The Curious Case of Leeds United

Elland Road

Design isn’t always about products, you have to be aware of the world around you and social design is a key concern at the moment. Leeds is a rapidly expanding city and has the largest financial sector outside of London. It is also one of the poorest cities in Leeds with an alarmingly large amount of it’s citizens below “the breadline,” the boundary set out as a guide to what is a sustainable living income. This article is about one aspect of Social design that shapes a large amount of this city, football.

As much as I have stated before than the impact of football on a city is overrated in the 21st Century, the more I think about the relationship Leeds has with it’s football team the more I realise it is a fairly unique situation to be in. One of the oddest things for a city the size of Leeds is that it only has one professional football team.

Cities of a smaller or of a similar size than this have multiple, very good football teams. Sheffield has Wednesday and United, Bristol has City and Rovers, Liverpool has Everton and Liverpool, Nottingham has Forest and County and the Manchester area has a myriad of teams as well as City and United. These teams obviously have fantastic rivalries between their nearest neighbours, many are famous across the world. Leeds has United and a smattering of amateur and semi pro clubs from towns on the outskirts that include Guiseley AFC and Garforth Town. The 100 odd year old Farlsey Celtic, who were a Conference National side and therefore the best of the rest in the area, folded last year into the dust of the footballing annuals.

This means the focus is all on Elland Road, the city rejoices in United’s success and morns in its failures. People travel from across the city to the game and pubs are full for big games such as the FA Cup 3rd Round Replay against Arsenal the other week. Even when in the comparative (for them) doldrums of League One they were still achieving attendance figures most of their competitors in that league could only dream of. Certainly as new boys to league One, my club Rochdale would love to regularly get a quarter of the 20,000 average attendance they had last season.

The fortunes of the city’s local economy is tied incredibly closely into the football team. If United do well the city is a happy place and people spend lots of money. If they do poorly, not so much. 40,000 people can fit into Elland Road, that is a huge boost when they come back through the city to the pubs and clubs full of the joys of a big win.

Headingley on a Play-off Night

Leeds isn’t quite a one team town, the Leeds Rhinos pull in 18,000 spectators week in week out for Rugby League at Headingley Stadium but no matter how well they do (they won the Super League three times in a row, with last of the unprecedented treble being two seasons ago), they will never have the quite the same impact as United do. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Rhinos, I go there far more than I do the football and they are a model example of a community sports team. They have set up fantastic schemes that many of the Kidz Klub kids I work with benefit from across North West and Central Leeds. I should also add there is also the Leeds Carnigie Rugby Union side who, while in their top flight are very much the junior partner at Headingley Stadium.

I suppose you can relate a lot of this to Newcastle as well. It is another large city with just one football team, Newcastle United, so a similar “one team town” philosophy has developed. Infact, this is potentially more prominent than in Leeds as the next largest sports team is the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Union team who, along with much of domestic English Rugby Union it is in a bit of a down turn as the French league commands the bulk of the European talent.

However, in the case of Leeds, its residents and its football team, Leeds United couldn’t be a more appropriate name.


About Peter Woodthorpe

I am a Research Design Engineer living in Leeds, West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom as well as a Childrens Worker for Kidz Klub Leeds. I hold a International Master of Design degree from the University of Leeds.
This entry was posted in Leeds, Social Design, Sport and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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