As far as I was concerned, there couldn’t have been a better draw in the FA Cup for United than Leeds. I have stronger feelings of hatred towards Liverpool but we get to play them twice a season already. To come up against Leeds, a side we haven’t played since their relegations began in 2004, was almost too good to be true.
I therefore couldn’t let the occasion pass us by without having a word with one of them. Despite my best attempts to have a row, David from the popular Leeds blog, The Scratching Shed, is a decent sort and didn’t take the bait. It still was interesting to have a chat about about a variety of topics though, from Alan Smith to Eric Cantona, and tickets prices to Munich.
Scott the Red: I am buzzing over this game. Was there a more perfect draw for you than us versus you?
David: For your average Leeds United fan, probably not. Personally, I wanted Chelsea as that’s the team my Dad supports. As a Leeds United fan these days, you’re brought up to hate Manchester United though, so it was still an excellent draw.
STR: And the hatred is returned. However, it was Leeds who were voted the most hated club in the country last year. Given that United and Chelsea have won the majority of trophies on offer over recent years, that is pretty impressive going. How do you think you managed it?
D: Finchy from the Office, who says “the jealousy stems from how devilishly attractive Leeds fans are” may have a point, but I think it’s just fashionable to hate Leeds.
Quite clearly, it started back it the late sixties, early seventies when Don Revie was running the show. Since then, the title of ‘Dirty Leeds’ has stuck and it seems almost fashionable for other teams to have a hatred of us. It’s quite bizarre really, because since we’ve been travelling around these new grounds and playing teams we’ve never considered ourselves to have any kind of rivalry with, we’ve found they all hold grudges against us for no particular reason.
To be completely honest with you, I think we kind of enjoy being hated. It’s the kind of backs to the wall, us against the world mentality we’ve been built on, so you just learn to accept it’s part of being a Leeds fan and laugh at the clubs who hate you for no particular reason.
STR: I think that is something we have in common, given that United actually came second in that poll. But before we start sounding like Millwall fans (no one likes us, we don’t care), I’d just like to ask you about the Munich chants we can expect to hear at the weekend. What do you make of them?
D: It’s obviously inexcusable, but every club has such minorities including you. There’s a Facebook group setup for this game (god knows why) which has descended into a tireless exchange of Munich and Istanbul comments.
On our last trip to Millwall there were people with Turkish flags and one idiot that had gone out of his way to find a Galatasaray shirt for the game. Millwall’s an extreme case as they’re renowned for being idiots, but my point is that this is an unfortunate part of the game wherever you go and Leeds and Manchester are no exception.
Whilst the racism in the game seems to have pretty much been eliminated and the hooligan element reduced massively, there’s still certain things that need to be addressed and this is clearly one of them. One man can’t control the actions of such supporters though and it’s the clubs and governing bodies that need to take action.
STR: I definitely agree with that. A big fuss has been made recently of our Arsene Wenger paedo chants, but City and Liverpool singing about Munich every time they come to Old Trafford is completely ignored. They made a big song and dance about City remaining quiet during the minutes silence in 2008, but there was no comment made about the fact a few months later they were at it again. If the FA were serious about getting rid of the sicks chants, they would do something about it. As it is, they’re too busy punishing players for celebrating goals! Anyway, I’ll keep it rolling with the hatred theme. The last goal a Leeds player scored against us was Alan Smith’s equaliser in 2004. How have your feelings for him changed since then?
D: I remember it well; it was a great moment and a good goal too. At the time of Alan Smith’s departure, people burnt shirts, his parent’s house was attacked and no one could believe he’d committed what many Leeds fans consider to be the ultimate sin. I have to admit, I hated him back then.
In the years since his departure however, it’s been revealed that Smith had very little choice in the matter. He was under the impression that Leeds were facing certain doom if they didn’t get some transfer money quickly, and Manchester United were the only team able to pay the asking price upfront. In leaving, he thought he’d saved Leeds United, even though he knew he’d be hated as a consequence. There’s no escaping his love for this club, but I think there’s still a few Leeds fan who will never forgive him – even though I think the majority would have done the same in that situation.
STR: If not Smithy, which player do you regret selling to us the most? Eric Cantona, Joe Jordan, Rio Ferdinand, Gordon McQueen..?
D: Well, you can rule Rio out instantly. I thought Leeds were crazy to pay £18m for him, but when you came in and offered £30m, I was willing to help him pack. I always thought Lucas Radebe was a much better defender – a player both you and AC Milan tried to sign – and although Rio was good, he was never £30m good, even by the ridiculous standards of today’s transfer market. Besides, he’s never been as good since he left Leeds! (although I’m sure you’ll disagree)
The one I still can’t get my head around is Eric Cantona. The reaction of the Leeds fans at the time says it all. We knew he was the kind of player who could spearhead another great era for the club, and expected nothing less as we were champions at the time. The ridiculously small transfer fee coupled with the fact he brought so much success to Old Trafford still infuriates me. Sergeant Wilko’s biggest mistake by a mile.
STR: If you think about it, Cantona brought in the whole era of success for United. After winning the league in his first season with us, our first in 26 years, it was him that lead the team of “kids” to the Double success in ’96. Can you imagine if Becks, Scholes, Butt etc. failed miserably in that first season? What consequences that could have had on the next decade or more? Wow. All because Leeds sold us Cantona. Anyway, when do you envisage us playing each other more regularly again – when will Leeds be back in the Premiership?
D: Even when we first got relegated I didn’t expect an immediate recovery. I knew Leeds had to hit rock bottom before we had any chance of recovery and that meant escaping the burden of our debts. It does seem we’re now on the road back to where we belong. We’re free of debt, probably the most profitable club outside the Prem and have a manager I believe can take this club forward. The only remaining problem is the ground ownership and glorified fund manager we have acting as chairman. The less said about him, the better.
I said it could take a decade back in 2004. Things are looking good at the minute, but you have to take things one step at a time and concentrate on getting out of League One before we can start thinking about our route back to the Premier League.
STR: Well, you’re already one step closer with your Premier League ticket prices, with yours comparable to Blackburn’s! Not that the Glazers are treating us any better.
D: I guess we’re going to have to mention Ken Bates after all! The man is simply unbelievable. Whether he’s brought stability to Leeds United or not, he’s done it by robbing the supporters and with a succession of failures along the way i.e. relegation, point’s deductions, administration, failure to repurchase Thorp Arch etc.
I simply cannot stand the man. He’s continually tried to justify the ridiculous pricing policies by insisting it would help our future. For example he’s claimed that it would help fund the transfer of new players (we’ve barely spent a penny) and help us regain ownership of Thorp Arch (another disastrous failure). I am not naïve enough to think Leeds United operates on a similar expense scale as the rest of the clubs in the third tier. I know our overheads will be monumental in comparison, but it just seems as though the supporters are being robbed under this regime and I can’t handle anymore false promises without some amount of success. The sooner he sells up and moves on, the better.
STR: Here, here! So, what are your expectations for the match?
D: Leeds are a third tier team at the moment. Back then, we competed with you on an equal level, so it was a different game entirely. Realistically, I don’t think many Leeds United fans will be expecting to win, but it’ll be nice to remind you we’re here and if the FA Cup does throw up another shock, we’ll never let you live it down.
But as much as it pains me to say it, I can’t see us winning. I’m hoping your injury crisis worsens and your defence is still all over the place, then there’s a chance our attacking players could cause you a threat. Robert Snodgrass, Jermaine Beckford, Neil Kilkenny and Bradley Johnson can always score goals, but I feel there’ll be more danger in our half than yours.
STR: Beckford has a bloody brilliant scoring record since joining Leeds, but his attitude seems pretty shit. We’ve been there with Ronaldo. Are you of the thought that no one player is bigger than the club and he should be sold, or you need his goals for promotion so you should try to cling on to him regardless?
D: Jermaine Beckford’s a funny one, because he’s always had the attitude but Leeds fans didn’t really care whilst he was under contract and banging goals in for fun. This season has been a bit different though with his contract due to expire in the summer, the fans have been over-critical of mistakes at times and are probably more annoyed at him not signing, than they are of his performances.
You can’t excuse the strop he threw at Southampton, because he was totally out of order. Even if he has been getting a lot of stick lately and was frustrated at how the game had gone, there was no need for the antics that followed and the fans were right to back the manager over the player.
He’s a massive part of Leeds United’s promotion push and losing him would not be a good thing. We simply don’t have another striker capable of 30+ goals a season – or even 20 in my opinion. That said, if he doesn’t want to play for Leeds United then you have to let him go. We have the luxury of being able to attract players of a higher quality than the rest of the teams in this league, so I’m sure we could find a suitable replacement.
STR: Plenty more fish in the sea… Enjoy the match, hope you lose, thanks for talking to us!
Made in Manchester is available for just £3. Some of the best football writers take a player each, from Sir Bobby Charlton to Ryan Giggs, George Best to David Beckham, Duncan Edwards to Paul Scholes, and many more, with 30 articles in total. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.