From Rebbe to Revie, a life with Leeds

Sunday Mirror sportswriter Anthony Clavane’s latest work on Leeds is, according to JANINE SELF, an extraordinary book

“We are Leeds.”

When it comes to malevolence, those three words are up there at the top of the shudder charts.

“We are Leeds” and we are coming to get you.

Anthony Clavane is Leeds and they came to get him. His accent wasn’t quite Yorkshire enough, he was Jewish. Whack. Smacked in the kisser by a Leeds yob yet Clavane stayed Leeds. Saturday morning Rebbe, Saturday afternoon Revie.

Clavane, erudite, educated, an adopted southerner, hardly ascribes to the Elland Road stereotype, yet there is an emotional intravenous drip connecting him to Yorkshire’s West Riding. A wordsmith’s ability, coupled with a history teacher’s instinct, and framed by a deep passion for all things from the city of Leeds, has resulted in an extraordinary book.

Promised Land is a mini-history of Leeds the football club, from City to United, from Herbert Chapman to Don Revie, from Howard Wilkinson to David O’Leary, from glory days to goldfish bills, from European heights to virtual oblivion. But this is a story with a difference. Clavane has cleverly interwoven the story of his ancestors, the Jewish immigrants who fled eastern Europe and settled in Leeds. As they shook off the ghetto and moved into the suburbs, so they shifted from watching rugby league to following football.

Clavane plaits together the football club, the integration of the Leeds Jewish community, and the socio-economic history of the area. Dirty Leeds. Smog, pollution, Revie’s kickers and spoilers. As the building facades were spray-cleaned, so the team evolved – even if most of the country stuck their heads in the sand and refused to recognise it.

Even now it is hard to find a non-Leeds fan who admires the team that Revie built. Players like Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Allan Clarke… Surely it is time to end the bias and pay credit where it is due. As a child, growing up in army outposts all over the world, it was Leeds who first captured my imagination and turned me into a football fan.

Clavane’s love affair is far deeper than that. He first saw Elland Road as a five-year-old clutching his father’s hand. The memory has stayed with him through all the ups and downs and during a self-imposed exile when racism fouled the minds of many on the terraces, not just Leeds.

Clavane was brought up with the writings of Alan Bennett, Keith Waterhouse, John Braine and David Storey and all four take their place in Promised Land. But it is when the author touches on his personal memories that the book comes alive. He does not gloss over the less appealing nature of the club nor does he gloat over the good times.

Leeds United, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, are a walking contradiction. But anyone who loves football will be able to empathise with the way Clavane feels about a club which disappoints as much as it delights. He is Leeds. I am Leeds.

We are Leeds.

Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United by Anthony Clavane, published by Yellow Jersey Press