Adventures in Football #87: Elland Road (Leeds Utd)
August 9, 2023
LEEDS UTD vs. SHREWSBURY TOWN (Carabao Cup)
Elland Road has been on my footballing wish list for a while now. I couldn’t get tickets there while Leeds were in the Premier League, so I was hoping to get a ‘tap in’ in the Championship. Opening day? Completely sold out. So, here we are in the Carabao Cup. The competition for ticking grounds off that you normally have no shot at.
Leeds Utd are a proper heavyweight of English football. They’ve been champions of England three times, most recently under Howard Wilkinson in 1991-92. They won the FA Cup in 1972, the League Cup in 1968 and have twice been in a major European final. Losing the 1975 European Cup final to Bayern Munich. They also won the Fairs Cup.
Leeds joined the football league back in 1920-21 when they were elected to Division Two. They finished P14 in their first season. They won this league in 1924 and had moderate success in the late 20s and 1930s. Post WW2 was less kind to them and it took until 1956 for them to return to the elite first division. Even then success eluded them until winning division two again in 1964. This time the team was on fire under the stewardship of Don Revie. Revie would remain at the club until 1974, when England came calling. This era had a good Leeds team that had a reputation for the dark arts.
The term “Dirty Leeds” sprung up around this point with Leeds teams notorious for being hard in the tackle. Between 1969 and 1974, Leeds finished in the top three spots in English football, winning two titles. Leeds had their ups and downs after that but were a founding member of the Premier League in 1992, as English champions. Their first Premier League campaign was a disaster and they finished P17, one of the worst ever for defending champions. Despite this they were a strong side and bounced back under David O’Leary but heavy overspending, driven by a desire to compete in the Champion’s League, backfired.
The fall was dramatic and Leeds dropped out of the Premier League in 2004, not returning until under Marcelo Bielsa in 2020-21. After three seasons in the Premier League, Leeds find themselves back in the Championship. Although, I would be surprised if they spent 16 years out of the top flight this time around. Leeds are a team who played in the semi-finals of the biggest European competition as recently as 2001 when they lost to Valencia.
Game day, and we’re already in Yorkshire thanks to a lovely evening in Harrogate the day before. So, it’s a short drive down to Leeds and the plan is to park up between the ground and the city. Walk into the city, have a nice day after there, sink a few beers, and then head to the ground. I’d recommend the Northern Monk Refectory, the Banker’s Cat, Tapped (the pizza was great), Mad Frans and the Cross Keys. While I didn’t have great beers, they’re all good boozers.
Speaking of boozers, plenty of bars in the city are celebrating Leeds Utd. A reflection of the fondness that the city has for its football club.
Sad to see the United Bar has died. It may well have been a victim of Covid. The punters favourite remains the Old Peacock, which is right next to the ground and was heaving. The nearby Old White Hart also looked like a decent shout as it’s a bit further out.
While central Leeds is very modern and pleasant, the ground is out in an area called Beeston/Holbeck. It’s a bit rough. When we parked the car, I had suspicions it would have no fucking tires when we got back to it. However, what the area lacks in riches, it more than makes up for in love for the football club. There were so many awesome murals and painting and artwork on walls, houses, bridges, junction boxes. Literally everything was covered. I have a selection of art for you here:
Just outstanding work. The kind of thing you would expect from a big club, which was strangely absent from the sanitised White Hart Lane area of North London. I was thrilled to see so much of it on display here. I didn’t even take photos of all of it. When I was massively impressed with this kind of thing in Germany, I didn’t realise Leeds had done this to their ground and the surrounding area. Beautiful stuff. There are some comparisons in English football, but this is the best I’ve seen.
Off to the ground and it’s busy. Over 30,000 fans for this Carabao Cup game with Shrewsbury. You could understand the club if half that turned up. It was a miserable relegation season for them last year and you could excuse them for having the hump. None of it. Absolutely packed out for a nothing fixture. You love to see it.
We have all the usual bumpf for sale outside the ground. Food, beer, programmes, scarves etc. The street party atmosphere outside a ground is fun to see. It’s something English football does fairly consistently well. I don’t often engage in it, rather watch it happen around me, as I can’t standing queuing for stuff.
My appreciation grows when I see the effort that’s gone into this around the ground. They have this at Arsenal and Aston Villa but there are thousands of these things.
I do love a statue and the Billy Bremner one is covered in club scarves. It reflects the love of the people towards this club. At this point, I’m pretty much blown away. Compare this to some of the more homogenised, sanitised Premier League clubs and there’s really no comparison. This is a football club with its heart, and history, on its sleeve. Marvellous to see.
Earlier in the day, I remembered that I knew a Leeds fan; Robbie Radford. So, I dropped him a message and we got the chance to have words before the match. Here he is, what a handsome fellow. Yes, I am sporting a vintage Leeds Utd shirt. I dropped into the club shop in the afternoon as I wanted to blend in. I’d heard the locals weren’t too fond of tourists and decided to make an effort. Obviously, my accent is a lot closer to Shrewsbury than Leeds. I shouldn’t really have been too worried.
We bid Robbie farewell and head in. The turnstiles are easy enough. Scan your ticket, it bleeps green, and the turnstile opens one notch. There’s a weird lower concourse, which has picnic tables. You’d have to get there pretty early to claim one of those bad boys. Into the stairwell for the upper part of the East Stand the artwork continues unabated.
The first real signs that this is an old ground is the concourse. It’s cramped and doesn’t really suit the number of people who are in the stand. Given the space available, Leeds have crammed as many seats in as possible. I’ve seen more cramped concourses than this but it felt snug. Keep in mind we got here ahead of the bulk of the fans and later on this place was heaving.
We’re up in row X this evening, which is about three rows from the back of the biggest stand in the ground. I never realised, seeing Elland Road on TV, just how enormous the East Stand is compared to the rest of the ground. It’s an absolute beast. Named after former player Jack Charlton it has a capacity just shy of 15,000. When it was first constructed, ahead of Euro ‘96, it held 17,000 people and was the biggest cantilever stand in the world.
It’s pleasingly spacious. There’s room to walk in front of people without them having to stand, unless they’ve got really long legs. It’s just massive too. You get the sense of being part of an enormous structure. The sheer number of flights of stairs you have to climb to get into this thing is nuts.
Across from us is the John Charles Stand, sponsored by Boost Energy! John Charles famously used to chug four cans of Boost daily. He was a big fan. This is the second largest stand, holding 11,000, including the away fans. Of which there were well over a thousand for Shrewsbury. This is where all the TV gantry’s are. This stand was built in 1957, after the West Stand burned down in a fire. This is planned to be redeveloped to match the East Stand, and turn the ground into the kind of capacity that could hold major events again. At the moment, it’s just not big enough.
Over to our left is the Norman Hunter* Stand, the smallest and yet most vocal area of the ground. Almost all chants start in this area and the noise filters out into the rest of the ground, who inevitably join in. I’ve been told about the Leeds atmosphere and it definitely delivered. No drumming or gimmicks, just loud fans banging out easy to chant refrains and singing the club’s anthem; “Marching on Together”.
*I have to resist the urge to type “bites your legs”, which is what my dad would say every time he mentioned the name Norman Hunter. It’s ingrained in me.
Over to our right is the Don Revie Stand, which can hold 7,000 people. I was a little surprised at how small the two ends of the ground are, compared to the whomping great East Stand. I’m on high, staring down at these things. You can see how high up we are, I can see a road over the top of the Revie Stand.
Looking at my notes, I’ve called this a “bigger, better Fratton Park”. No insult intended to the Portsmouth gang with that either. It’s just bigger and the lines of sight are perfect because it’s a cantilever. I also compared it to Goodison Park, and again favourably. Looking at pictures of Elland Road doesn’t do it justice because it’s more about the atmosphere and the crowd and the noise they generate in this bad boy.
The crowd belts out “Marching on Together” before the players take a knee and it’s applauded unanimously. I’ve been a couple of places where they booed the knee and that is telling about your fans. The Shrewsbury fans are having a nice night out and chant “Premier League and you fucked it up”. Leeds are decent in the first half but look out of ideas in the final third. Hjelde’s negativity does not go over well with the crowd, who groan every time he passes backwards, which is often! Dan James is his usual self, which is to say he looks threatening but has no end product.
Shrewsbury take the lead, on the break, as new recruit Taylor Perry scores. 28’ 0-1. Leeds are rubbish for the rest of the half, taken aback by Shrewsbury’s goal and they just can’t get going. Daniel Farke makes two changes; hooking Hjelde and Gyabi for Pascal Struijk and Sam Byram. The changes work and Leeds boss the second half. It’s a constant barrage of chances. Poveda shoots, it comes back out to Gelhardt and it loops off him over the keeper. Not sure if that was intentional! 1-1. The second Leeds goal is from a corner, flicked on and drilled home by Struijk. 2-1 Leeds. The result isn’t in any doubt after that and sub Luis Sinisterra should really net from one of his three chances.
FINAL SCORE: LEEDS 2 SHREWSBURY 1
Before we depart Yorkshire, it’s time to get some ratings on here. Although, the departure will affect the score of one of these as we spent an hour stuck in traffic trying to get out of Leeds.
I’m reliably informed that it wasn’t even that loud in here tonight. Shrewsbury fans singing “you only sing when you’re winning”. Well, shit, if this was quiet, they must have a banging atmosphere normally. ****
It was £16 to get into this Carabao Cup game, which is a bargain at this level. I paid £25 to go to Spurs in pre-season, which makes it seem all the more reasonable. ***½
It wasn’t a great game. It was patchy. It was somewhat better than Harrogate the night before so we’ll go ***
EASE OF ACCESS:
No. When we parked up, I hoped for the best, as the roads weren’t busy but we arrived at lunchtime for an evening kick off. Getting out of Leeds was the worst ‘getting away’ from a ground experience we’ve ever had. It took an hour to get from our parking spot to the motorway. Under normal driving circumstances, that’s a 13 minute drive. An hour. Horrible. The train isn’t much better. It’s over two miles away and takes 25 minutes on public transport, which would be heaving. A bad, bad experience. ½*
Where I’ve been harsh on the last point, I have to be generous here. The various bits of graffiti and Leedsisation of the area is exactly what I want from a football club. You turn that whole part of town into your ground. Anyone going anywhere near Elland Road needs to know that it’s Leeds, Leeds, Leeds. Add to the lack of queues at the entrance and lack of queues on the concourse, and toilets that weren’t completely disgusting, you’ve got a big win. *****
Even with Leeds’ issues getting in and out of the ground, this was a great experience. It’s a loud crowd, a city that adores its football team and an area of Leeds that is dragged up by the club. Elland Road, a shining beacon of hope amidst a run down outer area of Leeds. Filled with club pride and hope. Pure football.