Can Leeds be classed as a big city without a Premier League team?
I always had a very hazy view of where Shropshire was. My knowledge of geography was largely based on following the exploits of Leeds United in the seventies. So, whilst I knew that Ferencvaros was in Budapest and Juventus played in Turin in Northern Italy, Somerset was a complete mystery, with no football league team. There was the odd non-league impact in the FA Cup but, largely, Somerset may as well have not existed. Maybe it didn’t exist – who knows? My knowledge has now widened, thanks to life experience and getting lost on the way to Devon, but also, Yeovil were admitted to the league in the nineties. There are other counties without teams – Cornwall at least and who knows what else is lurking down south? The point I am gradually rambling towards is that the perception of a large section of the UK population and, these days the rest of the world, is based on weekly TV coverage of the Premier League.
So, can Leeds be classed as a big city without a Premier League club? The obvious competition is not encouraging. Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool all have two each, whilst London has six, admittedly including QPR and Crystal Palace which will probably prove temporary. As you would expect, these top four cities in terms of population dominate the league. Leeds is fifth, followed closely by Sheffield, Middlesborough (Teesside), Bristol and Bournemouth – all outside the Premier League. It is only Stoke at 11 that has representation. Punching above their weight are Hull (24th in population), Burnley (43rd).
I admit that my view may be a little narrow. How does Leeds rate on other facilities associated with big cities? As a music lover, the most glaring omission was a large concert venue. Of course, the Arena has more than made up the shortfall in that area. Some of the biggest names in entertainment (and McBusted) have been drawn to the superb venue. As a result, large numbers flock to the city to spend their money rather than the flow being to Manchester, Sheffield and even Nottingham.
There are many wonderful places to eat in Leeds but not a single Michelin star between them. Obviously, the list is dominated by London but Bray boasts four, albeit with a rubbish football team. It is probably in one of those counties that doesn’t exist.
I could go on and quote numbers of museums and the like but, you know what, I don’t care! The very essence of what makes Leeds special is that its size is manageable. I can walk across the city centre and be anywhere in 20 minutes – try doing that in Manchester or London. I like the fact that I can walk into bars and restaurants and be greeted by name – you don’t even get that in most workplaces in the capital. The city is vibrant and constantly changing – just look at the number of cranes on the skyline. A large student population keeps it young at heart with a lively live music scene. We still have a thriving, independent retail sector, not relying on the large chains that make most town centres replicas of each other. We need to cherish places like the Corn Exchange and make sure it sits comfortably alongside Trinity and Victoria Gate. We know how to put on a show – just look at the Tour De France. Think what kind of show we could put on for the European City of Culture. Leeds Loves Food, Live At Leeds, Leeds Festival, The Waterfront Festival – all firmly established as part of the calendar alongside many more.
It is not perfect, far from it. Manchester’s tram system would be great, but would it be worth the years of disruption to achieve? Rather than a headlong rush to be the biggest, let’s embrace what makes Leeds a great place to live and, until United allow us to live the dream again, maybe the Rhinos and Yorkshire cricket will continue to fly the flag. (As a lifelong Bulls supporter that last sentence was really difficult.)