‘The buzz around Leeds has been amazing over the past few years but this is really something to see’

Portadown-born Thomas McStravick with the Championship trophy at Leeds United's Elland Road.Portadown-born Thomas McStravick with the Championship trophy at Leeds United's Elland Road.
Portadown-born Thomas McStravick with the Championship trophy at Leeds United's Elland Road.
Thomas McStravick recently returned to work at Leeds United with the pre-lockdown promotion dream now very much a Premier League reality.

And the feelgood factor off a first trophy for the proud club in almost three decades - and top-flight return following a 16-year absence - provided boyhood Leeds fan McStravick the perfect welcome back.

“This will be coming into my fourth season working for the club and currently I’ve a split role between the Academy under 14s and out in the community on behalf of the Leeds United Foundation,” said Portadown-born McStravick. “As a Leeds fan it’s a dream coming into work every day, I have to pinch myself at times.

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“My dad John is also a Leeds supporter so I’ve been a fan from as young as I can remember.

“The Academy facility at Thorp Arch was put into lockdown around March or so for everyone bar those connected to the first-team squad.

“I then had to come back home for a few days so actually missed being in Leeds when Huddersfield beat West Brom to secure our promotion and then Stoke’s win over Brentford wrapped up our title.

“When the Huddersfield result came in I was giving a presentation at Rosario Youth in Belfast and had to stop my talk for a second to let out a shout once the alert popped up on my watch!

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“The Academy people were also invited to a celebration night with the first-team squad and I had to miss that too - but nothing is taking away how brilliant this all feels as both a fan and someone working for the club.

“When I got back into Leeds I drove straight to Elland Road and, thankfully, was able to get a picture taken with the league title before the trophy had to get sent back.

“It’s a beautiful trophy and when you see it up close you really get a sense of its history.

“Around the ground it’s like a tourist attraction, with so many people just coming out to visit and leave letters wishing us all the best or saying thanks, along with flowers and personal mementoes.

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“The buzz around Leeds has been amazing over the past few years but this is really something to see.

“It’s the same around the club, with everyone so happy and it’s like every conversation is about Leeds being back in the top flight.

“There’s such a sense of relief mixed with excitement.

“When I think back to those days watching Leeds in League One and so many difficult times over the years, it’s amazing to see how things stand and the current positivity.

“You see it around the whole city and the club really feels so integrated as well, with the changes under Andrea Radrizzani’s ownership special across the full spectrum.

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“With Marcelo Bielsa and manager and under Andrea’s ownership everyone has been brought together and taken everything to the next level.”

McStravick arrived at Leeds having spent years back home building up the Playing For The Future coaching programme from initial tournaments around the Portadown area before expanding into the current format that includes connections to University of Ulster.

“We have some great Irish League names like Darren Murphy, Paul Kirk, Wesley Boyle and Keith O’Hara involved in Playing For The Future,” said McStravick. “It’s a strong team, with competitions like the Craigavon Cup and Belfast Cup under our umbrella along with those links to the University of Ulster and Rosario Youth.

“It can be demanding juggling the commitments back home with the full-time split role at Leeds but I love it and have great help.

“I find everything so rewarding alongside the demands.”

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McStravick’s role in helping to develop the next generation of Leeds players offers a daily insight into the full extent of the positivity generated by the senior success.

“The Academy programme has Category One status confirmed now and with the Premier League to come there’s a brilliant feeling around everything,” said McStravick. “You see players graduating up through the ranks and into the first-team squad and that’s inspirational to the work being down across the club.

“We have world-class facilities at Leeds and the changes under the ownership and, of course, Marcelo as first-team boss make it a really special time for the club.

“People have heard all about how dedicated Marcelo is and with his attention-to-detail.

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“It’s always great to see him around the youth development set-up, maybe stopping to watch a game.

“That focus and drive obviously filters down and certainly at the younger age groups we aim to adapt the methods used at senior level.

“As part of the under 14s’ coaching team I work with a squad of 15 or 16 players and it’s so rewarding.

“Then getting out into the community and working in schools offers the best of two worlds.

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“It’s great having such a strong Northern Ireland connection at the club, especially when you realise how big a fanbase there is for Leeds back home.

Stuart Dallas, for me, was the best player over last season for Leeds.

“Then Alfie McCalmont, another Northern Ireland international, is also on the books.

“Former Irish League player Henry McStay is now head physio.

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“It was incredible watching how everything unfolded over that long weekend that left Leeds confirming promotion then as champions.

“After those years of disaster it was such a proud moment to see Leeds crowned champions and to know we’re back in the Premier League.”


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