'It will be emotional' - Leeds United fans gear up for long-awaited Elland Road return

Football without fans is nothing; a statement we hoped never had to be proven right.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 4:45 am
Leeds United fans at Elland Road during the club's centenary celebrations in 2019. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe

When Leeds United finally fling open their doors again this weekend it will have been 443 days since the stands at Elland Road were last filled and a matchday enjoyed.

A lot has happened since March 7 of last year, the last day anyone with an association to the Whites remembers football as we know it.

Promotion to the Premier League was in sight and celebrations were brewing for a party that the city had never seen the like of before.

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Leeds United fans at Elland Road during a fixture with Norwich City in 2019. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

External matters, though, intervened. Leeds - both on and off the field - have achieved a vast amount over the course of the last 14 months.

Premier League football was secured after a 16 year absence along with a debut campaign to remember that has seen the Whites finish in the top half of the standings amongst England's elite.

Fresh investment has been welcome too along with transfer records being repeatedly broken in a summer window like never before.

Supporters have been kept at arm's length during it all, watching on from living rooms or back gardens through TV screens while Bielsa and his trusted squad have had to go it alone.

Leeds United Supporters Trust Vice-Chair Graham Hyde. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Victor Orta has tried his best to fill the void; his screams echoing around the four walls of LS11 on game day have become a regular theme.

But this weekend the club's sporting director will be joined by around 8,000 equally fanatical voices.

It won't be the Elland Road we all know and love. It won't be the same as 36,000 supporters losing their minds after Luke Ayling crashes a volley off the underside of the crossbar.

It will, though, be somewhat of a step towards normality and an emotional moment for those inside and out of the famous old ground.

"I hope everyone who goes puts their heart and soul into it to make it feel like it's a bigger fraction than it is," Graham Hyde of the Leeds United Supporters Trust told the YEP.

"It will be an amazing experience for those going even though it is football at Elland Road 'lite'. It will be great to hear the songs being sung. It'll be great to see Leeds fans inside the ground again.

"There is no doubt it will be emotional for a number of different reasons.

"There will be people who are going back who are going back without people they're used to going with. It will be an emotional journey for fans to get back in Elland Road but it's got to be positive."

There is something bittersweet about the return of supporters at a reduced capacity.

Emotions have been heightened even more by the impending departure of promotion heroes Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi. The pair deserve a send off that Leeds simply cannot give them.

There is also a thought for those who have not secured a ticket in the ballot. And for those no longer here, too - Leeds are a club that has been hit by three great losses in the last year alone.

"The only sour note of the day for me is that my Dad, who has held a season ticket for almost 40 years and travelled all over Europe watching us in the O’Leary days, has missed out," season ticket holder Jack Hopton told the YEP.

"It's a real shame. I have been desperate to get back to watching live sport of any form really but Elland Road is obviously the one I’ve been looking forward to most.

"I accept that we won’t get the electric atmospheres we have become so used to in the past, but you can’t really be picky at times like these.

"It means a lot to finally be able to watch ‘Premier League Leeds’ and see all the new lads in person.

"The most important thing for me though is that it will be the last time we see Pablo [Hernandez], which will be a sad moment, but I am so happy that some of us will get to be there to show our appreciation to someone who has been the stand out shining light since relegation."