Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Seasons Change

Upon certain moments, seasons change. Kyle Bartley’s last minute header at home to Brentford, Ronaldo Vieira’s long distance winner away at Norwich, maybe Chris Wood’s late overhead kick back in August against Fulham. They all instilled belief in individuals and the team as a whole, and played a big part in this season turning out like it has. At the other end of the scale we could point to Reading’s winner last Saturday, a poor performance in the 2-0 defeat to Brentford this week or the decision to drop Pontus Jansson against Brighton and the potential fallout from that, as reasons why Leeds won’t get automatic promotion and may fail in the lottery of the play-offs. But we don’t really want to think about that right now, do we? Plus, it’s all conjecture anyway while we don’t know the conclusion to the captivating joyride of season 2016/17.

At the Old Peacock seasons are changing for us too. The sun has a bit more warmth in it, the trees have some colour and our beer garden is looking more alluring and a bit more invigorated with life. While the sheer number of Leeds fans that converge on the pub on matchdays means an overspill outside is inevitable, whatever the weather, it is always nice to see the sun shining and the odd customer venturing outside during the week and on non-matchday weekends. We are blessed with plenty of space on our much-treasured patch of LS11 and it is great when we can use it a bit more.
For Leeds United the term ‘seasons change’ refers also to the bigger picture. Not many Leeds fans would admit to having predicted this season would play out the way it has. Garry Monk was always a great appointment in the context of the other managers the club were seen to be approaching last summer, but with meagre resources at his disposal and a number of low-key punts in the transfer market, nobody was expecting too much other than another hard slog towards maintaining our birth right of 15th place in the Championship table.

What has happened since has reawakened the club in terms of attendances, expectancy and excitement, and has elicited this strange new phenomena; being interested in the league table after February, and not only that, taking a vested interest in the play-offs rather than looking on green with envy at them, like a party we are never invited to. Suffice to say, this time next month we will be about to play our last regular season game at Wigan Athletic and we should have a pretty good idea who we are likely to be playing in the high drama of the Play-Off Semi-Finals, assuming of course that we can hold onto the top six spot that has been ours since October.

Standing between Leeds United and a certain play-off spot are six remaining games which will shape the club’s destiny and play a significant role in whether this truly is a season of change. Three of these are away games at Newcastle United on Good Friday, at Burton Albion on 22nd April and the final game of the 46-match Championship campaign at Wigan on 7th May. The other games are the three remaining home games that all reside in April and all now carry major significance.

First up we have Preston North End this Saturday 8th April, followed by Wolverhampton Wanderers on Easter Monday and finally Norwich City on 29th April. The smart money says that if Leeds win those three home games then they should be safe in the play-offs, but depending on other results, the odd win on the road certainly won’t do us any harm. What we can be assured of is three more mammoth occasions at Elland Road, most likely drawing in crowds in excess of 30,000 once again, and all being well, these will culminate in a Play-Off Semi-Final at Elland Road. So let’s hope that we will be seeing each other again – over the bar, in the beer garden or in the marquee outside - in May.

Another huge change for our parent company Ossett Brewery is going on down at Granary Wharf in Leeds at the moment. Over the last couple of years this area has changed considerably, and the extra pedestrian traffic created by the £20m invested in the Leeds rail station southern entrance, which opened in 2016, has been a major factor in the success of the three bars operated by Ossett Brewery in that area; The Hop, Archie’s and the Candlebar. Another part of that success has been the standard of food offered, with the Candlebar in particular taking the plaudits for the quality of the stone baked pizzas coming out of its wood fired oven. Over the years, however, Ossett Brewery haven’t been known for resting on their laurels, and the success of the Old Peacock shows how wise they were to invest heavily in this iconic pub in 2013. Now, a new era of culinary experiences is coming to Granary Wharf, as the wood fired oven is being transferred to Archie’s so pizza fans won’t be denied their regular fix, while a food revolution is taking place at the Candlebar.

April sees the launch of ‘edo sushi’ at the Candlebar; a unique partnership of quality craft and cask ales with fresh and authentic Japanese cuisine. Ossett Brewery are introducing Japanese chef Tomonori Hasegawa to the Leeds public in a bold move to push the culinary barometer up a couple of notches, and we are confident the tranquil and high quality surroundings of Granary Wharf will embrace the fresh, light and aromatic delights that will be emanating from the Candlebar’s kitchens. So if you are venturing into Leeds city centre on a non-matchday, you will be sure of a friendly welcome and a new and exciting food experience at any of our Granary Wharf sister bars.

So there is plenty of change going on around the Old Peacock and the city of Leeds at the moment, and let’s hope that the biggest change is the one that we have waited longest for; Leeds United back in the top division. See you in May.     

Monday, 6 March 2017

Popular Aren’t We?

It’s March, and Leeds United’s season is still well and truly alive. No, you haven’t read that wrong. Usually the clocks going forward is just a blessed relief because we are one hour closer to the end of the season, now we are simply enjoying every minute of this 2016/17 campaign, but we are still rather keen to get to the climax and find out if Leeds United can do it.

February was a mixed month for the lads, with three wins, two defeats and a draw from our six games, but at the end of it we are still well in contention, and a win from the first game in March – 3-1 away at Birmingham last Friday night – has hopefully set us up for another good month.

Undoubtedly now we are facing the business end of the season, and those waiting for the wheels to come off at Elland Road may have to concede defeat and accept that this team is the real deal. I have had my doubts myself, I must admit, and I’m sure most Leeds fans would confess that they were waiting for the traditional woeful Christmas to put paid to any flimsy promotion hopes, but if anything that was our strongest period yet. The odd defeat has never been far away, but it is clear that there is a significant backbone to this side, and even without looking at individuals, Garry Monk has put together a team that works for each other, is supremely organised and has an incredible spirit. No game ever seems lost and our ability to dig in and win points without playing spectacularly well has been very evident in recent weeks and is a very useful trait to have.

The benefit of having an organised team with a strong backline can’t be underestimated, and that’s what a largely unchanged defence gives you, and with Pontus Jansson and Kyle Bartley, with goalkeeper Rob Green behind them, we are always fighting to stay in games. When the attack is mis-firing and not quite getting its game together, as has been evident in many games recently, at least a strong defence keeps you in with a fighting chance. Then it just needs someone to provide Chris Wood with a sniff of a chance and hey presto, Leeds have bagged the points again.

As a consequence of Leeds staying in the top six, we have seen some very busy matchdays at the Old Peacock, and long may that continue. The Yorkshire derby with Sheffield Wednesday brought another 30,000–plus crowd and two more Saturday afternoon home games in March should see plenty more pints being passed over the bar to you thirsty lot. The lunchtime Kick-Off v The Owls put paid to any plans to have our resident band The Snapp playing in the beer garden, but a 3pm start against Queen’s Park Rangers on March 11th and a massive game against Brighton & Hove Albion the following Saturday (5.30pm Kick-Off), should both be preceded by plenty of stomping tunes from the band, weather permitting.   

Undoubtedly, with a successful Leeds United we see a knock-on effect at the Old Peacock on non-matchdays, and there is definitely more of a buzz about the area. People call in for a pint after they have been to buy tickets or stop off at the superstore, and not only that, they are happy to talk about Leeds United again and not just sit disconsolately staring into a pint as they might have done a year ago, or indeed at any time over the last few years.

Of course the last time Leeds United were in this position, chasing promotion to the top division back in 1989/90, the landscape was very different. In those days people would call in for a pint after watching the boys training on the Fullerton Park pitches at Elland Road, and on the odd occasion they might even catch a drink with the players themselves. Messrs Batty, Speed and a certain Vinnie Jones were all regulars after training and our old pool table was the scene of many a competitive scrap on an afternoon. Now sadly, the players are cocooned away at Thorp Arch, and passing fans are unlikely to catch a glimpse of their heroes, but it is fantastic to still see that fans see the Peacock as an extension of the ground and a landmark they have to call in and make use off as they are passing.

No Leeds fan will need reminding that the 1989/90 season ended with a triumphant promotion and was followed two years later by that epic Division One title win. Believe it or not but the 1991/92 championship triumph was nearly 25 years ago, with the anniversary of that dramatic 3-2 win at Bramall Lane coming up at the end of April.

It’s enough to question what the hell we have all been doing with our lives, but 25 years later it is certainly something worth celebrating. Leeds United are putting on a celebration dinner at the Elland Road Pavilion and we look forward to seeing a few dicky-bows on display that evening, as plenty of people can’t resist stopping off for a pint at the Peacock before these events. And we were delighted to hear that the people at The City Talking were behind a new film, DVD and book to commemorate the 25th anniversary in the form of ‘Do You Want To Win?’ which was announced last week. Daniel Chapman is writing the book, and as one of the guys behind The Square Ball – who are all Peacock regulars on matchdays – we are confident it is going to be fantastic and worth supporting. The film has a premiere event at the Everyman Cinema in the Trinity Centre next month, so check that out as well and you might just see some famous faces.

In the meantime we are looking forward to the two massive home games coming up this month, and by the end of March we should have a much better idea how Garry Monk’s men are set for the play-offs. Certainly the tickets are flying out of the ticket offices at Elland Road, so if you are passing don’t forget to pop in and say hello, and check out our food menus too for a midweek bite to eat. See you soon.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Love Is In The Air

By this time of every year, we have already dismissed our new diet and fitness regime as an unworkable fantasy, we have already suffered with a horrendous head cold and we have considered quitting our job on at least half a dozen occasions. But the mornings are getting ever so slightly lighter and, hey, there’s some crocuses flowering over there so the downhill momentum towards a hedonistic summer of relentless partying and sunshine, yes even in Leeds, is on.

February is that month where nothing really happens apart from FA Cup replays and the mother-in-law’s birthday, and it is one of those periods where the winter seems to be going on forever, even though we are starting to make plans for a brighter, warmer and happier time. But there is one key date that we would all be foolish to forget, February 14th, and of course we won’t this year, for two reasons. Firstly, the love of our life deserves a treat on Valentine’s Day and the date is imprinted on our mind because we wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to express in the form of chocolates, flowers or a four-pack of beers how much we respect, savour and cherish every moment with our loved one. And secondly, because Leeds United are at home that day.

Across the land, when the 2016/17 fixtures came out last June, every Leeds fan made a mental note to thank the Football League for once again scheduling a home game for Valentine’s Day, so that the extra effort we make on February 13th will really go down a treat and be remembered fondly as we disappear out of the door 24 hours later just as our other half is chilling the champagne and rustling up a three-course feast. So yes, for us Leeds fans it is a thrice-cooked pie warmed up from last Saturday’s home game and returning home to our dinner in the bin or the dog’s stomach instead. But such is life, and secretly we suspect, and indeed hope, that our loved ones would prefer the telly and the chocolates all to themselves anyway.   

And it doesn’t mean that love isn’t in the air on February 14th, because Leeds United fans have fallen in love with this team. New signings such as Luke Ayling, Kyle Bartley and Pablo Hernandez have gladdened our hearts like none of the endless stream of mediocrity passing for Leeds United players have in the last decade or more, while youngsters like Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Phillips show an energy and vitality that we love to see in our Academy products. Even established players like Chris Wood, Stuart Dallas and Charlie Taylor have won over fans this season and it is refreshing to see a Leeds United team gelling as a unit and bringing out the best in each other, rather than plodding around aimlessly and showing no evidence that they work on anything in training during the week.

But there’s one man who has enamoured himself to the Elland Road crowd to a degree not seen since Vinnie Jones grabbed us by the throat, fixed us with his enraged eyes and drafted out a contract insisting we loved him, written in our own blood. That man is Pontus Jansson. For a long time the Leeds United faithful have been looking for heroes, at some points just anybody who can take responsibility and maybe score the odd goal or 20. But the panorama has been so bereft of quality, leadership and character and the Elland Road atmosphere has reflected that barren emptiness. It is not solely Pontus that has ignited the fans this season, of course, but he is a huge part of it and the first Leeds player since Luciano Becchio to have a rousing song about him sung endlessly on repeat.   

Jansson arrived at Elland Road as a lost soul himself; un-selected and unloved at Torino in Italy and disillusioned with the game, and in Leeds fans he has found a reciprocal need for attachment and belief in something real. Has there ever been a more compatible coupling of two parties so adrift and disorientated and so in need of each other? Jansson is the kind of player who not only understands Leeds fans and what they need, but has the personality, fearlessness and bravado to pull it off. Many have tried and many have failed, but in Jansson we have the real deal, and now he is ours on a permanent basis.

The day after his 89th minute winner had secured three hard-earned points at Blackburn Rovers, it was announced that Jansson’s loan deal with Torino would be made permanent in the summer, for a sum of £3.5 million. It is more than Leeds have paid for anyone in nearly 15 years, but it is still a complete bargain in today’s market, and the most important thing is that it sealed the deal, the circle of love was complete and we are now stuck with each other, for better or worse. We have even invited Pontus over for a pint in the Old Peacock now he is settled in Leeds, and he would be following in some esteemed footsteps, not least one Vincent Jones, if he were to spend a post-training afternoon with us over a pint or two.

Of course, the hope now is that Jansson can play his part for the rest of the season and beyond, and while he is happy to take the limelight and be at the forefront of Leeds United’s charge to the play-offs, Garry Monk and the rest of the team are quietly going about their business. February sees three home games for us to navigate at the Old Peacock, starting with a double header of Cardiff City (Saturday 11th) and Bristol City (Tuesday 14th) followed by another Yorkshire Derby against Sheffield Wednesday (Saturday 25th). By the end of that run of games we should have a much clearer idea of where Leeds stand in their pursuit of promotion. The nagging feeling is that the top two automatic spots are just that little bit out of reach, but all we can do is keep the momentum going and make sure we are as close as possible should either Brighton or Newcastle falter.   

At the Old Peacock we are looking forward to this run of home games, as it seems 2017 hasn’t quite got going yet with no big Saturday games for us so far. Rest assured we will be ready, and while we have no big plans for romantic set meals for two on Valentine’s Night, because the pub will be ram-packed with you lot creating a very different vibe, we are quite content that Pontus is leading us and love is very much in the air. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Turning the January Blues White
Welcome to January. I write this on a miserable, grey Monday morning. The wind is lashing rain against my office window and normally motivation would at an all-time low. January is traditionally the longest month of the year, not simply in the number of days of course, but in the energy-sapping way in which it drags interminably. December fair skips by in comparison and there is always real momentum going in to the end of the year, but that hits you hard like a Pontus Jansson sliding tackle at the turn of the New Year, and January appears on your doorstep knocking rather too loudly and carrying a suitcase full of bills, work, bad health and a mountain of other problems.

Is it the third Monday in January that is cited as the ‘most depressing day of the year’? When people have lost the zest of all the festivities over Christmas and New Year and can only see a very long road ahead, even though the mornings are getting ever-so-slightly brighter each day. Well in 2017 that Monday falls three days after Leeds United play Derby County at home in a vital fixture that could further cement our place in the play-off places, and may even see us close the gap further on a spluttering Newcastle United in second place. For that reason, it is perfectly possible that Leeds United fans will continue sailing through January on the crest of a wave, fighting off the traditional January Blues with a vim and vigour borne from a superb string of displays over the festive period and a surge of optimism that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

Not this year are we worrying about our ‘New Year, New Me’ diets, or boycotting our favourite pub in a misguided and fatally flawed attempt at a ‘Dry January’, and no longer are we looking forward with dread at the endless treadmill of work, sleep, work, sleep. Instead, Leeds United fans are looking forward with a beaming smile even Lucas Radebe would take inspiration from.

Two wins and a draw out of three games over Christmas and New Year was a far better return than Leeds fans usually expect, from a busy period that traditionally saps the festive spirit like a lump of coal on Christmas morning. Add to that the 50% ownership change at the club, with Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani finally concluding his deal last week, and arriving with a flawless track record in every sense, and there have been few better times to be a Leeds United fan since we were marauding fearlessly across Europe at the turn of the Millennium.  The sea change in commercial activity, media output and stability in management this season has brought its own rewards which are clear for all to see. And we are hopeful the strength and solidity of the club will only improve with this latest change in the boardroom. Being honest, we don’t expect Mr Radrizzani to pop over and join us for a drink at the Old Peacock, we think he is more likely to keep a lower profile than our previous owner, but he is definitely welcome, and indeed we will certainly be toasting the new ownership regime if results continue as they are.

It is true that previous ownership changes have come about at a time when they have been absolutely necessary, and they have found Leeds United on the floor and picked it off the canvass looking bloodied and beaten. Right now, the club is in great health and everything is in place to take it on and make it work. This ownership change has come as a boost, at a time when momentum is taking Leeds United forward like an un-manned bread van hurtling down Wesley Street, and it could be just the tonic we need to carry us over the line.

And ‘boost’ is the operative word in January. Rather than looking ahead with fear and dread, we are taking everything in our stride. That goes for us at the Old Peacock too. We aren’t changing too much in 2017, we are maintaining our high standards, happy to keep serving the hordes of happy, smiling Leeds fans that turn up on a match day, and delighted to be seeing and feeling the general buzz around Elland Road all through the week at the moment.

Of course we have already navigated one hectic match day at Elland Road this year. January 2nd saw one final blowout before we all returned to work, and there was certainly no evidence of a Dry January pre-match in the Peacock for the Rotherham United game. A 33,000 crowd ensured the festive spirit kept flowing for a few more hours, and the lads did the business on the pitch too, with a fine 3-0 victory setting 2017 off on the right foot.

Friday 13th will be unlucky for Derby County if Leeds continue this rich vein of form. We have seen some major occasions at Elland Road in recent weeks, with 30,000 plus crowds for the visits of Newcastle, Aston Villa and Rotherham. But in terms of vital points and administering psychological blows to near challengers, the visit of Derby is arguably the most important home game since our promotion from League One. We are expecting another busy evening behind the bar but after that, January could return to being a bit of a long one, with the team’s progress in the FA Cup meaning there are no more home games this month.

Our weekly food events are still proving extremely popular. After our Christmas Day service sold out in record time, we also enjoyed a busy run-up to Christmas with lots of you taking advantage of our Christmas Fayre menu to host your parties with friends, family and work colleagues. Our Curry Night, Steak Night and Sunday Lunch menus will continue in 2017 and of course we have our general menu available all week as well. We are always keen to hear feedback from our customers and we have been really honoured to have received some lovely reviews from people who have visited us in recent weeks. These can be viewed on our Facebook page, where, along with our Twitter account, you can also keep up to date with all our events and any information about match days.

For now, keep your chin up, enjoy January and confront the things that get you down with the gusto of Chris Wood fending off that Rotherham defender to turn and smash the ball into the roof the net; eat my goal. We’ve been through it all together, as the song goes, and we will beat January together. 

All the best.