Leeds United Change

Leeds United John Cave

Elland Road, Before the Fire................A View from the Boys Pen


As small boys we never noticed the generally decrepit state that Elland Road was in the 1950’s – the place had an almost cathedral-like place in our minds, to the extent that the rusted corrugated iron fences, old brickwork and a lack of paint anywhere totally passed us by. The reality being, however, that no development or updating of facilities had been undertaken since the 1920’s; when what was to be known as the Scratching Shed was built, as well as the partial covering of the massive Lowfields Road terrace. None of this mattered of course to us youngsters in the 1950’s – Elland Road was the theatre where our 2nd division heroes performed every other Saturday and there was no other place on this earth like it.

Going to football matches, on your own, without parental control for the first time, was an introductory foray into a world where everything was utterly different from the protection of being at home or at school. As kids we suffered from a sensory overload when we were exposed to the unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells of the adult world for the first time. To this day I associate going to matches at Elland Road with a certain smell – I suspect it was a heady mixture of damp, sweat, farts, beer and fags - one that I wish I could have bottled !!

There was an initial, introductory period of going into the West Stand paddock with my parents which included the obligatory being lifted over the turn-style for free entrance and then lifted again over the heads of the crowd down to the front where some poor sap would have to sit me on the wall and look after me for the rest of the afternoon!!!. However I was soon allowed to go to matches with school mates from Lower Wortley when we would stand en masse in the open-to- the-elements Boys Pen behind the Gelderd Road end goal. I would have been about 7 when this first occurred in about 1951, but still too young to take advantage of the free pass that all kids got if they played for their school team. Later when these free passes were about we would pull the old ‘one pass gets all in trick’ by simply slipping the free pass back out through a convenient gap in the corrugated iron perimeter fence to your waiting mates, repeated then until all the kids from our Kirkdales estate were all in the ground!!

It normally cost 6d (2.5p in ‘new’ money) to go to games and I do not think this ever changed for as long as I was in the Pen – perhaps 5 or 6 seasons. There was a single policeman – it was the same Bobby for years - stood at the entrance to the pen and he became well known to us all. I am unable to recall (rose-coloured glasses?) there ever been any reason for him to intervene in any disturbance throughout my time in the Pen. Only cup-ties were ever all-ticket, so much was the power of the FA cup in those days, and these tickets were usually bought by the expedient method of buying the ticket as you paid your entrance fee at one of the last games – including Central League - before the cup fixture itselof. This certainly happened against Chelsea and Spurs in 1952 and 1954 respectively and a glance at the 50,000+ gate for the Bradford P.A. cup-tie, also in 1952, probably suggests that this also may well have been an all-ticket affair. These tickets themselves were works of art, akin to a wedding invitation, being on heavy card with match details printed in copper plate handwriting, far grander than the computer printed efforts issued today. Generally at about ¾ time they would open the West Stand Paddock gates and I would then push my way through to where my Mum and Dad stood prior to the walk back home after the game had finished.

In addition to the boys pen Copper, we had a couple of other ‘characters’ that were regular features at each match. The first was Felix the diminutive ball boy. Now I don’t know if his name was ‘Felix’ – I suspect not - and we probably nicknamed him that because of the way he ran dementedly ran around like his cartoon namesake Felix the Cat. In addition to collecting in the kick-about balls, which was an entertainment all on its own, he had the job of scurrying down the tunnel and outside the ground to retrieve the match-ball when it had been lofted over the stands during play. The other character was a far more sinister figure – the half time score man. This flat capped hobbit-like figure would trudge around the ground at half time, piece of paper in hand, to the 2 two half time scoreboards behind the goals where he would post the interval scores from our league. He was a real miserable sod; if at a reserve team game we wanted to know how United’s first team were doing, he refused to say a word, keeping an inane grin on his face until he had posted the score on the board against the pre-set letters where the fixtures were listed in the match day programme –just a one page effort for reserve games. No amount of cajoling from us kids would get him to keep him from his moment of glory of announcing how our first team were getting on. At least he had the grace to put up our score first with us desperately looking to see which numbers he was pulling out of his box!!! The other feature of reserve games was waiting for the tannoy announcement in the West Stand paddock at the end of the reserve match giving the final result of the first teams’ away game. No details or scorers, just something along the lines of “The result for the game at Derby is (pause) Derby County 2, Leeds United 3” And that was it!!

Reserve team games were not always the most exciting events so we often entertained ourselves by either playing football at the back of the Lowfields stand between the turn-style blocks, only climbing up the steep steps at half time to get an update on scores; or alternatively scrounging about at the back of the Kop where they always dumped the litter collected from previous home games, thus giving us the opportunity to look for discarded old programmes and cigarette cards.

The Boys Pen experience ended for me in about 1955/56 when I was old enough (12) to be a club Steward and sell firstly, the clubs ‘2d on the Ball’ sweepstake tickets, before being promoted to programme seller, where we would be paid commission of 1/2d for each one sold. In addition we were then allowed free access to the West Stand Paddock to watch the match. Leeds United was responsible for my first ever independent income! Against Bolton Wanderers I had sold my programmes and cashed in before kick off so quickly ran through the main corridor under the old West Stand to the tunnel just as Wanderers were taking the pitch to start the game. Thus a keen eyed Bolton fan would have seen their captain and English International Nat Lofthouse leading them out, followed by their keeper Eddie Hopkinson and then ...... er r... yours truly!!!

The West Stand fire in September 1956 came as great shock to me, I could not believe that my revered second home had been so severely damaged, but with a corrugated iron and wooden superstructure built over a metal frame, little was left of the old stand by the time the fire brigade had it under control. Much was lost in the fire and it was not until much later in my life, when I had an interest in the club history, did I realise how much a loss of all the clubs playing records would become. The new West Stand was built largely with funds raised by the sale of our greatest ever player – the mighty (and irreplaceable) John Charles - and probably coincided with the end of my innocence as I moved from being a young boy into a teenager when 1950’s Rock ‘N Roll, girls and eventually Tetley’s Mild provided alternative avenues for my spare time.

Eventually playing 1st XV schoolboy and then club rugby on a Saturday afternoon meant that I had to then restrict my United watching somewhat but those games I did get to coincided with the stirring of the ‘end’ movement at Elland Road and the first ever Leeds United chant - the hypnotic “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” (which has occasionally re-appeared this season by old gifters now safely ensconced amongst the other pensioners in the John Charles,). The first time that I can recall fan ’trouble’ as such at Elland Road was against Everton in around 1965 or 1966 when a lot of vehicles were damaged in the West Stand Car Park by the simple expedient of the Everton fans using their roofs and bonnets as a footpath out onto Elland Road.

The subsequent battles of the ‘ends’ have been chronicled by bigger and better literary luminaries than I.

John Cave

Our thanks to John Cave & The Square Ball, where this article first appeared




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