Much has been made of the demise of Leeds United AFC. We are all familiar with the tale of gross overspending, Ridsdale’s goldfish, and a descent into the third tier of English football. Football supporters have little sympathy for a club that reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2001 and are now playing in League One due to its own negligence. Yet only the Manchester City faithful can truly understand such a fall from grace, as Leeds have plummeted to the depths of the Football League.
However, a temporary shot at redemption has been offered to the Yorkshire giants from an unlikely source: the Carling Cup. Often overlooked as a lesser competition by Premier League outfits, the League Cup presents an opportunity for clubs outside the English topflight to claim a prominent piece of silverware. While the big boys of English football are suffocated by fixture congestion, clubs in the remaining Football League divisions are ready to take advantage of their opportunities. Typically League Cup fixtures don’t become enticing until the fourth round of the competition, but this year the third round presents an array of intriguing match-ups.
Headlining the fixture list is the September 22 contest between Leeds United and Liverpool Football Club. I will be covering this captivating encounter live from Elland Road for EPL Talk, as the two northern sides have not met since 2004. This is a match that is weighted in history and tradition, and for me personally the game is extremely significant. My father is a life-long Leeds supporter, and he has been a season ticket holder at Elland Road for over thirty years. Meanwhile I represent a Scouse contingent of the family that is partial to Liverpool FC, and tensions will be running high in my family on match day.
This fixture was once a marquee match-up in the English First Division, featuring names like Keegan, Bremner, Giles, Dalglish, and Lorimer. Bill Shankly famously managed his last match as Liverpool gaffer against Brian Clough’s controversial Leeds United side in the 1974 Community Shield. While Liverpool claimed a result on penalties, this match is often remembered for the bloody altercation between Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner. These two clubs were among the most dominant teams on the continent throughout this era, as Leeds captured the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup twice and Liverpool began their assault on the European Cup.
Even as the game moved into the Premier League era, Leeds-Liverpool matches produced an array of memorable moments. Mark Viduka scored a hat trick against the Merseysiders at Elland Road in 2000, while one year later Gerard Houllier suffered a heart attack at Anfield against the Yorkshire club. There was even a certain degree of crossover between the two clubs, as Kop idols Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler both spent time at Elland Road. Even until United’s relegation to the Championship in 2004 these two clubs were often jockeying for Champions League eligibility, with several current Premier League stars (Ferdinand, Keane, Bowyer, etc.) propelling Leeds onward.
Today the mighty Whites can be seen playing the likes of Walsall and Stockport County, but with Elland Road sold out for Tuesday’s match this Carling Cup third round tie will be a high-profile encounter between old foes. Having nearly returned to the Championship during the past two seasons, Leeds appear primed to rise from the ashes this campaign. Currently tied for first place atop League One, Simon Grayson’s side may just be able to take advantage of a harried Liverpool squad. Currently Steven Gerrard and company are competing in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League while simultaneously attempting to get their Premier League campaign back on track.
Leeds United are led Jermaine Beckford, the top scorer in the Football League over the past two seasons. While highly touted winger Fabian Delph departed for Aston Villa in the transfer season, the Whites have had little trouble scoring goals in the early portion of the season. Whatever happens EPL Talk will be there to bring you live coverage of the match, so be sure to check back in following Tuesday’s action.