Today my footballing amours Leeds United kick off their 2021/22 season in a War of the Roses battle with Manchester United at the latter’s home, Old Trafford stadium.
This fixture affording both sets of clubs supporters opportunity to spout ingrained vitriolic disdain for each other via a variety of media outlets, or yelling above the heads of segregating match day stewards.
With COVID protocols being relaxed here in the UK, the clambake will be witnessed by baying stadium crowd; lifting rivalry and intimidation levels onto an altogether higher plateau. Unlike the coliseums of Ancient Rome where the main confrontational action played out among gladiatorial rivals ‘on field’, the real animosity laying in the stands, not on the pitch.
This open disdain between fans of both teams triggering notions of what led supporters of my footballing amours to select Manchester United as targets for such levels of hatred. After all, like London based Chelsea (who many Leeds fans also hate with a passion), Manchester is miles away from the West Yorkshire city represented by the men in white.
With my first Leeds United memory as a kid being the fractious 1970 FA Cup Final between Leeds United vs Chelsea, I’m fully aware of the catalyst of this animosity between the two clubs. Although, if truth behold, I’m unsure whether the player’s misdemeanours during these two games were worthy of triggering such long running despise.
Sure Leeds’ Charlton, Bremner and Hunter stood toe to toe with Chelsea’s Harris, Osgood and Webb with fists and boots raised for 120 minutes of play. However, were these incidents enough to creating a hatred amongst rival fans which still festers half a century on.
Look, I understand the disenchantment this footballing ruckus in late April 1970 caused, particularly Leeds fans disquiet at not winning the cup after thoroughly outplaying Chelsea a Wembley sandpit pitch in the initial match.
However, to this day I don’t understand why the common place on field scraps from that era would manifest that plateau of rivalry with a club based two hundred miles from your manor.
I mean, for pity’s sake, if you hated everyone with that level of passion based on rival players kicking lumps out of each other during 1960s/70s football games you’d been in therapy more than Woody Allen’s characters in his movies from that era.
If truth be told, unlike many Leeds supporters, I’m utterly indifferent about Leeds United and Chelsea’s rivalry. Moreover, the emotional baggage I’ve carried with me since the 1970 FA Cup Final was irk born from Gary Sprake’s appalling mistakes in the Wembley clash which cost his side victory on the day.
My 1970’s millstone also weighed down by despise of the Football Association for arranging for their flagship game to be played on the surface which days earlier staged The Horse of The Year Show. A decision meaning where once was turf lay there now laid a North London beach for the day
A great leveller if you wish to hamper the countries best footballing side’s chances of winning the trophy…. Oh no, my paranoia’s kicked in!!….. Quick, Woody, give me your therapist’s number!!…. Damn you FA!
An additional piece of now ingrained irk I’ve carried around with me since Leeds lost that replay game on 29th April 1970, at Old Trafford, was the fact we lost it to possibly the shittest FA Cup winning goal in history…… Ian Hutchinson’s trademark long throw from 30 yards out evading a multitude of defenders and Leeds goalkeeper David Harvey, prior to apologetically brushing Chelsea defender David Webb’s head on the goal line and. dropping into the net.
I was seven years old and this dog’s dinner of a goal unceremoniously blew away every speck of brio manifesting from being allowed to stay up and watch this Wednesday evening game; convinced I’d witness a Leeds win. Although, on reflection, I doubt I’d have been any less inconsolable if we’d lost to a stunning Charlie Cooke volley from 25 yards.
From what I can gather, the Manchester United rivalry isn’t borne from a Yorkshire/Lancashire dispute. Which bearing in mind there’s nowhere near the same animosity with Manchester City, or fellow Lancastrians Liverpool, makes sense.
I understand, similar to Chelsea, the catalyst of Leeds/Man Utd hatred is borne from 1960s/70s clashes in the later rounds of the FA Cup. Leeds prevailing in both the 1965 and 1970 semi-finals; coincidentally each 1-0 victories secured by Billy Bremner goals.
I guess, though, the real reason Leeds fans have sought rivalry with those from more distant manors can be traced to the simple fact that, certainly during my lifetime, there’s not been a long-term Yorkshire rival.
This absence of a long term top flight tribalistic beef leaving in its wake a situation where, despite the hatred spewed from Huddersfield, Barnsley, Bradford and the Sheffield clubs fans in our direction, Leeds United fan’s can’t be bothered to muster up enough energy to reciprocate the despise.
Anyhow, there’s only one way to bring this narrative to a close…… COME ON LEEDS!!