'Boro's skipper was a 12-year-old Sunderland fan in 1998 when Peter Reid's Sunderland lost an epic play-off final at the old Wembley. Leadbitter was in the stands but couldn't watch as the game ended 4-4 after extra time, and Alan Curbishley's Charlton Athletic won the golden ticket to the Premier League via a penalty shoot-out.
The memories are sore for 29-year-old Leadbitter as he attempts to go one better with Aitor Karanka's Middlesbrough, who lead Brentford 2-1 from last weekend's first leg. Leadbitter told the Mirror Sport: “I remember that day, my only trip to Wembley. I didn’t watch the penalties. I was outside on my own. I didn’t dare watch them! I had my head in my hands so I can’t remember too much. That is the past but it will be nice to have some happier memories in the play-offs."
Middlesbrough fans are just thankful such painful memories were courtesy of one of their north east rivals, and as a player Leadbitter has no such demons to exorcise: “These are my first play-offs as a player. It is good fun - two-leg games, two good teams, and hopefully we will win against Brentford and get to Wembley to finish the job.”
Certainly the Teessiders have the edge going into the second leg, with Fernando Amorebieta's late winner at Griffin Park knocking the stuffing out of Brentford, and giving Middlesbrough a boost both in terms of the aggregate scoreline and the psychology going into Friday night's Riverside Stadium contest.
Naturally, the late winner has given Middlesbrough some timely confidence, and Leadbitter confirms that has been evident in training: “It is a big game, not just for myself but for the whole dressing room and we can sense that this week in training. There has been a sharpness and a bit of bite about us which is what you want going into a big game."
With an estimated £130 million jackpot for the Wembley winners when they step out of the Championship and enter the Premier League, Leadbitter is well aware of what is at stake for the club: “We set a target to get promoted, of course. This football club wants promotion but to get those targets you have got to win games.
“It is going to be a good game - two good teams going at it and wanting to be in the Premier League. But we cannot take our foot off the gas, we have to perform well and hopefully it will take care of itself."