Coming to terms with Leeds

Leeds is not a popular place. It is not loved by neutrals. People don’t tend to wish the best for Leeds.

Part of it is the name: “Leeds” sounds grimy and low-spirited compared to peppy “Manchester” and intriguing “Sheffield”, but there’s more.

1) Leeds isn’t cool. 

Other similar cities have had their “moment”: Liverpool in the early ‘60s and ‘80s, Manchester in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Leeds hasn’t had a moment, and without a moment it’s hard to draw people in. Where’s the glamour?

West Yorkshire should be more closely associated with the British filmmaking New Wave — Tony Richardson is from Shipley, Keith Waterhouse is from Leeds — but although some of the best examples were filmed here they tended to be set in general “Northern Land” rather than Leeds (/Bradford/Halifax).

Damien Hirst is from Leeds, as is Marco Pierre White. But they did all their mischief in London.

Other cities have their bands. The obvious ones from Manchester and Liverpool… Sheffield has Pulp, Human League, even the Arctic Monkeys.

Who do Leeds have?

Well, the Kaiser Chiefs, but they’re too well known to be cool, and The Wedding Present, who probably aren’t well known enough. There was a time in the late ‘90s when the “Superclub” was a thing, and Leeds had a few of those, but tastemakers quickly reclassified them as naff. Bad luck, Leeds.

Having it in Majestyk’s, Leeds

2) Leeds is hard to root for. 

It’s not small enough to be an inspiring underdog. It’s not far enough away to be exotic, like Newcastle.

And the football team! Everyone hates the football team. Dirty Leeds. Violent Leeds. Racist Leeds.

A Leeds United Fan

What looks like general dislike of Leeds is actually distaste.

Leeds has no culture and no history. It has expensive (vulgar) clothes shops, racist football fans and grotty pubs.

It is, let’s face it, common.

A terrific counterweight to the anti-Leeds narrative is Promised Land: A Northern Love Story by Anthony Clavane. It’s the story of a city, its football team, and its (once large, now dwindling) Jewish population.

Clavane argues that Don Revie’s Leeds United belong with those other northern influences which made the ‘60s: Harold Wilson, Billy Liar, the Beatles, David Hockney, the Liverpool poets etc etc.

Yes, Revie’s team. Any reference to which is described by Giles Smith as:

The nuclear option. There is, quite simply, nowhere to go after that. There has never been a more horrible team.

An embedded view, deepened by The Damned United: Clough’s beautiful spirit crushed by Revie and Leeds.

There is another version of this story.

Leeds, under Revie, went from second division to first division runners up in 3 years, winning the title four years later. A team which replaced its kit so it could be more like Madrid. A team with ambition who did everything necessary to win.  And why shouldn’t they? Why should they settle for being the team the rightful winners play against?

This Leeds was an insurgent, revolutionary force, loathed by the establishment. Why does public opinion side with the establishment on this one? Clavane tells us the FA (public school Corinthians) were:

Appalled by Revie. They considered his attempt to develop a ruthless, fiercely competitive, hard-headed winning machine to be, at best, ungentlemanly. At worst, they claimed, it heralded the game’s loss of innocence.

This Leeds reminds me of Chelsea. Chelsea were popular when they were losing gallantly under Ranieri. When Mourinho took over and they too became a winning machine, the greatest team of the modern era, people went off them. It doesn’t do to upset the natural order. Chelsea had money too, of course, but how else are you going to do it nowadays?

Don’t they look young.

Anyway, Revie eventually left Leeds and they became mediocre (and still disliked).

Actually, for a while they were both good and popular. In the late 90s and early ‘00s they had a dashing young team terrorising Europe. That team was part of the North’s last “moment”, when its cities made a play to turn themselves into city break destinations, the Superclubs were dominant and London seemed a little bit staid. Clavane is very good at tying this all together, with the team part of a rebranded outwards-looking Leeds.

But then the club imploded, to widespread delight.

It’s worth considering what exactly it was that people were so happy about.

The Fall of Leeds was presented as some kind of early noughties morality tale, a parable of greed, excess and hubris. How deluded to think they could build a team to match the citadels of Manchester and London, let alone Milan and Madrid.

Everyone back in your place. Disruption over.

And now the South and the establishment has reasserted itself entirely.

Let us not fall into the traps set by the forces of conservatism. Let us not disdain Leeds. Let us not judge it for failing to meet criteria set by entrenched power.

Let us celebrate Leeds as it is: Leeds the Upstart! Leeds the Dreamer! Leeds the Beautiful!

A few such moments.

1) One month in ’72 Revie’s Leeds beat Nottingham Forest 6-1, Manchester United 5-1 and Southampton 7-0. The last of these is famous. You’ve seen the clips before, but they’re always worth a couple of minutes of your time. The goals are on the first video. Not great quality, but you can see what’s going on. (Music by T-Rex, the least Leeds band ever.) I’d suggest you go straight to the second video and soak up the showboating (from 6 minutes).

2) Some Cantona greatness from his season at Leeds (so not repeated beyond impact); 21 seconds in.

 3) And that time when for a few weeks in the mid-90s Tony Yeboah was the best player in the world.


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