My trip to the Promised Land

Next to statue of Billy Bremner who died in 1997 aged just 54.

Next to statue of Billy Bremner who died in 1997 aged just 54.

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 Waterstone’s 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.

Available in club shop. Cute, eh?

Available in club shop. Cute, eh?

Meeting Anthony Clavane on Sunday morning in Waterstone's in Leeds

Meeting Anthony Clavane on Sunday morning in Waterstone's in Leeds

Meeting childhood hero, Eddie "The Last Waltz" Gray.

Meeting childhood hero, Eddie "The Last Waltz" Gray.

Leeds and QPR shaking hands

Leeds and QPR shaking hands

Elland Road on Saturday

Elland Road on Saturday


10 responses to “My trip to the Promised Land

  1. Nice! Not a big fan of Leeds here (though a club that created Alan Smith is fine by me!) but loving the passion!

  2. I know next to nothing about football but I think Bayern München has lots of roots and connections with Jews in its history.

  3. Michael Plosker

    Richard, so nice to see a NW London boy supporting Leeds. But at least you travel and are a real supporter unlike those glory hunters who support Man U and Chelsea. Roll on Feb 26th – are you coming?

  4. Richard;

    So many echoes and parallels with my club, Aston Villa, of a rise and rise – all the way to a European Cup Final.

    But we beat Bayern Munich in our and only shot in the 1982 final. We also sing Champions of Europe at anyone who needs reminding. Think Arsenal and Chelsea for starters.

    Unfortunately, “dirty” Leeds were punished at the final hurdle against Bayern in that 1975 final and coupled with the violence in Paris – they began a spiral downwards. When relegated in the early 80’s it took 9 seasons to make a return to the top flight.

    Villa weren’t scared of race, it was the most integrated of all clubs both on the terraces and the field – and our grand old marque finds poetic association with the sport’s biggest prize.

    I’m proud of Villa; 1874, co-founders of the Football League with our chairman as the league’s inventor. There was no fear at the club – and somehow all that our club stood for in that golden two years of title and Europe came together, ghosts; five generations deep came out to play in claret and blue.

    And I’ll always be a Cloughite too. His “win, but win better” approach was foreign to Revie’s Leeds and his style absolutely and totally vindicated by two European pots at Forest.

    Manny Cousens and Leslie Silver were key figures in Leeds’ success – and it’s an interesting history for sure. Villa had a Jewish owner for a short while too, ironically during our most turbulent period.

    Still, I admire your stoic approach to your club. (You must be gutted you picked them as a child though!) I hear Spurs are in the Champions League and Arsenal play the Beautiful Game!

    • richardmillett

      Nice post, Jonny

      I always say i’m gutted to have picked them as a club, as they are so far away. 400 mile round trip. But the excitement is more enhanced when they come to town because of it. More than it would have been if i could see them every two weeks in London maybe.

      But at least Villa have reached the Promised Land and have stayed there whereas Leeds keep reaching the outskirts of it and then fall rapidly for some reason. Mind you I wouldn’t have swapped the 2000/2001 Champions League campaign for anything even if Bowyer was inexplicably banned from the semi-final second league, which we would have won with him included in the side.

      I love Clough too but I love Revie and what he did for the football cllub by putting it on the map.

      Up the Villa!

  5. Isca Stieglitz

    This is a ‘warm’ piece. It reminds me of the very rare opportunities I went to see ‘The Gunners’ at Highbury; I can’t afford it now! The move to Ashburton was probably necessary, but a sad one.
    I’m not an avid footie fan and am very out of date with all the latest players etc., but I love to watch a well played game. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and Arsenal’s ‘line’ is a real treat to see in action, especially when it works. It’s the only way I learned about the ‘off side’ rule.

  6. I agree, Isca. The move from Highbury was very sad.

  7. Good post Richard.
    As a Spurs supporter, I tink the most scared I ever got at a football match was when I visited Elland Road back in the 70s. We were herded into a small area, with malevolent Leeds fans unable to reach us, but threatening much violence to come! Luckily I managed to esomehow emerge unscathed.
    The Leeds team of the early 70s was to my mind the best British team I ever saw, “complete football”, a supreme player in every position (ok, Gary Sprake….). That they lost to Chelsea in the 1970 FA Cup Final is still unbelievable. Eddie Gray was indeed a magician – even your photo is blurry, nobody could keep up with the guy!

  8. We all have our cross to bear Richard . I married into a football dynasty . My father in law was a director of Notts County during the 70s and 80s . [Please dont ask if they are still playing League football ]Its that time of the year again when I will be expected to freeze my tuchus off watching them play Accrington Stanley or whoever and wishing I could die as my toes fall off one by one . Please delete this blasphemy once read as I worry my wife might read it . A die hard County supporter who has with her father, been to just about every ground in the League . Otherwise do you do Divorce Law.

  9. richardmillett

    I feel for you, Harvey. My uncle was Chairman of Forest when Clough was in charge. How did you survive all their successes???