Ten years ago, the clash between Manchester United and Leeds United would have turned heads worldwide as two of England's greatest sporting clubs locked horns to decide football's winner of the War of the Roses.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there have been no clashes between these mammoth clubs--partly due to Leeds' financial difficulties and subsequent relegation to League One, the third tier of English football. In fact, one would have to travel over six years into the past to arrive at their last meeting: a 1-1 draw in the then Barclaycard Premiership. The lack of meetings between the two clubs has caused this rivalry to temporarily subside; now many Manchester United fans would say their most important rival is instead Liverpool. Thus, many younger fans (including myself) are not familiar with this great rivalry, so I did a bit of research to see how it all started.
The War(s) of the Roses were a series of battles in the mid-late fifteenth century between the Houses of Lancaster and York that resulted in Lancastrian Henry Tudor rising to the throne of England and the House of Tudor ruling England for the next 120 years. An influx of wealth in Manchester (located in Lancashire) due to the booming cotton industry ruined the established Leeds wool business, further fueling the flames.
The white flower of Yorkshire and the red flower of Lancashire
The aversion between these two counties manifested itself into football when the workers of Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway founded Newton Heath L&YR in 1878 (later to become Manchester United FC in 1902) and Leeds City emerged in 1904. Manchester United donned the traditional red of Lancashire while Leeds wore the white of Yorkshire.
The two sides first clashed on January 15, 1906 at the Bank Street stadium, the second home of Manchester United, and Leeds won 3-0. However, United defeated Leeds 2-1 at Elland Road in the reverse fixture.
Leeds City disbanded a few months after their defeat at Elland Road due to financial problems and resurfaced as the familiar Leeds United. Once Leeds returned to the Second Division, the two clubs met at Old Trafford as we know them today, namely Manchester United and Leeds United, although the match ended in a disappointing scoreless draw. Manchester United claimed the first official win when they defeated Leeds 1-0 away from home a week later, and it took Leeds five more years to claim their first victory over United, a 2-0 victory at home.
The rivalry intensified after World War II, with United's Busby Babes achieving acclaimed success and Leeds manager Don Revie's side gaining a reputation of resilience. The two sides met in the semi-finals of the 1964-65 FA Cup, and after an initial scoreless draw that ended with a fight between Jack Charlton and Denis Law, Leeds won the replay and advanced to the final; additionally, the two teams ended the season tied on points in the league, although United won based on better goal difference.
Denis Law after the first leg of the semi-final against Leeds,
where he was embroiled in a fight with Sir Bobby Charlton's brother Jack
The rivalry continued into the 1960's and 70's, but ended temporarily when Leeds were relegated to the Second Division in 1982. They gained promotion in 1990, and subsequently won the league in 1992. The following year, Leeds famously sold Eric Cantona to Manchester United, leading to the dominance of the latter in the newly formed Premier League. The rivalry never failed to fascinate, with notable incidents including Alfie Haaland taunting Roy Keane, and tussles between Robbie Keane and David Beckham as well as Ian Harte and Fabian Barthez.
Manchester United and Leeds fans now have a chance to relive their old rivalry when they meet again in the at Old Trafford in the FA Cup. Leeds forced a replay with Kettering Town after coming back from a goal down when Jermaine Beckford equalized late on, and a week later they emphatically won 5-1 to book a third round tie with Manchester United.
Cantona's transfer to Manchester United propelled them to dominate the early Premiership
On January 3, the world will once again turn as the fire is relit, as Manchester United face old foes Leeds United. With United's defensive injury woes temporarily subsiding with the return of Rafael, Vidic, and Brown, Ferguson will most likely not have to play midfielders in the back, allowing him to play a mixture of youth and experience up elsewhere. However, Leeds have won their last 4 games and have only conceded 3 in the process, so the United cannot take the match lightly. Regardless, the encounter should be an entertaining one as both sides will go for the win, knowing that they might not be able to face each other for quite some time.
Here's to a great match, and a happy new year!