SIMON RIX: Elland Road looms like an empty mothership - and we all miss it
This week, someone asked me to write about last year’s gig at Elland Road for a book about Leeds United. With all that’s been going on, in both football and life, I had to double check the date - it honestly seems like eons ago now.
I’ve always thought that gig was as much a form of weird mass therapy as it was a concert. A celebration of Leeds with no strings attached, a chance for 20,000 of us to get back inside the stadium without the pressure or disappointment of football hanging around our necks. To put the previous season’s disasters to bed and look forward to the next, doing what we do best as a club and a city, we go again.
We know by now how it all turned out, and the only disappointment that lingers is the fact that we aren’t back inside our stadium sharing the joy of Bielsa-ball together. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’m missing Elland Road, it looms there on the edge of the city like an empty mothership, beckoning as we make a trip to IKEA wishing we were were off to watch The Whites, IRL.
From a personal point of view Elland Road itself became vitally important to me when the band became successful. Despite the often awful football being played inside the ground, the fact that we were away from Yorkshire so often meant Leeds United became something to really grab hold of. Football’s coming home might sound like a cheesy tagline but there’s something in it for me. No matter what the results threw up, there was always something happening at Leeds - it was like a reassuring postcard from back home, arriving just as you boarded your 10th flight of the week to wherever next.
So it’s fair to say the days of global gigging gave us a crash course in the value of home but strangely, recent events have had a similar impact. We’ve seen our worlds collapsed into small spheres, bringing us back at points to a local or regional way of life not seen since the 1950s. But rather than an idyllic coming together, being cooped up in our own houses has restricted us from visiting other places where we feel at home.
Leaving us yearning to revisit the houses we grew up in, the football stadiums we cut our teeth at, and the music venues that shaped and sustain us. We miss these places we call home, and the family, friends and community they house.
Based on the last few games we’ve been presented with, I think we can see that Leeds seem at home in the Premier League, but next up at Elland Road is the big team from Manchester! Last time Pep Guaridola and Marcelo Bielsa faced each other was a battle across the Pyrenees rather than the Pennines, with a fantastic Barca team beating Bilbao 3-0 in the Copa Del Rey final. Bielsa was grateful because he thought that Barcelona stopped playing at 3-0, but it’s Guardiola who has a Bielsa quote on his office wall that reads: “The moments in my life when I have improved are closely related to failure; the moments in my life when I have regressed are closely related to success”.
I only hope it’s Guaridola’s turn to improve himself this week...
The tone of mutual respect between these great managers shows a shared passion for great football and promises a great match on Saturday. Perhaps its notable that the mountains that separate them this time are a little smaller. I guess these moments of interconnectedness at a time of mass separation serve as a welcome reminder, that football is a small world, made up of the homes, connections and communities we build within it, and that whilst they are still out there we are never alone.