With world class stadiums, incredible sport degrees at the city's universities, individual superstars, Leeds is fast becoming THE place to be in the UK for Sport.
Leeds United’s return to the top flight in English football might be the headline grabbing takeaway of Leeds’ triumphs in recent years but looking beyond the grounds of Elland Road lies a wealth of sporting glory. A number of decorated olympians and paralympians hail from our very city. These include the Brownlee brothers, Matty Lee, Jack Laugher, Nicola Adams MBE and Kadeena Cox to name but a few. Add thrilling rugby and cricket championships at Headingley stadium, boxing at Leeds Arena, the City of Leeds Diving Club, a plethora of track and field sports and ice hockey (yes, ice hockey!) to the mix – Leeds has got it all covered!
We Are The Champions, The Champions Of Europe is a song you will hear bellowing out of the Elland Road stadium. It’s not because Leeds United are the champions of Europe; in fact, they never have been. A terrible refereeing performance during their 1975 European Cup Final against Bayern Munich in Paris, left the German side holding the silverware and the Mighty Whites going home empty-handed. Not that Leeds fans like to hold a grudge…!
That said, the fact that they still sing about an outcome that happened nearly 50 years ago, demonstrates the fanaticism the fans have for their club. Uniquely, for its size, Leeds is a one-club city; you’re either a Leeds fan or - should you choose the less enviable path of supporting a different team - you are scorned upon!
The club is steeped in a rich history with its most successful period coming under Don Revie, the manager who would lead them to two First Division titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and, in Europe, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The club’s next major success would come in 1992 when they became the final team to win the First Division title, before it was rebranded as the Premier League.
A resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the team compete at the top of the Premier League and also return to European competition, reaching the semi-final of the Champions League. Financial trouble hit the club, and they would spend 16 years out of the top flight, only to return in 2020 under the management of Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa, who revolutionised the club with his forward-thinking, attacking style of football.
Bielsa is universally loved, not just by Leeds fans, but by fans of football worldwide. Around the city you will see murals of Marcelo and other Leeds stars, past and present, as a culture of street art has erupted in the last few years.
Elland Road is a traditional football stadium which, unlike some of the newer stadia, maintains a ferocious atmosphere, renowned throughout the league and revered by other teams. The noise generated during games is unrivalled, as noted by many former opposition players who have named Leeds United as one of the hardest places to play football!
Grab a ticket, grab a scarf and make sure you bring your loudest singing voice…
Leeds Rhinos / Rugby League
There aren’t many clubs in any sport that can boast they have had a Golden Generation. With a total of fifteen trophies won between 2004-2014, Leeds Rhinos can do just that. For a decade, they were unstoppable.
The blue and amber shirts of Leeds rugby league flowing towards their opponents’ touchline have stretched back to the club’s formation in 1870. Just 20 years later, they would start playing their matches at the world-famous Headingley stadium, where they still reside to this day, albeit in slightly more salubrious surroundings.
The atmosphere generated by the standing supporters in the South Stand is hard to replicate anywhere in the country and the newly-refurbished seating in the North Stand provides a comfy environment to watch one of the world’s most fast-paced, hard-hitting sports. In fact, it’s not until you experience rugby league in the flesh that you fully comprehend the physical nature of the sport. The first time you hear the impact of two opposing players making full-force contact, you register with your own ears just how powerful these sportsmen are.
There are few sporting occasions as family friendly as rugby league. A night out at The Rhinos is a must for sports fans.
Cricket – Yorkshire County Cricket Club / Yorkshire Vikings / Northern Superchargers
One sport… but three different names? OK, it’s slightly complicated, but let us explain. Cricket takes different forms in Leeds, where the county of Yorkshire bases their team from Headingley (a stadium uniquely shared with the aforementioned Leeds Rhinos – they even have one stand which backs onto each other).
The most traditional form of the sport is County Championship cricket, where Yorkshire compete in a series of matches that last up to 5 days, taking the same format as Test Cricket. With 33 County Championship wins – the first being in 1893 and the most recent in 2015 - Yorkshire are the most successful team in the country.
The club has provided a plethora of players to represent the England cricket team, most recently the national team’s captain, Joe Root. Headingley also plays host to a range of England International matches, where fans often come in fancy dress.
Head to the Western Terrace if you want to be in the thick of the most raucous action. For a quieter, more laid-back approach to watching cricket, there are many other stands where a white wine and picnic is preferred to dressing up as a Smurf and drinking plenty of beers!
In a faster-paced form of the sport, Yorkshire Vikings compete in the T20 Blast, a quicker format that lasts for around 3 hours. Each team has 20 overs (120 balls) to bowl and the team with the highest total is the winner.
Quicker still, the newest form of the sport ‘The Hundred’ started in 2021 with The Northern Superchargers representing Leeds. With just 100 balls for each team, you can’t take your eyes off the match for a moment. The biggest hitting, longest shots and highest scoring comes in this format. Keep your eye on the ball… catches by spectators in the crowd are cheered nearly as loudly as those caught by the players on the pitch!
It is hardly surprising that the sport of Triathlon (a race which involves the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running) has taken off, given that the success of two Leeds brothers has catapulted the city into the international spotlight.
Alistair & Johnny Brownlee have, between them, won four Olympic medals, including a gold for Alistair, as well as multiple national and international honours. The Brownlee Centre is the UK’s first purpose-built triathlon training facility ensuring that the best athletes train in our city.
It’s not a sport for the faint-hearted, but fortunately there are plenty of chances to enjoy it as a spectator. Leeds is now a regular on the calendar for the World Triathlon Series of events, with the route taking in all aspects of the city from the lake at picturesque Roundhay Park, to the bustle of Millennium Square in the heart of the city centre.
Leeds and the surrounding areas have become a national hub for cycling enthusiasts. The setting is perfect; due to its location on the cusp of the Yorkshire Dales, Leeds provides an incredible base to explore some of the best cycling routes in the country.
In recent years, it has been host to some huge cycling events in the annual calendar including the Tour de Yorkshire and, on an even bigger scale, it hosted the Grand Depart for the Tour De France in 2014. The event started at the iconic Harewood House, where the cyclists were waved off by The Duke & Duchess Of Cambridge, William & Kate. No biggy!
There are a huge range of cycling routes in and around the city, making two wheels the perfect way to explore what Leeds has to offer.
Hang on… ice hockey, in Leeds?
Situated just a couple of hundred metres down the road from the centre spot at Leeds United, lies a 2,200-capacity ice rink, home to Leeds Knights, the newest addition to the sporting landscape in the city.
The team were formed in 2021 after the pandemic, and in their first full season reached both the playoffs and the final of the Autumn Cup. The Knights compete in the National Ice Hockey League (NIHL), full of home-grown talent and young stars looking to break through into the elite leagues.
There is no chance of going to an ice hockey game and not being thoroughly entertained. Guaranteed to see your fair share of goals, big hits and the odd fight between players (don’t worry, it’s actually encouraged in the sport!), a night at the ice hockey never fails to deliver.
Wrap up warm though… it’s fairly nippy in there!
Netball – Leeds Rhinos
Also falling under the Leeds Rhinos family, netball is another sport to recently join the sporting teams in Leeds. They were formed in 2017 and have now joined the Netball Superleague.
Along with the rest of the Rhinos teams, they work tirelessly within the community to support and promote the sport, so if you have any kids who may be interested in giving it a go, they’re a great place to start.
Much like Triathlon, gymnastics in the city has been buoyed by the success of Leeds-born gymnasts such as Olympic and Commonwealth medallist Nile Wilson. His legacy includes a gymnastics centre where kids can aspire to emulate his incredible achievements.
There are several gymnastic and trampolining clubs, creating a city-wide hub for the sport to evolve. Just recently, a Leeds gymnast set a Guinness World Record by propelling himself 5.87m between horizontal bars. In Leeds, the bar for future gymnasts (pun very much intended) is set very high.
On the side of the Leeds Playhouse, one of the cities theatres, the words I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again are emblazoned in big neon lights. There is no better phrase to describe two-time IBF Featherweight Champion, Josh Warrington.
Drive under the inner ring road flyover and beneath the bridge you’ll find a huge mural of Josh, holding his title belt aloft, highlighting the impact his achievement has had for the city and for the boxing community within it.
Josh became the first World Champion from Leeds in 2018 and, having vacated the belt in 2021, then suffered a shock defeat. In the rematch, an eye injury to his opponent scuppered his chances to retain the title, but in 2022, under the lights of the Leeds Arena, Josh battled his way to a stunning victory to land the title once more.
He got knocked down, but he certainly got up again.
Boxing success has also come in the form of trailblazer Nicola Adams MBE, who became the first female ever to win an Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Games. She followed that achievement with the same feat in Rio, four years later. If you spot gold post boxes around the city, they are dedicated to the sportsmen and women who have won Olympic gold medals… but not many of them have two, like Nicola!
She also achieved success on the professional boxing circuit, claiming the WBO female flyweight title in 2019, before retiring from the sport with an undefeated record. You don’t want to mess with Leeds’ boxers…
No mention of sport in Leeds would be complete without highlighting the incredible achievements of our Paralympic athletes. Wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft, who trains in the city, has achieved an unfathomable amount of success, scoring a whopping seven gold medals in the last three Paralympic cycles. She also holds five world records in her disciplines and has been awarded both an MBE and OBE from Buckingham Palace.
One event isn’t enough for Leeds-born Kadeena Cox who has won Olympic medals in both para-athletics and para-cycling, including four gold medals. Kadeena was also awarded both an MBE and OBE for her services to the sport. She is a regular on TV, including her stint on Celebrity Masterchef where she was crowned champion!
If you fancy winning your own Olympic medal, head down to City Of Leeds Diving Club. Granted, there will be lots of hard work, hours of practice with intense dedication to conditioning, and an elite level of performance will be expected… but given their recent success, it’s undoubtedly the place to go for aspiring divers!
Jack Laugher hopped from the diving pool in Leeds to the diving pool in Rio to secure the first ever Olympic gold medal for a British athlete. He also has a silver and bronze to his collection as well as a stack of medals from European Championships to Commonwealth Games and everything in between.
Matty Lee is the latest Leeds lad to gain an Olympic gold, winning alongside Tom Daley in the Tokyo 2020 Games. Matty has also had huge success at the World Championships and across Europe.