Rather similar to the football club it has stood over like a faithful Labrador for countless generations, the Old Peacock found life tough in the new Millennium; trading on past glories and fully reliant on the blind faith of the misguidedly loyal.
Life is very different today, at least for the pub. In 2013, a lavish benefactor came along in the form of Ossett Brewery, which instantly injected purpose and energy, transforming the fortunes of a flagging institution.
Jon Howe/Ross Pullan
A pub called The Old Peacock has stood on the same site on Elland Road since 1826. Well, almost. Back then it was called The Peacock Inn, and it didn’t need to differentiate itself until 1842 when the New Peacock appeared further down Elland Road. At this time of course, there was no football ground across the road to bring weekly trade, just a barren patch of empty space, and the pub relied on the thriving local community and the widespread industry in the area.
By 1878 Bentleys Brewery owned the pub and had flattened land over the road to produce a company sports ground, which they called the Old Peacock Ground. This was originally used privately by the company, but hosted rugby when Holbeck Rugby Club took on the lease and eventually football when Leeds City was formed in 1904. This was, of course, replaced by Leeds United in 1919. Life since then has never been the same.
The Old Peacock gradually became part of the fabric of the football club and a monument to match day rituals for generations of football fans.
It remains this way today, even during those years of uncertainty in the early 2000s when the pub trade died a death. Such was the indelible link that many feared if the Old Peacock ever died, then Leeds United may well go with it.
Such a distressing thought was a strong possibility in 2007, when Leeds United were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time and entered administration. The same traumatic period saw the Leeds United Supporters’ Club (LUSC) pay £90,000 for the Old Peacock lease, and for five years struggle to run a plain and unlovable pub whilst stoically maintaining a determination to ‘do the right thing’.
LUSC had willingly entered the unknown, but finances ran into a black hole. By June 2012 it took the decision to sell the pub to Greene King, who managed to re-open in time for the new football season.
Twelve months later a real saviour had arrived and Ossett Brewery spent £400,000 turning the Old Peacock from a traditional football pub with little charm and character into an attractive ‘food and ale house’ in its own right, that is welcoming during the week and just happens to be slap bang next to Elland Road football ground.
Ossett’s internal transformation has involved attractive and classic fixtures and fittings but also a devious splash of ‘Leeds United’ styling – such as yellow and white floor tiling, memorabilia wallpaper and an elegant mosaic depicting a peacock – which somehow retains a subtlety the untrained eye might miss. To Leeds United fans this is unmistakably a football pub, but without the brassy trappings that will turn away regular customers for the remaining 340 days a year.
Ossett have even quietly, but very deliberately and sympathetically, removed the mis-trusted colour red from their company logo; as big an indication as you need that there is a calculated and company-wide determination to make this landmark pub triumph.
Such select accoutrements are a far cry from the original pub’s heyday in the 1950s and 60s, when crowds would flock in for the football and the nearby greyhound racing. Weekly curry and steak nights may be the current flavour, but on match day in the 1960s fans would gorge on free tripe left on the bar by workers at the nearby tripeworks, specially ‘dressed’ by the landlord and served with vinegar. Really.
The original Old Peacock stood much nearer the road, and was demolished in 1963 when the current building was built behind it.
Crucially, fans could still sit on its roof and see a portion of the pitch when the ‘sell out’ signs were up at Elland Road. At least, until the Scratching Shed was replaced by the much bigger South Stand in 1974. The huge beer garden was retained with the new pub, once the biggest in Leeds and once also a well-cultivated bowling green.
The impeccably-timed regeneration of the pub has provided a welcome surge in community spirit for the Beeston area, and has built on the simple but difficult-to-achieve concept that football pubs need to offer something welcoming to non-football fans.
Describing the Old Peacock as a simple ‘football pub’ does it a disservice. But like Bremner and Giles, Batty and Speed and Bentleys Bitter and tripe, the Old Peacock and Leeds United are permanent bedfellows that fit with a durable embrace. In celebration, consolation or merely out of habit, one without the other simply wouldn’t work.
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