The Only Place for Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road – Home of Leeds United Hardcover – Illustrated, 12 Feb 2015 RRP £19.99
No matter who you support, no matter at what level of the football pyramid your club might play, one thing at least unites pretty much all football fans. Whatever strife and disagreement exists between devotees of different teams, we all have that one place outside of our own four walls which we see – seldom or often, on TV or in gritty reality – and beholding it, we simply think: home.
For Leeds United fans, this is as true as it gets anywhere. Elland Road is one of those iconic stadiums, one that – despite makeovers, haphazard additions and acres of cream cladding – still manages by its very eccentricity to retain a feeling of history and tradition about the place. As a Leeds supporter, you feel this; you have a sort of kindly sympathy for less fortunate football followers who must needs worship at more anonymous altars. Some have moved grounds, helplessly led by their club’s whim. Some have seen wholesale meccano-style rebuilds, leaving nothing of the history or feeling of the place. Some labour under the indignity of seeing that second home incongruously renamed after a frozen-fish packaging company or some grisly payday loans outfit. Not at Leeds – not yet, anyway.
Feeling all of this is one thing; seeing it laid out before your greedy eyes, in brilliant depth of factual detail and wonderfully-described, lovingly-written anecdotal account – that’s something else. And The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road, this mighty new tome by United fan Jon Howe, really is something else. It effortlessly, comprehensively fills a large gap on any Leeds United fan’s bookshelf. Many are the club histories, with their passing nods to the development of Elland Road. Many are the ghosted autobiographies, bringing us the players’ memories of performing on that familiar stage. But never before has the place been so forensically examined, its history so assiduously chronicled. The book knows that the fans adore the stadium, it acknowledges that affinity between supporter and structure. It sets out to feed that yearning for more detail, more history, more about the place itself and all its quirks and idiosyncrasies. And what it serves up is a veritable feast.
Read the book from cover to cover, or dip into it at random; this is a book that can be devoured or sampled. The reader is taken back in time to a long-ago period when the stadium we know was merely a playing field, canted round at ninety degrees to sit with its sidelines along Elland Road, only the barest of facilities to be enjoyed by hardy supporters and one rickety stand. The Peacock pub is there, the landscape is familiar; but in a series of poignantly evocative photographs we see our club’s home gradually take shape from these rudimentary beginnings.
Those photographs – a joy in themselves. Bones of stands exposed by fire; metal bones of new stands rising out of the earth, waiting to be dressed in concrete and wood or plastic, old terracing, earthen banks, modern cantilever construction. It’s all there and the well-researched text is beautifully illustrated by these glimpses of the past as much as by the vibrant colour in the pictures of more modern days.
I read this as a fan and a lover of the Elland Road stadium. It’s my home too, my place of worship. I thought I couldn’t possibly love it more; but I was wrong. To know you is to love you, so they say, and I know Elland Road so much better now, its history and its inextricable links with the Club itself. Jon Howe’s book does that for the reader; it elevates the appreciation of something already well-loved. Anyone who has a Leeds fan in their life; someone deserving of a real treat – you could hardly do better. And, I’d venture to suggest, it’s a book with something of interest to offer on a broader basis; any football fan would surely find it fascinating.