I’m really excited about Leeds United being back in the Premier League. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Gooner, but I have a massive soft spot for Leeds United that goes back to my childhood. I should explain. And won’t hold back with the racial references of the apartheid era – as if apartheid never existed.
When I was 12 or 13, my parents sent me to live with an Aunt in what remained of District Six. My aunt’s house was on Albert Street, next to the back of Ellismere Street Mosque, the front of which was, well, on Ellismere Street. There was a passage between our house and the mosque, so we were pretty familiar with all of it…. Especially the athaan in the mornings. Thixo! At the northern end of District Six, in the direction of the docks, was an open field where houses once stood, and from where people were removed from. Across the open field were the Seven Steps and Hanover Street. Slightly to the left (westward, towards Signal Hill), was the old National Cinema (or was it The Star? I know we had a Star cinema when we lived in Fietas). Anyway, up Albert Street, (up the slope towards the mountain) was Constitution Street, there were houses that had not (yet) been demolished, and people who had not (yet) been removed under the Group Areas Act. Apartheid’s idea of separating racist, claiming the best property for whites and forcefully moving us, Malay and Coloured people (decades earlier indigenous Africans were removed from what is now known as the City Bowl) to the desolation of the Cape Flats. My aunt eventually ended up in Retreat….
Anyway, while I was living in District Six, I attended sports (mainly rugby and judo – I was hopeless at both, because I am a wimp), but also football, on the fields of a place which I think was called Silvertree Youth Club.
One day, I don’t recall the date – sometime between 1971 – 1973, two or three white men from England came to watch us play, and shared a few lessons. I had scored a goal from about 25 metres. One of the white men, came up to me and said: “We have a young Peter Lorimer with us, don’t we.” I’m sure he was being kind, because I was rubbish at football. Anyway, I will never forget that day, and the name Peter Lorimer has stayed with me.
Then, maybe 15 years later, I was among a group of white ice hockey players – because of most of them, I never took the game seriously in South Africa, and enjoyed playing in North America, Europe and Scandinavia. At that time I was, as far as I know, the only person of colour to seriously play the game in South Africa, but I never participated in any league games in any way. I was much more comfortable on the ice in Western Ontario, or in Sweden or the (then) Czechoslovakia…. For some reason, in Johannesburg Skyrink – where we, black people, could only skate on Monday nights – all the white men around me were either Manchester United, or Tottenham Hotspur fans.
One of them asked me which team I supported (I am withholding his name). I said I supported Orlando Pirates. His reply was predictably offensive: “Not the kaffir league. The English league.” We had to be pulled apart. I walked away, never went back to their practices – where I went for a workout – but remembered the name Peter Lorimer, and found out he played for Leeds. That was how I became a Leeds United “fan.” and hated all the racists who supported Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur (and, at the time, Chelsea). I still can’t stand United, and only later, when I became a Gooner, did I become aware of the the Norf Lahndin rivalry.
Anyway, I never followed English football in the 1980s, and barely knew the first thing about Leeds. I didn’t even know where in England it was. Although I did know about Yorkshire, but only because I studied aspects of the Industrial Revolution. Also, like most late comers who believe football started with the creation of the Premier League, I chose a team. I was living in Golders Green, and spent much of my time between the London School of Economics, Islington, Ladbroke Grove, Tottenham, Brixton and Brick Lane. Almost everyone I knew at the time supported Arsenal. But I joined because (at the time) Highbury, Arsenal’s old home, had the most fans from black and Asian communities, it had access for wheelchairs, and sold family season tickets, and I thought that was cool.
So that’s the story of how I became a Gooner (by choice) with a soft spot for Leeds, because of the racist bastards I knew in the 1980s, and being compared to Peter Lorimer when I was 13.