“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” – Thomas Haynes Bayly
In their absence, it appears that opposing fans have developed a level of respect for what Leeds United accomplished during their time in the Premier League. The club did disrupt the natural order of the Football League First Division (later the Premier League) while boasting some of the more unique supporters in English football. The Whites of Leeds United were a rival to many clubs in the league. A rivalry which was born from geography, then heightened over time.
In 2008, The Sun newspaper took a poll and fans voted Leeds United as the most hated club. Despite being out of the Premier League for only four years, the club was still first in the minds of English fans.
Just a few years later, talkSPORT again asked which club was the most hated in English football, fans answered: Manchester United. But make no mistake about it, should Leeds United ever put it all back together and earn promotion to the Premier League, opposing fans will be quickly reminded which club stirs the pot of negative emotions.
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” – Sun Tzu
Friend or foe…you don’t want to be too close to a Leeds supporter.
Leeds United’s fan base have failed to be humbled by their clubs fall from the top flight. The pride of the supporters is still intact. Prior to their 2010 FA Cup third round match versus Manchester United, a supporter of the Whites was quoted as saying:
“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.”
Leeds is the largest English city with only one professional club and even during tough times their fans still come close to filling the 37,000 seat capacity at Elland Road while screaming, “We are Leeds!” Perhaps it’s the fiery northern mentality that is so deeply engrained into the psyche of every Leeds fan that makes them collectively feel they’re capable of creating an atmosphere that changes score lines. An Elland Road in full voice not only spurs Leeds United on, but it also terrifies the opposition.
You get the feeling that Leeds United fans know it’s just a matter of time before the club is marching back into Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, or any other Premier League club’s home ground to commence the war of words face to face.
“Time heals all wounds” – Geoffrey Chaucer
Umm…not in the case of Leeds.
No matter which Premier League ground you enter, you’re still bound to hear the home supporters singing an anti-Leeds chant. The national loathing of Leeds United stems from the time of Don Revie’s great teams. Revie managed Leeds from 1961 to 1974. Over the course of his tenure, he created one of the most powerful football clubs in England by dragging a side on the brink of Third Division obscurity up by its bootstraps to become the most powerful football team in the country. Under Revie, Leeds never finished below fourth place. They won the First Division twice, finished runner-up five times, and won the FA Cup once (they also played in three more FA Cup finals).
The club would come to be known as “Dirty Leeds” by opposing supporters. A case study presented at the University of Leeds came to the determination that the nickname became permanent shortly after a 1963 Boxing Day match with Sunderland. Players from both clubs were seen throwing punches at each other while a Leeds player actually kicked an opponent, but no one from either team was cautioned. Following this match, the term was firmly entrenched in English footballing terminology.
Leeds were known as a tough, hard-tackling team. Former players provided insight to Revie’s philosophy at Leeds, while tip toeing around the topic of whether or not the manager told them to play ‘dirty’. Former Leeds United player Norman Hunter described a determined plan to assert his authority but not to be ‘dirty’. He said, “Revie regarded the first tackle in the game as a ‘freebie’ as the player never got booked.” According to Hunter, Revie told him “When your man gets the ball for the first time, let him know you’re there. Hit him hard and let him know you’re on his case.”
The “Dirty Leeds” label was highlighted even more during the managerial war of words between Brian Clough of Derby County and Don Revie. Clough disagreed with the physical, intimidating manner played by Leeds and the manager wasn’t shy of voicing his opinion to anyone that would listen.
The truth is that Revie’s Leeds United teams were very physical and had poor disciplinary records. But the manager was also a solid tactician who also emphasized player roles and team building. What he was able to do during his time as manager is something any manager would want to emulate. He built a family. A team that fought for each other, their manager, and their supporters. This is where the passion for the club was intensified.
It was during these times when fans around England began to hate everything Leeds. Even clubs who weren’t in the same division as United hated them and wanted to beat them. It’s one thing for a team to be good and win titles. But public opinion of Leeds was that they cheated and bullied their way to success. Combine their on the field accomplishments with an in-your-face fan base, and it’s easy to see why fans across England still hate Leeds.
Leeds United most bitter rivalry within the league is arguably with Manchester United. It’s referred to as the “Roses Rivalry”. The name of the rivalry is derived from the historic Wars of the Roses which was carried out between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
The rivalry is described an “inexplicable” by former players and the media. But the hatred between supporters is very real. During the 70’s, when hooliganism became a real problem in English football, fighting between the firms of Leeds and Manchester United became the most violent in the sport.
In 2011, Gordon McQueen, a former player with Leeds and Manchester United, was quoted as saying, “I don’t know why the rivalry became so nasty. In my early days at Leeds, United were never a threat and the hostility wasn’t there, but it seemed to increase with United winning things and Leeds struggling.
“It has become unbearable for Leeds fans now because United have been so successful. But Leeds against Manchester United is up there with Arsenal-Spurs, Liverpool-United and it’s one that the Premier League really misses.”
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy
Leeds United fell out of the Premier League following the 2003-04 season. The short story is the club had debt issues and tried to spend money to keep competing for Champions League positions. When Leeds missed out 2002-03 Champions League, they had to sell a number of players in an attempt to balance their books. Once the club was relegated, the financial situation only became worse. Leeds were forced to go into “administration” and incurred a 10-point penalty in the league. This resulted in the Whites being relegated again to League One. Further breaches of financial rules almost resulted in the club being ‘kicked out’ from the Football League altogether, but they were allowed to be re-admitted before the 2007–08 season. At the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, Leeds United were promoted back into the Championship and they have been there since then.
The truth is the Premier League has carried on since Leeds United was last a member. And of course, with the money being poured into the league by their enormous TV deals, no one is worried that the league’s fixture list will fail to capture an audience.
But all the rivalries within the league can’t even begin to compare with the intensity of Leeds United returning to opposing Premier League grounds. Not to forget the mind-numbing noises which would be roaring from Elland Road when top flight teams arrive into West Yorkshire.
A Premier League return for ‘The Mighty Whites’ would quickly remind English football why, “We all hate Leeds.”