Elland Road is one of the oldest stadiums in existence in English football, dating back to the 19th century. The stadium was opened in 1897 and has been the home of Leeds United for the past 125 years, witnessing the great moments of the club’s history, including their dominant period during the 1960s and 1970s under Don Revie.
However, it also hosted dark times, notably their 18-year exile from the Premier League. Leeds endured yet another tumultuous campaign in the 2021/22 Premier League season, surviving by the skin of their teeth courtesy of a final-day victory over Brentford.
Jesse Marsch’s men remained in the top flight, while Burnley descended into the second tier. Leeds still face a battle in the new campaign and today’s football tips back the White to be relegated from the top flight at odds of 13/5 behind only Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Brentford. It suggests that there is little margin for error for Marsch and his team for the new campaign.
The priorities of the club’s hierarchy appear to be focused on the short term by being active in the transfer market, but they have also taken a long-term view by agreeing with Leeds City Council a plan to expand Elland Road to 55,000.
Leeds do have a solid backing of supporters, although their average attendance of 34,268 was slightly below the level of an expected capacity in the region of 39,000. Fans were prevented from enjoying the first season back in the Premier League, but did flock back to Elland Road in their second campaign. The question for Leeds is whether they can justify the cost of expanding Elland Road for the number of fans that come through the gate.
The club’s owners have opted against the idea of building a new stadium, which is no surprise considering the £1bn paid by Tottenham Hotspur for their new ground. Instead, they appear to be following in the path of Liverpool, who have decided to gradually improve Anfield and extend the capacity. The Reds have enjoyed a rise in their attendances, but the overall fan experience has not improved that much compared to what Tottenham can offer inside their venue.
Leeds have a lot to consider, primarily whether a gamble in extending Elland Road would be worth it for a team that is battling to remain in the league. The Whites might be better off stabilising themselves in the top division before even thinking about a move to improve their stadium.
Everton almost suffered relegation from the Premier League for the first time, which could have been disastrous for a team that is poised to move to Bramley-Moore Dock in the near future. If Leeds committed the same resources into improving Elland Road and did take the plunge into the Championship it could place them in a difficult financial situation.
When Leeds did play in the Championship before the days of Marcelo Bielsa, the club did average as low as 21,613 spectators in the 2006/07 campaign. It flittered a notch above that figure before Bielsa’s arrival, suggesting that the core of support for the Whites is not overwhelming. Expanding to 55,000 displays ambition from the club’s owners, but whether it is sustainable and in Leeds’s best interests looks doubtful, at least for now.