THE heady days are gone,” says Treasurer Ken Brown, joining me for a pint.
He lists an ageing demographic among his members, the attrition of illness and death – and curiously, caravanning – among key reasons why New Burley Club is struggling to make ends meet.
“We have an older clientele; people get sick, people die. A whole bunch of them used to stand at the corner of the bar drinking, but they’ve all bought caravans and spend spare their time there. Over the past year we have seen takings drop by £1,000 a week – which for a club like ours is a huge amount.”
Ken paints a grim picture of a club which was evidently thriving when I last visited just a few years ago: “Families used to come, and when the children grew up they came with their own children. But the youngsters don’t go to clubs like this any more.”
It’s a pattern perhaps repeated in traditional members’ clubs across the country. Seemingly fewer of us self-identify as “working men” or celebrate our allegiance to a political party through membership, edging Con Clubs and Lib Clubs and WMCs closer toward oblivion.
Ken has been here long enough to have seen the gradual social changes which are now impacting so profoundly. He first joined when he moved into the street nearly 50 years ago and is now among an elite group who qualify for “double life membership”, having been on the books more than 40 years.
“We would like to get some younger people in, but it’s really tough,” he says, though looking around these vast premises just off Burley Road, you can’t help feel that the club has plenty to offer, if only it could attract people to come through the door, as I did on Thursday evening.
From the car park you step into a small lobby. To the right is a comfortable and well-kept lounge where a handful of regulars are anticipating their evening of bingo. Across the lobby is the main bar, where a knot of drinkers are enjoying a pint at the bar, while a couple of rugby league diehards are settling in for an evening in front of the big screen.
There’s a display of Rhinos memorabilia on one wall. Another corner is dedicated to Leeds United legends – images the great teams of the Revie era sit alongside a shirt signed by Allan Clarke on a visit to the club and a dramatic photograph of the great Duncan McKenzie leaping over a Mini.
Beyond here, the cavernous concert room stands empty; upstairs a low thrum of chatter is broken only by the soft click of the snooker balls.
You can sense the potential in these huge rooms, which for too much of the time stand empty. The club was founded in 1928, a time of far greater social cohension, and extended in clubland’s high days of the 60s and 70s. “Now it’s too big for what we need,” says Ken. “But of course we have to pay top whack in council rates.”
Darts and snooker teams which once made this their home have moved away; only funeral wakes and the occasional party disturb the peace of the concert room from one Saturday to the next.
It certainly can’t be the membership fees which are driving people away. It costs just £6.20 to join, and then £5 a year thereafter; for pensioners it’s just £1.
A few initiatives aimed to draw a younger crowd: “We tried a gin promotion but it didn’t do much. We put in Sky Sports, but the only time we get a crowd is when the Rhinos are playing away.”
It’s sad to see a once great social club so obviously in decline.
If you live nearby and have never been in, why not give it a try? You can be sure of a warm welcome, that’s for certain.
FACTFILE: Name: New Burley Club
Address: Burley Hill Drive, LS4 2SZ
Type: Vast community club
Opening Hours: 4-11pm Mon, Tue, Thur; 1-11pm Wed; 2-11.30pm Fri-Sat; noon-11pm Sun.
Beers: Sam Smith’s Sovereign Bitter (£2.30), John Smith Smooth (£2.60), Worthington (£2.55), Coors and Carlsberg (£2.90), Foster’s and Strongbow (£2.80),
Wines: Small selection
Disabled: Ramp access, disabled toilets
Children: Welcomed if well behaved
Entertainment: Live music or karaoke events every Saturday, multi-channel Sky Sports TVs, snooker and pool tables, dart board and games machines.
Parking: Large area to side
Phone: 0113 2752108