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Although 40 miles separate the cities, there appear to
be cultural scars that will never heal. Tis is partly due to the
great Yorkshire-Lancashire rivalry, which dates back to the
Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. On the bloodiest day,
Palm Sunday of 1461, 28,000 men were killed at the Battle of
Towton, as Edward IV (York) tried to secure his newly-won
crown from Henry VI (Lancaster). Later, competition for the
crown was replaced by competition for commerce, and the cities
were set against each other again.
Two recent historical events
have sparked the tribalism: the
industrial revolution and the Eric
Cantona transfer. In the 19th
century, Manchester’s successful
cotton industry ruined Leeds’
traditional woollen industry because
it was cheaper to produce. Yorkshire
weavers were undercut – which
was the beginning of Manchester’s
new wealth and the rise of ‘King
Cotton’. You could argue that
the “new wealth” of Moneybags
Manchester in the Premier League
era has been equally undermining;
since Leeds United sold ‘King Eric’
(Cantona) to Alex Ferguson’s team
in 1992, the Reds have dominated
English football.
Talking of religion, Lawson
– a Front Row presenter,
columnist and Tablet theatre critic
– is a Catholic. In the 1970s, when
he went to church, he would spot
Peter Lorimer and Eddie Gray in
the congregation, which was ‘like
being in heaven’. I’m Jewish, I saw
the same footballing gods at bar
mitzvahs – but it’s not quite the same. And yet we are United in
our religious devotion to Leeds, our hatred of a certain team in
red – and our passion for Leeds writers.
Which is the real reason Mark wants me to be on Radio
Four, not a station renowned for its coverage of Te Mighty
Whites. He tells listeners he was thrilled to discover my book
Promised Land: A Northern Love Story
. We banter amusingly –
well, we think so – about our frst 11 of Leeds writers, I say I’d
play Alan Bennett and Barbara Taylor Bradford in midfeld, the
former a playmaker – I don’t see the boy Bennett grafting – the
latter a David Batty-esque destroyer.Te Radio Four producer,
who had previously made the faux pas of referring to the ‘Billy
Bremnard’ statue, looks somewhat bemused. Unsurprisingly,
this bit does not make the fnal cut.
Promised Land links the rise of Revie’s great side to
the ascent of the West Riding working-class writers of the
1960s. Back then, there were a generation of artists who – as
one of the book’s reviewers (Leeds
United fanzine Te Square Ball)
pointed out – ‘wrote about their
exclusion, their blunted desires, the
insecurities that held them in their
old jobs and their old homes; men
who found a voice by making books,
plays and flms that shrieked at the
world like a factory whistle’. Keith
Billy Liar
stands as a
motif for my argument that this city,
like its football team and its writers,
has fantastic potential – but should
believe in itself more. Revie’s Leeds
were feared throughout Europe, but
they became known as the perennial
runners up, eternal chokers.
Whilst waiting to watch
the West Yorkshire Playhouse
revival of
Billy Liar
last year, I
read the programme notes about
Waterhouse. Te article began:
‘No-one could have imagined that
a scrufy, bedraggled youngster
wearing hand-me-down clothing
and living in the ‘wrong’ side of
Leeds in a back-to-back house in
the 1930s would emerge one day
as a revered writer.’ And I thought:
‘Why not?’Many of the angry young men of the 60s came from
Leeds and its environs. And, in the 1990s, a new generation of
iconoclasts emerged, including the likes of Caryl Phillips, Kay
Mellor and David Peace. Today, we could add the names of
Dave Simpson, Alice Nutter, Bof Whalley, Ian Duhig, Wes
Brown, Tom Palmer, Robert Endeacott, John Anthony Lake
and Mick McCann.
Phillips’ parents arrived in Leeds from St Kitts towards
the end of the 1950s, carrying him as hand luggage. ‘Tey had