Stage adaptation of Promised Land opens in Leeds
The stage adaptation of ‘Promised Land’, a book based on Leeds, its Jewish community and football, opens tonight (21 June). Here’s a preview from author Anthony Clavane:
‘There are some uncomfortable moments in the play – which is based on my book about Leeds, the Jewish community and football – but my aim was to pay tribute to those people who stood up to racism 35 years ago.
The two lead characters are opposites. Nathan is Jewish, a Leeds United fan and a dreamer, Caitlin is a musician from a Catholic family and has more practical ambitions. They meet, fall in love, but their differences get in the way. Caitlin despised the section of fans who abused black players and sang anti-semitic songs.
Caitlin represents the unsung heroes who bravely stood up to the thugs. In the end, a campaign by a minority of LUFC activists, the Trades Council and anti-Nazi demonstrators – eventually backed by the club – drove the NF-paper sellers away.
Like many other clubs of that era, Leeds were tainted by a thuggish image. Caitlin’s heroism was not a big story at the time, and I wanted to rectify this lack of recognition.
But the bigger theme of the play is the way an immigrant community has integrated into English society through football. The eastern European immigrants arrived at the turn of the 20th century as football was taking off in the city. Leeds City were founded – and, as a civic visionary said at the time, they symbolised an outward-looking approach.
The Jews were big sports fans, passionately supporting first the Leeds Parish rugby league side, then Leeds Rugby – and Leeds City. In the 1960s, three Jewish businessmen came to Leeds United’s rescue when they were on the verge of going bust. The club, back in the 1930s, even had a Jewish player – Leslie Goldberg – who was the first of his religion to play for England Schoolboys.
The book ‘Promised Land’ told the story of Leeds, its football club and its communities. The stage adaptation tells that same story through the eyes of Nathan and Caitlin.
Against all the odds, they fall in love, united by their hopes and dreams; the kind of aspiration that drew their grandparents to the industrial city in the first place, but will that be enough to hold them together? And will they find a way to stay in Leeds or will they be forced to go their separate ways?
Moving from the 1900s to the early 1960s and then on to the mid-1970s, this new play is a large-scale celebration of Leeds. It is a love story, but also a love letter to a great city – and a great football team. In my view, football can be a hotbed of racial and religious prejudice.
But, equally, at its best it is an equal opportunity employer. As the black Leeds writer Carly Phillips wrote: “Leeds was the city that took us in, back in 1958. My parents and I were assimilated into cobbled streets around the corner from pubs that still operared a colour bar (but) Leeds was my city, and I slowly developed a great pride in it, a pride that was enhanced by the existence of Leeds United Football Club…a team who bestowed upon me, and tens of thousands of others, a reason to walk tall and declare ‘We are Leeds.’”
Sport can be an antidote to contemporary division and despair. Despite the cynicism, the Olympics will be a great celebration of British diversity – and many different communities have coming together to follow England’s progress to the Euro 2012 quarter finals (and beyond?) Sport has much to tell us about who we are and about the world we live in.
For me, supporting Leeds United has always been two things: a marker of my Leeds Jewish identity and a way of overcoming Jewish parochialism and promoting integration.’