Dirty Leeds is an enjoyable read on some levels, but almost certainly not those envisaged by the author. With its provocative title and its projected first person narrative it seeks to inhabit the same niche as The Damned United by Robert Endeacott’s friend David Peace. However, whereas Peace’s Brian Clough offers a coruscating examination of the motivations of a well-known historical figure, Endeacott’s Jimmy O’Rourke simply reels off a history lesson through the eyes of a fictional would-be apprentice.
Endeacott goes to a lot of trouble to set up O’Rourke’s back story as a teenager desperate to play for his beloved Leeds being brought up by his ailing gran in the streets around Elland Road, but then ensures our guide to the Don Revie era gets no closer to its core than casual work as a ground staff assistant. That vantage point allows O’Rourke to succeed at what Endeacott mostly gives him to do, which is to deliver lengthy and curiously emphasised descriptions of Leeds’ campaigns in the Sixties and early Seventies while occasionally giving us a brief update on his own predictable career-blighting injuries or his gran’s decline.
The book opens promisingly with an engaging portrayal of interviewer Eamonn Andrews ambushing Revie for his 1974 appearance on This Is Your Life dovetailed with Jimmy’s first encounter with the Don, still just a player, while seeking his autograph 13 years earlier. We go on a training run with Jimmy as Revie begins in management, but 25 pages in the novel succumbs to the enthusiastic schoolboy descriptions of matches and team news that before long choke the whole enterprise. It’s 35 pages and three seasons later before the reportage is interrupted by more than a couple of paragraphs of Jimmy’s story and that balance continues for the remaining nine chapters.
The longer accounts of individual matches are at their best strongly evocative of their time and could serve as an excellent catalyst for personal reminiscence or an entertaining way for a young fan to learn Leeds Utd folklore. Before long, however, their sheer weight suffocates any ambitions the book had to emerge as a genuine novel. Even then, a semi-final defeat can merit a blow-by-blow account over three pages while action in the 1969 title decider at Anfield rates only a handful of lines referencing newspaper reports. You have to read a further few paragraphs past unnerving images of bricks through coach windows and David Harvey and Johnny Giles watchingRosemary’s Baby before discovering what the outcome of the most important match in Leeds’s history to that point actually was.
By the end, the book’s title seems more an exercise in window dressing than anything that genuinely embodies the work. Early on it’s made clear a couple of times that Jimmy thinks the “Dirty Leeds” tag is a bit unfair and that’s the end of the matter. We don’t get enough of a look at the city to decide whether that might serve as the focus instead and in the end you are left with the feeling that if the book had been called “My Leeds United Scrapbook and Me” it might have sold more copies to more people who would have genuinely enjoyed it.
Original review can be found here.