By Michael Burney – @BurneyRed
One of the most heated rivalries in English football will be renewed next season after a lengthy absence on the pitch. With Leeds United’s impending promotion back to the Premier League, it’s worth noting that the last League meeting between Manchester United and Leeds United occurred way back in February 2004 at Old Trafford. It was a 1-1 draw, with an Alan Smith equaliser for the Yorkshiremen.
That Summer, Smith would cross the Pennines and sign for bitter rivals United, which soured his relationship with the Elland Road faithful. Those tears shed on the pitch at the Reebok Stadium, as Leeds’ demotion to the Football League was confirmed, were thus labelled crocodile tears and only added to the animosity between the two sets of supporters.
It’s been a long 16 years for everyone connected with Leeds United. Following relegation from the Premier League in 2004, the financial mess in which they found themselves only manifested in further disappointment. The defeat in the 2006 Championship Playoff Final to Aidy Boothroyd’s Watford was as close as they have come to returning to the big time, until now.
Being relegated to League One and struggling to find their way back into the Championship only added to the misery. Another Play Off Final defeat, this time to Doncaster in the League One showpiece, only brought more doom and gloom to a club that no longer owned their own stadium and training ground. With several takeovers and false dawns along the way, Leeds did get back into the second tier under Simon Grayson. At the end of last season they imploded under current maverick manager Marcelo Bielsa culminating in the Championship Play Off Semi Final defeat against Frank Lampard’s Derby County.
All of this disappointment though for a club the size of Leeds United will be forgotten about once they are playing their first game back in the Premier League. An exciting, vibrant, young, energetic side under Bielsa won’t just settle for survival. They will want to push on and take some big scalps along the way, none more so than that of hated rivals Manchester United.
The rivalry goes way back, especially during the 1960s when both Matt Busby’s United and Don Revie’s Leeds were challenging for and winning honours. This intensified the rivalry between the clubs and the cities. The whole ‘War of the Roses’ analogy also comes into play and the Johnny Giles saga is a case in point, with the Irishman coming through the ranks at Old Trafford, but becoming a cub legend in Revie’s conquering Leeds side.
The image of Denis Law and Jack Charlton fighting during an FA Cup Semi Final between the sides in 1965 showed the passion and aggression not only of the football at that time but also between the two clubs. The late 60’s and 70’s were the most successful period in Leeds’s history with domestic and European honours but they also lost in the finals of both the European Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup during the 70s. In 1968, Matt Busby’s United became the first English team to win the European Cup, and this is something Revies side was unable to match.
Between 1982 and 1990, however, there were no fixtures between the two clubs with Leeds being relegated to the old Second Division. With the Yorkshiremen having sold two of their best players to United in Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan before the end of the 1970s, the animosity only grew during the absence of this fixture.
With United looking certain to end their long wait for another top flight title in 1992, the congested fixture list led to the reds blowing the League, with Leeds capitalising and winning the last League title before the formation of the Premier League. In that side was ex-United player Gordon Strachan who captained the team and soon to be Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.
A major theme of this rivalry has been the players that have represented both clubs. The list is long with Johnny Giles, Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Dennis Irwin, Gordon Strachan, Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith notable names. It would be fair to say that United have had the better of this, which again has led to much resentment from Elland Road.The hugely successful years United enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson came at a time when Leeds had a young, exciting team which ultimately didn’t win anything and then suffered the financial meltdown and firesale which culminated in their spectacular demise.
Off the pitch the rivalry between the two sets of supporters has always been intense. There was the famous banner unfurled by the travelling Reds at Elland Road making reference to the two Leeds fans stabbed to death in Istanbul before a European game with Galatasaray in 2000. There have also been regular taunts referencing the Munich Air Disaster over the years from Leeds supporters, and this type of heated atmosphere between the clubs will most likely be rekindled when they meet again for the first time following Leeds’return to the big time.
The last two meetings between the clubs have been in the FA Cup and League Cups with Jermaine Beckford settling the FA Cup 3rd Round tie back in 2010 winning the game for the then League One side and Michael Owen scoring twice for United in a 3-0 win at Elland Road in September 2011 in the League Cup. These games showed once again the passion of the supporters and hatred between the two clubs, but will be nothing compared to when three points will be on the lineonce again.
As much as United supporters have revelled in the demise of the once mighty Leeds United, and as much as they would like Leeds to continue to struggle, most will be looking forward to renewing the rivalry. Having Leeds back in the Premier League will add an added edge and spice to the league which will have the supporters of both clubs, and the wider football community eagerly awaiting the first renewed encounter.