Tomorrow sees the rather unfortunate resumption of another of United’s traditional rivalries against Leeds United of League One who will be bringing about 10,000 of their charming and happy-go-lucky fans across the Pennines for an FA Cup 3rd Round Tie. This will no doubt encourage in Leeds supporters the belief that they are in some way on the road back to the Premiership, something about which I fervently hope they are wrong. Some United fans might miss the rivalry between the clubs but to be honest, I don’t, having witnessed and suffered the dismal spectacle of Leeds’ Neanderthal fan base all too often in the past.
Elland Road – always a dump – was never a pleasant away visit and yet I seem to have contrived to visit it all too often over the years. Usually, we came out on top – I have particularly fond memories of Lee Sharpe scoring the winning goal in a League Cup semi-final and, more recently of a 4-0 league win when Eric got to score at the end where the scum that had baited him mercilessly throughout the game were mainly situated. However, tomorrow’s game is at our place and I hope Fergie has the good sense to play a strong enough side to win comfortably. Anything that increases the traditional resentment of Leeds fans is OK by me – they deserve nothing better.
Eric Cantona treats Steve Hodge of Leeds to the traditional finger in the eye….
The problem for Leeds of course was that they were the next really successful team to follow the Busby Babes and because most of the Press had fallen in love with Busby’s United and the sheer romance associated with the club, Leeds just seemed like (and, let’s face it, were) grimy second-rate neighbours from across the Pennines, with unpleasant characters like Bremner & Hunter in their team instead of the charismatic Law and Best. The Press didn’t like them or the obviously weird Don Revie and though Allan Clarke and Eddie Gray were decent players, Leeds taken in totality suffered by comparison with the Busby teams of the 60’s and for all their success were damned with faint praise by the media in general.
If the mid-to-late 60’s were a ‘golden age’ for English football with England’s World Cup win and United winning the European Cup in 1968, the late 60’s and early ’70’s were the new Dark Ages with the media waking up to the whole hooliganism problem and Revie’s thuggish tactics providing a suitably unpleasant counterpoint on the pitch.
Back in the 60’s: King Denis pops another one past the hapless Leeds defence
Leeds are still a really unpopular team with most people and it’s not really surprising considering their arrogant demeanour and Professional Yorkshire-ism over the years. I have fond memories of attending a game at Old Trafford in the early 80’s where I had organised stand seats for two musicians I knew in Manchester who were Leeds natives and thus diehard fans. United thrashed Leeds 5-0 with Andy Ritchie scoring a hat-trick and these two clowns just got up and left at the end of the game and wouldn’t even speak to me – and I was trying very hard not to be triumphalist or to gloat.
Leeds fans hate Manchester United for many reasons – the perceived canonisation of Busby and ignoring of Revie figuring prominently in their litanies of resentment – but the reason they probably hate us the most is that they have begun to understand that whatever happens they will never be as big a club as United. Even when they were at their most successful, they were nowhere near as well-supported or as respected as we were. Even when we had our season down in the second tier in the mid-70’s, people were still getting locked out of Old Trafford home games – doubt if that’s ever been a problem at Elland Road.
Let’s face it, Leeds United are just another reason to be grateful for the Pennines…..
The Pennines; nature’s way of separating Manchester from Mordor
Postscript: The game finished 1-0 to Leeds which of course will be all over the web and the Press for the next week or so – and I must congratulate the Leeds players who quite clearly attached more importance to this game than we did. Not for the first time, Ferguson got his team selection wrong – the centre of midfield was neither strong nor creative enough and not enough urgency was shown by the likes of Gibson, Welbeck and Berbatov. A draw would probably have been a fair result but this is maybe just one to forget as quickly as possible. Whatever team Ferguson puts out in midweek against City in the Carling Cup semi had better perform better than this otherwise the tongues will start to wag about Fergie – I wonder if this is going to be his final season?