Over the last decade, the centre of Leeds has seen great investment and is now one of the biggest shopping and business epicentres in the North of England. However, I struggle to contain my frustration and bewilderment when I visit the centre of my footballing world - Elland Road - and see the lack of development around the stadium.
I often wonder if there is a correlation between our fall from the top of European football 13 years ago and the lack of change within LS11 8TU. The Premier League is the pinnacle for every club within English Football and, as we slipped down the tiers, the potential for valuable investment around the stadium has diminished.
Various proposals have appeared for development around the grounds. A casino and the Leeds Arena were both talked about. However, the casino idea vanished quicker than Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanič did from the Leeds dug-out. The Arena was built, but it resides 3 miles away from the stadium. More recently, plans for a new ice rink have been approved but so far I haven’t been able to work on my change-foot spin before the game.
To a certain extent, I can understand developers and investors having a cautious attitude when it comes to building around teams who ply their trade in England’s second division. However, the brand of Leeds United should supersede any concerns.
For most of the clubs who get promoted, the financial benefits don’t just help the club, it also creates a change within the entire area. The increase of media attention gained from the Premier League encourages the local councils to react and invest in, and around, the ground.
As an example, Burnley Council have started renovations around Burnley town centre with the increase in visitors to the town.
Elland Road regularly has attendances in the region of 28,000 - that’s more than the vast majority of teams currently in the Premier League. We have an international following which stretches from all around Europe, America, Australia and beyond. These are loyal and die-hard fans who still love the club even though, due to our current predicament, have limited access to watch the club.
I believe we need solid investment in the area surrounding Elland Road. We could introduce a community hub around the stadium. A hotel complex would mean that the vast members of the Leeds United family could visit and watch the team, and incorporate a stay in the city. Maybe the inclusion of an entrainment centre and restaurants would see couples and families make more regular trips to see the Mighty Whites.
The club has seen the introduction of the Centenary Pavilion, which is impressive, but there’s so much more we could do.
I have been lucky to see Elland Road from a different perspective recently... inside the ground could do with a face-lift. On the surface, the ground looks reasonable, but when you look closely you can see the stadium clearly looks dated.
Elland Road has seen some investment with the upgrade of the hospitality packages at the ground. I am not saying that it requires a vast amount of money but an upgrade to the roof and relaying of the pitch is needed. Already, you can see the pitch has started to come away and isn’t the smooth playing surface I would expect from a club of Leeds’ size.
These few and, in my opinion, essential changes will make a big difference for the club as a whole.
However, our sudden decline and inability to get back to the upper level of English football has meant that Leeds United FC, and everything that goes along with it, has been forgotten by investment. Without promotion, it may soon get swallowed up by the growth that has seen Elland Road become disconnected from the rest of our thriving city.
For me, the city of Leeds and Leeds United are one and the same and I love both in equal measure. I just hope, going forward, the people leading the change within this great city understand the heritage and correlation between the two, and invest to make Elland Road and Leeds United an integral part of the city again. MOT.