We’RE ALL LEEDS AREN’T WE: Children’s presenter and lifelong Leeds United fan Ben Shires on football and family
It’s often said that supporting a football club is like being part of a large, extended family; together you share the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, the money worries, bad relationships and the oddballs.
It’s a theory I’ve been ruminating on a lot lately. Certainly as Leeds United fans, our family is more tight knit than most. How could we not be after the years of trauma and turmoil, chancers and charlatans, recrimination and relegation we’ve had to endure? These are storms we’ve weathered together, countless thousands of us going about our own unique lives and yet each tethered by an invisible, indelible white, blue and yellow thread. Of course there’s still the occasional squabble, which family doesn’t have those? Through it all though, we’ve always had Leeds United.
It’s from my own family that my love of Leeds first originated, surrounded as I was by rabid evangelists on all sides. Alas, my feckless brother was impervious to their charms, instead being seduced by Kevin Keegan’s ‘entertainers’-era Newcastle. He’s been paying the tedious price ever since.
My indoctrination was helped along by the influence of my two Leeds-loving grandads. Both were desperate to see their first born grandchild follow in the family tradition. It helped that my maternal grandfather, Malcolm Lawton, had once actually played at the club - a mind-blowing thought for a six-year-old.
Having grown up in the shadow of Elland Road during the War, Malcolm joined Leeds’ youth setup before cementing a place in the Reserves’ backline alongside Jack Charlton in the mid ‘50s. However, with first team opportunities limited, he instead joined Bradford Park Avenue in 1957. Despite having not played for the senior side at Leeds, his love for the club never dimmed. He took me to my first match, and from there I was hooked.
On my father’s side, Grandad Maurice was a painter and decorator by trade. He hadn’t enjoyed the same footballing career as Malcolm (though tales were told of a tricky winger during his National Service days), but his love for Leeds United was just as keen.
Both men loved the club passionately, which in turn fuelled my love, both of Leeds United and them too. It seeped into every corner of our relationships - birthdays spent at matches, dinnertime conversations dominated by talk of tactics, in-jokes and moans. As I got older and went on to work in football broadcasting, our bond grew. As with all families though, there’ve been some heartbreaking goodbyes. Malcolm passed in 2017, and this week we said farewell to Maurice, perhaps the loveliest soul I’ve ever known. Fittingly, our final words, the day before he died, were about the club we both loved so dearly. I’ve taken huge comfort in knowing that, despite not having my earliest heroes with me anymore, we’ll always have Leeds United.