My Leeds United - 'Elland Road is aching and pulsing with hope' says Waterloo Road actor
The YEP series 'My Leeds United' brings you the personal stories of familiar and not-so-familiar Whites, their matchday rituals and why they're Leeds.
Dean Smith is a Leeds actor who has appeared in Waterloo Road and Last Tango In Halifax. He is a Bielsa and Radebe fanatic.
“Saturday, April 4 1998.
I am eight years old and about to attend my first-ever football match.
At this point, I think I like football. I know I like booting a ball against the side of the house with that sweet leather-v-brick sound it makes.
I know I like the crisp white of the Leeds home jersey with the funny cat jumping over that funny ‘Puma’ word.
And I know I definitely like how passionately some of the grown-ups in my life react when Leeds score a goal.
Yeah. That looks fun.
‘You fancy going to a game at Elland Road spud?’ my dad said through his, in my opinion, ill-judged moustache. ‘Chris next door can get us some tickets’.
Going somewhere new where I had a strong suspicion people would be swearing was impossible to turn down. I loved being around Chris from next door as he was the spitting image of Egon from Ghostbusters.
I was practically shaking with excitement eating my Frosties the morning of the match.
Layer upon layer upon layer.
Shirt upon jumper upon vest. With various old t-shirts, stuffed animals and loft insulation thrown in for good measure.
‘Don’t want you getting cold spud’.
I wasn’t exactly sure where Elland Road was and decided it must be close to the North Pole as dad prepared me to go.
Finishing off his prize snowman with hat, scarf and gloves it wasn’t half hot in our kitchen in Cookridge.
Driving through Leeds to Elland Road, I spot flag after flag, scarf after scarf flapping from people’s car windows as they too make the pilgrimage to LS11. In the front of the car, dad and Chris speak in a strange language, leaving me with so many questions. What is a Gunnar Halle? Why is Hasselbainks right peg so deadly? What on earth is a ‘right peg’?
We get there. Or rather we don’t. We get to a street on an industrial estate a 10-minute walk away. I was expecting a bigger moment to be honest. An ‘I can see the sea!’ or ‘There’s the Blackpool Tower!’ moment. But there’s no Elland Road in sight. Walking to the ground isn’t much better. Views of mud and puddles and knees as we herd ourselves like sheep towards the ground.
We stop momentarily as dad buys something called ‘a programme’ from a scary-looking man with a loud voice.
We clatter through some gates and start climbing some stairs.
Dad and Chris look at me smiling and point forward for me to carry on. Strange men. I’ve seen stairs and railings before.
And then it happened. Life changed. Elland Road rose above and around me, imposing and expecting. And in the middle, the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. A million stories written already on the pitch and in the stands. The hope of a million yet to be written.
I don’t remember much about the game. Leeds beat Barnsley 2-1 and I heard words I’d never heard before. But something much bigger happened that day at Elland Road. I was in.
It had taken me. The drama, the optimism, the anxiety, the euphoria, the despair, the hope.
Yes. The hope. Now, nearly exactly 22 years on from that Saturday in 1998, the hope remains.
Football has pressed its pause button, and rightly so, like so many are being forced to do around the globe as we try to look after those most vulnerable in our societies.
But Elland Road is aching and pulsing with hope.
And when the world regains its balance and the doors are open again in LS11 we will sing about our ups and downs.
And we will hope.