Nearly two years ago Leeds United announced their desire to relocate their training facilities closer to Elland Road, specifically to the site of the former Matthew Murray school which has lay empty since the school buildings were demolished in 2006. Leeds United’s current training ground at Thorp Arch was built in 1994 as the brainchild of Howard Wilkinson. At the time, the facility was hailed as a huge step forward by many in the game and became the envy of most clubs in England. But 25 years on, Thorp Arch is looking dated. The complex was denied the upgrades it desperately needed as Leeds slipped out of the Premiership.
Since Andrea Radrizzani bought the club and more recently since Marcelo Bielsa became head coach some investment has been made into cosmetic improvements and bringing mothballed facilities back into use. But there is a lack of appetite for major investment, mainly due to the fact that Thorp Arch is rented and Leeds are now paying over £700,000 a year to rent the complex. By the end of its lease in 2029, the club would be paying well over £1 million each year just to use a tired facility it used to own. In comparison the example of Manchester City’s Etihad Campus shows what can be achieved in inner-city locations, close to the communities clubs belong to.
Leeds United have an ambition for the redevelopment of the area around Elland Road to provide new, high quality training and development facilities and a base for the Leeds United Foundation within the City to support its community development programmes. At the heart of this is a £25 million investment across three sites near to Elland Road, these are Fullerton Park, the former Matthew Murray school and Ingram Road Primary School’s playing fields to the north of Brown Lane. With today’s news that Leeds City Council's executive board has agreed to sell the old Matthew Murray school site to the owners of Leeds United, the project has taken a huge step forward.
The Former Matthew Murray School Site
The former Matthew Murray school site, derelict since 2005
The focal point of the vision is the former Matthew Murray school site, the site will facilitate LUFC’s proposals to relocate its training facilities, the Leeds United Foundation and Academy back into the heart of the city. A key part of this is its provision of category one training and academy facilities with first team/elite squad training facilities and hub building along with a wide range of academy, youth and ancillary pitches to create the wider category one offer. The development will comprise bespoke high performance sports pitches with equivalent ancillary facilities housing gymnasiums, nutrition facilities, medical rooms, teaching and staff facilities, all in a high quality building.
Leeds United and the Leeds United Foundation have a critical ambition to co-locate its training and foundation offer at the heart of its home community. In doing so it aims to maximise the accessibility of the facilities and be more inclusive in its development and educational offer. The aim is to create a facility for inner city youth who are currently geographically excluded from the club’s current Academy facility, twenty miles outside the city centre.
Greenfield Investments (Owned by Andrea Radrizzani) will be given a 12 month period to undertake site investigation surveys. They can then trigger an option for the next phase which would include LUFC securing satisfactory planning permission for the training facility. The council will grant a 5 year lease to LUFC with an obligation to construct the new facility. On completion of the lease, LUFC will pay 50% of the agreed capital receipt to the Council and on practical completion of the new training facility, the Council will transfer the freehold to LUFC on payment of the balance.
Ingram Road Primary School Playing Fields
Ingram Road School playing fields, to the left of the Matthew Murray site. Map by MoscowhiteTSB
The Ingram Road School playing fields sit just north of the Matthew Murray school site over Brown Lane and is key to providing the extra pitches required for category one status. The school currently use the land for a range of informal outdoor activities as well as for its sports curriculum. The school will continue to require outdoor recreation facilities and as such any proposal from Leeds United will need to guarantee access at agreed times to provide for school use.
Leeds United representatives including specialist landscape architects, are in ongoing dialogue with Ingram Road Primary School to explore the possibilities. The proposal put forward by Leeds United is that they acquire the freehold of land from the Council to facilitate the layout of a Youth Squad training pitch. The proposal states the school will retain access rights to use this upgraded pitch. In addition, Leeds will finance the delivery of an enhanced outdoor recreation space for the school which will significantly improve the schools current outdoor facilities.
Fullerton Park, home to Speedway and Leeds United’s training pitches in the past
Formerly the site of a speedway track, then the training ground for Leeds United throughout the Revie era and beyond until the opening of Thorp Arch in 1994, Fullerton Park sits just behand the West Stand at Elland Road. The proposal is that Fullerton Park is to be developed into a Parklife Football Hub. The Parklife scheme run by Sport England in association with the Football Association aims to create a sustainable model for football facilities based around artificial grass pitches on hub sites providing significant new investment into local, accessible facilities.
The rationale for this is the opportunities this presents for the Leeds United Foundation to widen the educational and sport development programmes it runs and LUFC’s ambition to create elite training facilities in the heart of their birthplace in Beeston. The outcome of discussions between LUFC, The FA and the Council was that the FA supported the development of a feasibility study for a Fullerton Parklife scheme. The training ground proposal at Matthew Murray has been developed on the basis of a successful bid to the Football Foundation relating to the Parklife Project at Fullerton Park.
Proposals for all weather Parklife pitches on the Fullerton Park site
Speaking after the announcement that Leeds city Council had agreed to sell the old Matthew Murray school site to Leeds United, Angus Kinnear (Leeds United CEO) said...
Today's announcement is an exciting one for Leeds United which will enable us to build a world class facility, aimed at creating a talent development pathway for young people who live in the inner city.
We beleive we can create something that will benefit the entire local community and I look forward to sharing those details with everyone in the coming weeks.