no-brainer,” confirmed Saker. “As soon as I heard Leiston were interested again my mind was made up.
“Andy Crisp and I get on really well and regularly kept in contact when I was at Lowestoft so it was just such an easy decision to make.
“Lowestoft said they didn’t want me to go but understood the connection I had with Leiston and I respect them for that.”
Now back where he belongs, Saker and indeed Leiston have endured a mixed start to the season.
After Laws resigned following a lengthy winless streak, new boss Steve Pitt has steadied the ship since taking charge last month and the Blues’ performances and results are gradually improving.
“I felt for Danny,” said Saker, who has been an ever-present at right-back in Pitt’s five games in charge to date.
“I think it was just too much for him, he always seemed enclosed in the job and results didn’t go his way.
“Steve Pitt has come in along with Bally (assistant coach Steve Ball) who we all know.
“They have a totally different approach and it’s starting to work for us.
“Steve and Bally are like chalk and cheese, but I think they compliment each other. I’m hoping for a successful season under them.”
n Saker is set to be presented with an award by the fans and Leiston board members in the home match against Enfield at the end of the month to mark his 300 appearances.