LEON Cort remains the only ever defender in Southend United’s history to have scored a hat-trick.

But the defender nearly missed out on the accolade.

Cort netted three headers for the Shrimpers during their 4-2 win against Boston United at Roots Hall back in December 2002.

However, Cort came close to not playing.

“The whole 24 hours before that was just insane,” said Cort.

“I was so unwell and I didn’t sleep at all the night before.

“I was vomiting all night but I thought it was too late to tell the club I couldn’t play.

“I was in pieces and was so close to making the call to say I was sick but then I just tried to get through it.”

And, despite his goals, Cort was not entirely satisfied with his display.

“I remember I had a really bad game defensively that day and I can remember Kevin Maher and I being at it like cat and dog the whole game,” said Cort.

“But I just kept getting my head on it all the time to make up for the defensive mistakes and I saw the matchball from that game the other day as well actually.

“It’s in the garage.”

Cort joined the Shrimpers after being let go by Millwall in the summer of 2001 And Cort now feels leaving the Lions helped kick-start his career.

“Being released by Millwall was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me even though I was devastated at the time,” said Cort.

“I could have ended up staying there for another year and going out on loan to a Conference club.

“But I went to Southend and played first team football.

“They were games that meant something and they were good times.

“ It was a transitional period really because people were coming and people were leaving but it was great.

“I remember the Canvey games and scoring late on at Hartlepool in the FA Cup.”

Cort left Blues in 2004 and went on to play for both Stoke City and Burnley in the Premier League while also lined up for Crystal Palace, Hull and Charlton Athletic.

But the former defender surprised even himself by reaching the very top of the game.

“I probably went further than I ever thought I would because I came into the game late,” said Cort.

“I have some great memories including promotion to the Premier League and promotions with Charlton and Hull as well.”

However, Cort still feels his happiest time was with Blues.

“At Southend there was freedom and I was enjoying the games,” said Cort.

“I scored a few goals which still pop up on social media but after I left Southend it was more business like than enjoying the football.”

Cort still stays in touch with a number of his former Shrimpers team-mates.

And he is still involved with football, working as agent for the Stellar group.

“I work in France and I’m always out there,” said Cort.

“I’m a football agent so I scout players and try and get them on board Before the pandemic I was spending at least half of every week out in France but I’m still in football so I’m enjoying it.”