These are the days all football fans crave. Aston Villa haven’t played Birmingham in the FA Cup since 1901. Newcastle and Sunderland have waited since 1956. Sheffield Wednesday played Sheffield United in 1993. Arsenal took on Spurs in 2001. Chelsea played Fulham in 2002. You have to wait years for these games.
What makes today’s game against Leeds so special is that we’re in different leagues and it has been years since we’ve played each other, and it will be years before we face each other again, excluding any possible future cup draws.
The general feeling before this game is that we’re going out for a mauling. This attitude would be fair enough if we were playing our first team, given the bashing we’ve just given Premiership side Wigan, but it won’t be our first team today and it’s no holds barred.
The hatred between these two sets of fans in mutual, with the rivalry beginning in the 60’s, when the teams were managed by Sir Matt Busby and Don Revie. With hooliganism taking hold of football culture, United and Leeds stepped up the rivalry again. The rivalry on the pitch dulled for some time after that, with United struggling post-Busby in the 70’s and Leeds getting relegated in the 80’s, but the rivalry and hatred was reignited in the 90’s, pre-Premiership (which is why Leeds fans put such emphasis on the era before the Premiership.. because they’ve amounted to nothing since it began) with United and Leeds fighting it out for the 1992 title. With Sir Alex Ferguson winning the FA Cup in 1990, then the Cup Winners Cup in 91, things were looking good for us to win the league in 92. Gordon Strachan, Lee Chapman, David Batty and Gary McAllister lead Leeds to the title,with United falling apart in the last couple of months of the season. In the last ten games before our final day victory over Spurs, we love four games, drew four and won two.
But then Eric Cantona left them for us, we won the league, our first in 26 years, and the Frenchman inspired a whole generation. Who knows what would have happened had that team of kids didn’t have a Cantona to inspire them (and score a goal every other game) in that 95-96 season, when Alan Hansen declared they’d win fuck all on the first day. How lacking in confidence would the young Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Nevilles etc. be if they had failed to live up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s expectations? And how lacking in confidence would the manager be with his own decisions? Would he get rid? Would be bring in new players? Would he leave? The consequences of that 95-96 team failing are quite unimaginable.
So, we’ll sing our songs of Cantona, and we’ll sing about hating Leeds scum. These occasions are made for gloating. Which is why they will almost certainly gloat on the deaths of the men who died in Munich. Whilst Liverpool and City do this on every visit to Old Trafford (apart from the hypocritical blue scum, who forget that their own, Frank Swift, died in the tragedy until the eyes of the world are watching during the 50th anniversary match), it will take on a whole new level when Leeds do it, whose Munich songs we haven’t heard for some years now.
The atmosphere should be heated, which should make for a rough match on the pitch. I therefore hope Sir Alex Ferguson plays enough players ready for the occasion. Whilst I see no problem in playing the more beefy Darren Gisbon and Federico Macheda, there are some players who might not be ready for this fixture physically, let alone mentally.
Michael Carrick has already said he is desperate to play which I hope the manager takes heed of. Clearly the first team players are all hoping for an appearance in such a game, with Paul Scholes only mentioning this season how great the games against Leeds were.
Whilst for the fans, a replay would be immense, for the well-being of the team, we really do want to avoid a trip to Elland Road. Still being in four competitions, we’ve got enough games to think about, particularly for a squad ravaged by defensive injuries. This means Ferguson does need to have the option of first team experience on the bench, even if not in the starting team.
But again, this is a day that football fans crave, and I intend to enjoy it as much as I possibly can. Let’s fucking stuff these bastards!