'We're all in this together' - Leeds United fans patiently waiting for Elland Road to roar again

Leeds United's wait for fans to return to the Elland Road stands will go on into the new year.

Saturday, 26th December 2020, 6:00 am

The last time Elland Road erupted as one is a moment Leeds United fans have longed to relive over the past eight months.

A lot has happened since March 7 and the 2-0 victory over West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield Town, the last day anyone with an association to the club remembers football as we know it.

The South stand erupted as Luke Ayling's goal of the season volley crashed off the underside of the crossbar with fans gleefully embracing one another with Leeds headed for their fifth victory on the bounce.

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Leeds United's home ground, Elland Road. Pic: Tony Johnson

Promotion was in sight and celebrations were brewing for the biggest party the city had seen in 16 years - just days later, though, a global pandemic hit with lives up and down the country altered in an instant.

Football was suspended before starting again after a three-month hiatus, Marcelo Bielsa's side restarted before finishing their promotion quest to the Premier League and the Whites have since kicked their first ball in the top flight once again.

Patrick Bamford - who scored his first goal in eight Championship games against the Terriers - has since proven those who doubted his credentials wrong by bagging nine goals in 14 games amongst England's elite.

All of the above, though, has transpired with supporters absent with stands left empty and soulless.

Leeds United's players warm-up at an empty Elland Road. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

“Football is the fans and football is for the people,” Victor Orta, Leeds United's sporting director, said recently.

Leeds fans have had to make do with a second hand experience since March, with each passing Premier League game without those who matter most causing increased sadness.

There is no doubt that Bielsa's side are missing the Whites' faithful too, having won just two of their opening seven games on home soil in the top flight.

A raucous Elland Road bouncing on a Premier League match day is to be feared by many, but without its key element in attendance it is without its usual edge.

"It is tough. There is no question about that," Graham Hyde of the Leeds United Supporters Trust told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"It's all the match day rituals that people have, whether it's travelling from all four corners or coming down from the top of Beeston hill.

"It's about meeting up with your friends and having that connection. Maybe having a pint, or grabbing a butty from the church as you walk down the hill towards Elland Road.

"Whatever it is that your match day ritual is it is done in a communal, collaborative and shared experience. You can't replicate that via the television and so many people have missed out.

"The number of friends I catch up with on a match day. We're chatting through Whatsapp and Twitter but that actual connectivity of human beings is what makes it a real club and real community.

"I think we're all desperate to get back to that."

Under government guidelines Premier League grounds can host 2,000 fans in Tier 2 and 4,000 in Tier 1. Leeds, though, is yet to come out of Tier 3 - where none are allowed through the turnstiles - following a second national lockdown.

There was hope that fans might've been given the green light over the festive period, and any bums on seats at Elland Road would be far better than the echoes that currently ring out.

"We want to be back but it has to be safe. Everyone has to be safe," Graham said.

"We're bound by government choices that we can only hope are being made for the good of the people and country. Ultimately the protocols are there for us to return. In small numbers in the first instance.

"It's baby steps but 2,000 Leeds fans will make a lot of noise. It would be a step in the right direction.

"It will be amazing to see fans back in the stadium. I think the important thing is that fans unite behind the fact that it is just great to get some fans back and not be getting too precious about whether they've won the ballot or not.

"Ultimately let's be in this together because we'll all be back there soon as one."

To some Leeds United is a religion and Elland Road is their church, and football has provided a distraction and relief from an otherwise tough year for many supporters around the globe.

Amongst an ever-changing world around us, the Whites have provided a sense of normality and togetherness - especially in a year of celebration for the club such as this one.

"Many people have suffered through financial hardship, loss of loved ones and personal illness with Covid," Graham said.

"To have something that is kind of a faith and religion - a sense of belonging and a focal point to return to, has been a huge comfort to many people.

"The biggest sadness of all is that we're only able to do it at arm's length. We've had to observe through TV screens when we could so much welcome that opportunity to be back in the ground and share the journey.

"It's the best we can do at the moment and no matter where we are in the world we are still able to connect with this journey that is going on for Leeds at the moment.

"The hope is that we'll be able to do that properly back in the stadium but for now we'll take what we can and cheer them on."