Tuesday, 6 February 2018

New Year, new stuff at the Peacock, same old Leeds United

‘New Year, new me’ I think that’s how the saying goes. We all like to turn over a new leaf at this time and attack a new calendar year with a different approach and with focus and determination; be it to lose weight, save up some money for something or to find a new job. This can be a life-changing, watershed moment, or it can all collapse over a box of Milk Tray and some internet shopping after a rough day at work.

For us at the Old Peacock, obviously we’re not big advocates of Dry January or anything like that, but we appreciate people like to make a considered lifestyle choice every now and again, and if you have abstained from alcohol for the past 31 days since New Year, then well done and welcome back, we’ve kept the place ticking over nicely for you.

In terms of Leeds United, I guess the saying is ‘New Year, same old Leeds’. It’s fair to say that 2018 has been an unqualified disaster so far; a trail of destruction you can trace back to Boxing Day. We have yet to win since the clock ticked over into the new year, and on the way we have been knocked out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle by League Two Newport County, lost the mercurial Samuel Saiz to suspension for six games, had three other players sent off, conceded four goals at home to both Millwall and Cardiff City, released a new badge in a complete and utter PR disaster and then hastily un-released it and then finally we have sacked our manager Thomas Christiansen.

We don’t do things by halves at Elland Road, and what we can pack into a month is enough to keep the hacks at most regional papers occupied for a whole year. At the Old Peacock we’re personally a little sad to see Christiansen leave; he was a decent, honourable man and navigated one of the most challenging jobs in English football with integrity and decorum. The fact that he never took us up on our invite over the road for a pint or two might have something to do with that though……

Unfortunately he was clearly out of his depth and has had to endure an unbelievable run of bad luck with injuries and suspensions, but things were clearly not working out and he leaves with everyone’s best wishes. By the time you are reading this we may have the latest incumbent already in the Leeds United hot seat, but certainly we would like it to be someone with a higher profile, more of a personality and some real credentials for being able to achieve what we all want to achieve.

We’ve been lucky with a couple of Saturday 3pm Kick-Offs over the last few weeks, and despite the on-pitch woes the visits of Millwall and Cardiff City still attracted crowds of over 30,000 on both occasions. The remainder of February sees us take on Bristol City at Elland Road at the pretty inhospitable time of 4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon, while our only other home fixture is on Saturday 24th when we welcome Brentford to LS11.

Throughout all the troubles of the recent weeks, pretty much the only consistency you can find is in the pre-match atmosphere at the Old Peacock. The band plays on whatever the weather and we all have a good time; win, lose or draw. Whatever life throws at you as a Leeds United fan, you can be sure of one thing; a warm welcome and a great time at the Peacock, and we will be extending that famous welcome to fans of the oval ball this week as Leeds Rhinos come to Elland Road.

The Rhinos have been a great ambassador for the city of Leeds over the last few years, not just winning everything in sight, but also doing it in the right spirit and showing unbelievable powers of mental strength and being able to overcome adversity. They really are a sporting institution with some special ingredients over there at Headingley, and as the famous ground gets re-built with two new stands taking shape over the winter months, we are more than happy to welcome them to Elland Road for a couple of ‘home’ games this month and next.

Thursday February 8th sees Danny McGuire make a swift return to the city as he brings his new Hull Kingston Rovers teammates to Elland Road, while March 23rd sees the Castleford Tigers attempt to avenge that amazing Grand Final defeat to the Rhinos last October. For both occasions we are expecting big crowds and we are setting up just like a normal Leeds United matchday, with our usual matchday food menu, all our bars open and our resident live band The Snapp ready to get your foot tapping and keep you warm in the beer garden.

Of course, the two Leeds Rhinos home games are not the only out of the ordinary events being lined up for Elland Road in the coming months, and it looks like we will be having a busy summer at the end of the regular football season. As soon as Leeds United play their last home game on May 6th (Play-Offs permitting………….) the ground will be transformed into a Boxing venue, ready for the IBF World Featherweight title fight between Lee Selby and Leeds’ own Josh Warrington on Saturday May 19th. This might just be an occasion more rowdy than a Leeds United home game and will certain be a special night for Leeds as a city.

During major international football tournaments the pub is always well attended, particularly when England are playing. We like to push the boat out for the home nations and the month-long tournament in June and July is always something to look forward to, with every game shown live in the pub, this year from Russia. Imagine our delight though when Elland Road was chosen to stage England’s final warm-up game before the World Cup?

In a major coup for Leeds and Leeds United, England will face Costa Rica at Elland Road on Thursday June 7th at 8.00pm. We will certainly be putting the red carpet out on this occasion and hopefully the summer climate will be kind to us and the beer garden will come into its own.

We’ll be announcing more details about these special occasions in the coming months, but it’s certainly an exciting time at the Old Peacock with plenty to look forward to. New Year, new me I suppose you could say, and we certainly like this new version of the multi-talented, all-welcoming Old Peacock.   

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Near-misses, new beginnings and progress: a look back at 2017

Happy New Year and a big welcome to 2018 from everyone at the Old Peacock and Ossett Brewery. What a year 2017 was. For anybody in the pub trade the busy days and nights can seem relentless, and obviously the festive period can be intense and seemingly lasts forever. When you factor in that we are also a football pub that could not be any closer to the football club that we serve, and that club regularly attracts crowds of over 30,000, then you can imagine that life at the Old Peacock is something of a whirlwind.

Depending on how our staff want to look at it, 2017 couldn’t have gone any better. From a Leeds United perspective it has been the usual rollercoaster of emotions. The year started with Garry Monk’s team looking certainties to reach the end of season play-offs, and the attendances at Elland Road reflected that. By April, however, all was not well and Leeds dropped out of the top six at the very last.

It is inevitable with Leeds United that there is always interest in whatever they do, good or bad. It comes with the territory, and even as it looked like the wheels were coming off, the attendances didn’t drop, we were still seeing hordes of fans swarming all over the pub and making matchdays a unique and very special experience.

Typically with Leeds United, it wasn’t particularly quiet over the summer either. Andrea Radrizzani completed his 100% takeover of the club as soon as the season had ended, Garry Monk resigned and Thomas Christiansen was appointed, plus a tidal wave of backroom staff, executive staff and playing staff came into the club. But undoubtedly the most significant event of the summer and the one that felt most poignant to us at the Old Peacock, was when the club bought back Elland Road from private ownership.

Many people might not know this, but the Old Peacock pre-dates Elland Road by many years. For a long time the various guardians and staff of the pub looked out only on open fields and a dirt track. The pub can be traced back as far as 1826, but there is no evidence of a sports field where Elland Road now stands until 1878, and of course the ground didn’t start to develop properly until Leeds City took it over in 1904 and then Leeds United in 1919.

This shows that the pub has always been a central part of the community and has always served the various industries around it. The football club and the numerous local businesses, and even the motorway network, have all arrived since the Peacock first opened its doors. So we only became a football pub when Leeds United grew and grew throughout the 20th century. However, we know how special Elland Road is and we know our place in serving its customers. We like to think we are just as much a part of the fabric, and as important to some fans, as the ground itself.
So when the ground was bought back by the club is was a very special night, and we did find that the pub was busier than usual, on a filthy night shrouded by biblical rain, with fans just wanting to be at the ground and wanting to be part of such a historic occasion.

Talking of historic occasions, Leeds United were top of the league just a couple of months later as we started the 2017/18 season like one of those greyhounds that used to race down the road. It was an amazingly exciting time, and while it didn’t last of course, we do feel that there is something special happening at the club now. There is a different feeling about the place and an air of optimism and pride that has been notably absent for a few years. On the pitch, maybe we won’t necessarily achieve everything we want to straight away, but fans can at least see the club moving in the right direction. Off the pitch, the external areas of the ground look so much better and we are really looking forward to the Bremner Square development starting soon.

In between matchdays we continue to serve our regulars, plus staff from neighbouring businesses, including Leeds United, and of course fans who just love to make a midweek pilgrimage, and our food nights continue to be a great success, we also sold out our Christmas Day menu weeks in advance. In 2017 we established live music in the beer garden on matchdays, to really maximise the atmosphere that is created. The reaction has been fantastic. We have also introduced new bars, barbecue food on midweek nights when maybe you haven’t had chance to grab something at home in your haste to get to the game, and to help relieve the big queues on matchdays we have introduced two-pint pots, which have also been gratefully received.

So we are all geared up for another blockbuster of a year in 2018. We ended 2017 with a run of home fixtures, as Norwich City and Hull City visited Elland Road on consecutive Saturdays, while we have already chalked off our first big game of the new year as over 32,000 came along to watch Nottingham Forest on January 1st. The outlook from now is decidedly more low key, however, with only a visit from our friends at Millwall to look forward to on January 20th. The only certainty is that life will never be dull around here, and even if Leeds United are largely responsible for that, we know that their fans can also bring something to the party.

In closing we would like to thank all our fantastic staff for their hard work and patience throughout 2017, they really are the best in the business. They play an absolutely vital role in what we do and until you have worked an Old Peacock matchday I don’t think you can appreciate what a truly unique experience that is, and what a brilliant job they do. So thanks to all the staff and we know they are prepared for another year of fun, laughter and pulling pints. See you soon.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Leeds United's Christmas Message

It almost feels like this football season hasn’t got going yet, but here we are approaching the halfway point. The blistering start from Leeds swiftly turned into a stutter and in recent weeks it has levelled out a bit, but add in the numerous international breaks and it has all been a bit stop/start and it is hard to draw any conclusions. Yet as I write, Leeds have played 20 games and will soon be facing the home straight to the end of the season once again.

December is traditionally the time when the league table really starts to take shape. The inhabitants of the play off places at the turn of the year are quite often the same ones at the end of the season; unless one of them is Leeds of course, but it’s up to us to change that. Right now we are two places and five points outside the play-offs zone and face a pretty favourable run of games in December, so you could conclude that Leeds are quite well placed for an assault on the top six in the second half of the season, and December could see them send out a message to the rest of the division.  

 The last month has seen a bit of a turnaround in the club’s fortunes after a pretty horrific October. While there were two away defeats at Brentford and Wolves, Leeds won their only home game against Garry Monk’s Middlesbrough and also notched a rare Yorkshire Derby win at Barnsley. This has stopped the rot and instilled a bit of belief in both the team and the management, something that had gone badly AWOL and left us all a bit confused after such a brilliant start to the season.

It seems that almost every game is either live on Sky or on a beamback at Elland Road at the minute, so we are certainly feeling a part of the action at the pub, as fans can’t resist the urge to pop in for a pint before and after the game, to savour that matchday atmosphere they know and love. Naturally we will always welcome this and whenever and wherever Leeds United are playing there is always someone at the Old Peacock cheering them on.  

November has been a pretty quiet month at the Old Peacock though, with just the one home game against Middlesbrough, and that on a Sunday lunch time. We had to forego our usual pre-match live band in the beer garden due to the early kick-off time, and of course we couldn’t serve our traditional Sunday lunch either, but it was all worth it as the lads came straight out of the traps and secured a much-needed 2-1 victory. It was great to see a big crowd again and the club’s efforts to re-engage the fanbase certainly seem to be paying off. We have always welcomed families at the Old Peacock, but more and more we are seeing the younger generation coming to the games with parents and it is fantastic to see.  

We are hoping this continues into December too, and for once the fixture computer at the Football League has been pretty kind to us. Okay, Sky Sports are responsible for the Aston Villa game being moved to a Friday night, but after that we have Saturday 3pm home games on two successive weekends, all in the run-up to Christmas. It’s to be hoped that you guys are doing all your Christmas shopping online, because there won’t be many trips to the shops with Leeds being at home two Saturdays running.

Norwich City are the visitors on Saturday 16th and then Hull City come to Elland Road on the 23rd. With Leeds seemingly back in the hunt for the play-offs these are sure to be big occasions and we will certainly have the welcome mat out for the 30,000-plus crowds expected. Leeds then see the year out with away games at Burton Albion and Birmingham City, before Nottingham Forest come and visit on the first day of 2018. But let’s not worry about that for now. With two Saturday 3pm fixtures lined up, we are busy getting stocked up and all our staff prepared for what are sure to be two mammoth occasions in the run-up to Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, as usual, our Christmas Day menu sold out in no time at all and we are now fully booked for the big day. We have always felt that the festive season is about more than just getting together on the 25th however, so we designed another Christmas menu for the run-up to Santa coming and this has proved really popular in recent years. More and more people use the festive season to get together with friends and family they perhaps don’t see too often, and of course there are numerous works parties at Christmas time, so we designed our Christmas Fayre menu specifically with this in mind. Now you can sample a flavour of Christmas at your favourite venue and with your favourite people. It will save you washing up and it certainly won’t cost you the earth. At two courses for £13.50 and three courses for £15.50 you will be hard pushed to find better value anywhere in Leeds. There is a choice of traditional Christmas dishes mixed with some old classic favourites and over the years we have hosted some memorable evenings with people who keep coming back year after year.

Please call in and speak to us in person or phone us up (0113 2715962) to book a table for the Christmas Fayre menu and we will make sure we can accommodate your party.

So another year at the Old Peacock comes to an end. It has certainly been a busy one and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We hope to see you for the Norwich and Hull games and again at some point over the festive period, but we would also like to take this opportunity to wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all Leeds United fans and to all our customers everywhere.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Doing The Right Things

As soon as Halloween is over and done with, thoughts very quickly turn to Bonfire Night and the very real desire to set fire to anything and everything. The temptation right now for Leeds United fans is to burn everything they own that even vaguely reminds them of football, such is the rapid descent in form that is currently being experienced. There is a strange sense of satisfaction in watching something crackle and burn and disappear into the air, unless it’s Leeds United’s promotion hopes for yet another season, and that’s the vivid prospect we are watching unfold before our very eyes.

October ended with a shattering late defeat to Derby County, and Elland Road emptied rapidly in a foggy murmur of discontent. It was a night that started so promisingly with an early goal and a sixty minute performance that belied the lack of confidence that had engulfed the team in recent games. But in familiar fashion, and in fairness as a result of some dubious refereeing decisions, it all came crashing down, and somehow we trudged home on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline and thank God there were no more trick or treaters knocking on the door because patience had well and truly worn thin.

Six defeats out of eight games tell its own story, and if it wasn’t for the extremely welcome 3-0 win at Bristol City last month, then the calls for Thomas Christiansen’s head would be gathering a lot more pace.  It is clear that whatever propelled Leeds to an unbeaten opening seven games to the season has long since disappeared, the key now is whether the management at Elland Road can work out what it was, and more importantly, rediscover it. There can be no doubt that Christiansen needs some help now, and the nagging feeling is that there is a lack of nous and experience of this division, on the pitch, in the dugout and in the backroom staff.

Christiansen announced himself with assurance and dignity in the early stages, his footballing principles were there for all to see and his ethos gathered some quick momentum. Now it is evident that he needs to learn very quickly how to adapt that for different games. It is almost like his team’s development has missed out two key stages; he has the flair and the pretty passing, but he has missed out the mental strength and the character. Every team in the Championship needs that, you need to battle and earn the right to play football first and foremost, and sadly it appears that Leeds United lack that at this moment. We need leaders, people to organise a team when the pressure is on, people to be vocal and get players’ heads up when things are going wrong. Right now, if Leeds United concede you know what is going to happen next, and Christiansen needs to learn how to affect games better and make sure his players can have an influence.

Of course we need to remember that this is a new team, with new management and a new footballing ethos. There is new structure at the club and a completely new outlook. Things like that take time to operate exactly how you want them to. In many ways it was a miracle that the season started as it did, and certainly we were lulled into a false sense of security, but it also shows that perhaps we are not too far away. Games are only being lost by fine margins, and in time, knowing how to manage games, how to change formation to make a difference and knowing who to rely on when, will become easier. The key is whether Christiansen will get that time.

For me, I think it is imperative that we continue to break the mould at Leeds United. I say ‘continue’ because already we have seen a raft of positive measures implemented by the club, which add up to a ship clearly sailing in the right direction. The club is progressing, it has its eyes open and has a vivid sense of what is needed and how those things can be achieved. We are not used to seeing that, rather a blurred vision of lawless and rudderless chaos. Change and instability has done us no good. Breaking the mould would be to stick with the courage of our convictions and believe that the people in certain positions will learn and grow as the club grows, and along the way they will improve. Given the right tools of course, and perhaps if Andrea Radrizzani and Victor Orta have learnt anything from the past month, it’s that the January transfer window is something they need to take an active interest in, with opportunities to ship players out as well as in.

So we come to November and the run up to Christmas. At the Old Peacock we have enjoyed some big days and nights in October, particularly the Friday night of the Sheffield United game, where we felt the occasion warranted a live performance from The Snapp – usually just reserved for Saturday games – and a big attendance brought a very special atmosphere to the pub and the beer garden. November on the other hand offers just one home game, and thanks to Sky TV that comes on a Sunday lunchtime, when Middlesbrough visit on November 19th.  However, we will be sure to expect a healthy attendance again for the return of Garry Monk and our doors will be wide open for everyone to enjoy a Sunday afternoon drink prior to the game and afterwards.

Talk of Christmas brings us to our regular festive menus at the Old Peacock. We have our Christmas Fayre Menu (two courses for £13.50 or three courses for £15.50) which is perfect for those office parties and for friends and families planning a special Christmas get together. This starts in December and runs all the way up to the big day. On Christmas Day itself we have a special menu (four courses for £49.95 per person, or £14.95 for under 12s) but this traditionally sells out quickly, so please contact us on 0113 2715962 or call in personally to secure your place.

We also want to bring your attention to the Ossett Brewery Open Day, which takes place at the Kings Yard brewery in Ossett on Saturday November 18th, from 12 noon until 7.00pm. There will be live bands, bouncy castles, BBQ food and of course lots of beer and the chance to view the new extensions to the brewery.

So all in all, there is plenty going on and plenty of work to do. It never stops at this time of year, but we get through it and we are confident that Leeds United will too. Like the Old Peacock, it is an organisation that survives through teamwork, hard work and staying strong when the chips are down. Now is the time to keep together, keep cool and keep on doing the right things, and eventually things will turn around.       

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Shaking Off The Autumn Blues

Funny old business football. This time last month Leeds United hadn’t won a home game, and yet we were all super positive and excited, like Santa had arrived and the in-laws had just announced they weren’t coming after all. Leeds then proceeded to win all three home games in September and went top of the league in the process, and yet by the end of the month we are sat solemnly staring out of the window contemplating whether we should jump straight through it. And yet we are still fifth in the table.

The nature of the despondency, though, is not just the polar opposite form the club is showing in the last few games, or even the slow creeping realisation that maybe we aren’t as good as we thought we were, but mainly the paralysing fear that we are still stuck in the murky abyss of being a mid-table team with no clear plan or idea as to how to get out of there. I am here to wholeheartedly confirm that is not the case, however, having witnessed the last 15 years so closely that I have seen the whites of its eyes and suffered its ungodly body odour, I can sympathise with those who cannot shake this interminable worry.  

Yes, despite winning all three home games in September, Leeds United also thrust upon us the bothersome inconvenience of losing the last three away games. Sandwiched in the middle, we shouldn’t forget, was the epic League Cup win at Burnley, where a much-changed side fought hard in a tight game against Premier League opponents, and then won the game on penalties after having twice looked like winning in the last crazy ten minutes of normal time. This, we thought, was the shape of things to come, and a clear sign that we could step up and match a quality side as and when we needed to. It was also the perfect response to our first defeat of the season at Millwall, a result so depressingly predictable but one that you could put down to the ‘unique’ occasion that a visit to Millwall is, and hence something you hoped to dismiss as a one-off.

The step up in quality we appeared to match at Burnley we hoped to also navigate in the games versus Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, but those results were comprehensive reminders that we are far from the finished article. Whatever could go wrong in those games did so; injuries, sending offs, kamikaze defending and a goalkeeper, about whom the jury was previously still out, confirming that he has a lot to learn in the game. That said, it is hard to find a part of the team that isn’t left open to criticism after the last two games, and of course the manager is there to be shot at too. But a little perspective is needed at this juncture I feel, and while the last international break came at a frustrating time for Leeds, having just beaten Nottingham Forest 2-0 and gained some considerable momentum, this one gives us chance to lick our wounds in the sanctuary of Thorp Arch, and work out a strategy to return to our former, if fleeting, greatness.

We shouldn’t forget that September included the thoroughly brutal destruction of Burton Albion, a display so overwhelmingly one-sided and ‘complete’ it looked like it had been designed by a FIFA 17 maestro. The home wins against Birmingham City and Ipswich Town were far harder work, but showed some excellent qualities and overall it bore well for the rest of the season. Just over a week later and we’re back in a familiar routine; arranging a viewing for 15th place and being fitted out with a zero goal difference again, just like old times.

The key is, of course, that we have the personnel at the club to do great things. We’ve already seen it. What we have to do is work out an adaptable system for certain games, and have the know-how to be able to navigate tricky periods, or tricky fixtures as a whole. It is as much about having a specific mindset as anything else, particularly at places like Millwall and Cardiff City, but it is also about being able to change your system to suit specific games, and while it is admirable to stick to certain principals, especially when they are very attractive looking ones, the mark of a great side is knowing when to approach a game differently, ie. when to play and when to pitch in and battle.

It was very easy to get carried away after the Burton performance, but equally we need to sit tight and not get too downhearted now. It is true that Thomas Christiansen is new to this league and a relative novice as a football coach in general, but he is an intelligent, studious man, and is backed by a team of professional coaches and analysts of football and the next two weeks should give them ample time to spot where Leeds are going wrong. There isn’t one specific answer, but every game is a learning experience and hopefully the management team are taking something from each one that will help us further down the line.

October at first glance looks quite sparse with home fixtures. There are no games now until the 14th, when Reading are the visitors to Elland Road, before away games at Bristol City and Leicester City in the League Cup, but then the month is rounded off with two home games right at the end. Sheffield United visit on Friday 27th October before we entertain Derby County on Tuesday 31st October. Just one Saturday afternoon fixture is a bit of a blow, but we are doing our best to make the Friday night fixture against Sheffield United a traditional party occasion. From 5pm, we will have our new BBQ food available as we have started doing for all midweek fixtures, but we will also have our resident band The Snapp playing live in the beer garden from 6pm, a rare privilege usually only reserved for Saturday afternoons. With it being half term week, and a Friday night, we felt people might have a bit more time to get to Elland Road and would also be in more of a ‘weekend’ mood than a ‘midweek’ mood, so hell, let’s pretend it’s a Saturday!  

And hopefully by then we will have shaken off the Autumn blues we are suffering after the Sheffield Wednesday game. So keep faith, remember the good times that weren’t so long ago, and let’s get behind the lads as they seek to find that form again.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Something To Talk About

I should know by now that Leeds United never play by the rules and mostly do the opposite to what I expect them to. In the last Peacock blog post I talked about allowing new manager Thomas Christiansen a little time to settle, I tried to temper expectations a little by pointing to Garry Monk’s first month in charge and suggesting the first few games aren’t always a reliable indicator of how a season is going to go. I pointed to the good things happening off the field in an attempt to direct a focus towards the bigger picture, and away from the short term struggles that ‘could’ happen with an inexperienced coach and a raft of new players. So what do Leeds United do to help me drive home that message?  Go seven games unbeaten from the start of the season; including four clean sheets, a procession of well-taken goals and a style of football not seen since Brazil’s carefree romp through the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

OK, so that last bit has a slight addition of artistic licence, but given some of the drab and soulless fare we have been served up over recent years, it is hard not to get excited about Leeds United’s eye-catching start to the season, and it is equally difficult to find rational comparisons to draw upon. 

When you see Samu Saiz pinging 50 yard passes straight to Stuart Dallas, Gianni Alioski reducing a left back to tears and Jay-Roy Grot delivering a defender to a different postcode with an innocent shoulder barge, it takes a special kind of crotchety sourpuss to deny Leeds fans a wry smile and a faint vision of a new beginning. But that’s all it is; a beginning, and while it is conjuring up a definite stirring in the loins, and God knows we have spent many a cold and lonely hour waiting for one of those, it is perhaps wise to remember that we have played just seven games, and while we didn’t want to get too downhearted if things started badly, equally, we shouldn’t be hanging out the bunting to celebrate our inevitable promotion, just because things have started well.

However, they definitely have started well. A 3-2 win at Bolton on the opening day was followed by two slightly deflating 0-0 draws at home, but then Leeds served up two absolute treats for their travelling fans and all those watching on TV, with almost identical 2-0 wins at Sunderland and Nottingham Forest. These weren’t just regulation wins either, both were achieved against big clubs with high expectations, and, particularly against Forest, Leeds dominated from start to finish and looked every inch the charismatic gunslingers that have so often waltzed into Elland Road in recent years and took home the prize.
The scenes in the Old Peacock when Alioski drove home the second goal at Forest were reminiscent of the Champions League days when Leeds toyed with the opposition. Leeds had looked comfortable and superior throughout, and a peach of a goal dressed the victory up perfectly. There was a tangible sense that ‘this’ Leeds United are the real deal, and finally, are people going to be talking about Leeds United again for the right reasons, and not as a joke club or a financial disaster story?

It is testament to the work of Thomas Christiansen of course, who has been supported very well in the transfer market, without spending the amounts of money that rivals such as Aston Villa, Wolves or Middlesbrough are spending, but still has to fit all these individuals into a team formation. One of the most pleasing aspects of the first few games is how we have coped with injuries and suspensions and how any individual slotting in has so easily adapted to the formation and team ethic. There is clearly a plan and everyone is buying into it, and only the head coach, who works with the players every day, can firstly achieve that and then instil it in every player in the squad.

Since those two scintillating away performances, of course, we have seen the end of the transfer window and yet more activity to add value to the belief that Leeds are getting the infrastructure of the club absolutely right. Few fans are lamenting the loss of 30-goal Chris Wood when you look at the proven attacking talent we now have at our disposal, and hats off to Director of Football Victor Orta for that. Looking at the squad we have two strong players for every position and you could conceivably field two separate 1-11 teams and have a very evenly-matched practice game. I honestly can’t remember the last time we could say that, if ever. The key is, of course, how you keep every member of that squad hungry and satisfied. Inevitably, a large chunk of them are going to be continually on the periphery, and few will be satisfied with an occasional Carabao Cup outing, while we still remain in the competition. But the signs are that Christiansen has built a team mentality with a selfless attitude, and there is no doubt that over the course of the next nine months, they will all be needed at some point.

So September brings us a pleasing run of home league games after nearly a month without one. August 15th saw us draw 0-0 with Fulham, and September 9th brings the visit of Burton Albion. It’s only our second Saturday matchday of the season and we can’t wait to get the live band on in the beer garden, the kitchen cooking pies, and Paolo the Peacock out of his sleepy hibernation. We will be more than ready to welcome you all on Saturday, and again on Tuesday 12th when Birmingham City are our visitors, and we will hopefully be firing up the barbecue to deliver our new midweek matchday BBQ menu. That’s not the end of the action for September either, as Ipswich Town will be stopping off at Elland Road on Saturday 23rd to complete a mammoth and exhausting month. We will certainly know a lot more about who the real Leeds United is by this time, and let’s hope the next International break is just as unwelcome as this last one has been. However much we dislike a fortnight without ‘proper’ football, it’s far more pleasant to go into a two-week break on the back of the 2-0 ‘pasting’ of a supposed promotion rival, so all being well we will repeat the trick in September.

In the meantime, come on down and enjoy the matchday experience at the Old Peacock. As it stands, for all the positivity, Leeds haven’t won a home league game as yet, so they need all the support they can get at Elland Road over the next few games, to show they can back up all the promise demonstrated away from home, and ensure people are really talking about us.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Riding the changes

The beginning of August is a unique period of a football fan’s calendar. Not because we can entertain the prospect of possibly going to a match in short sleeves and maybe even shorts, and not because we can walk down to Elland Road for an evening game in daylight and eat our pre-match burger as if we were back on holiday in a Mediterranean street cafĂ©. Or something like that. No, it’s because every football fan starts the season with a clean slate and an often over-sized chunk of optimism for the next nine months. Our team has a record unsullied by defeats, goals conceded and woeful open-goal misses, and we feel good about that.

We all feel that somehow this is going to be our year, even if, as has happened often with Leeds United in the last few years, the reality of the squad of players assembled together before you like a patchwork quilt, screams otherwise. And that is pretty much where us Leeds United fans are right now, except we have just a little bit more optimism than we usually have, partly based on the fact that the 2016/17 season was the first campaign in what seemed like an eternity, to give us tangible belief that we might one day escape the tedium of the second division. But also because our summer recruitment has been pretty solid and inspiring. While there are still sizeable holes in our squad which could still be addressed before the end of the transfer window, on the whole we have a first team pool that has more quality options than it has done for many, many years.

It seems a long time since the unknown Thomas Christiansen first walked amongst us like a novice sales rep at his first annual conference, and it is to be hoped that his time has been used wisely. The prospect of making an impact on Leeds United in a short space of time can be a daunting one, even if you have the years of experience or the hide of a rhino like a Sam Allardyce or, dare I say it, a Neil Warnock. For Christiansen, he needs to first earn the respect of a set of players who have literally never heard of him, and then implement methods and a mentality that will make them a better set of players than the one that finished narrowly outside the play-off places last season. That’s a tough ask, even if you have comparable experiences to draw upon, and it’s fair to say that Christiansen needs a huge amount of uncontrollable factors to fall in his favour. But one thing Leeds fans can control and where we can help him out, is by allowing him a little patience and lowering his immediate expectations.

Of course it is the familiar trait of a football fan to expect your team to come racing out of the blocks at the start of the season, and immediately shrug off the shackles of a non-competitive summer like a hibernating groundhog unleashing itself on another year. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out like that, and we seem to accept the fact that footballers effectively forget how to play the game in the six weeks they have off between one season and another, and it takes a few weeks to get back up to speed. Add to that the hefty turnover of players and the annual implementation of new coaching methods, and it’s fair to say that the first month of the season is rarely a good indication of how the season as a whole will go, and that is very much how last season started off under Garry Monk. Twelve months on we are in a very similar situation, except that we have the optimism of new ownership and a raft of crowd-pleasing measures, plus the very unfamiliar scenario of having purchased players that other clubs actually wanted to buy too, but instead they chose Leeds.

It is that feeling of actually competing with other clubs in our own division, beating them to players, and acting like a big club again that provides a warm fuzzy feeling as the new season approaches. Off the pitch, in the stands, the Leeds fans have never wavered, and have remained a constant reminder of the potential Leeds United has; the one ingredient of the club that is always there to project an image of a fully-functioning travelling behemoth, even if in the background there has been chaos, financial thrift and a wafer-thin infrastructure. And at the Old Peacock we are fully aware of that.

That feeling of unbridled optimism every Leeds fan feels in August, is pretty much what we see every matchday as soon as we open our doors. The buzz of anticipation prior to kick-off at any stage of the season is evident in the thirst and hunger with which you lot approach every game; there’s nothing like the prospect of another 90 minutes, and whatever your thoughts on the current state of the team and the club, every match starts 0-0 and you just never know what might happen; except that Gaetano Berardi almost certainly won’t score.

But the feeling at the start of another 46-game season magnifies this tenfold, particularly when the club has not just bought the likes of Vurnon Anita, Samuel Saiz, Ezgjan Alioski and Caleb Ekuban, but has also spent a pretty penny on securing Elland Road after it has spent 13 years under anonymous and murky ownership. And what’s more, at the Peacock we will have our regular live band, The Snapp, back for every Saturday home game, new food options, Paolo the Peacock to keep the kids occupied and another development to help cut the matchday beer queues a little bit; two pint pots! Why just buy one pint per visit when you can save time and buy two? It’s a simple concept and something we have introduced to hopefully get people served a little quicker this season.

So the new season is upon us, and we have a rush of home games before another long and miserable break until September. We had a small taster of what’s to come with the home friendly versus Oxford United last Saturday, but that was mere child’s play. Including the League Cup, we have three home games in less than a week coming up shortly, so it is a baptism of fire in terms of breaking in the new season. Port Vale will be welcomed to Elland Road on Wednesday 9th August for a League Cup tie, and Preston North End are our first league visitors on Saturday 12th August when we are expecting a big crowd approaching 30,000. The following Tuesday 15th August our visitors are Fulham, but then we have a break until September 9th.  And by then, maybe we will need it?

This new season enthusiasm creates a hell of a thirst if the past few years is anything to go by. But we’re not complaining and we can’t wait to see the pub bursting at the seams again, it’s been too long. And it’s been way too long since Leeds fans have had genuine reasons for optimism leading into another Championship campaign, but right now I think we do. So let’s navigate this first month, stay strong and focused and not get too carried away with results either way, and re-group again in September to see where we are.