In a football world full of foreign fans, which have never once traveled to England, Manchester United is the flavor of the millennium. But those of us, who love and appreciate the English game, and its history and passion, felt liberated today.
Leeds United, one of the giant clubs of the last forty years in English football signaled its return to relevance with a fantastic 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. The War of The Roses Rivalry, which is one of the biggest in England, was on display for the newer Red Devils fans today.
Manchester United has for years profited at Leeds expense. Gordon McQueen Eric Cantona, Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith, just to name a few. Leeds once was fortunate enough to sign Johnny Giles from Manchester United, and that transfer changed history! Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Leeds United under Don Revie gave Manchester United and Liverpool all they could handle. Matt Busby’s retirement reflected an era in which Leeds and Liverpool had emerged as the powers of the English game, and United’s post Munich run was over.
When the recently completed decade began, Leeds looked like the most likely side to dispatch Manchester United atop the Premier League. Some football watchers, like your humble writer, were foolish enough to believe the hype: I thought Leeds could be the best team of the decade, and actually picked them before the season to win the 1999-2000 Premier League crown.
But alas, Leeds squad had been built by taking on massive chunks of debt. A few years later, despite a run to the Champions League semifinals, the club was sinking fast. Today, under Simon Grayson, the club leads League One, England’s third flight. Leeds has been in League One now for three seasons, longer than anyone truly objective believed they’d be down there.
But today, the War of the Roses rivalry was renewed with vigor. Grayson’s side was well organized, pushing men forward on the counter, and using a speed advantage to get behind the Red Devils back four. Leeds also wanted the match more, cheered on by at least 10,000 fans who made the trek from Yorkshire.
Manchester United fans, many of whom are front runners from Asia or the United States will lament today’s result. But for those of us who love and honor English football every day, this was one of the best things that has happened in recent years. Leeds, a previously massive club matters again, and for that, English football is a winner.