Thursday, 1 March 2018

Never-Ending Seasons

So March begins with a blanket of deep snow, unrelenting Siberian temperatures and enough wind chill to allow Iceland to turn all their freezers off and save a bit of electricity. Just last week we were talking about seeing the first shoots of daffodils and feeling a bit of warmth in the sun, it felt like Spring wasn’t far away, but now it feels more distant than Leeds United in an FA Cup Final.

Our last blog post was written during the short interim period between Thomas Christiansen being sacked as Leeds United boss and Paul Heckingbottom being appointed. So first and foremost we’d like to welcome our new manager to Elland Road and extend the traditional invitation to incoming appointments at the club. Hecky is welcome to pop over for a pint any time he likes, and without pandering to stereotypes too much we’d wager he is more partial to a nice pint of ale than his predecessor, indeed he may even have sampled the odd Yorkshire Blonde in his time already.

Off the pitch we have seen Leeds manage to steady the ship after the badge-gate fiasco and the appointment of Heckingbottom appears to be a shrewd one. We have noted some pleasant characteristics in his gritty and down-to-earth demeanour and have already drawn some favourable comparisons with our last manager from South Yorkshire, Howard Wilkinson. It would be wrong to heap too much pressure on our new man though, and the game has changed so much since Wilko took over the reins in 1988, but certainly it would do Heckingbottom no harm at all to follow a similar blueprint to success, and of course we wish him all the luck in the world.

Initial results are slowly picking up, but it’s as much about the attitude and organisation and we have seen some promising improvements in that regard already. One defeat in four games in charge is definitely a positive, and with a bit more luck and without some silly mistakes at the back, we could have been looking at a very fruitful return from Hecky’s first few games.

We saw three home games in February and despite not winning since Boxing Day, there was no let-up in the big crowds flocking down to Elland Road and packing out the Old Peacock. It’s fair to say that results improved dramatically over the course of those three games. They started with a traumatic 4-1 defeat to Cardiff, which was the result that signalled the end for Christiansen and was made all the worse for seeing Neil Warnock’s gloating face afterwards.

Next came the strange circumstances of the late Sunday afternoon Kick-Off against Bristol City, and it was a pretty extraordinary day all round. A couple of defensive blunders and it looked all over, but a stirring second half turned it around and we actually left the ground gutted that Leeds hadn’t won. It was the same feeling in midweek after a second consecutive 2-2 draw, this time away at Derby, but then Hecky finally saw his first win as Leeds boss with the 1-0 defeat of Brentford.
We are confident now that the team will continue to improve, and while we might not always get the results we want, it looks like a standard has been set and this new man will get a certain level of performance from the team, and that’s all we ask. Whether that will be enough to maintain a charge for the Play-Offs remains to be seen.

The tough run of fixtures continues into March, and the next opponents at Elland Road are Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have been tearing up the division pretty much all season. That’s a midweek contest on Wednesday 7th, but then we have a couple of more presentable home fixtures with the visit of Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday 17th and then Bolton Wanderers on Good Friday, which is March 30th.

Yes, that means it’s nearly Easter, and while a quick glance out of the window might cast some doubt over that, it does mean that the end of the season is once again upon us. Believe it or not. It’s been a very strange season in many ways, the crowds we have seen at the Old Peacock on matchdays have been unprecedented, and yet there has been so much frustration and disappointment about results, and in some ways, the season has never really got going, despite such a brilliant start.

Before the end of March we will also be welcoming the Leeds Rhinos fans back to the pub. They entertained Hull Kingston Rovers on a very damp Thursday night early in February, but on March 23rd they welcome Castleford Tigers for a mouth-watering re-match of last year’s Grand Final at Old Trafford. It was great to see some different faces in the pub and there was a very lively atmosphere pre-match, which we expect to see again for the local derby against Cas. These are quite unique fixtures, while the Rhinos’ Headingley home is redeveloped, and we are more than happy to put the welcome mat out for our cross-city friends.

In closing, just a short note about our Family Fun Day, which is returning for Bank Holiday weekend, Sunday May 27th from 1pm. This has proved to be a great success over the years, with special barbecue food, a bouncy castle, face-painting, tug of war and a sack race for the kids, and with three bands playing live music in the beer garden. It has always attracted a great range of family and friends and we hope to see you all there again on May 27th.

Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the weather and a few snow days off work, and keep dreaming of those sunny days in the Peacock beer garden, they will be here before you know it.

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.