Monday, 8 October 2018

Are Leeds United Still Masking The Reality?

By the end of October we will have seen enough masks to last us a lifetime, or at least until Halloween 2019. Over at Elland Road, we are still waiting to see if the ‘real’ Leeds United will suddenly reveal itself. You know, the one we have a strange, dysfunctional and distinctly one-way relationship with.

Last month I wrote about the next block of six games and whether Leeds could see the month out just as they started it; on top of the table. Despite a brief blip over the weekend, as I write, Leeds have just beaten Hull City to go back into first spot. And yet many media people, rival fans and, let’s face it, even many Leeds fans are still convinced the mask will slip and Leeds will capitulate into mid-table like they always do.

Except this time it all looks and feels a little different. We now have a better points total than we did at the same stage last season, but admittedly it did for a long time carry an uncanny resemblance to the stunning start that Thomas Christiansen hoodwinked us with a year ago. That of course was built on sand, and it crumbled away into nothing pretty quickly.

While Leeds have suffered their first league defeat in the last month, results and performances since have done everything to convince us that was just a minor hiccup along the pathway to the stars. Included in that have been two local derbies away from home; games in which Leeds routinely fail to rise to the hype that the home team manage to build. In such games you can set your watch by when certain things will happen; the home crowd are up for it, the players who have been mediocre in every other game this season are up for it, Leeds concede before half-time and never manage to get a foothold back in the game. From Barnsley to Rotherham and from Sheffield United to Bradford City we have all seen it so many times in recent years.

But in the last two games Leeds have drawn 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday after going behind and won 1-0 at Hull City. There is an element of frustration that Leeds haven’t won both games, but the key thing is that Leeds were able to control both games and were never once muscled out of their stride or intimidated by a home crowd baying for blood. At all times Leeds kept their shape, stuck to a well-drilled pattern of play and just did their own thing. This involved scoring two goals that included front-to-back passing movements featuring virtually the entire side, and culminating in a searching finish from distance delivered with devastating aplomb.

There has been some criticism that Leeds aren’t scoring the scrappy goals that their creative play is presenting on a plate, but the goals they are scoring are all beautifully crafted and bear the hallmarks of a team that is organised, has a plan and is supremely confident.

All this has been achieved without the services of key players of course. We haven’t seen Pablo Hernandez for over a month, and that’s way too long. Pablo was injured prior to the Middlesboro game at the end of August, and when we were also dealt the significant blow of injuries to top scorer Kemar Roofe and £7million signing Patrick Bamford, you feared the worst. Now Leeds just need to ride out one more fixture before a two-week international break, after which the side should be blessed once more with at least some of this craft and firepower.

That Leeds have managed to stay up there and to play some of the football that they have, during this period, should tell everyone exactly what they need to know about the character and endurance of this team, but still there are doubters. Personally, I don’t mind that. If Leeds have to go into every game having to prove themselves to people, then that isn’t a bad mind-set to have.

The day we get complacent and believe all the hype is the day that standards drop and mistakes creep in. So let’s hope that people are still questioning the quality and longevity of Marcelo Bielsa’s side in April with just two games to go and with Leeds sitting pretty and with their destiny in their own hands.

We have seen just the two home games at the Peacock during September, within four days of each other and each with very contrasting emotions. Preston North End arrived on Tuesday 18th and were brutally put to the sword, as an injury-ravaged Leeds crushed them 3-0 with a display that oozed with style and buoyancy. It could have been much more and set everything up perfectly for the visit of Garry Monk’s Birmingham City on the following Saturday.

Of course the football world is littered with pantomime villains where Leeds fans are concerned and Monk is definitely in that league now, and if there’s one game we didn’t want to lose it was this one. I guess that it was written in stone that Leeds would succumb to their first defeat in this game and we should perhaps be thankful that it wasn’t Millwall away, but it was hard to take all the same.

October brings three home games, in another stop-start month punctuated rather rudely by those pesky international breaks. We have the visit of Brentford this Saturday then no games for a fortnight. A short trip to Blackburn is followed by the visit of lowly Ipswich Town on Wednesday 24th and then a Saturday evening Kick-Off against Nottingham Forest on the 27th.

This last fixture is the kind of game we look at when planning things at the Old Peacock and everyone kind of goes quiet and starts to contemplate what it will be like. You won’t be surprised to learn that even though the game kicks-off at 5.30pm rather than 3pm, that doesn’t mean people come to the pub a minute later than normal. Certainly not Leeds fans anyway. We will be licking our lips at the potential bar takings, but it does also present a few challenges throughout the day. But it is all the fun of the fair and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When Leeds United are flying like they are now, our job is just to keep the good times going, and we have plenty of years’ experience of doing that. So let’s see where Leeds are in another month’s time. Hopefully the mask hasn’t slipped yet and the real Leeds United is becoming more recognisable as the one that is still cutting a swath through this division.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Good Times

It is possibly only football fans who aren’t sorry to see the end of summer. That undeniable nip in the air, the nights closing in much quicker and the light covering of dew on the lawn is a sure sign that September is here. The kids mumble and moan as they shuffle off back to school and people who don’t like football get on with whatever weird stuff it is they do. But for football fans September signals the pursuit into Autumn and Winter months and proper football weather, and it also sees the football season begin to take shape after a frantic start.

For Leeds United, too often September has signalled the slow realisation that nothing special is going to happen for another year, but that couldn’t be further from the truth this time around. The summer was yet another time of change, but there was an air of mystery and intrigue about what was happening at Elland Road, and the start of the season has put Leeds United front and centre of the football world as, not only the early leaders in the Championship, but the focus of one of the most explosive transformations media critics and fans alike have seen.

Marcelo Bielsa’s revolution has seen mediocre bottle-jobs emerge as marauding world-beaters, as largely the same team that failed miserably last season has acted out Bielsa’s blueprint to the letter. So far Leeds have faced four of the expected front runners in the Division and remain unbeaten after six games, in the meantime playing a standard of football no Leeds fan has witnessed since the Champions League era. Sharp passing, fluid movement, hard pressing, organisation and teamwork; it has been a breath-taking start to the season that sees Leeds top of the table as we enter into the first international break, and the team on everybody’s lips as Bielsa has brought exactly the level of spirit and imagination that everyone predicted.

At the Old Peacock, August passed by in a whirlwind and we were similarly blown away by the sheer pace and excitement of the first few weeks of the season. The summer heat quickly faded away, but nevertheless we saw three crowds over 30,000 and two midweek cup games also serving up a generous attendance. Before you knew it, summer had gone but it was impossible not to get swept away by the wave of optimism and now, for once, we don’t mind walking the dog in the dark and arguing about when to put the heating on, because when football is played like this, nothing else seems to matter and the real nitty gritty of the football season can’t come soon enough.

The question of course is; can Leeds maintain the pace this time around? A similarly encouraging start faded away in limp fashion this time last year, but Leeds look better conditioned physically and are definitely better prepared mentally this time around, while they are under the tutelage of one of the world’s most renowned coaches and these players might also just be a little wiser and more savvy for last season’s experiences.

Bielsa’s maverick approach has been refreshing and rewarding and it seems there’s plenty still to come with some of the new signings, big players like Pontus Jansson and players carrying injuries barely making an impression as yet. September sees international games make a swift but brief comeback and it is testament to Leeds’s start to the season that we have all quickly forgotten about England’s heroics in Russia over the summer.

The next month sees just the two home games at Elland Road with Preston North End visiting in midweek on the 18th and Birmingham City arriving just four days later for our only Saturday fixture in September. It allows us a little breather at the pub, but as Leeds fans, if we can enter the next international break in another six games’ time, still top of the table, it will definitely shut some of the doubters up.

We have received some great feedback from customers over our new matchday food menu, which of course has been delivered via our restaurant partnership with the Spiced Mango. Mo and his team are experts in serving up delicious Asian cuisine, and the first two months of their residency at the Peacock has been a resounding success, but the matchday operation is all completely new. While we have experienced some teething problems, the new menu has been received really well on the whole, but we are always happy to hear about anything you feel we can improve. It’s a delicate balance between providing something new but catering also for what people like and expect, and hopefully we are somewhere close to that. The same can be said for our new container bars in the beer garden. We hope they have improved the experience for everybody, relieved the stress of getting served inside and allowed those in the beer garden to get served quicker. But if there’s anything we can improve upon, just let us know.

Certainly the atmosphere at the pub for the home games so far has been pretty special, even by our normal standards. However Leeds are performing, the fans always love the buzz of the matchday experience and we are proud to play a huge part in that. But you can imagine how thirsty people have been over the last few weeks and it seems Leeds fans just can’t savour the Peacock atmosphere enough at the moment.

It’s great to see Leeds fans visit Elland Road at any time of course, and we have definitely seen an increase in people popping in during the week after visiting the new Superstore, or the brilliant Bremner Square redevelopment, or simply to buy tickets. The Peacock has always been an aspect of how visiting Leeds fans can pay homage in between matchdays, and it is great to feel that expectation and the draw of the place in better times. People just want to be at Elland Road right now, whatever day it is.

As ever, we hope to be of service in that respect. And certainly as the calendar months tick past we can only pray that the lads can keep this up and continue to rampage through the Division, because we will happily wave goodbye to the sunshine and say hello to the good times, when Leeds United give you a naturally warm, fuzzy feeling like this.  

Thursday, 2 August 2018

New Season

There have been a lot of new beginnings at Leeds United in the last decade. Indeed it’s hard to recall the last new season that felt like a natural continuation of the previous one. Whether it’s ownership, the manager or the players, Leeds United is in a constant state of flux in the 21stcentury; new faces, new ideas, new structure, but the same direction. Well, that’s no direction at all actually, simply standing still.

And of course we have seen change once again this summer. Except that this does feel a little bit different. Not only have Leeds appointed one of the world’s most renowned coaches, but the better players from last season have been retained and the new players added have for once represented quality rather than quantity.

It does look from our close vantage point over the road that the club has adopted a measured patience in their pursuit of manager and players this summer, and this has led to a more considered refinement of what went wrong last season, rather than ripping everything up, ransacking the coaching structure and implementing yet another round of wholesale change. In that respect, as the new season approaches rapidly, things feel different but a bit more ‘in control’, and that can only be a good thing.

All that said, of course there was an uncomfortable sense of familiarity about the team that started against Las Palmas, in the final pre-season friendly at Elland Road last Sunday. At the Old Peacock we had opened our doors to the thirsty hordes once again, and introduced some changes of our own, but on the pitch over the road, things looked pretty much the same.

Marcelo Bielsa started with eleven players who had all been here last season, and who had all disappointed to varying degrees in a campaign that flattered to deceive and had painfully familiar ending dragged out over the final three months. While the players looked sharp and organised, many of the same traits and problems existed, and it was only until some new arrivals were introduced in the second half that you could begin to see some progress from the hours of hard graft undertaken at Thorp Arch during the recent heatwave. 
And since then we have seen more new arrivals. While Leeds fans have long since held the loan system in contempt, that is usually because the club has used it in ill-considered desperation or as a cheap option. This summer we have taken well regarded youngsters from Chelsea and Manchester City who on an individual basis will all improve the first team and are all better players than those they have replaced. Jamal Blackman, Lewis Baker and Jack Harrison are the three loanees so far and it already appears that they will bring much more to the team than the players Leeds have unceremoniously shipped out this summer.

Meanwhile, Leeds have also spent a cool £10million on two key signings in positions that we have been traditionally weak, and you can already sense a buzz from the immediate impact they are likely to make. Left-back Barry Douglas was one of the most important players to Wolverhampton Wanderers as they waltzed to the Championship title last season, and quite how Leeds managed to tempt him away for only £3million still baffles me today.

Likewise, striker Patrick Bamford became a key player at Middlesbrough last season and many of their fans were dismayed to see Leeds snap him up for £7million this week. Bamford arrives in much the scenario as Chris Wood did a few years ago. A highly rated striker who has proved he can hit goals at this level, but who has suffered from being farmed out on numerous loans. Chris Wood definitely found a home at Leeds United and it is to be hoped that Bamford flourishes in similar fashion from being given the number 9 shirt and from the trust being shown in him as the ‘main man’.


Of course, the difference we need to see is that Leeds progress at the same rate that Bamford does. We don’t want to see yet another big name sold off to the Premier League while Leeds continue to flounder in the second tier. And with things slowly coming together before Sunday’s big Kick-Off against Stoke City at Elland Road, there is definitely plenty to be optimistic about, even if Leeds fans are too savvy and battle-weary to get carried away again.

It seems Leeds might still be looking to do some transfer business in the final few days of the transfer window, and if we can add some more quality to a couple of weak spots – we still look light of options upfront and in central defence – then you have to conclude this is the best summer transfer window we have seen in a long time. And after a frustrating summer of waiting for the club to land some players, everything is now building up nicely to the new season.

Sunday’s opening game against Stoke City is something we have been building up to at the Old Peacock ever since the fixtures were released back in June. Every summer we look at the huge operation that is a matchday at Elland Road and try to find ways we can improve things. The problems are usually obvious; we just can’t serve beer quick enough. But having invested in the marquee a couple of years ago we have this summer installed two more outside bars in the beer garden, to better utilise the space available to us and to provide more beer pumps to hopefully get people served quicker and more often.

You will also no doubt be aware of our new restaurant partnership with the Spiced Mango. This began in July and has so far been a huge success. The guys at the Spiced Mango are also undertaking the matchday food operation and while they are serving up some of their delicious Asian delicacies, in Sheek Kebab wraps and Chicken Tikka wraps, they are also ensuring there is something for everyone, with cheeseburgers and fries also on the agenda.

With the Spiced Mango partnership we are looking to offer something different, and that extends to matchday too. We feel that football fans get short changed with the limited offerings at football stadiums, and hopefully we are breaking ground in that respect.

So Sunday is going to be a huge day, with a late afternoon Kick-Off and a big crowd expected. And August continues apace, with Bolton coming to Elland Road in the League Cup on Tuesday 14th, Rotherham on Saturday 18thand Middlesbrough on Friday 31st.

There’s nothing like the start of the season to whet the appetite at the Old Peacock, and while a lot of things might feel the same, there’s also a lot of difference. So look around, experience it and enjoy it, because this new beginning might just be the real deal. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Welcoming A New Culinary Era to Elland Road

When something feels right, it is often hard to describe why. You can dissect the most beautiful relationships, trying to work out the reasons why it works, but it usually leads you nowhere. Like Lennon & McCartney, Fred & Ginger or Bremner & Giles, there’s an undefinable magic sometimes that might look unlikely on the outside, so you would be advised to just sit back and enjoy it. 
There is something of that ‘stars aligning’ symbiosis about the partnership of Ossett Brewery and the Spiced Mango restaurant at Middlestown; a serendipitous ‘happy accident’ and a relationship that has grown naturally to bear wonderful fruit, rather than being a structured outcome from the minutes of an impersonal business meeting. 
Mohammad Ali, or Mo for short, is the owner of the Spiced Mango and he has built the business up over the last five years, since taking a redundancy package from his IT job and deciding to take the plunge and realise his dream in the restaurant business. Jamie Lawson, MD of Ossett Brewery, was a regular customer at the restaurant and their relationship grew from a mutual love of good food and good company. Pretty soon it became clear that the two should work together, but this was no unit-shifting corporate strategy, just a desire to follow a path that felt right and could continue the wholesome and natural image that both organisations hold great value in.
“Jamie was a customer at the restaurant,” Mo begins “and we’ve been talking for about 18 months about doing something. We provided the food for a special Curry Night at the Flowerpot in Mirfield last August, and that went really well, so the conversations just went from there.”
The partnership with the Old Peacock, which begins on July 13thafter a three-week re-fit of the kitchens at the famous Elland Road pub, is the first venture of its kind for the Spiced Mango and they aren’t planning to stray too far from what has been a winning formula at their Middlestown restaurant.
Converted from the White Swan pub, the Spiced Mango has become one of the most successful Indian restaurants in the West Yorkshire area, winning a ‘Certificate of Excellence’ award from Trip Advisor for its consistently great reviews. And consistency is the key to the partnership with the Old Peacock, with Mo taking nine staff members and exactly the same menu with him to the Peacock’s kitchen, which is actually twice the size of the one at his Middlestown restaurant. So there’s really no excuse not to recreate the same magic down in LS11.
A major factor in the discussions that led to the Old Peacock’s exciting new partnership with the Spiced Mango, was the pub’s identity as a famous landmark in the matchday traditions for generations of Leeds United fans. Mo won’t profess to being a Leeds fan, but he has ‘Leeds United sympathies’ through his father. However, it was made very clear that matchdays are a huge part of the Peacock’s business model and Mo has built that into the project the Spiced Mango are delivering.
“I came to the pub for the recent England game,” Mo continues “so I know how busy it gets and how demanding the fans are. But in my opinion food delivered to football fans all over the country has traditionally been pretty standard with little imagination. They are a captive audience, and like motorway service stations, you have no choice but to buy what’s on offer and pay the prices. So we wanted to offer something completely different and with a bit more quality. We will be offering Chicken Tikka wraps, Seekh Kebab wraps and Biryani Rice boxes, which will be both chicken and vegetable.”

So Leeds fans flooding through the Peacock’s doors from August are in for a treat, and as if the pre-match build-up couldn’t get any better, they will now enjoy an Indian feast to go with their beer, live music and the amazing atmosphere that Leeds fans create.
The clock is now ticking towards the grand re-opening of the Spiced Mango at the Old Peacock on Friday July 13thand with minimal internal décor changes, the concentration is on getting the kitchen fitted. All the equipment has been delivered, including a traditional tandoori oven, and everything will be in place for the big day.
Naturally Mo is excited at the prospect of what will happen with the Peacock partnership, but he is not used to the big build-up: “At the Middlestown restaurant we didn’t do any marketing at all,” he explains “we just wanted to perfect what we were doing and then let the food speak for itself. I believe we serve good quality, honest food and our success has come from studying best practice and learning from others.”

Certainly the stage is set for Mo and the Spiced Mango to make an impact in LS11. With no Indian restaurant in the area, there is an opportunity for a culinary revolution to hit Elland Road and for the Old Peacock to lead the charge into a new era. And with consistency at the heart of the Spiced Mango’s success story, there is every reason to believe that this new partnership with the Old Peacock will have people flooding to Elland Road, not just to walk in the footsteps of Charles, Bremner, Strachan and Viduka, but to sample the finest Indian cuisine in Leeds.     

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Change is Coming

When you get a summer like this, it feels like it can last forever. Usually we get a handful of hot, sunny days and occasional tea time periods where post-work folk like to bask in our sunny beer garden with a hard earned drink. This year, the steps outside onto our sun-scorched grass area have never seen so much action and every day feels like a holiday. Why do things have to change? 

Well, change is natural, it’s what makes life interesting and while we can’t stop the weather changing, there are certain things we can change because we think it will make life better, and that’s what is happening at the Old Peacock at the moment.

It has been a fantastic summer so far, and while the country is bewitched by World Cup fever, England’s exploits in Russia and the multi-cultural festival of football, change is afoot here on Elland Road. All is pretty quiet over at Leeds United where everybody is busying themselves conscientiously in the build-up to the new season, while it’s business as usual on the pub side at the Old Peacock, where our regulars are happy watching the football and enjoying a beer as normal. But in the kitchen there are exciting things happening.

On Monday June 25th our old kitchen closed, as we took the decision to leap into a whole new era. You may have seen the banners at the pub already and our posts on social media, but we are taking a three-week period out to refurbish the kitchens, update some décor and train the staff to welcome a whole new dining experience.

Friday July 13th signals the start of a brand new partnership with the Spiced Mango Indian restaurant, which is based at Middlestown, between Wakefield and Huddersfield. We will be bringing authentic Indian cuisine to LS11 via an amazing menu that has proved to be a huge success at the Spiced Mango’s celebrated, relaxed and family-friendly signature restaurant.

We are privileged that our new friends are sharing their expertise and amazing Asian flavours with us and we can’t wait to get started. As you know, for many years we have had weekly food events such as ‘Curry Night’ on Wednesday, ‘Steak Night’ on Thursday and a traditional ‘Sunday Lunch’ on Sundays. While these have been a great success and have proved very popular, we felt it was time for a change, and we hope people can understand and appreciate why

There is no doubt that the Old Peacock has never been so successful on a Leeds United matchday. We have got that formula completely worked out, although we are still looking at ways we can serve more beer to more people even quicker. So watch this space on that. Where we need to maximise our business is during the week and the many occasions whenLeeds United aren’t playing. 

Of course we have been very lucky in 2018 that the Leeds Rhinos have played at Elland Road twice, while Josh Warrington held his world title fight over the road and the England team also played their last friendly before the World Cup at Elland Road. These were occasions that we didn’t budget for, but unfortunately they are ‘one-offs’ and not something we are likely to see again any time soon. As a business, therefore, we need to look at ways to increase revenue on non-matchdays, and that thought process ended up with the nation’s favourite dish; curry.

Quite apart from the fact that there is no Indian restaurant within four miles of the Old Peacock, our management team at Ossett Brewery have made a great success of pushing the boundaries elsewhere in the region, and challenging the conventions of what pubs and bars are supposed to do. Just a few miles away in Leeds city centre, the brewery took the bold step a couple of years ago of changing a winning formula at Candelbar in Granary Wharf. It had an identity as a bar selling fine ales, fine wines from around the world and fine pizzas. But a pioneering food partnership was formed with Edo Sushi, to bring exclusive Japanese cuisine to Candlebarand it has proved to be a great success.
A similar approach has been taken with our new partnership with the Spiced Mango. The experts are taking over the food, while we look after what we know best; running one of the most famous pubs in Leeds. So things on the pub side won’t be changing one little bit, but you won’t be able to miss the unmistakable fragrances coming from the kitchens as the Spiced Mango serves delicious eastern cuisine in the shadow of Elland Road’s East Stand. 

Our new menus have been posted on social media already and you can start booking tables for July 13th onwards. We will be serving homemade sandwiches at lunchtime prepared on site by our staff, but from 5pm onwards, seven days a week, our kitchens will be serving exclusive and authentic Indian cuisine of the very highest standard. We have been assured that the guys at the Spiced Mango will have a takeaway collection service available too, and they have also prepared a great matchday food menu for Leeds United games; incorporating Chicken Tikka wraps, Seekh Kebab wraps and Biryani rice boxes (chicken or vegetable).

All in all it is a really exciting development for us and we can’t wait to get started and make the Old Peacock one of the most popular venues in Leeds, not just on matchdays, but every night of the week. And with the new football season just around the corner and plenty of new faces expected at Leeds United, there is change everywhere and that’s just how we like it. 

All the best

Jon Howe

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Football’s Coming Home

Fabian Delph parading around an Elland Road pitch that he had just graced with a majestic England performance and giving the Leeds salute to all four sides of the ground, was a perfect ending to quite a month at the Old Peacock. Wall-to-wall sunshine, bank holidays, family fundays, end-of-season parties, world title boxing and then England’s triumphant send-off for the World Cup, all eyes have been on our little part of LS11 and we’ve loved every minute of it.

The curtain finally came down on a pretty turgid season at Leeds United, but at least they had the courtesy to win their final game against Queen’s Park Rangers, and the EFL had the good grace to stage the final game on a bank holiday Sunday with a lunchtime Kick-Off. So the Old Peacock beer garden was awash with people very happy to see the back of another wasted season and the party atmosphere lasted long into the night.

Since then of course, we have had the strange post-season tour to Myanmar and manager Paul Heckingbottom has been relieved of his duties and as I write, we await the identity of the new manager. But on face value it appears that Leeds United have finally decided ‘enough’s enough’ and are attempting their version of ‘going for it’. We await confirmation of what that actually is.

While we have attempted to put Leeds United in a small box under the stairs for the summer and go out and actually enjoy life, there have been plenty of other things to occupy our time. Preparations for the Josh Warrington fight were surrounded by some uncertainty at the pub. It was a pretty unique event for us and for Elland Road, and it was difficult to predict how many people would be around the pub and what time they would start coming.

Of course there were things happening around the ground all afternoon and the fights on the undercard started quite early, but the main event was not until nearly 10pm. Consequently, we took a bit of a flier on how many bar staff we needed and at what times, and all in all, it went really well. We were blessed by the weather and naturally, Josh’s win was celebrated long and hard. It was a fantastic night for the city of Leeds and a real festival of what we do so well.

Our Family Funday soon followed on the next bank holiday weekend and once again, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The beer garden was overflowing all day and the pub was a hive of activity with face-painting, tug-of-war competitions and live music all day. There was plenty to eat and obviously the beer was flowing too, and it seems that everyone there, including the kids, had a great time.

We finished off a hectic few weeks with Elland Road’s staging of an England international, for the first time since 2002. We are used to seeing sell-out crowds at Elland Road, so this was nothing new to us, but it was good to see fans of several different clubs mixing nicely in the pub both before and after the game. We saw flags from clubs like Arsenal and Hull City in the beer garden, but everyone had England on their minds and there was a real positive atmosphere.

The staging of the game was a real coup for Elland Road and Leeds United, given the number of high profile grounds there are around the country, so having the world’s eyes on us once again was a big deal and everyone passed the test with flying colours. A lovely, sunny evening saw a sea of colour around the ground and the positive vibe surrounding Gareth Southgate’s squad was evident both inside and outside the ground. Occasionally it takes something like this for us to realise how truly special Elland Road is, and coupled with the Josh Warrington fight and the amazing feeling around the ground then, it hopefully gives the club even more incentive to create its own days and nights like this. What a place Elland Road will be when Leeds United eventually gets it right………

And so now we move on to the World Cup itself. We’ve played our part in sending the team off to Russia with a wealth of goodwill and positivity behind them, now we sit back and watch it unfold. And you can do that perfectly well in the cosy confines of the Old Peacock.

We will be showing every game of the 2018 World Cup on our big screens throughout the month long tournament. There are few better feelings than taking an afternoon off work and settling down in your local with a pint and something special ordered from our menu and having a feast of football played out before you. That can be you and if previous tournaments are anything to go by, the Old Peacock is going to be a pretty special place over the next few weeks. 

England might not win the tournament, but a reduction in expectation and a bit less of the usual OTT hullabaloo hopefully means there is a little less pressure on the team and they can go to Russia and express themselves naturally, without feeling the weight of the nation on their shoulders.

All we know is that you can watch it here with us while supping your favourite beers, with your favourite people and in your favourite place. It’s been an amazing month, but the fun times haven’t ended yet, because football’s coming home to the Old Peacock.  

All the best

Jon Howe

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Sound Of Good Things To Come

Where does a year go? This time 12 months ago Leeds fans were coming to terms with another wasted season as a play-off bid that had looked nailed on for months spectacularly hit the buffers. It was with a mixture of pain and frustration, but at least an element of pride, that we waved the season off in a seventh-placed position that ultimately brought us nothing. One year on and we’re battling exactly the same disappointment, except the pain and frustration came a lot earlier and there was absolutely no element of pride.

To say the 2017/18 season has been disappointing is a monumental understatement, not just after last season’s near miss but also after the positivity of last summer. Let’s face it, mistakes have been made and performances have been nowhere near good enough. You can point the finger in various directions because there isn’t one solitary reason for Leeds United’s failures this season; football isn’t always as simple as that and there aren’t many individuals at the club who can look at themselves and say they performed to an acceptable standard throughout a campaign that brought such little cheer.
So yet again, Leeds United face a huge summer of re-building. We do believe there are some elements of a decent side within the first team squad, but that only amounts to about half a dozen players. However, with a raft of promising youngsters emerging and three or four key additions, things can very quickly look a little more positive, as long as we can clear the decks of a lot of the dead wood that habitually ends up hanging around Elland Road.

A key ingredient of any successful team is to build some camaraderie and team spirit and that seems to have been badly lacking all season. This team isn’t a ‘team’. There hasn’t been much evidence of fallouts or visible ructions within the squad, but equally, they don’t look like a squad of players that would die for each other, who know exactly what each other’s role is and who are organised and well-drilled. It doesn’t help when nobody knows from one game to the next who is going to be playing, and while a lot of this is down to coaching and management, a major reason why the team is so fragile and afraid to perform at Elland Road is also down to personality, and for that reason character, attitude and experience is as important in this upcoming transfer window as ability. 

One thing that we can’t complain about at the Old Peacock is the crowds at Elland Road this season. Even when it became perfectly clear that the season was going down the pan, the attendances for home games rarely wavered. I guess we were helped by the league leaders Wolves visiting in midweek and a couple of Yorkshire derbies, but all the same it is impressive to maintain an average home crowd of around 30,000 when you’ve won only three games in four months and are spending yet another season achieving absolutely nothing.

Home games at the Old Peacock have continued to be special occasions and our resident house band The Snapp have again proved to be incredibly popular. So much so that they have warmed the crowds before the two Leeds Rhinos games recently and we hope they will be providing plenty of tunes and getting you all geared up for the Josh Warrington world title later this month, and for the England friendly versus Costa Rica in June.

Speaking of Josh Warrington, we are very much on the countdown to May 19th and we are getting prepared for what is going to be one hell of a day. With the Elland Road gates opening at 4pm and an undercard that includes the darling of Leeds – double Olympic champion Nicola Adams – we are sure to be having a busy afternoon in the pub. Add to that the Royal Wedding, the FA Cup Final and Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers in the Magic Weekend at Newcastle and this is all building up to a quite unique day that will certainly be keeping our bar staff occupied.

Ticket sales for a chance to see the crowning of the first World Boxing Champion from Leeds are looking pretty good and we are certain there will be a very special atmosphere awaiting the current title holder Lee Selby as he enters Elland Road on the night, and we will be doing our best to add to that, so get yourselves along early for what promises to be an amazing sporting occasion in Leeds.

Before all that though, don’t forget there is one Leeds United home game remaining before the players head off for the summer, or if they are really unlucky, to Myanmar. Queen’s Park Rangers are our visitors on Sunday May 6th, which is a bank holiday weekend, and as we have a 12.30pm Kick-Off we will have The Snapp performing after the game, and not before as normal. So as to keep noise to a minimum we can’t have the band on too early, so why not make a day of it and join us after the game? Early indications suggest the weather should be pretty good too, so what better way to toast the end of the season than a glorious sunny afternoon in the Old Peacock beer garden listening to some quality tunes?

And of course, if you are not satisfied with just the one bout of ritual disappointment and humiliation, England are heading to Russia next month for the World Cup, so in our next blog post we will be telling you all about our plans for the month-long football jamboree, that fingers crossed might retain some home interest longer than a fortnight.

But for now let’s raise a glass to the 2017/18 season, wish it good riddance and party on to the sound of good things to come.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Searching For A Magic Moment

It seems like I’m only allowed to celebrate one Leeds United win in each of these monthly blog posts. Last time out we had just beaten Brentford at Elland Road for Paul Heckingbottom’s first win as Leeds boss, and it looked like we had finally turned the corner. Sadly, it’s been another case of ‘what might have beens’ since then and Leeds are exiting the Easter period just far enough away from a wide open play-off race for us to play no meaningful part in it, but close enough to look on with rueful regret and green with envy.

Yes, it’s that familiar time of year when we can write the season off and start planning for the next one. Again. I guess we should be thankful that we are pressing the reset button at the end of March rather than in February as normal, but the significant fact is that it’s much earlier than last season, when at least we carried the fight right until the last few fixtures. It’s the failure to build on that platform that rankles the most and there’s no escaping the fact that Andrea Radrizzani might have done plenty of good things off the pitch – if we ignore the abomination of that badge, and we really want to – but on the pitch it’s been a waste of a season.

That’s not to say it’s been a complete disaster. There are some players in the squad who can still contribute something to the standard of team we really need in this division, but not many, and it’s the lack of standout moments that really tells us everything. Usually you can point to games, goals and moments that make your hairs stand on end even if, ultimately, it all counts for nothing. But this season there’s largely nothing to write home about, save for a run of seven games unbeaten at the start of the season, which ended up being the biggest false dawn since…..erm…….since someone dressed us as Dawn and it turned out they weren’t called Dawn at all.  

We’ll save the full post mortem for May’s blog post, but for now, when the moments most people recollect from a season are a 4-3 home defeat to Millwall and your star player being sent off for spitting in an FA Cup defeat to a League Two side, and then banned for six games, you know it’s time to draw a line through another campaign in this godforsaken division and move on.

Except of course, we can’t. At least not yet. In typical Leeds United fashion, we have another three largely pointless home games to endure. Although the last one gave us something of a shot in the arm in the form of a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers, and maybe if we’re being super positive and maybe a tad over-optimistic we could suggest that ‘the’ magic moment hasn’t happened yet?
Leeds showed something of the free-flowing, attacking spirit we’ve longed for since those heady days at the beginning of the season against Bolton, and the atmosphere in the pub both before and after the game was especially buoyant. It was Good Friday, I guess, and at least this set the Easter weekend up nicely for everyone.

April arrives now and offers us two Saturday afternoon home games, a rare treat in a calendar month, although I guess that demonstrates quite clearly how even Sky Sports have lost interest in meddling with Leeds United’s season. On the 7th we welcome a Sunderland team who look to be heading straight down to League One, but they will be sure to bring a huge following with them to Elland Road. Fixtures with Sunderland always seem to have a traditional edge and this will be no different, and I’m sure there are many Leeds fans who would take a particular liking to banging another nail in their coffin.

Following that we have Paul Heckingbottom’s reunion with the Barnsley side he left to join Leeds in February. This takes place on Saturday 21st and again, I’d expect a decent crowd to turn up for this local derby, particularly as Barnsley are also fighting relegation and have plenty to play for.

Usually at the Old Peacock we start to feel quite sad at this time of year, another league season passes by and the pub takes on a whole different personality for the summer months as, well, just another pub. And we all know that’s it’s not just another pub. So that’s why we are particularly excited about the events coming up over the summer in 2018. We’ll talk about these in more detail in our May and June blog posts, but we have Josh Warrington’s World title fight with Lee Selby coming up on Saturday May 19th and then England play their last friendly before the World Cup against Costa Rica on Thursday June 7th. These will each be huge occasions and, as always, we are right in the thick of it and intend to play our part in making the Elland Road atmosphere something special. After all, that’s why these events are being staged here, so we have a duty to do our bit.

We like to think we contributed something to the amazing Super League game between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers at Elland Road last month also. In the second of the Rhinos’ two ‘home’ games being staged here while their Headingley Stadium is re-developed, we saw a brilliant spectacle as Cas ended up 25-24 winners in a nail-biting climax. Clearly there was an edge to the occasion due to the locality of the two teams, mixed with a bit of a grudge element after the Rhinos steamrollered Cas in the Old Trafford Grand Final last October, but no one quite expected the quality of game that we saw.

It was also brilliant to see fans of both clubs mixing happily in the pub before and after the game. There is definitely a different kind of relationship between rival fans in rugby league that we will probably never see in football, and while the Peacock will always be packed before Leeds United games, whether we allowed away fans in or not, there’s a mutual respect between teams in RL that is quite unique and to be admired, while at the same time we wouldn’t change the tribal football rivalries one bit.

We wouldn’t have it any other way, and we are proud of the role we play in making the Elland Road atmosphere so special, and we can’t wait for the next few months to play out so we can show it to the whole country, and maybe even the whole world.      

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.