This Friday marks Leeds Rhinos final game in front of their famous South Stand. The stand was originally opened in the 1930’s and, much like the Popular side at Knowsley Road, has been central in the creation of the home atmosphere at Headingley. However, like St. Helens did with the Old Lady, Leeds have identified that Headingley requires modernising and will start the redevelopment of the North & South stands imminently.
I’m going to take you back to 2009 now. Super League Licences had been issued the previous year and it was reported that 5 clubs had been warned “…of their commitment to upgrade or move to a new stadium” by Gary Tasker the RFL’s Director of Development. The 5 clubs in question were Saints, Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Salford City Reds and Celtic Crusaders. You don’t need me to point out which side of the Pennines got their literal house in order with regards to these warnings. Looking at the licences awarded that year it makes you wonder how Hull KR, Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos weren’t also reminded of their obligations to improve their respective stadiums.
Fast forward 8 years and Leeds are starting to modernise more of Headingley. It promises to be an outstanding redevelopment which includes part of the cricket stadium and corporate areas being upgraded. Fans will be understandably be in part upset about the South Stand going but should also look forward to having a fantastic new stadium to attend. Yes, an old stadium is like your favourite pair of shoes – you wear them until well past their sell by date and don’t want throw them away. Then when you have to throw them, your new pair can feel different, until they become comfy and familiar.
At least Leeds fans aren’t moving to a whole new stadium like many rugby league teams have done, the walk to the game won’t change, and part of the stadium will remain the same. It’s more the Spion Kop or Stretford End being replaced – not the whole of Anfield or Old Trafford. I do have a slight problem with Headingley though. Much like Belle Vue and Wheldon Road it’s a fantastic stadium to be in on a warm summers afternoon or evening. But how we’ve got to 2017 and these 3 top flight stadiums do not have a roof over the away fans is baffling. I understand that Leeds have ‘room’ issues with the current away end backing onto a residential area, but surely there’s some way over the years they could’ve put a small roof on that end of the ground? It wouldn’t have to span the whole end. I’ve stood there in the rain, and only a win and plenty of beer made it an enjoyable experience.
Back to the South Stand, and its farewell. We’ve had many classic battles in front of you, some sparkling moments and skill. I genuinely hope that the Loiners keep their memories of their ‘spec’ bright in their minds, whether they’re wonderous, sad or frustrating, even if I want your last memory to be one of a Saints victory. And when the bulldozers move in, do the rest of Super League a favour – make sure that bloody band have left their instruments in there.