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Things never get much better than all right in Leeds

Rory Smith, The Times December 09 2013 12:12PM

There is a joke, told by John Bisho , the !comedian", abo#t ho$ the easiest $ay to tell the di%%erence bet$een the &reat northern cities is by askin& eo le $hat it's like to li(e there) *is (ersion, tho#&h, is sli&htly $ron&) The $ay he tells it, +i(er ool is the e,ce tion) -eally, it sho#ld be +eeds) Try it) .sk a /co#ser, or a Manc#nian, ho$ they %eel abo#t the lace in $hich they li(e) They $ill tell yo# that they inhabit $hat is, $itho#t 0#estion, the &reatest city in the $orld) They $ill raise its %ashion and its m#sic and its sense o% sel%) They $ill in%orm yo# that it is more do$n1to1earth than +ondon, less sm#&, b#t that it boasts the (ibrancy o% some$here m#ch lar&er) 2hen they tell yo# this, they $o#ld be ri&ht, beca#se +i(er ool and Manchester are both $onder%#l cities) B#t then ask someone in +eeds) 3n +eeds, the 0#estion !$hat is it like to li(e here4" can only e(er be met $ith one res onse) !3t's all ri&ht)" 3n %act, that ser(es as a stock res onse to almost any 0#estion asked o% anyone in +eeds) Thin&s ne(er &et m#ch better than all ri&ht) 2hy sho#ld they4 2hy $o#ld yo# $ant them to4

*#&e s#ms o% money ha(e been s ent on makin& +eeds more than all ri&ht in recent years) 3n %act, h#&e s#ms o% money ha(e been s ent on makin& +eeds more than all ri&ht %or abo#t 150 years, e(er since constr#ction started 6 at sta&&erin& e, ense 6 on the &randiose To$n *all in 1783) *al% a cent#ry later they established $hat is no$ 9ity /0#are, com lete $ith a stat#e o% the Black Prince, :d$ard o% .0#itaine) They cleared the sl#ms in the 1930s, b#ildin& t$o ne$ estates 6 ;#arry *ill and <i ton 6 as the bi& de artment stores $ent # in the centre o% to$n) They cleared the sl#ms a&ain in the 1950s) 3n the 1990s, as Manchester's entire city centre $as rej#(enated a%ter the .rndale bombin&, +eeds decided to b#rnish its ne$ re #tation as !the bi&&est %inancial centre o#tside +ondon" 6 that $as al$ays the boast 6 by b#ildin& a *ar(ey =ichols) . %riend o% mine once $ent in to b#y a belt, b#t has re%#sed to enter since he disco(ered they $ere char&in& >80 %or them) !That," he said, !is too m#ch %or a belt)" +eeds doesn't like sho$) 2hen +ee /har e bo#&ht o#r local, the %ormer Manchester ?nited layer redecorated it) *e #t do$n olished %loors and installed leather seats) .nother %riend re%#sed to &o in) +eather seats, he said, $ere an #nnecessary a%%ectation, borderin& on so#thern) *e only entered once it $as ointed o#t to him that they $ere $i e1clean, and there%ore ractical) /till, tho#&h, the makeo(ers and the re(am s and the im ro(ements kee on comin&) The Trinity 9entre, a sho in& centre to ri(al +i(er ool @ne, o ened this year) 3t has an ?rban @#t%itters, and t$o laces sellin& c# cakes) 3t is not that these de(elo ments are not a reciated) 3t is not that +eeds is not as (ibrant as Manchester or +i(er ool) 3t is not that there is not a sense o% %ierce loyalty to it, $hether yo# stayed or $hether yo# le%t) 3t's j#st that $e don't like to r#b it in anyone's %aces) +eeds is all ri&ht) The roblem $ith this reticence, sensible and h#mble tho#&h it may be, is that in s#ch silence do myths emer&e, and rarely are they o% any bene%it to +eeds) Take, %or e,am le, the do&ma that =e$castle is :n&land's &reat one1cl#b city) =e$castle is a &reat city, no do#bt, a &rand and %riendly and bri&ht lace, and =e$castle ?nited are a &reat cl#b) /t James' Park, loomin& o#t

o(er the city as /t Ait#s 9athedral $atches o(er Pra&#e, $ordlessly ro(ides the most elo0#ent meta hor ima&inable %or the role %ootball lays in the li%e o% this city, o% all cities)

B#t +eeds is not %ar o%% three times the siBe o% =e$castle) There are C80,000 eo le in the city itsel%, com ared to 290,000, and some t$o million in 2est Dorkshire, com ared to 780,000 or so on Tyneside) Perha s it is beca#se there are other cl#bs 6 Brad%ord 9ity, *#dders%ield To$n, *ali%a, 6 nearby that the myth has been allo$ed to de(elo ) Perha s =e$castle is better at the marketin&) Perha s it is beca#se there are other cl#bs in +eeds, j#st not in the same s ort) 3t $as only the 1980s and 1950s that +eeds really decided it 0#ite liked %ootball) There are many le%t $ho $o#ld see it, like 2i&an, as a -#&by +ea&#e to$n, at least to some e,tent) -hinos occ# y %ar more minds in +eeds than the Ealcons do in =e$castle) @r erha s it is beca#se 6 as .nthony 9la(ane describes it in his $onder%#l memoir, Promised +and 6 nobody really likes !dirty, &reedy, reckless, h#bristic +eeds)" 9harles Dickens ! artic#larly detested it as an odio#s lace)" <eor&e Bernard /ha$, the dramatist, sa$ it as !a lace $here no decent indi(id#al o#&ht to li(e) -al h 2aldo :merson blamed the smoke %rom the city's o$er stations %or !a do$dy style o% dress amon& the ladies on Bri&&ate)" That, $itho#t a

shado$ o% a do#bt, has chan&ed, as +eeds's $omen ha(e ado ted =e$castle's &oose1%at1and1bl#e12FD a roach to kee in& $arm in $inter) The city, tho#&h, is still scorned, j#st a little) The cl#b, too, is sneered at) They $ere Dirty +eeds in the 19C0s, and a $hole &eneration cannot %or&i(e them) They $ere la&#ed by racists and %ascists 6 as so many other cl#bs $ere 6 in the 1970s, and another &eneration does not %or&et) .nd they $ere the +eeds $ho bet the ho#se to chase the dream in the 1990s and lost) They are the +eeds $ho still stand as a by$ord %or %ootball's 3car#s a&e, and that still sticks)

3 #sed to $atch +eeds a lot as a kid) 2e sat in the %amily stand) .t the time it $as the bi&&est cantile(er stand in the $orld, a arently) +eeds has lon& had an obsession $ith odd boasts) The cl#b #sed to say they had the tallest %loodli&hts in :#ro e in the 1970s) The city b#ilt Brid&$ater Place in 2008 to be the tallest b#ildin& in the north 6 e(en tho#&h it $asn't 6 b#t soon sa$ it rele&ated to %o#rth lace, behind the Beetham and 9o1@ erati(e To$ers in Manchester, and 2est To$er in +i(er ool) That tends to ha en $ith +eeds's so#rces o% ride) Manchester steals them) They $ent and b#ilt a bi&&er cantile(er stand at @ld Tra%%ord) .nd Manchester has a *ar(ey =ichols no$, too) The +eeds 3 sa$ $as not a (inta&e one 6 not Da(id @'+eary's babies 6 b#t the +eeds o% Tony Deboah, Pierre +a#rent, <#nnar *alle and -ichard Jobson) B#t they $ere a Premier +ea&#e side, a decent one, and times $ere &ood) The man $ho sat in %ront o% #s $as the %#nniest %ootball %an 3 ha(e e(er enco#ntered) *e s ent one entire &ame s# ortin& the linesman) +eeds $on 210, b#t he did not celebrate either &oal) *e celebrated $hen the linesman &a(e a correct decision on a thro$1in, and o%%ered his s# ort $hen the rest o% the lar&est cantile(er stand in :#ro e disa&reed) *e'd $ait %or the h#bb#b to die do$n and then say, lo#dly b#t not dea%enin&ly: !+ino, 3'm on yo#r side)" Tomas Brolin scored both &oals) :(ery time 3 &o back no$, %or $ork or as some %orm o% #nishment, it strikes me ho$ little thin&s ha(e chan&ed) +inesmen are called assistant re%erees no$, ob(io#sly, b#t :lland -oad still looks like it is &ettin& ready %or an :lastica concert)

.nd that, as $e &ently stroll to the oint, is a h#&e ity %or :n&lish %ootball) Beca#se, %or all the ima&e o% a dirty and reckless and h#bristic team in a dirty and reckless and h#bristic lace, it is &ood %or the &ame $hen +eeds are &ood) This is :n&land's &reat one cl#b city, and it deser(es to be reco&nised as s#ch)

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