RYAN Leonard insists he will forever be grateful to Southend United and will never stop loving the club - despite his departure.

Leonard has now sealed his switch to Championship club Sheffield United in a deal worth an initial £750,000.

But the midfielder will never forget the part the Shrimpers played in his career.

“I owe so much to Southend and I’m never going to forget that,” said Leonard.

“They have played a massive part in my life and always will.

“There are so many brilliant people there who I need to publicly thank for all that they’ve done for me because when I first arrived I was an 18-year-old right back with no experience.

“I would like to think I’m now an established midfielder as I’ve played nearly 300 times for the club and there have been so many memorable moments in that time.”

Leonard made 265 appearances while with the Shrimpers and was voted player of the year on three separate occasions.

But it is the team’s achievements which still mean most to the 25-year-old.

“Winning promotion at Wembley was the obvious high but I could mention loads of games,” said Leonard.

“Scoring in the semi-final against Stevenage was special and so was my debut against Accrington Stanley.

“I’m also pleased I was able to score in my final home game against Shrewsbury the other week, it was just a shame the result wasn’t better.”

Leonard’s all action displays made him a firm favourite with Blues’ fans and he was also keen to thank them for their support.

“I’ve always had a brilliant rapport with the Southend fans and I need to say a massive thank you to them.” said Leonard.

“I always gave 100 per cent every time I played and I hope they don’t begrudge me the move.

“They were a massive part of my time at Southend, they made it even more enjoyable.

"I might be leaving but Southend is a club that will always be in my heart.

"I’ll come down to games whenever I can and I’ll be looking out for all the results.”

And Leonard is certain the Shrimpers’ score-lines will soon start to improve.

“There’s a brilliant group of players there and they are way too good to be down where they are for too long,” said Leonard.

“I know the fans are frustrated but if everyone sticks with it then they will be much higher up the table at the end of the season."