December 20, 2010
On Saturday I escaped the chaos in London caused by the heavy snow and went to Leeds, aka The Promised Land.
Leeds and Leeds United are the subject of a fabulous new book by Sunday Mirror Sports journalist Anthony Clavane (or Clavansky as his eastern European ancestors were known). It’s called The Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United.
It tells of how Eastern European Jews escaped poverty and pogroms for a new life in Leeds and how they helped to transform Leeds from a dour Rugby League town into a vibrant football loving city.
Although, as Clavane makes clear there is still, sadly, so much poverty in certain areas of Leeds, including around the football ground.
Until the sixties Leeds United, and their predecessors Leeds City, had won nothing.
In 1961 Leeds United were on the verge of going bankrupt but interest free loans by three local Jewish businessmen kept the club afloat and with Don Revie as manager they reached their first FA Cup final in 1965 (they lost) and, finally, became League Champions in 1968/69 for the first time.
Under the Don they won the League Cup in 1968, the FA Cup again in 1972 and the League Championship again in 1973/74, as well as the Fairs Cup in 1968 and 1971.
They reached a host of finals and were, incredibly, league runners-up on five occasions under Revie before 1975 became an annus horribilis for the club.
The Don left in 1974 and Cloughie followed for his notorious 44 day stint before Jimmy Armfield took Revie’s team to the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris where they were robbed on the verge of reaching the Promised Land.
First, Clarke was hacked down in the penalty area but no penalty was given and then Lorimer had a good goal disallowed when Bremner was judged to have been offside. He wasn’t.
Bayern Munich went on to score two goals against a now demoralised Leeds.
Leeds supporters still ironically chant “Champions of Europe” at every match to this day.
Violence broke out after the Paris game and Leeds were banned from playing in Europe for four years but went downhill from there and eventually got relegated seven years later.
Leeds fans became regularly involved in violence at matches as well chanting racist abuse. The National Front sold their newspaper outside Elland Road.
Leeds did get back up and won the League Championship for the third time in 1991/92.
And in the Champions League of 2000/2001 they once again stood on the verge of the Promised Land after drawing 0-0 in the first leg of the semi-final with Valencia. However, days before the away leg UEFA inexplicably banned Lee Bowyer. Bowyer had been the powerhouse behind Leeds in Europe and Leeds got duly thrashed in Valencia.
Huge disappointment again led to disaster with Leeds almost going broke again before getting relegated, this time twice!
Having totally outplayed QPR and winning 2-0 they stand second in the Championship as of today.
The Promised Land beckons again.
No doubt something will go wrong between here and the end of the season but Elland Road was a happy place on Saturday and on sunday morning I went to meet Anthony Clavane who was doing a pre-Christmas book signing at Waterstones in Leeds.
He said that this is a book for every footy fan, not just those of Leeds: “If you enjoyed reading Fever Pitch but aren’t an Arsenal fan you would enjoy my book, even if not a Leeds fan.”
I loved the book. It made me realise that when I connected with Leeds as a boy I was connecting with a club with a big Jewish heritage and which wouldn’t have been around today if three local Jewish businessman hadn’t come to the rescue in 1961.
Anthony is confident Leeds will do well under Simon Grayson and he tells in his book of a sign that used to be up at Leeds train station which read “Welcome to Leeds, the Promised Land Delivered.”
He told me that if Leeds get back into the Premiership he will campaign to have the sign reinstated.
I’ll be right behind him.