A midweek one for you for tomorrow? I’ll do a preview as well for Friday…
This is the one we’ve all waited for.
Let’s be honest here, this is the game everyone Leeds fan has waited 20 years for. The chance to meet Manchester United in the Premier League at Elland Road in front of a crowd.
I know last season this was the fixture that hurt people the most being played behind closed doors. It was the game we had all waited so long for. Granted, we had that unbelievable day there in the FA Cup under Simon Grayson – many of my mates still regard that as one of their best days ever watching Leeds – and we also had them at home in the League Cup one night when they rolled us over without breaking sweat, but this is the real thing. We’re back in the same league.
And before any non-believer suggests Man United don’t feel the same, just listen to the crowd at any match at Old Trafford and you’ll hear “We all hate Leeds” being belted out even though the game has nothing to do with us.
Liverpool may well be their biggest rivals, and Man City may have crept up on their radar in recent years, but this means as much to them as it does to Leeds, certainly to the old school and those of a certain age.
It’s not just the fans who understand what it means either. The players do too. Make no mistake about, your average player on the outside might look at the fixture and not have a clue or wonder why it’s like it is, but once you’re at either club you soon learn all about it.
Fergie never made any secret of what the game meant to him and the importance of beating Leeds, and Gary Neville made sure all his team-mates knew what it meant just in case their manager hadn’t made it clear.
When I came into Leeds I soon found out. The likes of Jonathan Woodgate, Paul Robinson, Gary Kelly, and Ian Harte had all come through the ranks and players like Lucas Radebe had experienced the occasion many times. They made sure we all knew. David O’Leary knew what it meant too. He’d had a career full of north London derbies so he knew the importance of them, although I think even he was surprised at first by the intensity of the rivalry between two northern cities 30 miles apart.
If anyone has any doubts about how the feeling is embedded in fans and players alike it was never more obvious than in the recent FA Cup tie between Manchester United and Middlesbrough of all teams. When former Leeds captain and boyhood Leeds fan Jonny Howson stepped up to take a penalty for Boro in the shoot-out he couldn’t resist an extra special celebration in front of the Stretford End. You could see what it meant to him.
I look back on my games against them for Leeds, and it’s disappointing that I was only on the winning side once. I played the opening 45 minutes against them under Terry Venables when we won 1-0. Sadly, I’d come off injured by the time Harry Kewell scored the only goal of the game.
Other than that, I never had any joy, and we certainly didn’t get what we deserved. I remember us being done by a couple of contentious decisions on more than one occasion. There was never anything to choose between the sides – everything goes out of the window – and even the year we got relegated, we almost nicked the win at Old Trafford when Alan Smith scored for us in a 1-1 draw.
Elland Road will be rocking on Sunday for this game and I can’t wait. It’s been too long.