My Leeds United: From milk crates to press box

MET: Rob Atkinson, left, with Leeds United legend Norman Hunter.
MET: Rob Atkinson, left, with Leeds United legend Norman Hunter.
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Columnist Rob Atkinson reflects on watching Leeds United at Elland Road from various vantage points over the years.

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 my Dad who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us to stand upon. 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 David 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 was prolific”. More than 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. It was a magical moment.

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.

But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area; finally experiencing an environment kinder to middle-aged sensibilities.

The other week, I found myself watching the 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).

On my other side was press-box doyen Don Warters, ex Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off at full-time, I remarked that he didn’t seem happy.

Don grinned and replied, “He never is”. t’s a great view from the gantry and the company is amazing.

It’s wonderful to be back at Elland Road.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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