Essex author’s book about football...
Sports writer Anthony Clavane is well known to long-standing EADT readers – not because he is now one of the key figures in the Sunday Mirror’s sports coverage, but because he cut his journalistic teeth as a feature writer here throughout the 1990s.
He had a series at the EADT called Challenge Clavane in which he did everything from driving fast cars to posing nude for a life drawing class. He is also the only man I know who can take his children to the park, ostensibly to let them play on the swings and regularly end up having a long, deep, involved conversation with punk poet John Cooper Clarke. That’s one of the joys of living in Wivenhoe, I suppose.
However, more pertinently, he also wrote a sports column which netted him a national award and before he knew it, he was on his way to London proclaiming: “It’s great but I’m not a sports writer.”
His latest venture is undoubtedly an attempt to substantiate that claim having spent the last ten years at The Mirror writing enthusiastically about football. He has written a book called Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds Utd – a book which is on the surface entirely about his love for Leeds United, particularly their glory years in the 1970s under Don Revie, but is in actual fact a complex look at film, family and football.
It’s a complex, autobiographical tapestry which weaves together his family’s story with some keenly observed social comment about society’s aspirations, the optimism of the 1960s and how sadly now that ‘can do’ mentality is finally coming to an end.
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The book is being launched on Tuesday at the Colchester Arts Centre, where Anthony has been on the board for the last 20 years. The evening will be a mix of readings from the book, discussion and a screening of the film Billy Liar, which as Anthony explains, is not only one of his favourite films of all time but an integral part of that whole, forward-looking, romantic optimism which fuelled Leeds view of the world during the 1960s and 70s.
“I have been meaning to write this book for years. I am from Leeds, I support the football team but I wanted to write about what I thought was the end of an era. Not just in football but what I thought was a golden age in English film, literature and particularly the whole era that I associate with growing up in Leeds.”
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He said that Billy Liar, released in 1963, personified the optimism and the romanticism of the era. “That’s why Billy Liar is so important. It is a film that changed everything. It is very much a Leeds film in that it was written by a Leeds writer, Keith Waterhouse, it was filmed in Leeds and Bradford and it seems to stand for what was about to happen in the 1960s, which I believe needs to be celebrated, which is change ? a transformation if you like, which offered working class people, people like Billy Fisher, opportunities that their parents and grand-parents did not enjoy.”
He said the film signalled the beginning of upward mobility and aspirational ambition which had previously been unknown in the years where people were expected to know their place and stay there.
“It’s also a start of the time where people felt comfortable moving away from provincial areas, going to London and literally following in the footsteps of Dick Whittington to seek their fortune. In the film that is what Julie Christie does. She goes to the train station gets on board that train to literally change her life, improve her prospects.”
He said that he will be introducing a screening of John Schlesinger’s classic film at the Colchester Arts Centre launch of his book on Tuesday. “It sums up everything that changed in the sixties and reflect on how we don’t have dreamers like Billy Fisher any more.”
He added that the real-life Billy Fishers weren’t wasting their lives on pipe dreams; for a vast number of people, the dream became a reality. “Statistics show that if you were growing up in a small town in the 1960s you could better yourself. You get on the train, go to London and get a job that had a higher social status than the one your father had.”
Education played a big role in and the introduction of bright, working class kids into grammar schools opened a lot of doors. Playwright Alan Bennent was a working class kid who benefited from just that arrangement as he celebrated in his play The History Boys.
“These were the children of the industrial poor. Having been to grammar school they could then fulfil their potential in a very real way. Myself, I left Leeds for the south and didn’t look back – until now.”
Even in literature Anthony laments the lack of positive role models like Keith Waterhouse, writing about their dreams and aspirations. “Now we have things like Shameless which instead of celebrating aspiration, celebrates resignation and defeatism. It underlines the fact that today the working class has little means of escape.”
As well as being a personal reflection on growing up in Leeds and how the town and the football team prospered in those heady days when England began to swing, Promised Land is also a moving look at how Anthony’s family fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe to find a new life in Britain during the early years of the 20th century.
It’s a story of how Anthony’s grandfather took his family to Britain and how he and many of other Jewish families saw Britain as a safe haven: A Promised Land.
Again there is a theme of opportunity and betterment running through the story, which binds these seemingly disparate elements together.
“My grandparents saw Leeds as an earthly paradise – it wasn’t obviously but my grandfather was born into extreme poverty and he grabbed an opportunity not only to better himself but his family. My father did better than him and I am proud, as the third generation, to continue that trajectory.
“And our story is not that untypical. There has been this upward mobility over the years. The way that the Jewish community has integrated into Britain has been a great success story.”
Both the founders of Marks and Spencer and Burton’s menswear were Russian immigrants that arrived in Leeds to escape persecution by the Czar.
Anthony’s grandfather, a tailor, was similarly attracted to Leeds because of the burgeoning textile industry. Anthony’s father was also a tailor before the spirit of the sixties seized him and he changed jobs and ended his career as a manager of an ice cream depot. “He was the first one to be in management, not to work in a factory and I was the first one to go to university. The book crystallises that sense of achievement.”
Despite the preponderance of get-famous-quick talent shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, Anthony believes that the age of opportunity has sadly passed. “It was getting on a very real, substantive way. It wasn’t sing a song in front of Simon Cowell and become a celebrity. It was a much more meritocratic type of achievement and it was for large numbers of people, not just a lucky few.”
He said that one of the reasons he wrote the book was to celebrate the sheer optimism of the sixties. “Whether it is Leeds, Ipswich or Colchester, the story is the same. It is about escaping a working class background in a small provincial town and realising your potential.
“We have to rediscover this sense of hope. Just because you are from Leeds, Ipswich or Colchester doesn’t mean that you can’t change the world.”
He said that he wanted to draw attention that his football team, the writers who came from Leeds: Waterhouse, Bennent, Jack Higgins and Barbara Taylor Bradford all managed to realise their dreams of success and managed to escape the limitation of their humble beginnings.
“While I was growing up Leeds, the football team went from nothing to the best team in Europe.”
He said that the trigger for this look back to his roots has come from the fact that he has just celebrated his 50th birthday and the half-century milestone triggered not only an assessment of his own life so far but also that of his family and the town that shaped his future and his view of the world.
“Bizarrely, I have chosen to launch the book in Colchester because I realised that I have now spent more time living here in East Anglia than I have in Leeds. Obviously we are going back to Leeds and I am doing some presentations and book signings there but I thought it would be great to launch the book in my adopted home town of Colchester.
“Although it is my story of growing up in Leeds, it’s also universal because I have talked to friends in Colchester about it and they have said: ‘That could have been me.’
Anthony Clavane will be discussing his book Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds Utd and introducing a screening of Billy Liar at the Colchester Arts Centre on Tuesday August 17 at 7.30pm. Tickets, �5, available from Colchester Arts Centre box office or from the door on the night. For more information on phone 01206 500900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org