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Definitively Leeds: Jon Howe’s Evocative History of Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

Elland Road is the only place for us

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.

Strongly recommended.

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Full Circle: a Fan’s Journey from Super Leeds to The Last Champions – by Rob Atkinson

Super Leeds, Champions of 1974

Some of the regular readers of this blog might be aware that I’m in the process of writing a book, all about Leeds United.  I have made – ahem – passing references to this from time to time – with extremely gratifying results. The help I have received from the readership of this blog has been nothing short of outstanding.  I’ve had advice, input, anecdotes, suggestions – even donations – some of a generosity that has literally taken my breath away.

Now the Leeds United book project is a small but significant step nearer realisation.  At long last I have a working title and, if I have my way (and if the feedback isn’t too bad), then it’s the title that will eventually adorn the front cover of the finished, published product.  “Full Circle: a Fan’s Journey from Super Leeds to The Last Champions”.  As you can see, I’ve used it as the title of this blog post – and I’d be massively interested in what you kind and wonderful people out there think of it.

I’m most grateful to regular reader and contributor “Yorxman” for the Full Circle element of the title; he suggested it when I first stated my aim of writing a book about the years between 1974 and 1992, a period which began and ended with United as Champions.  A dour Yorkshireman managed us to that first title and we were inspired by a diminutive red-haired Scottish international midfielder.  Similar ingredients were in the mix for the 1992 triumph.  In between these twin peaks lay the decline of the late 70’s and the thinly-chronicled wilderness years of the 1980’s when Leeds and their army of followers graced many and varied second division grounds.  There is no shortage of material here – the difficulty lies in what to leave out.

The richness of these eighteen years resides in the fact that they were the last eighteen years of the old-style Football League Championship – the last couple of decades of the pre-Murdoch, pre-megabucks, muck and bullets game that people of my age and above – and maybe the generation after us – will remember with nostalgic fondness.  Much happened in that time, and I wish to reflect on major events that impacted not only Leeds, but the wider game.  We had Birmingham and Bradford disasters on the same day, shortly followed by Heysel and then a few years later, Hillsborough.  There were consequences for the future of football-watching; the terraces went, the fences did too.  Major events like these form a larger framework within which many memorable smaller incidents are worth recalling, especially in a Leeds United context.  I really will have to be choosy about what goes in and what is left out.

This will not be a book, however, that ends up with the reader unable to see the wood for the trees.  The main focus will always be Leeds, most of the recollections and descriptions will be of Leeds United’s matches and controversies – and of what it was like to watch our varyingly-successful or misfiring sides as fortunes waned and obscurity beckoned.  There were a number of highlights in the Tony Currie-inspired late seventies, but much of the book will concern itself with those second division outposts such as Carlisle and Millwall, Shrewsbury (where we once lost 5-1) and Plymouth (where we were hammered 6-3).  But there were good times too – many older Leeds fans look back on this period as some of the best years to follow United, and I can see their point, having covered so many miles in that decade myself, as well as being almost ever-present at a sparsely-populated Elland Road.

My intention is to start off with a description of the day the 1992 title was clinched, and then to journey back to where it all began for me, with a 0-2 defeat for the 1974 Champions at the hands of old enemies Liverpool.  Four days later, I saw us beat Barcelona, Johann Cruyff and all – and from then on I was there as fortunes faded and the club spiralled slowly downwards, before Sergeant Wilko arrived to take us back where we belonged.  The way my own life unfolded has curious parallels with the fluctuating fortunes of the Whites, so the opportunity is there for me to don some of Nick Hornby’s older clothes – not that I aspire to Fever Pitch excellence.  But the relationship between club and fan, as both make their way through turbulent times; that’s an important facet of this book.

Lastly, I’ll remember the day we played Norwich at home with Rod Wallace scoring a beauty before we received the League Championship trophy as Last Champions.  Then it was off to Leeds City Centre, City Square, the open-top bus and a swift hike to Leeds Town Hall to hear Cantona tell us how much he loved us.  A brief nod to the future that unfolded after that – and my first eighteen year journey with Leeds, the Full Circle from Champions to Champions, will be complete.  And it’ll then be time to think about a second book.

Much of this first one is already written, and the path is clear ahead now.  I even have a prospective illustrator whose fantastic caricatures can do justice to the many amazing characters that have worn the United shirt or sat in the Elland Road dugout – and even the boardroom.  So, much of the groundwork is done – but I still need a little help.  The more people who can share this blog post, as widely as possible, the more interest might be drummed up in the project.  I’m casting about for publishers, because I think the concept has a lot going for it, and I don’t want this to be a Kindle-only production.  So, if there are people out there with contacts in the publishing industry, or who might be in that industry themselves and interested in taking this project forward, then clearly – I’d love to hear from you.

I would also still love to hear from people who have recollections to share of their own ’74 to ’92 experiences, or from anyone who has suggestions to make or ideas to contribute.  As far as possible, I want this book to reflect the memories and opinions of many Leeds United fans – as many as space will permit.

To all of those who have helped in so many different ways, and have made it possible for me to get this far – I say, yet again: thank you so much.  Your enthusiasm, generosity and sheer kindness and interest have combined to make what for me has been an inspiring and humbling experience.  I always knew that Leeds United fans were the best in the world, so I didn’t need any proof of that.  But if any had been necessary, there it was, mountains of it. It’s a privilege to be able to count myself as one of you – and I hope that I can do justice to the faith that so many of you have shown in a project that means so enormously much to me.

Marching On Together – At Least Until the World Stops Going Round.

The Last Champions, 1992

The Last Champions, 1992

Ingenious Suggestions Invited

ImageSo, I’m writing this book.

It’s going to be about my team, Leeds United, and how the club have accompanied me on the highs and lows of my life, giving me misery when I’ve been at my happiest, and more misery when I’ve been down. It’s been done before, but every fan’s story stands alone and is unique in its way. Football affects us all differently, and we all react in an individual way to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that the game visits upon us. I started relatively late watching Leeds, and it was all my dad’s fault when I finally got round to it. Thanks, Dad. I think.

Really, I wasted the first 13 years of my life farting about watching old films and reading Biggles and Billy Bunter books, when I could have been watching Revie’s heroes stomping all the opposition into submission, and winning the occasional pot along the way. Instead of seeing us win our solitary FA Cup, I was reading a poem out loud at a Music Festival in Ponte, finishing runner-up in true Leeds United style. Instead of watching us take two league titles, I was being a bookworm and dreaming of a career as an astronaut. Talk about a misspent youth.

I finally started watching Leeds in April 1975. Revie had gone to his ill-fated stint as England boss. Big Jack had gone. The great days had gone too, although that wasn’t apparent at the time. Leeds were on their way to the European Cup Final, and my first game was a 0-2 defeat to Liverpool four days before I saw us beat Barcelona 2-1 in the European Cup Semi, First Leg, Cruyff, Neeskens and all. So, fittingly it was Billy Bremner who gave me my first Leeds goal, rocketing a shot into the top left corner in front of the South Stand as I watched stood precariously on my milk crate in that weird shelfy bit halfway up the Lowfields Stand. I still have the commentary of that goal as a ringtone on my iPhone. Fantastic.

And the rest is history; my history and the downs and ups of Leeds United FC over the subsequent 38 years to date. I hope you’ll buy the book, when it appears, and read more of my memories, interspersed with various rants here and there about how the game was, is and (I’m afraid) will be.

The thing is – I really need a title. I’m a bit stuck there, call it sub-editors’ block. The actual book is coming along nicely, and I think a lot of Leeds fans will empathise with what’s contained between the dust-covers – but I’m damned if I can think of a title for the front. Hang on – “The Damned United”?? Hmmmm, ideal – but I have the feeling it’s been done.

I would really appreciate some suggestions. If I end up using one of them, I will happily credit the owner of the idea on the inside front cover, as you do with proper books. And I’ll furnish a complimentary copy also, so you don’t have to wait for it to appear in the bargain bins for 99p. Can’t say fairer than that.

Honestly, I’m fresh out of original, snappy titles. Please help. As Brian McDermott says, we need to sing Marching On Together, and really mean it, suiting actions to words – so your support and inspired suggestions would be right in line with that Leeds United MOT spirit.

I look forward to some brilliant ideas, thanks in advance.