In his latest column for leedsunited.com, lifelong supporter Jon Howe looks at the start and end of history.
Howe is the author of two books on the club, ‘The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road’ - which has been updated as a new version for 2021 - and ‘All White: Leeds United’s 100 Greatest Players’ in 2012.
For any trivia buffs out there, a quick quiz question which will only be valid for a couple more weeks: What was significant about Leeds United’s 2-0 win over Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup Fourth Round on February 2nd 1952? No, this wasn’t the last time Leeds appeared in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, although goodness knows it feels like it was. No, you’ve probably guessed it by now, but this was the last competitive game Leeds United played without Queen Elizabeth ll being on the throne.
We’ve watched and read an awful lot this week about the Queen’s remarkable longevity, and as Leeds fans this is perhaps put into context for us by the fact that pretty much anything significant that has happened in our club’s history has happened under her watch. Jim Milburn and Ray Iggleden scored the Leeds goals that day, while John Charles played, but at that stage was still being selected predominantly as a centre half, and indeed this was the 98th of his eventual 327 appearances for Leeds, but he had scored only four of his eventual 157 goals. In every sense, there was a long road to travel yet.
To put the reign of the UK’s longest-serving monarch into perspective another way, she’s been on the throne even longer than Elland Road’s West Stand has served its duty. The Queen was four years into her service when an overnight fire destroyed our existing grandstand in September 1956, and when she began her duties in 1952 the wise old bear that is the West Stand now was the kind of affluent space-age fantasy a parochial club like Leeds United could only dream of.
It has often been said that the fire and the construction of the West Stand was the event that triggered the formation and development of the modern Leeds United we see today. Visually, the West Stand has been the perpetual backdrop to quite the ride ever since, but the discovery, the blossoming and then the sale of John Charles to Juventus – partly to cover the cost of the re-build - woke the club up to a world of possibilities, and to the realisation that the name ‘Leeds United’ could extend far beyond LS11.
Of course it doesn’t take the Queen’s passing to remind us that the modernisation of Elland Road is long overdue – and I’m not convinced the wooden seat I still sit on in the North West Corner today doesn’t have its origins in the reign of George Vl – but as a means of putting her durability and endurance in proportion, the next game Leeds United play will be a unique fixture for the vast majority of fans and a significant one for the club itself; the first under the new monarch King Charles lll, albeit we have of course acclaimed a ‘King Charles’ at Elland Road before.
For the record, on February 9th 1952, 47,985 fans packed into Elland Road for the Second Division game against Rotherham United, an attendance which was a full 21,400 more than the season’s average gate of 26,585. The huge crowd gathered to mark the passing of George Vl three days earlier, and before Kick-Off sang the hymn Abide With Me before observing an impeccable minute’s silence and then launching into a hearty rendition of the National Anthem. They then settled down to watch Leeds win 3-0. I’m sure everyone who was there remembered the spectacle for the rest of their lives as a fitting mark of respect.
Fast-forward to 2022, and in totally unrelated news, Jesse Marsch’s Leeds are currently in the middle of nearly a month off without a game. It feels very much like the pandemic when everything stopped in unprecedented circumstances and nobody quite knew what the right thing to do was. The only thing we do know is that someone would have been unhappy with whatever the football authorities chose to do in terms of scheduling football matches around the period of mourning for the Queen’s death, so it’s fairly pointless discussing that further and moving onto how Leeds United handle the extended break is probably more constructive.
From October 2nd and the home game against Aston Villa, Leeds have eight Premier League fixtures before the six-week break for the World Cup. At other stages of the season, this unforeseen month-long break might be seen as a godsend, but as it is, Jesse Marsch was busy trying to bed-in a raft of new players into a new club and a new system, as well as getting his charges up to peak match fitness at the start of a new season. When Leeds United’s campaign abruptly halted after the Brentford defeat, it was hardly at a juncture where Marsch could be entirely satisfied with how things were going either, despite the many positives we have seen in the first six games of the season.
Another mini pre-season is probably not what anyone wanted, but just like the pandemic, it is a case of making-do and doubtless Leeds will host the odd behind-closed-doors friendly, and will field as many senior players as the rules allow in Under-21 games. It shouldn’t be forgotten either that Leeds will have several players away on international duty and presumably competing hard for World Cup squad selection.
When the build-up to Aston Villa at home finally starts, we might even have a virtually fully-fit squad, and in terms of wear and tear, we may find the squad subsequently has a more robust quality to it, and given our chastening injury experiences last season, that might just make the difference this time around.
So I’m scratching around for the positives and trying to decide if the break is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s something that is forced upon us in unique circumstances and you have to make the best of it. And ultimately, football is just a small cog in the system when we consider the bigger picture, and Leeds United are an even less significant element within it.
As part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations, the Queen visited Elland Road on July 12th 1977 and was greeted by 40,000 cheering fans. She walked along the length of the West Stand – at the time in its cavalier prime at a mere 20 years old, and newer then than the East Stand is now – and partly along the Kop as schoolchildren performed parades and dance routines on the pitch that they’d practiced for weeks. She was gone within a few minutes, but I’m sure the visit left a lasting impression and was pretty much all she could talk about for weeks, maybe even years afterwards…
The Queen was also present for our one and only FA Cup Final victory in 1972 and handed the silver cup to captain Billy Bremner. Alas, given the rollercoaster ride Leeds United has experienced over her 70-year reign, I’m not sure we can call her a lucky omen, but then this is Year Dot in so many ways, and certainly not just for Leeds United. So if this is starting afresh and building a new history, Leeds United are always ready to turn the page and create a new story, and to say the least, we can’t wait to get started.