Review: Bagels and Bremner

By Jessica Elgot, August 4, 2010
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Billy the Yid? Bremner holds the FA Cup after overcoming Arsenal in 1972

Billy the Yid? Bremner holds the FA Cup after overcoming Arsenal in 1972

Promised Land: The reinvention of Leeds United
By Anthony Clavane
Yellow Jersey Press, £16.99
reviewed by Jessica Elgot

Bill Fotherby, A former Leeds United director, told Anthony Clavane, author of Promised Land, that “there would be no Leeds United without the Jews”. As Clavane later points out, Fotherby was also the man who claimed that Diego Maradona was bound for Elland Road, but this time there was truth in his words. Leeds had Jewish directors long before Tottenham Hotspur did.

Sunday Mirror sports reporter Clavane’s book charts his boyhood love affair with the team, from the era of Don Revie to that of Terry Venables. As an adult, he follows the Whites from the Champions League semi-final to the dregs of Division One, all the while bumping into club directors in shul. And the story is brought right up to date with Leeds’ promotion to the Championship in May this year.

Clavane’s account will doubtless resonate with every Leeds Jewish male of a certain age. He remembers the first time he stood in the infamous Kop, an adult rite of passage even more significant than his barmitzvah; the embarrassment of admitting you were a Leeds fan in the era of “Dirty Leeds”; the euphoria of the Champions League; and the humiliation of relegation.

I have heard these stories from my father, grandfather and their friends at dinner parties and in quiet exchanges at a kiddush prior to congregants sneaking off guiltily to the match.

The story of Leeds United is in many ways that of the Leeds Jews. Clavane notes how the club struggled to be loved initially by locals, but has become part of the identity of the city with regular attendances of nearly 25,000 (more than Portsmouth or Juventus), despite three seasons in League One.

As the Jews migrated from the grim streets of Chapeltown to the swanky suburbs of Alwoodley and Moortown, so Leeds United went from a club where hooliganism was rampant and National Front magazines were sold outside the ground, to one with a dedicated family stand and a banqueting suite in the stadium.

Don Revie’s reign was over before I was born but, as a north Leeds girl who sat on the terraces of Elland Road from the age of seven, wrapped in a white, blue and yellow scarf knitted by my grandmother, the history detailed in Promised Land still feels like a part of my heritage.

I sang songs about Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles — men who played for Leeds 20 years before my birth. I chanted, “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe!” — an angry cry demanding Leeds’ rightful title, denied at the 1975 European Cup Final by refereeing decisions which led to allegations of match fixing. Now I sing “We’re not famous any more”.

Clearly, Leeds fans are stuck in the past and Clavane captures that sense of frustration, of living on past glories and being the “nearly men”.

This paranoia, conspiracy theory, ghetto mentality and misty-eyed nostalgia are all linked by Clavane to his Jewish experiences. His chapter headings echo the exodus from Egypt — Bring Out, Deliver, Exile, Redeem, Take and Wilderness.

Inevitably, this is a book which will be read primarily by Leeds fans. Especially Jewish Leeds fans. In particular, Jewish Leeds fans over 40. But Clavane writes in the accessible — and emotional — style of a good sports journalist, with statistics enough for most soccer pedants.

Leeds United’s fall from grace has been analysed many times but Clavane provides more than enough to please readers well beyond the hard-core fan base.

Jessica Elgot is a JC reporter

Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011