Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Lingo of Sport in New Headingley Club

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Sunday Mirror sports writer Anthony Clavane spoke about his best-selling Promised Land: A Northern Love Story which is about the city, its football club and its communities, and about what it means to be a writer who wants to celebrate Leeds. We need to relish our ‘Leedsness’!

His heroes were not all taken from the sporting world: Mick McCann’s How Leeds Changed The World was mentioned, and David Storey was flagged up, even though he came from Wakefield, which according to Clavane is “almost Leeds, well all right, it’s West Yorkshire... well anyway he’s been a big influence and he wrote This Sporting Life on the train to London... every time I go down to Kings Cross on the train, which is often, I am reminded of how he wrote the novel sitting in a seat just like mine, on the train. He played Rugby League at weekends and was a student at the Slade School of Art during the week.

“The worlds of sport and art can be brought together. There are so many connections and so many false dichotomies.” He went on to illustrate his point.

There was Brian Clough, the manager who did not actually burn Don Revie’s desk, even though David Peace had him do it in The Damned United (look up David Peace in the search box above to find his contribution to the 2010 LitFest), and there was mention of Matt Busby, who once managed a certain bunch of footballers on the other side of the Pennines, and who described football as theatre: “...in which case Elland Road is the Theatre of the Absurd.”

“The Kop at Elland Road – remember? A Greek chorus!” We shared our memories of chants. He did not mention all of them because he considered that we were “a family audience”, which provoked one or two surprised looks.

Clavane aired personal anecdotes, of which he has a great archive, drawn upon extensively for the book. He once sold lollies and ice creams in the old Leeds Playhouse, one half of a sports centre. Quiet, significant moments in plays were often less than tense when the audience could hear the clink-clink of weights being hoisted and dropped by those training at the other side of breeze-block walls. “I saw Comedians by Trevor Griffiths and Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist when I worked there. Fo’s play changed every night because the actors had to react to contemporary events. You never knew exactly what was going to happen. As in a match.”

Questions and Answers was interesting, given equal time with the talk. He tackled a lengthy one about all sport being too male-orientated with professional skill and declared that he had given adequate space in Promised Land to the violent and racist elements who once gave Leeds United such a bad reputation, back in the seventies. “It’s changed such a lot. It’s more family orientated now,” he said. Someone pointed out that rugby had been like that for decades.

Promised Land is about to be adapted for the stage this summer by Clavane and co-writer Nick Stimpson. The adaptation will tell the same story through the eyes of Nathan and Caitlin, two young idealists growing up in mid-1970s Leeds, living in the same city but on opposite sides of a cultural and religious divide. Nathan is a third generation Russian-Jewish immigrant and a Leeds United obsessive who dreams of making it as a writer, and Caitlin is a political campaigner and a third-generation Irish Catholic immigrant. 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.

The play, which is going to be full of music and dancing, with a large community cast and a band, is a co-production between Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds Civic Arts Guild and The Carriageworks. It will be performed at The Carriageworks between 22 and 30 June 2012.

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