A stunning fusion of social history, the fortunes of Leeds United and the progression Leeds' Jewish population, Anthony Clavane's Promised Land won the prestigious Football Book of the Year. Check out this ace excerpt...
A stunning fusion of social history, the fortunes of Leeds United and the progression Leeds’ Jewish population helped Anthony Clavane’s Promised Land win the prestigious Football Book of the Year. Check out this ace excerpt…
My great-grandparents, refugees from the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, simply wanted to survive. My grandparents, who lived through two world wars, great poverty and a depression, wanted to belong. My parents’ generation were the first to be given a real chance to escape the ghetto. Leeds United gave them that chance. Through their involvement with the club they were able, at long last, to engage with the outside world; to prove themselves and find new identity in an alien society.
A few months before Paris, while standing in the Kop watching the European Cup quarter-final first leg against Anderlecht – 3-0: Jordan, McQueen and Lorimer – I was asked whether I “was Leeds”. My interrogators clearly didn’t accept my answer; so much so that one of them decided to punch me in the face. But I was then, and remain to this day, an unrepentant, card-carrying member of Yorkshire’s Republican Army. When my children were very young they thought that being Jewish and being Leeds were the same thing. This was because they would be driven up to their grandparents’ house every school holiday, usually arriving in time for the traditional Friday-night meal of chicken soup and noodles. Then, the following day, nominally one of rest, they would be whisked off to Elland Road. We still spend our Easters in Leeds 17; after removing all leavened products from the house, we gather around the Passover table to read from the Haggadah, a book of prayer whose title literally means “telling the story”. Then we stay up all night eating, drinking and singing from a wide, if somewhat dated, repertoire of Hebrew dirges, Yiddish music-hall numbers, contemporary pop ballads and Leeds United anthems.
Towards the end of his life, my grandfather began to open up and tell me stories about his past. These stories powerfully affected my imagination. He told me about his childhood in the ghetto, about working as a young tailor in his uncle Abe’s attic, about the large – and larger-than-life – ladies whose dresses and coats he made. He told me about the Yiddish boxers who had fought the anti-semites and the communist ramblers who had whisked him up the bleak hills for fresh air, recreation and indoctrination; in the 1930s, half the Party’s Leeds branch were Jewish. He told me about his wife’s brother, Myer Tompowski, who went to “cheder” – the Hebrew word for prison - for beating up an anti-Semite. He never mentioned the old country: the Heym. Looking up meant not looking down. Looking forward meant not looking back. Harry was a great believer in integration. He wanted to belong. He wanted his tribe to be accepted.
Sometimes though, said Harry, the goyim would get upset for no reason. Sometimes there would be raids by bands of hooligans armed with clubs and knives. Which is why the second generation, his generation, decided to fight back, stand up for themselves, defend their right to stay in Leeds; their right to belong
He had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. “Never again,” he told me. “No going back.” In the late 1970s, a few months before he died, he revealed that the only religious story he had any time for was the exodus. Like the rest of his generation – whether communists or capitalists, Zionists or internationalists, orthodox or reform – he was inspired by the great escape from Egypt. It was seared into his, and every Jew’s, consciousness. It is hardwired into our DNA.
Bring out, deliver, redeem, take. The day before I left for university, he finally recounted the story of his father’s own great escape. Leeds, said Harry, had been shaped by such stories. It was built on the sweat of strangers: Jewish, Scottish, Irish, rural Yorkshire sweat. It was a community of communities; a giant factory fuelled by migrant labour from the Dales, the most deprived parts of Scotland, the famine areas of Ireland and the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Factory hands, cobblers, flax-workers and tailors were all thrown together into one great big melting pot. My three great-grandfathers (the fourth settled in Glasgow) – Phillip, Chaim Tompowski and Solomon Saipe – hadn’t been allowed to integrate. As long as they confined themselves to the ghetto, however, they were, on the whole, left in peace. This was a classic Leeds trade-off; the goyim believed in “live and let live” – and the Jews believed in not upsetting the goyim.
Sometimes though, said Harry, the goyim would get upset for no reason. Sometimes there would be raids by bands of hooligans armed with clubs and knives. Which is why the second generation, his generation, decided to fight back, stand up for themselves, defend their right to stay in Leeds; their right to belong. There were quite a few tough lads back then. Some went onto become famous fighters, others famous rugby players. One lad – a hard-as-nails defender called Leslie Goldberg – even broke into the Leeds United side for a couple of years.
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