My Elland Road history is one of a gradual progression that has seen me following the varied fortunes of Leeds United from many different vantage points within that famous old stadium. I started out in the much-lamented Lowfields Road stand, its venerable roof famously braced by cross wires to stop it being blown away by anything above a stiff breeze. My spectating debut was in the funny little “shelf” area that ran the length of the stand between the terraces below and the seats above. I attended a good few games there, with our Gray and, solemnly in charge, my Dad – who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us kids to stand upon, thus enjoying some sort of view.
When I first started going to Elland Road independently, I stood on the Lowfields terraces, but found the passion and buffeting of that experience a little too much – softie that I was. So the next move was to the Boys’ Pen, in the North-East corner of the ground. I stayed there until a ticket mix-up meant that I faced a choice between missing a League Cup tie against Everton, and braving the rigours of the Kop. I screwed up my courage to make my debut on that mighty and cacophonous hill – and never looked back. From that time on, I was a dedicated Gelderd-Ender and the Kop years represent my golden era of United support.
When the Kop went all-seater in the wake of Hillsborough and the Taylor Report, it never felt quite the same to me, and I sympathise with those who never experienced the thrill and surge of a packed Gelderd. One moment I’ll always remember is when Dave Batty scored against Man City early in our League Title season of 1991/92. As Batty himself later admitted, he was never much of a goal-scorer “but, against City, I were prolific”. Over a hundred games after his previous goal, at City in the late 80s, Batts hit the back of the net against the same opponents in ’91 – and at the Gelderd End, too. The whole stadium erupted in joy unconfined; I believe injuries were sustained on the Kop that day but, trust me, nobody felt any pain. It was a magical moment, the stuff from which legends are woven.
When my time on the Kop came to an end, my attendance at Elland Road growing less frequent, I became something of a nomad, taking in the view from the South, West and East of the stadium. I was getting older and more curmudgeonly, less able and willing to tolerate the stresses of a packed crowd, or of bored kids making me get up and sit down all the time as they passed to and fro. I was becoming my grumpy Dad and, frankly, it had ceased to be fun. I was even considering a flirtation with Ponte Collieries, though my heart and soul belong to Leeds and always will. I just couldn’t hack it any more; I’d never got over the loss of the terraces, not that I’d last five minutes there, these days.
But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area courtesy of semi-regular Leeds United newspaper columns and, though I say it myself as shouldn’t, what has become a pan-global blog. Finally, I’m finding myself somewhat cossetted in experiencing an environment a bit kinder to middle-aged sensibilities. Last Saturday, I watched the Ipswich Town match beside one of my heroes, Norman Hunter, a legend of the Don Revie era at Leeds. I was utterly star-struck, but Big Norm was chatty and amiable – until the game started. Then he was kicking every ball, totally absorbed in the action, grievously upset at every United mistake (and there seemed to be a lot). It was an education for me in terms of what an old pro expects of the current crop, with the desk in front of us taking some punishment as Norm fulminated away. On my other side was erstwhile press-box doyen Don Warters, former Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off just before full-time, on his way to do his corporate bit in one of the lounges, I remarked that he didn’t seem too happy. Don grinned and replied, “He never is”.
I guess such hyper-involvement and the severely critical outlook goes with the territory for those guys who’ve been there and done it, especially at the level Norman, Billy and the rest played. But still, looking on the bright side – we did win on the day to stay top and, despite a couple of awayday blips recently, we’re still doing quite well overall. The football has been genuinely exciting so far this campaign, a real pleasure to watch and even to write about. What’s more, it’s a great view among all the scribes, the club kindly provides sandwiches, coffee and other such civilised comforts – and the company is amazing. All in all, just when I thought I was coming to the end of my Leeds United journey, it’s really wonderful to be back at Elland Road.
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