The War of the Roses: A bitter rivalry with fallen foes

On the 25th November 1992, the Leeds United managing director Bill Fotherby rang Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards about the possibility of signing Denis Irwin. The Cork man was not for sale. However, Alex Ferguson who was in the room urged Edwards to ask about bringing Frenchman Eric Cantona to Manchester United. Fotherby said that Cantona was unsettled at Leeds and he would get back to Edwards with a fee over the next 24 hours. Manchester United then signed Eric Cantona for a fee between £1 million and £1.2 million. The maverick of a striker went on to be a catalyst for United’s success in the 90s. To this day Manchester United fans will taunt Leeds fans over letting Cantona join them.

The rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds United is known as the Roses rivalry or the Pennines derby. Historically, the rivalry between Manchester and Leeds stem from a 15thCentury English civil war known as the War of the Roses. Manchester is situated in the county of Lancashire whilst Leeds is situated in the county of Yorkshire. Appropriately Manchester United’s home colours resembles the red rose of Lancashire whilst Leeds United’s home colours resembles the white rose of Yorkshire. Although today Leeds United sit in the second tier of English football, a fierce rivalryand attitude exists between both sets of supporters even today.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, this geographical rivalry began to develop even further. Leeds and Manchester became direct economic rivals. Leeds was growing due to its woollen industry whilst 40 miles west, Manchester was beginning to sprout due to their rapid cotton industry.

Manchester United and Leeds United met in the 1965 FA Cup semi-final. The game was played at an intense level with many clashes on the pitch. A picture emerged after the game that feature United striker Denis Law and Leeds defender Jack Charlton punching and wrestling each other on the pitch. This is a sight that illustrates the ferocity of the game between the two sides.

The rivalry was continuous throughout the years. In 1978 Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen joined Manchester United from Leeds. McQueen was subjected to much abuse from the Leeds fans whilst he travelled to Elland Road. He was booed, abused and had objects thrown at him.

Clashes on the pitch continued to happen in the Premier league era. Most notable an incident which took place on Saturday 3rd March 2001. Manchester United travelled to Elland Road for a game with Leeds which finished 1-1. During the game Leeds fullback Ian Harte challenged United keeper Fabien Barthez which the Frenchman felt was unfair. Barthez lashed out at Harte and received a yellow card and gave a way a penalty.

Two Leeds United fans were stabbed to death during an away game to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup in 2000. At the time United fans paid their respects, however incidents occurred the next time the two sides met. Throughout the rivalry between the two clubs, taunts were a regular thing. Leeds fans often taunted United over the Munich Air Disaster. When the two clubs met in their next tie after the tragedy in Istanbul, United fans produced flags which read “MUFC Istanbul Reds” and “Galatasaray Reds”. This immediately angered Leeds fans as they burst into Munich chants and some are believed to have ripped up seats in Old Trafford.

Leeds were relegated to the Championship at the end of the 2003/04 season due to financial difficulties. To add insult to injury, local Leeds lad and supporter of the club joined Manchester United creating further controversy. Smith appeared on Soccer AM years before stating Manchester United are the club he would never join.

Manchester United and Leeds have only met twice in the last 10 years. Both sides won one each. Leeds beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford during their 2009/2010 FA Cup run. The other clash being when United beat Leeds 3-0 away at Elland Road. There was trouble at this game as two Police officers were injured and 21 fans were arrested.

Long gone are the days of extreme football hooliganism in the 70s and 80s. Clashes with Leeds United’s Service Crew and Manchester United’s Red Army today, wouldn’t be met with the numbers as it was back when hooliganism was at its peak. However, the bitterness and rivalry still exist. At both Old Trafford and Elland Road there are regular chants that taunt either side. The advancements in social media have elevated the rivalry to a new context. There will be online abuse concerning both clubs.

If Leeds do get promoted back to England’s top tier, be sure that fireworks will go off when they meet Manchester United. Perhaps the rivalry with Leeds is fiercer than say with Liverpool and Manchester City based on previous incidents.

Written by Shane Purcell

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