I expect I’m in a minority of football fans who are fairly ambivalent about Leeds United. It was a little before my time, but I’ve heard plenty stories over the years about Don Revie and his ‘Dirty Leeds’. But then they had a very strong core of Scottish players that I looked up to in my childhood (McQueen, Jordan, Arthur Graham) or heard older kids raving about (Bremner, Lorimer, Eddie Gray). At one point, Revie had seventeen Scots on the books. Even later Leeds sides had the odd sprinkling of Scottish swagger: think Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister or recently Robert Snodgrass.
So I have never hated Leeds United. Elland Road Stadium is neither the promised land or hell on earth to me, even if Leeds players and fans have often been associated with the uglier side of the game. It may be harder for partisan English football supporters to read this book with such an open mind, but it might just allow you to see the club in a slightly different light.
Whether or not there’s any truth in this dirty Leeds stuff, as with many things related to football, there’s a pantomime villain element to it. I’ve seen enough clips to know that those Leeds United teams of the 60’s and early 70’s did not reap success through brute force or intimidation alone. One thing that comes across in this book is that ‘Dirty Leeds’ did not always win ugly. In part because they didn’t actually win that much. At least not as many trophies as they could have. They were not nearly as dominant as say Liverpool in the 80’s or Manchester United over the last decade or two. All too often Leeds blew it at the final hurdle.
In fact, Promised Land starts with a description of their biggest nearly moment when they could have won the European Cup in 1975 were it not for an offside flag. A few years earlier, Leeds were said to have been denied a championship due to an offside goal West Brom’s Jeff Astle scored against them. This is the writer as a fan coming to the fore because supporters will always point to a critical moment that stopped their dream from becoming a reality. For the rest of us, Leeds didn’t win the title that season or the European Cup a few years later. End of story.
Anthony Clavane is a Leeds United fan. The book is none the worse for its lack of neutrality. On the contrary, as with many of the best football books, it is all the better for being written by someone with a genuine passion for the subject matter. And he doesn’t shy away from talking about the club’s darker side at times.
In addition to the football, Promised Land is a personal and family memoir of the Jewish community he grew up in. He has recently published another book about the Jewish presence in English football called Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? He touches on some of that in this work, which also has some very interesting social history of Leeds in the twentieth century and explains how both the city and the club came from nowhere to become a powerhouse in the land.
My own football based novel, Countries of the World, which features some of the Leeds players mentioned above, will be FREE FOR KINDLE again tomorrow as a token of celebration for Burns’ Night.