It’s Yorkshire derby day on Sunday, and in contrast to life in the Championship, it’s the only Yorkshire derby on the fixture list this season.
It’s something of a fact that as a Leeds player, the big game in terms of local rivalry is against them from across the Pennines at the Old Trafford. There’s only 30-odd miles between the two clubs – the same as Leeds and Sheffield United – and games against Man United were always played in atmosphere that pales most derbies into insignificance. There’s a true long-standing rivalry there, and as there aren’t any Yorkshire derbies that come close as far as Leeds are concerned. That’s no disrespect to Sheffield United or any Yorkshire clubs, it’s just how it is.
That feeling definitely isn’t mirrored as far as the other Yorkshire sides are concerned when it comes to Leeds, though, as we have seen over the years, particularly since we last got relegated from the Championship. I’ve seen us on the wrong end of defeats at Barnsley and Bradford, and games against Leeds are clearly top of the agenda for them.
As far as Sheffield United are concerned, my memories of them surround two games that I missed out on through injury, but remember them both well.
When Terry Venables took over in 2002, we came up against them twice in the cups that season, lost out in both games, and it still rankles seeing how much Sheffield United and their fans revelled in it.
We hadn’t started the season well when we went there the first time that season, and it was a chance for us to progress in the League Cup against a Championship side. And progress we should have done. We’d gone 1-0 up and were hanging on after 90 minutes, then they scored twice in stoppage time. Phil Jagielka scored an absolute worldie to win the game for them with practically the last kick of the game. It was a kick in the b******s for us, and it was the night our fans first started calling for the head of Terry.
By the time we drew them again in the sixth round of the FA Cup, we were just above the relegation places, but this was the FA Cup and we were one game away from a first semi-final appearance in almost 20 years. It was a biggie. We were low on confidence, it was an awful game, and it was heading for a bore draw and a replay at Elland Road. Then they scored with not long left and it killed us.
I remember Kevin Blackwell, who was assistant manager at Sheffield United at the time, telling me years later that he kept saying to Neil Warnock, then Sheffield United manager, that “they’ll come at us in a minute, they’ll come at us in a minute”…but we never did. We’d got so close in the competition, then folded like that.
Our fans made their feelings clear again after that game, and I don’t know how much influence that had, but just over a week later, Terry was sacked, and Peter Ridsdale stepped down as chairman. Two big moments in our history as matters started to come to a head at the club.