I suppose it says it all when the only happy memory I have of Leeds playing at Old Trafford involves me sitting on the sofa at home screaming at the TV and celebrating like a lunatic after watching Simon Grayson’s League One lads do what none of us were able to do in the Premier League.
That, of course, was six years after I’d left Leeds and almost a year after I’d retired from the game altogether, but it was a result that meant as much to me as it did to the 9,000 fans who’d travelled across to the Pennines and to the many other former players like me who had tried and tried to put one over on THEM in their own backyard, but failed beyond belief.
Having played for Liverpool, it’s fair to say I’d already been involved with a rivalry with Man United even before I came to Leeds, and once I came here it didn’t take long for me to realise that I’d walked in to another bitter conflict with the team from Old Trafford. It’s ritual for every Leeds player to understand that – and believe me, I’ve never played with one or met one, who doesn’t get what this fixture means.
It was also rammed home very quickly that not since Brian Flynn had scored the winning goal in February 1981 had Leeds won at Old Trafford. That was two decades before I joined Leeds, but things didn’t change. The closest we came was our last season in the Premier League when Alan Smith put us 1-0 up with about 20 minutes to go, and we were so close to seeing the game when Paul Scholes equalised for them in the last few minutes.
By the time we drew them in the FA Cup in January 2010 – remember the date – I was like any other Leeds fan, fearing the worst and hoping for the best. It was now 29 years since we’d won there, they were the defending League champions and we were in League One.
Oh, and Fergie had never lost an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford either.
I was buzzing for Simon Grayson that day because as a Leeds lad and a Leeds fan it was great for him to come up against Fergie. Simon knew exactly what it meant to Leeds fans, although I suspect what happened was never in his wildest dreams.
That team had the likes of Richard Naylor and Jonny Howson, both Leeds lads who knew what it meant, and they were both involved in that famous goal where time stood still for a second after Jermaine Beckford got on the end of Jonny’s ball forward and knocked it past Tomasz Kuszczak.
Like my moment in the San Siro, I know that was the moment Jermaine will always cherish and be remembered for. We joke about it now how we both share the same song from those two moments, and I know he’s very, very proud of it. I will say, though, mine was the original and as I didn’t score as many as Jermaine, I’d like to keep the recording rights!
When the whistle went, I was so pleased for Simon, the players, and the 9,000 fans who sounded unbelievable on the TV. They had all combined to do something we’d been trying for years and not been able to do. Now, we have another on Sunday, on an equal footing as well this time. It’s 40 years in February since we last won in the league there. Come on boys, you know what you can do…