IT’S half eight on a Saturday morning and Tony Firth is completely run off his feet.
Tony is steward at the Leodiensians club in north Leeds – and by opening early, serving coffees and hearty full English breakfasts, he’s pulled in a lively, noisy crowd for the opening day of the Lions test series in New Zealand.
“I was hoping I’d see some of the match,” says Tony, who spends all morning handling sizzling frying pans and saucepans bubbling with beans and tomatoes. By the time he escapes the heat, the Lions are already on the ropes.
Tony has been here for 18 years now, though I’ve known him even longer, back to the days when he helped run the Cranmer Bank pub, long-since demolished, whose football team enjoyed some feisty clashes with my own YEP side.
That pub’s closure, along with that of the nearby Lingfield, has meant that for many who live in Adel and Alwoodley, Leo’s is comfortably the nearest pub. And though it’s tucked away down a twisting unmade road on the western side of King Lane, plenty take the trouble to trek along here, whether turning out for the club’s rugby or cricket sides, watching live sport on the big screen, or here for the Brownies, the running club or any of the other groups which meet here.
Some are simply looking for a quality pint of real ale. “We always have Tetley’s on,” says Tony. “Then there’s usually two or three guest beers, depending on the time of year.” His long apprenticeship at the Cranmer Bank underpins this commitment to real ale, something that’s most evident during an annual beer festival which draws hundreds to this low-slung clubhouse which is as a lively venue for all manner of functions.
It was after one of these popular events that Tony experienced the very worst night of his time in charge, when armed raiders put a gun to his head, locked him in the cellars, and stole the takings. Though the perpetrators are now safely behind bars, Tony admits that the mental scars of that night are taking time to heal: “I’m not the same person as I was,” he says. “It’s really knocked my confidence.”
Which is a criminal shame, yet he still puts up the same fearless front that he displayed as a tough-tackling midfielder for the Cranmer Bank. I’ve still got the scars. “I made the mistake of going straight back to work. We had a function the next day and I opened up as usual.”
We’re chatting in the committee room behind the bar, where trophy cabinets and old rugby shirts show off the proud history of a club founded in the 1920s to allow Grammar School old boys to pursue their sporting pleasures. On the walls, honours boards bear in gilt letters the names of club captains stretching back for generations. The club opened its doors to all-comers in the 1970s. And though its prime market remains club members and those drawn here to play and watch sport, the bar is open to anyone.
And Tony remains right at the heart of the social life of a club which has thriving junior and adult rugby and cricket sections sides. After the final whistle, the clubhouse bar slakes thirsts, celebrates victories, drowns the sorrows of defeat.
And he’ll be back there this Saturday, cooking up more hearty breakfasts for the rugby fans. Maybe there will be a better result this time around.
Crag Lane, Alwoodley
Host: Tony Firth
Type: Sports club, but open to non-members
Opening Hours: 6.30pm-11pm Mon, Tue, Thurs, Fri; 12.30pm-11pm Sat. Closed Sun except for functions. Closed Wed.
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£3.10) and up to three guest ales plus Carlsberg (£3.35), Tuborg (£3.40), Guinness (£3.70)
Wine: Small selection
Food: Available for functions only
Children: Welcomed. Play area.
Disabled: Easy access
Entertainment: Sky Sports TV, dart board, plus live sport on the pitches outside.
Functions: Club is available for private hire and special events. Occasional special events including beer festival in May
Beer Garden: Terrace area overlooking sports pitches
Parking: Large area
Telephone: 0113 2673409