Leeds United 'golden ticket' winners vow to represent thousands who missed out when West Brom visit Elland Road
The Leeds United equivalent of WIlly Wonka's golden tickets have been dropping into the inboxes of supporters since yesterday, granting them access to Elland Road for the first time since March 2020.
Season ticket holders who have been successful in the ballot for Leeds' Premier League finale at home to West Brom will get the chance to purchase tickets tomorrow from 10.30am. Speaking to the YEP, some of the lucky few say that although the experience will be bittersweet, there is genuine excitement at taking a huge step towards some footballing normality and reuniting with their Premier League heroes.
Niall Wright has been a season ticket holder since he was a boy but for the last 10 years he, his dad and sister have sat in the East Stand family area. When Marcelo Bielsa's men run out on Sunday May 23 to face the already-relegated Baggies, he will be sitting alone. Like a number of others, his family members opted out of the ballot.
"My dad and sister aren’t going to the game as I don’t think they’re quite as confident about the Covid situation as I am, mainly down to what it might be like outside the ground if excess people show up to celebrate the end of the season," he told the YEP.
"But I’m excited about going back, can’t wait to see some football and see this fantastic team we have. I want to show my appreciation to them for what they did last season and this first season back. I'm not 100 per cent sure what to expect really, it won't feel anything like a full Elland Road will but I also think it will feel a long way from 8,000 fans suffering League One football.
"I feel privileged to have the opportunity to see this match and I need to make sure I honour the thousands of season ticket holders who are going to miss out by making as much noise as possible. Anyone who sits around me knows I always do."
Paul Grimley is a 30-year season ticket veteran who stands on the Kop. Like Niall he plans to do his utmost to represent those missing out.
"I'm very lucky and very grateful, I cannot wait," he said.
"I'm looking forward to saying thank you to the players for everything over the last two years, as well as giving an amazing send off to Pablo and any others who it looks like will be leaving us. I'm not nervous at all about going back. It's about time we all got on with living our lives now and what better way to start?
"I promise every person who can’t get in that we will make their voices heard loud and proud."
It will take Stef Pryor two hours to get to Elland Road from his home in the Lake District on matchday and he plans to give himself plenty of time to soak it all in before kick-off.
"When I entered the ballot I thought if I don’t get a ticket then it doesn’t matter, it’s only West Brom and there’s less than a quarter of the capacity," he said.
"Now I have been successful I am so relieved and I’m already planning to set off at 9am to ensure I can walk around the ground and take it in. I can’t help but feel it’s a historic game, not just because it’s the first Premier League game in 16 years for Leeds with fans at Elland Road, but in the context of the pandemic."
His excitement and confidence that the club will take all the necessary Covid measures has overcome a few initial concerns he experienced and while he knows it won't sound like a packed stadium, he still expects it to feel special.
"It will definitely be emotional given the loss of so many club legends and it will be strange to see the Norman Hunter Stand and the Jack Charlton Stand that were just the South and East Stands when we last saw the club in action," he said.
"I also expect it to be a chance for us ‘legacy fans’ to show what football means to so many. I can't wait."
Graham Box, a South Stand season ticket holder for 10 years, still expects a 'great atmosphere' when he and his brother take their seats as a group of six.
Tanya Sullivan has been going to games at Elland Road with her dad David since she was six and has had her season ticket for 24 years. They sit in the Bremner Suite.
"I couldn't feel any more excited if I tried," she told the YEP.
"I know it's going to be half empty and very different to a usual Elland Road but the thought of being able to sit and have a pint and a pie with my dad and watch live football together for the first time in over 14 months and for the first time as a Premier League team for over 16 years is going to be the best feeling."
She had no second thoughts over a return to the stadium in what are still strange and different times: "It seems like we are on top of things and moving in the right direction regards cases dropping and if everyone follows the rules the club have put in place I don't see how it can cause a problem."
There might not be a lot riding on the fixture in terms of the final Premier League standings but James Freeman, a season ticket holder in the 90s with his uncle and for the past five years, wants to end the season in style.
For him and thousands of others whose inbox pinged with good news, the visit of West Brom will represent something far greater than three points. Matchday is coming back.
"When I saw I’d got the email confirming it I was excited, having the chance to see my team back where they belong," he said.
"Matchday always creates that buzz for me. I’m still expecting it to be fairly vociferous and atmospheric and will be doing my best to add to that.
"Even though it’s not an overly important game in terms of staying up I know that the players will no doubt want to perform for the fans and go out with a bang. I'm sure that Leeds United as a club will make it as special as they possibly can. In truth I’ve really missed it and the mate I go with luckily got a ticket in the ballot as well so we’re planning to do similar as we did when we went to previous matches."