ALL LEEDS AREN’T WE: I look forward to when, like Ayling, we can let our hair down - BBC presenter Ben Shires

Can you believe it’s been over a year since we last all got together at Elland Road?

Luke Ayling and his hair.
Leeds Utd v Aston Villa.  Premier League.  Elland Road Stadium.
27th February 2021.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Luke Ayling and his hair. Leeds Utd v Aston Villa. Premier League. Elland Road Stadium. 27th February 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Perhaps you can, after all rather a lot has happened since then.

In many ways, that comfortable victory over Huddersfield last March marks one of the last ‘normal’ occasions most Leeds fans can remember. More than 36,000 of us packed into the stadium that day, happily rubbing shoulders, or should I say elbows - already the warnings about Coronavirus had started to filter through, though no-one could have guessed the true extent of what was soon to unfold.

Instead, most people’s thoughts were focused less on hand washing and more on hand wringing, praying for a victory that would cement our position as title frontrunners.

As far as unintentional send offs to normality go, it was a memorable one. Luke Ayling channelled his inner-Yeboah and let rip with a cosmic rocket of a volley that scorched the paint from the crossbar.

It may have only been the third minute, but Elland Road was bouncing like a toddler on Tangfastics and the best was yet to come. In the midst of all the euphoria, Ayling momentarily rescinded his membership to Leeds’ Official Man Bun Club and unleashed the full extent of his glorious mane with the same panache as he’d just unleashed that sublime volley. Down it cascaded, metre by metre, flowing triumphantly beyond his waist to a soundtrack of cheers. It was one of the most spontaneously exuberant celebrations I’d ever witnessed with my own eyes. It was also the last.

Or it would have been had Patrick Bamford not scored in the second half to wrap up the points for Leeds and take the edge off what I feel was a powerful point I was just trying to make. Still, things never quite work out the way you plan, do they? I certainly didn’t predict that we wouldn’t see another Leeds United match for three and a half months, let alone that the wait to see them play live once more would still be ongoing a year later.

I was fortunate to be back at Elland Road for work this week, and you’ll be pleased to hear that our home from home is still reassuringly familiar. Gazing around the empty stadium though, it was the stands themselves that brought home what we’ve lost over the last twelve months. On my last visit the South and East Stands were just that, nothing more. Now they’ve been renamed the Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton stands respectively in honour of two giants of the game who’ll be forever remembered at Elland Road.

We’ve similarly bade a sad farewell to another club legend, Trevor Cherry, as well as countless Leeds fans who’ll no longer share the joy of a piping hot pie on match day.

Football is a pursuit best enjoyed in company and I can’t wait for a time when we can once more laugh together, cry together and hug together. Of course, it’ll never feel quite the same as it did before. For the meantime, wait we must; but I look forward to the day when, just like Luke Ayling, we can let our hair down once more.