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Graham Leslie on legendary panel talking about the final days at Huddersfield Town’s old Leeds Road ground 30 years ago and the need for a new stadium

Graham Leslie was part of a panel of legendary Town names commemorating 30 years since the final Huddersfield Town game at its crumbling old stadium.

Leeds Road needed massive repairs and it was Graham who spearheaded the building of a new stadium which went on to win a major architectural award – it was crowned the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Building of the Year in 1995 - and inspired the new Wembley stadium several years later.

While entrepreneur and philanthropist Graham was Town chairman in the early 1990s he appointed architect Rod Sheard who designed the new stadium and contractors Alfred McAlpine. The stadium opened in August 1994 with the old one nearby demolished and replaced by a retail park.

The commemorative event was held at the stadium and Graham was joined on stage by club ambassador and former striker Andy Booth; former captain and manager Peter Jackson; forThe panel gave an insight into the dire state of the club’s finances – and the state of the crumbling Leeds Road – in the late 80s and early 90s.

Graham told how he was overheard “lambasting” the directors and was invited to “put up or shut up” and join the board.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Graham took up the invitation and quickly realised the scale of the problems.

“Like everything, when you walk a mile in someone’s shoes you won’t quite be so critical,” he said.

In his first board meeting the main item on the agenda was a new roof for the Cowshed but the board couldn’t scrape together the £10,000 needed. The old ground needed so much work it was better to build new. But how?

Graham had a vision for a new stadium for both Town and Fartown, as the Huddersfield Giants rugby league team were then, and he took it to Kirklees Council. He was met with scepticism in many quarters but in council leader John Harman he found an ally.

The stadium is owned by Town (40%), Kirklees (40%) and the Giants (20%) via Kirklees Stadium Development Ltd (KSDL), an ownership model that the council now says is past its sell-by date.

Accountant David Taylor, who become a director in 1993, told how the business model at the time was sold to him on the basis that Town’s rent would be covered by dividends paid on profits.

“But KSDL never made any profit!” he revealed.

Graham said: “The 40-40-20, that was me putting it together. I had to juggle to keep everyone together.

“For two years I couldn’t go out to eat anywhere in Huddersfield,” he added. “If I did, someone would tap me on the shoulder and say: ‘We want a left-back, we don’t want a stadium.’

“It was a case of ‘don’t think ahead, think of next Saturday’ – I get that – but if they’d walked a mile in our shoes they would have seen we had no option.”

Graham plans to tell the inside story of the stadium – and more - in his forthcoming autobiography Ahead Of The Curve, due to be published in July. All profits from the book will go to the Making Waves charity for people with additional needs and learning difficulties in Slaithwaite.

Former secretary Alan Sykes lifted the lid on the precarious finances at the time and said the club owed £250,000 in VAT arrears and £250,000 in PAYE. It had bounced three cheques on HMRC and the taxman was about to start enforcement.

“We were struggling to pay weekly wages,” he said. “The club was on its knees and there nearly wasn’t a club to move to a new stadium.”

Three new directors came on board in March 1993 – David Taylor, Robert Whiteley and Malcolm Asquith – and a percentage of their investment was used to pay creditors. The sale of Simon Charlton to Southampton helped complete the rescue.

There were anecdotes galore, not least from Andy Booth who told how his earliest memories of Leeds Road was as a four-year-old going down with his parents who worked on the turnstiles.

One time they were so engrossed counting the gate receipts they forgot all about young Boothy who was left all alone in the open end!

Boothy told how he grew up loving Leeds Road and all he wanted to do was play for Town. “My ambition was to score in front of the Cowshed,” he said.

“I scored my second goal for Town in front of the Cowshed and that’s all I had ever dreamed of doing. From that moment my ambition as a footballer was fulfilled. It didn’t matter about the Premier League!”

Peter Jackson told how his first experience of Leeds Road was when he was about 11 and he travelled with a pal from Keighley to watch Bobby Charlton’s Preston side against Town.

Jacko’s mate insisted he needed a Town scarf – tied around his wrist as was the style in the 1970s – but the future Town legend ended up being robbed!

“A lad came up behind me and I felt something sharp on my back and he said: ‘Give me your scarf or I’ll stab you.’ I don’t think it was a knife – it was probably just his finger – but I gave him the scarf!”

Boothy recalled that last game when thousands invaded the pitch and scrambled for unofficial souvenirs.

As the final whistle approached fans edged onto the playing surface all around the ground. “The ball never went out of play for a throw because all the fans were lined up and stopped the ball going out,” said Boothy.

The referee had warned the players to make a run for it when the whistle sounded but Boothy got caught in the stampede.

“I was almost trampled underfoot as fans came running from all sides,” he said. “A big bloke lifted me onto his shoulders and carried me off. Being trampled wouldn’t have been a good way to go!”

The last word goes to Andy Booth who said the people on the panel summed up what Town was all about.

“These people have played a massive part in the history of the club,” he said. “Every single one of them comes back every week and is Huddersfield Town through and through.

“Hopefully we will bounce back next year but if we don’t we’ll still keep coming here to support this great club.”

The event – entitled: ‘Remembering Old Leeds Road – 30 Years On’ was a chance for Town fans to put aside the struggles of this season which has ended in relegation from the Championship to Division One and bask in memories of the past.



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