The Gryphon’s Nancy Gillen talks to Gareth Jones at BBC Sport at Leeds about how the city has evolved into a hub for elite sport over the past year and reveals what exciting events the West Yorkshire spot will host in the forthcoming months…and how you can get involved!
2015 was a very successful year for sport in Leeds. What was your personal highlight?
Well I’m quite biased because I’m a big rugby union fan, so having the World Cup here was fantastic, for me personally, but obviously for the whole country to host such a big event. I think people forget that while rugby union is not the biggest thing professionally up here, Yorkshire has more clubs than any county in the UK, more than the whole of Scotland. It really was big for us to have these two games, especially with a home nation in Scotland. So I actually loved that, and I got to do both games, not for the BBC but a separate organisation, working in the stadiums. It was amazing to see how they transformed Elland Road, they put a new PA system in to make it all sound better. The whole city got behind it, the colour and the weather was good, and the atmosphere around it was fantastic so that was the highlight.
Going on to 2016, what big sporting events are coming to Leeds this year?
We have the Triathlon World Series with the Brownlee brothers racing on home turf, and I think that’s really exciting and just extends our legacy in this county. Leeds is starting to host the big events: the Tour de France Grand Depart, rugby league World Cup, rugby union World Cup, and now we’ve got this. That’s going to be a really exciting event, along with the Tour De Yorkshire. It’s in the build-up to the Olympics and will add to a lot of the excitement, and I think we’ll get great crowds out again to see that. There’s just an understanding in this county now about embracing these big events on our doorstep.
Why do you think Yorkshire is attracting such big events like the Tour de France and the Triathlon World Series?
It stems from the Olympics when everyone wanted to be involved, and Yorkshire hosted training camps and individual athletes had great success which put Yorkshire on the map. I think we’ve just got momentum from that. I think the council and certain business leaders such as Welcome to Yorkshire have really realised what sport can do for a county and how it can attract businesses. I think they’ve just really tapped into that and then it just snowballs. Once a place has a reputation of being so successful it’s much easier to get other things.
Leeds Rhinos had a very successful season last year. Do you think they’re going to be as successful this year, especially because they’ve lost players such as Sinfield and Peacock?
Yeah it’s going to be much harder for them this year. They’re to be shot at, firstly, so that’s always tough. Teams like Warrington who beat them on the opening day have recruited very well this year, and the standards are going to be even tougher. They’ve lost proper stars in Sinfield and Peacock, but we’ve said this in the past about them. Although they maybe haven’t lost such big influential players, we said a few years ago, well they’re never going to as successful now Keith Senior’s retired, but they continued it on and on. They are still going to be one of the best teams in the league and it wouldn’t surprise me if they do win silverware this year. Doing all three I don’t think is going to be possible but they’ll certainly be challenging again.
Yorkshire Carnegie have gained Sinfield from Leeds Rhinos. Do you think they’re going to do well this season?
I certainly hope so! They’re certainly not at the level they need to be at the moment to win promotion, they will be in the end of season play-offs, along with Doncaster, another Yorkshire club. On their day Carnegie can beat any team in the league over four games. At the moment it’s just whether they peak at the right time and whether they really believe in themselves. Hopefully Kevin Sinfield can add an extra bit of professionalism. I certainly believe they can go up, but at the moment I’m not sure if there are going to be at their best come the play-offs.
Leeds United are always a very interesting club to discuss. What does 2016 have in store for them?
I don’t think anyone can predict Leeds United, they’re such a madhouse! It’s why people like me and our Leeds United commentator look about 100 and grey! This season it will be mid-table, they’re not going to get a late play-off charge or anything like that. Off the field we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen with the ownership of Leeds United. I personally can’t see Cellino selling for a while unless he’s forced out. It all depends on what happens in the summer, who’s the coach, how much stability there is. I do believe Massimo Cellino is genuine in getting Leeds to the Premier League, he has spent an awful lot of his money. He’s a controversial character, he’s done some awful things, but he’s done a lot of good things. If they can continue to invest in the right players, if they have the right coach on board that is backed, then next season really has to be the season that they push for the play-offs and promotion. However it’s always a rollercoaster at Leeds and you never know what’s going to happen!
The Rio Olympics are happening this year. The 2012 Olympics saw Yorkshire athletes excel, with the county coming 12th in the medal table. Who’s going to do well this year?
Well I think we’re going to see the stalwarts from 2012 spearhead things: Jessica Ennis-Hill, the Brownlee brothers, Nicola Adams. I think we’ve got to look at Gabby Adcock, with her husband Chris, who have really hit form in the badminton doubles and will be targeting Olympic medals. I also think that there are young talents coming through, Rebekah Tiler the young weightlifter, and also Nile Wilson, the Olympic gymnast. He has had success in recent times and is such an impressive individual with his feet on the ground, very dedicated, so I think he will really shine and come to the fore.
Do you have any recommendations for students who want to go and watch sport in Leeds this year?
I’d say they need to take the opportunity to make the most of how much sport is on our doorstep. We do take it for granted. Even though it does cost a little money and we don’t have much of that as students, I would say make the most of all these opportunities, particularly the big events. The Tour de Yorkshire and the Triathlon series will be free to attend, just find a nice place to sit, take some food and drink and enjoy it. Some of these might only be on our doorstep once in a lifetime, so embrace them and enjoy them.
Featured image: Leeabbamonte