The largest one-club city in the UK, Leeds is forever associated with the men who steered that club to the very top and sank it to untold depths.
Don Revie was manager of the Leeds United side of the 1960s, a dominant, domineering outfit feared throughout the land. Leeds-born Peter Ridsdale was the chairman who gambled away this club’s future in the early 2000s, approving big-money transfers and spiralling salaries long before there was the revenue to cover them.
Thanks to Revie, and the mainly home-grown team he created, Leeds became a worldwide name, a winning brand in all white. Because of Ridsdale, Leeds became synonymous with catastrophic ownership and rapid decline.
Today, Leeds United are pretty much where they were when Revie arrived in 1961, treading water in the second flight.
And this is how the club started out when entering the Football League in 1920.
Although Leeds has always been a one-club city, this one club hasn’t always been Leeds United. The first to play at LUFC’s ground of Elland Road was Leeds City, formed in 1904.
Like nearby Huddersfield and Bradford, Leeds was first in thrall to rugby. As Leeds Steelworks, players from the south Leeds rugby stronghold of Hunslet gave a couple of soccer exhibition games before meeting at the Griffin Hotel in Boar Lane to form a club.
This club, Leeds City, joined the flagging West Yorkshire League but it soon became clear that soccer would be a hard sell in the country’s fifth-biggest city. Agreeing a lease on a ground at Elland Road with then hosts (and rugby club) Holbeck, Leeds City played a series of friendlies and WYL games to build a following.
Voted into the Football League in 1905 and developing Elland Road to accommodate up to 22,000 spectators, Leeds City played their first game in Division 2 at Bradford City.
Wearing the colours that later club United would adopt, blue and yellow, and also nicknamed The Peacocks after the nearby pub, Leeds City endured a nervous start to their debut campaign but soon won over the local public.
Crowds increased with the arrival of Yorkshireman Herbert Chapman, a journeyman footballer who would become the most influential manager in the game. His high-scoring side was just getting into its stride when World War I broke out.
To keep the club going, wartime matches were arranged. After November 1918, with Chapman having mysteriously disappeared to take a job at a local oil works, the question of payment to guest players was raised by an aggrieved former Leeds City employee. The Football League demanded paperwork from the club as proof of innocence. Club officials refused to provide it.
In 1919, the League duly threw out Leeds City. Chapman came back into the game to manage Huddersfield, became a title-winning supremo, repeating the feat at Arsenal.
Leeds City players were auctioned off, although not to the club founded in their wake, Leeds United, who moved into Elland Road.
Managing to skirt amalgamation with Huddersfield but adopting Town’s colours of blue and white (before switching to blue and yellow), United found modest success in the early 1930s. Popularity – and funds – came with John Charles and his transfer in the 1950s.
Don Revie, of course, transformed and modernised the club after 1961. LUFC as a major football power on a par with Liverpool or Manchester United, the all-white kit, final after final after final, all this came with Revie. When Leeds plummeted under Ridsdale 30 years later, the club had a long way to fall. Revie had set the bar high.
The name of Leeds City was revived in 2005 with the merger of Abbey Grange Old Boys, Adel FC and Leeds City Vixens, plus two teams from Horsforth St Margaret’s, to create first and reserve teams in the West Yorkshire League, as well as under-21, ladies and old boys sides. Home is the Adel War Memorial Association on Church Lane, in Adel, north Leeds. Bus No.1 runs from Infirmary Street, near City Square and Leeds train station, to Otley Road Holt Lane (every 10min, 30min journey time). From there, either wind your way through the residential zone on the other side of the road or walk towards town to Church Lane, then back up it parallel to the way you came. Near the bus stop at the junction of Otley Road and Holt Lane, the Lawnswood Arms is a family-friendly bar/restaurant.
The major non-league side in town is Guiseley. Based at Nethermoor Park, further north on Otley Road, since their foundation in 1909, The Lions rose up through the local leagues to reach the Conference North in 2010. In 2015, Guiseley reached the untold heights of the fifth-flight National League thanks to a late recovery at Chorley to win the play-off final 3-2.
The easiest way to reach Nethermoor Park is to take the train from Leeds to Guiseley (every 30min, 12-14min journey time, £5 day return). At Guiseley, cross the station car park to a path between the hedgerows, follow into Otley Road and the ground is on the right. Nethermoor Park has a pleasant clubhouse bar attached.
Leeds-Bradford Airport is 13km (eight miles) north-west of the city. Flying Tiger bus No.757 takes 30-35min to reach Leeds coach then train station (every 20min, single £3.60/return £6/MetroDay ticket with Leeds transport £6).
Note that the bus stop immediately outside the terminal is for the main car park – head over to bus stop No.1 for the Flying Tiger service town.
Leeds coach station is just east of the city centre, the train station south-west, both easily walkable into town. An hourly direct train from London King’s Cross (cheapest online single £32) takes 2hrs 20min. Changing at York is almost as quick but far more expensive. There are regular direct services from Manchester Piccadilly (1hr, £11 online) and Victoria (1hr 30min, £4 online) and hourly from Birmingham New Street (2hrs, around £30 online).
The Leeds bus network is overseen by Metro West Yorkshire. A MetroDay pass is £6, a Metro Weekender £8, both sold on board.
Amber Cars (0113 202 2117) is a long-established local taxi firm.
The only hotel near Elland Road is the Premier Inn Leeds City West, the other side of the M621 in a business park. Unless you’ve a real need to stay close(ish) to the stadium, you’re stuck in a drab location way south-west of town.
Convenient for hopping to the ground, Leeds station is surrounded by hotels. The Queens Hotel is a four-star local landmark overlooking City Square, all Art Deco furnishings and fluffy bathrobes. Fresh milk in the fridge is a rare touch.
Close by and equally iconic, The Met is now a contemporary four-star – though it was behind its terracotta façade that Leeds City players were auctioned off after the club collapsed in 1919.
Closer to the river, the comfortable Hilton Leeds City has a heated indoor pool, spa and gym.
In the same vicinity, the Leeds Marriott has a destination bar in its own right, with TV football, the 1871, looks out onto bustling Boar Lane – the hotel, indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna and all, is tucked behind in a little courtyard.
Alongside, The Cosmopolitan hides a 100-year history behind an attractive exterior, as well as 89 mid-range bedrooms, a restaurant and lounge bar.
Also walkable from the station, rooms at Jurys Inn Leeds can be found relatively cheaply online, many with attractive views of the nearby waterfront.
Leeds is one of Britain’s liveliest cities after dark, with pubs and bars dotted around the city centre.
For football-watching, The Hourglass contains nine screens around a traditional interior, with weekday meals deals and late opening at weekends when DJs spin. The Horse & Trumpet is a standard city-centre pub that goes big on screening sport. Attached to the Marriott Hotel but a busy bar in its own right, 1871 has a more contemporary, urban feel, animated after work. TV screens occupy wall space with classic vintage film posters.
Many historic pubs have managed to keep pace with the contemporary competition though venerable establishments such as the Adelphi have had to introduce beer-and-burger deals and ‘Tappy Mondays’, discounts on tap, cask and keg pints. The original flagship of formerly Hunslet-based Tetley’s Brewery, the Victorian-era Adelphi offers one of the best Sunday roasts in town.
Celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2015, Whitelock’s is the oldest pub in town, offering ales from local breweries such as Elland, Ilkley and Saltaire. In 2016, they opened partner bar The Turk’s Head, a showcase for British craft beers just across Turk’s Head Yard.
The Scarborough Hotel is a classic Victorian-era gin palace with a quality kitchen. Don’t miss the simply wonderful Duck & Drake, essentially a live venue done out with rare gig posters and line drawings of music legends, with TV football, real ales and a quality jukebox – all in vintage pub surroundings.
Site-brewed beers and locally sourced food are the essentials of the recently opened Brewery Tap, handily located close to the train station. Within the station itself, the White Rose is a handy pub for a pre-train beer while the Sports Bar offers pre-flight pints and TV action in the departure lounge of Leeds-Bradford Airport.