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A classic rivalry: Leeds United vs Manchester United

Football nowadays, especially at the upper echelons of the Premier League, has been accused of being inauthentic, monetary-driven and overly corporate.

However, it can be argued that through the preservation of rivalries such as Leeds United vs Manchester United, the soul is still present and there is something left that is reminiscent and resemblant of what is sentimentally called the ‘good old days’ of pre-Prem football.

This is a rivalry that isn’t and hasn’t been played a lot over the last few years because of Leeds’s plunging of the depths of League 1 and Man United’s ever-presence at the top of the Premier League, but this makes it more unique and arguably special.

This rivalry has served and still does serve as an antidote to the oft-played rivalries that could be construed and pointed at as victims of the Premier League’s corporate nature.

Furthermore, it is a rivalry that has waited its turn to be played in front of fans in the league because of the pandemic and at 2:00 on Sunday, it will burst into unadulterated life.

The first meeting this season occurred on the first weekend of the season, but the league was still in its embryonic stages and the two teams are more evenly matched now too.

Moreover, this fixture takes place at Elland Road, a stadium known for vociferous and boisterous atmospheres therefore this one is even more special and exciting.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Man United’s legendary manager, said that despite the hostility, “there was something about the hostile atmosphere at Elland Road that I quite liked”.

Roy Keane admitted to a similar notion: Keane said “physical battle, tense, rivalry with supporters, a lot of hatred with supporters there, it was brilliant”.

But this hatred is rooted in history from the War of the Roses to Leeds’s heyday under Don Revie but most famously, in the eras of Sir Alex Ferguson and Howard Wilkinson thirty years ago.

After a hiatus of eight years, the rivalry renewed itself in 1990 once Leeds were promoted under Howard Wilkinson and paved the way for their jostling in the years of 1991-92.

During these years, the two teams were arguably the best in the country and had straight shootouts for the title. It was finished with Leeds under the captaincy of Gordon Strachan, emerging victorious as champions by four points and earning bragging rights.

However, as is often the way because of football’s cruel nature, Eric Cantona was bought by Manchester United from Leeds United and then later became an iconic figure at the club.

Furthermore, Leeds United, under charlatanic owners, experienced financial difficulties and plummeted the divisions all whilst Alan Smith, local to Leeds, went to Man United and Rio Ferdinand too. This ensured the pendulum of dominance swung to Man United.

Despite this gap, there was a game at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in 2010 that was a reminder of the power of football to defy the odds and expectation because Leeds under Simon Grayson, rocked up at Old Trafford and beat Man United 1-0 through a goal from Jermaine Beckford. This game is still spoken about with the upmost fondness in Leeds and amongst Leeds fans because of its unexpectedness and sheer significance to them.

On this game and the rivalry generally, Beckford said “this is a big deal, a big rivalry, give it everything you’ve got”.

However, since then, fixtures between the two have been a rarity and both fanbases have yearned for it back because of its rawness and authenticity that has been suppressed.

When they meet on Sunday, it will be one of the few times they have met whereby Man United are not a dominant force in English football therefore, possibly secretly, Leeds United may fancy their chances with the backdrop of a noisy Elland Road.

The different nature of the rivalry can be tied in with the different nature of Leeds United generally as a club largely untarnished by the Premier League and as a club happy to operate by their own rules and to not be judged or dictated to by anyone else.

This could be a difference between them and Man United, who under the Glazers, have attracted a tourist wave of fans to the detriment of their core Mancunian support.

There are many other differences between them such as the head coaches and the style of owners, but one commonality is the hatred, and this will be unleashed on Sunday.

This rivalry is arguably what English football, and the Premier League needs to remind itself of its roots and what it is meant to be as opposed to what it thinks it should be. This is the joy of rivalries that are not played on a regular basis and therefore, retain their uniqueness.

Another interesting aspect of this derby is that on both sides, there will be players that have not played in many iterations of this rivalry so therefore, it is the responsibility of players such as Kalvin Phillips to ensure that every single Leeds player is aware of its meaning.

Arguably, for Leeds, this fixture is more important than the one at Old Trafford so understanding and realization of its magnitude is vital and could really help Leeds. The hatred off the pitch in the stands of Elland Road must be matched on it.

Whatever happens at Elland Road on Sunday, it promises to be an interesting encounter and one that has a city gripped by its happenings. The people of Leeds have waited long enough to welcome their most hated rivals back to Elland Road and will not flinch in making it known.

After having behind closed doors football and the near introduction of the Super League, the rawness and antidote nature of this rivalry should be embraced and celebrated.

What do you think?