My Leeds United: In sport, home is where the heart is

Headingley Stadium the home of Yorkshire Cricket.
Headingley Stadium the home of Yorkshire Cricket.
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I’ve been on my travels this week, and I’m away again on Monday for a few days in Dublin – but today, it’s back to Elland Road, as Leeds United hosts Burton Albion in the Championship, seeking to maintain a fantastic start to what looks like being a memorable season.

The fact that I’m enjoying home comforts in LS11 this afternoon has me contemplating the familiarity of that stadium at the foot of Beeston Hill, a place where I feel somehow more at home than almost anywhere else, except – well, home.

It’s not only Elland Road, though. On Thursday I was at Lord’s for the first day of the third Test match against the Windies, which fulfilled a long-standing ambition of mine to visit cricket’s legendary headquarters – and it was very nice, too.

But somehow, it wasn’t a patch on dear old dual-purpose Headingley, which is where I’ve seen most of my county and test cricket over the years, as well as some outstanding Rugby League, following the fortunes of Leeds Rhinos.

On the cricket side of things, one of my fondest recollections of Headingley is a Test match against Australia many years ago. I’d decided to have a refreshment break in the beer tent, as you do, when an England wicket fell. There was a brief pause, and then the loudspeakers announced the next English batsman: Ian Terence Botham.

I never saw a place empty quite so quickly; it was as if somebody had sounded the fire alarm. Within a minute, the beer tent had been virtually abandoned as everybody hastened to watch the vivid spectacle of Beefy batting.

Such is the pulling power of bona fide sporting legends. Another cricket ground with happy memories for me is Scarborough, where I saw Yorkshire win the County Championship in 2001, thus ending a barren spell of 33 years when that accolade had inexplicably gone elsewhere.

To see the title come home after so long was fantastic, though the necessary wickets fell only just in time before the rain set in. We were a damp but happy bunch, watching on as skipper David Byas and his players celebrated on the balcony.

It’s not often I get to see my teams win things, with the honourable exception of the mighty Rhinos, so occasions like that stick in my mind.

If winning things decided favourite football grounds, then Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane would be right up there, as that’s where I saw Leeds United virtually clinch the last ever old-style Football League Championship, beating some bunch of no-hopers from across the Pennines by four clear points.

I’ve also seen Leeds play in Barcelona, Milan and Madrid, three fantastic stadiums that, in their different fashions, take your breath away. And I’ve watched Leeds win at Wembley too, when we became the only team to put four past Liverpool under the Twin Towers, a second home for the Reds, to win the 1992 Charity Shield.

I was at the new Wembley just yesterday, on a stadium tour and, yes, it’s a fine and dandy place, though a little lacking in twin towers. But, as with Barcelona’s Camp Nou, Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and Milan’s San Siro, it pales in comparison with Elland Road, which stole my heart the first day I saw it in April 1975.

There are shinier stadiums, pretty much everywhere these days, although the old place had a welcome makeover recently.

But it’s our home, in a way that no other stadium ever could be – even if, as was mooted under Peter Ridsdale, we should ever up sticks as a club and move away.

Perish the thought.I’m really glad I’ve now been to Lord’s, and glad that I’ve seen those other places too - even the likes of Old Trafford (especially as we won). But, in sport as in life, it’s important to be aware; home really is where the heart is.