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TV Harrison ground: Fight continues to save ‘Wortley’s Wembley’ – but LSSA stand firm over sale

Local youngsters have recently started playing on TV Harrison ground again after volunteers helped clear it. Photo: Lea Westerman

Paul Madeley, David Harvey, Paul Reaney, Stuart McCall, David Batty and Brian Deane – it’s an impressive footballing roll-call. But did you know they all played for the same team as children?, writes Local Democracy Reporter Richard Beecham.

Leeds City Boys was once one of the most fearsome junior teams in the country, while their home on the TV Harrison Fields in Wortley was considered their very own “Wembley”.

But campaigners are worried this historic football legacy could soon be a thing of the past.

Former Leeds United stars Noel Whelan and Brian Deane at the Oldfield Lane ground earlier this year. Photo: Lea Westerman

The ground has officially been closed since 2004 and, earlier this year, was included in Leeds City Council’s Site Allocations Plan (SAP) – which suggested 50 houses could be built on the site.

The majority of the site is held in trust by the Leeds Schools Sports Association (LSSA). The organisation claims that should a planned sale of the site go through, they would be able to reinvest the money in sporting facilities for schoolchildren in Leeds.

But campaigners, who want to bring the site back into use, say the fight is not over, and added that the site should be replaced with a similar-sized pitch, should it eventually be sold.

Campaigner Aaron Lambert, who played for Leeds City Boys himself as a child, said:

“Consultation with local residents was scarce, and the community has risen up.

“Since TVH’s inclusion in SAP becoming public knowledge in January 2019 we created a Facebook group, set up a petition and a community action group.”

He added the group raised funds to buy heavy duty gardening equipment to make the site playable themselves. He said:

“A field neglected and overgrown for 20 years has, by sheer will and graft, been made playable for our kids. And they have used it plenty. Games are called off regularly on all Leeds City Council pitches, where do the kids go for a game?

“Our MPs, councillors and figureheads need to take heed from their people and quickly. We are the soul of this city.

“Should the trustees sell TVH they must replace with a facility of at least the same value or size.

“As a Leeds community with morals and integrity we are amazed that those in charge of our city and wellbeing are actually serious about building on a much needed sports facility.

“Of all the places to build, really, a sports facility gifted to Leeds children?”

The TV Harrison field was used for sport following local headteacher Thomas Vernon Harrison helping to raise £1,200 back in 1931 to buy the land for the children to use.

Campaigners have cleared the site of years’ worth of undergrowth

Since then it had become home to Leeds City Boys, which featured the best young players from Leeds schools until the site was closed in 2004.

Peter McQuillen-Strong, head at Holy Family Primary School and secretary of Leeds Schools Sports Association (LSSA), said:

“The TV Harrison site (also know as Oldfield Lane) was a bastion of school football for many decades. Boys for generations played on it when representing the City Boys’ football teams or when playing in competition semi finals and finals. The large 11-a-side football pitch that was on this site was the city’s Wembley.

“Like the Old Wembley, the Oldfield Lane site became run down and could no longer provide a place fit for the modern generation.”

Mr McQuillen-Strong added that previous attempts to raise funds to fully develop the ground between 2002 and 2003 had failed, as only £4,800 was raised, despite having a target of £147,000.

Field of Dreams? TV Harrison ground off Oldfield Lane back in January 2019

The site was closed in 2004 due to repeated attacks from vandals. He said:

“Over the past 20 years the money spent on repairing damage to the Oldfield Lane site and the hiring of grounds has drained just about all the funds for both the LSFA (Leeds Schools Football Association) and the LSSA. This money has come from schools across the city and has meant that affiliation fees have had to increase, but the opportunities we can provide have not increased in the way we would wish.

“We have communicated closely with all schools in West Leeds and not a single school has a desire to use or need for the Oldfield Lane site.

“If we sell the site to Leeds City Council, 100 per cent of funds raised will go into providing Leeds girls, boys, and special educational needs children from five to 18 with access to modern high-class facilities which can be used all year round. It will help to develop their potential and create a life long love of many sports in the changing world.

“We have considered carefully who we would sell the site to. LCC have a desire to provide much-needed affordable housing to a deprived area of Leeds.

“We believe that by selling the site we can get rid of the burden of a derelict area that is not fit for purpose, using the funds raised to invest in providing sports facilities for the school children of Leeds.”

A Leeds Council spokesperson said:

“Through the city’s Site Allocation Plan (SAP), the council identified potential locations across the city for desperately needed council housing developments, which included in Wortley, the former Oldfield Lane sports pitch.

“The SAP was subject to extensive public consultation and a full public inquiry. Representations on this site were received from ward members, local residents and the majority owners of the site.

“Finding suitable land which could potentially be listed for inclusion is never easy, and we felt that the land at Oldfield Lane was appropriate, given it has not been in use for now 14 years and was previously identified for housing.

“We are aware of concerns which have been raised around the quality of playing provision in the area. We are extremely open and willing to work closely with local representatives and residents around what options are available to potentially enhance sporting facilities at other locations in and around the community. ”

Whelan and Deane interviewed by Look North earlier this year

In a section detailing the TV Harrison site, Leeds City Council’s site allocations plan stated:

“The development should provide new greenspace to extend the existing area of greenspace to the north and to create a green link across the site from this greenspace to Oldfield Lane, in accordance with West Leeds Gateway SPD.

“The existing sports facilities should be relocated in Leeds and / or local improvements to existing facilities in the locality of the site should be provided.”

Read all of West Leeds Dispatch‘s coverage on the TV Harrison ground here.

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