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From Milk Crate to Press Box, 42 Years at Leeds United’s Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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Sitting where Frannie Lee wouldn’t dare – within right-hook range of Big Norm

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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Lowfields Road

Lowfields Road stand, towards the end of its life – but with the “Shelf” easily identifiable

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Leeds United Such a Massive Pull in the Blogosphere: Just Ask West Ham

Dr. Weevil Of West Ham - Obsessed With LUFC

Dr. Weevil Of West Ham – Obsessed With LUFC

“We’re not famous any more” sing the Leeds fans, showing a neat grasp of irony in a medium too often dominated by the literal and the just plain crass.  The point is, of course, that we still are famous.  Hugely so.  Our fans scattered all over the globe mean that wherever you go, you’re likely to see a visiting Leeds United shirt to provide a welcome relief from all the tedious Man U rags sported by the clueless locals.  Listen to any Sky Live broadcast from the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and you’ll hear those wurzelly Devon accents mixing in with the nasal cockney whine as the Man U faithful describe how they “all ‘ate Leeds scam, innit”.

And the evidence is there in the ether too, as the web buzzes with references to our beloved Whites, ensuring that even the most facile and puerile of blogs can guarantee itself hits aplenty merely by mentioning those magic words “Leeds United”.  Some have taken it to such lengths that their Leeds-related output has shoved the more mundane stuff about their own desperately anonymous favourites way into the background, which is peculiar, but hey – you have to provide your readers with what they want to read, apparently – and if possible you have to try to attract some of football’s most fanatical fans by being “controversial” – or as we might more accurately describe it: by talking bollocks.

The leading contender for “biggest culprit” in these dubious and unprofessional tactics is a poorly-constructed and ill-written blog, ostensibly concerned with minor London club West Ham United, and entitled “The Game’s Gone Crazy”, which has a specially-created page to allow it to burble on about matters which are, frankly, none of its concern.  The Leeds United content of this page is out of all proportion to the interest you might expect the ‘Appy ‘Ammers to take in our beloved club, and of course it tends to paint the goings-on down at LS11 in the most negative light possible.  He’s been at it again today, capitalising on the 24th anniversary of Don Revie’s death to write another “controversial” article which – naturally – consists of second-hand lies and rumours recycled from various down-market tabloids, some successfully sued by former Leeds United personalities in the past.

Now, it must be said that a cursory examination of the contents of this upstart site (I’d caution you, gentle reader, not to waste too many of your valuable minutes on it) will reveal that the site-owner’s tactics are a hell of a lot sounder than his less-than-impressive literary ability.  He manages to attract a lot of comment and abuse from outraged fans of other clubs, with Leeds obviously prominent among their number.  The simple process of writing about Leeds, writing often and writing groundless rubbish, generates a lot of traffic for this site, traffic that its ‘Ammers stuff could not possibly hope to generate.  So, from that point of view, the author is running a successful operation, but one which owes little to the merits of his creation – which are appallingly few.  The sly Bubble-blower has fastened onto the global appeal of Leeds United to his advantage, and we should perhaps praise his acumen; it certainly far outstrips his ability to string enough sentences together for a decent piece of writing.

As you might expect, a number of his West Ham-oriented readership are a bit embarrassed about this craven behaviour – but their criticism falls on deaf ears by and large.  It’s quite obvious that “Dr. Evil”, as he is referred to by himself (and we presume he fondly hopes that others so refer to him as well), is preoccupied by getting as many reads as possible for his site and – only too well aware that his meagre talent is not going to get him far down that road – has opted instead for setting up as an irritant that will attract opprobrium and attention in equal measures.

It’s a back-handed compliment of course – the world knows that Leeds United is still big news out there, and any LUFC tag will pretty much guarantee a readership made up of Leeds fanatics (many thousands of us) and those who detest the very mention of our great club’s name (positively millions in the Devon/Cornwall hotbed of Man U support alone.)  So we should perhaps be flattered by the attention – it’s better than the dreadful and depressing anonymity suffered by West Ham and other such small fry.  And viewing it like that – not taking it too seriously and dismissing it as the unsubtle attempt to drag in readers that it undoubtedly is – we can smile ruefully and reflect on how much quieter a place the internet would be if Leeds United didn’t exist.  What would they all talk about then?  And where would the hapless and not-terribly-good Dr. Weevil find his victims… ahem… readers??