Anthony Clavane – A Yorkshire Tragedy

A Yorkshire Tragedy

The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse

According to recent Sports England figures, 67,000 fewer Yorkshire people are now involved in sport than in 2012. In my new book, ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’, I argue that there is a crisis in grass roots sport in God’s Own County.

Of course, there is a crisis in the rest of the country too. But my argument is that the rot set in during the 1980s, a decade when manufacturing industries were run down, particularly mining and steel, and this disproportionately affected villages, towns and cities in the Broad Acres.

Whole communities collapsed, particularly in those working class areas which had produced so many famous teams. This decade of despair spelt disaster for many clubs – and its divisive and destructive legacy lives on today.

clavance-ytThere was a debt-fuelled boom in the 1990s, with Leeds United in particular ending that decade on a high. But, as all Whites fans (and I’m one of them) know, there then came The Fall. And we haven’t really recovered from that humiliating descent into the abyss.

In fact, at the moment there is only one Yorkshire team in the Premier League – Hull City keep hopping in and out – and several of them have, like Leeds, have lurched from financial disaster to despair, tumbling down the divisions.

It’s not just football which is suffering. The world famous Headingley stadium is no longer an Ashes Test ground and match attendances at rugby league (which is predominantly played in Yorkshire and Lancashire) are falling.

The current feelgood factor about sport is based on a few weeks of fantastic success in Rio. But dig deeper and the picture is somewhat bleaker.

In my view, the crisis is not simply a sporting one. As the EU referendum result showed, large swathes of the county feel disconnected from the mainstream of society. A north-south divide was clearly evident in the voting patterns. I have spent the last two years touring old industrial Yorkshire and it is clear that, although there are many reasons for this disillusionment, the main one is the perception that these communities have been left behind by globalisation.

In my book, a follow up to ‘Promised Land’ – which traced the rise and fall of Leeds United – I argue that the collapse in community life, triggered by the sea change that took place in the 1980s, transformed politics, the economy and the cultural landscape.

Huge sections of society have been disenfranchised by the new sporting order which emerged during that era – an order in which money, rather than collective endeavour, determines success. To some of its supporters a kind of deregulated paradise, this new order has surrendered to an array of deadly sins: financial doping, match-fixing, cover-ups, corruption etc.

Just like its great industries, many of Yorkshire’s great teams have never fully recovered from the harrowing of their region. In south and west Yorkshire in particular, which voted in the main to leave the EU, Britain’s former industrial heartland sank into a psychological depression – and even former Thatcherites have come to regret the destruction of traditional, mutually self-sustaining, local communities.

There is, however, a positive side. Featuring many interviews with key sporting figures from the 80s, as well as miners, musicians, fans and politicians, ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’ is also an homage to the county’s pride and sense of belonging – and the defiantly communal nature of sport.

Also, it is quite clear that a great deal of money has been invested in “podium level athletes” producing a fantastic medal tally for the region at the Olympics. But in the sports which are most relevant to the everyday lives of most British people (football, cricket and rugby), I believe that many ordinary fans and players have become disenfranchised. While the ruling bodies have been enriched by billions of television money, a huge gap has emerged between the haves and have-nots.

Publisher: Quercus Publishing

Available at all good bookshops, including Leeds Waterstones and Phillip Howard Books,

47 Street Lane, LS8 1AP

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