Mark Casci: Why a return to success for Leeds United is a must for the city’s economy

Leeds United are preparing for the opening game of the Championship season this weekend. 
Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United are preparing for the opening game of the Championship season this weekend. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
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When I moved to Leeds in 1999 the city was on the up in almost very sense.

The local economy, buoyed by burgeoning financial services and a nationally renowned retail offering was bringing millions of pounds into the city.

Billy Bremner pictured at Elland Road in 1985

Billy Bremner pictured at Elland Road in 1985

However above all of these factors making the city hum with success was the resurgence of Leeds United.

Under David O’Leary the club were riding high in the Premier League and making inroads into Europe too.

My first trip to Elland Road was an unforgettable UEFA Cup tie with Roma, with The Whites edging the encounter with an impressive 1-0 win spearheaded by a wonderful looping shot by Australian Harry Kewell.

The glory days, it seemed, had returned at Elland Road. Or so we thought.

HISTORIC ARCHIVE FEATURE
Leeds, Elland Road, 7th April 1970

West Stand Ticket Office

Queuing for Cup Tickets?

HISTORIC ARCHIVE FEATURE Leeds, Elland Road, 7th April 1970 West Stand Ticket Office Queuing for Cup Tickets?

Since taking on the Business Editor’s office at The Yorkshire Post I have asked all business and civic leaders from the city what the principal area is that is hampering the regional economy. Virtually every man and woman I have put this to has answered the lack of success at Leeds United. When you bare in mind the significant transport and skills issues the region faces this response is staggering.

It is easy to understand why.

I am confident if you conducted a worldwide poll of football fans to name the 20 biggest teams in the world that Leeds United would make the list.

This is the team that revolutionised the game in the 1970s, making the city famous across the world. It brought the world footballing icons with names like Giles, Bremner, Cantona, Strachan and Speed.

Leeds, Elland Road, 6th September 1967

Inter Cities Fairs Cup Final

Leeds United v Dynamo  Zagreb.

An all too familiar sight for Leeds United as Skoric, the Zagreb goalkeeper, punches the ball over thebar to foil Belfitt and Greenhoff.

Leeds, Elland Road, 6th September 1967 Inter Cities Fairs Cup Final Leeds United v Dynamo Zagreb. An all too familiar sight for Leeds United as Skoric, the Zagreb goalkeeper, punches the ball over thebar to foil Belfitt and Greenhoff.

The club’s name and image is so grand that it attracts fans from across the country. And yet for 12 sorry years it has languished out of the top flight.

“We’re not famous anymore,” its fans chanted ironically during its dark days in League One but the reality is it still is, it’s just massively failing to live up to its proud name.

The reality is that successive owners have arrived at the club promising to deliver a return to the glory days and then settled into a culture of under-achievement.

It’s current owner Massimo Cellino has proved no different, with his time at the club beset by controversy and on-the-field torpor. His predecessors, a consortium known as GFH Capital, Ken Bates and the much- maligned Peter Ridsdale also endured huge on and off the field problems.

14 April 2015 .......    Massimo Cellino  Leeds United press conference at Elland Road. TJ100839x Picture Tony Johnson

14 April 2015 ....... Massimo Cellino Leeds United press conference at Elland Road. TJ100839x Picture Tony Johnson

It is all a significantly far cry from the atmosphere in the city when I moved here.

Premier League football lifted the city immeasurably and that was more than 10 years ago. The wealth that surrounds the game now is probably ten times what it was then.

The value added by increased visitors, sponsorships, broadcasting deals and an elevated profile could allow Leeds to do what it has done throughout its history; punch above its already substantial weight.

Three years ago research put the value of football to Manchester alone at £330m per year. Leicester’s economy is set for boom time following their improbable title win last year, with the city’s chamber of commerce putting it at £22m.

The last time Hull City were in Premier League it was reckoned that each home game netted £2m for the city’s economy.

This weekend the YP sportsdesk reported the potential of a consortium based in China and headed by Leeds United fan Steve Tappin may be preparing a bid for the club.

Mr Cellino has previously indicated his willingness to sell. However the club’s finances remain a mystery.

It cannot be underestimated the impact of a new era of success will have on the city. We have been here before of course and we are all aware this could be yet another false dawn.

But it is the fundamental interests of both Leeds and Yorkshire that success and pride are restored to the football club.

And that’s coming from a Middlesbrough fan.