VENTURING into a cauldron of hate to face arch-rivals on their home turf in a seasonal curtain-raiser is not an exclusive sensation to the current Leeds United crop.
While the devilish qualities of the fixture computer handed United an opening 2014-15 Championship assignment in the lion’s den at Millwall two days ago, it was a shorter, but even more spicy trip across the Pennines to Old Trafford that gave northern sports writers a ready-made story when the fixtures were unveiled in June 1970 ahead of the 1970-71 campaign.
Leeds’ clash at Manchester United on August 15, 1970 was one of two Roses matches to mark the start of the Division One season, with the other fixture taking place at Leeds Road when Huddersfield Town beat Blackpool 3-0.
Leeds made it a joyous Yorkshire one-two with a 1-0 success in front of 59,365 at Old Trafford, thanks to Mick Jones’ strike as Don Revie’s side secured the perfect start to a new season following a cruel 1969-70 which ended in searing disappointment at the hands of both Chelsea and Glasgow Celtic in both the FA Cup and European Cup.
It was a time when Leeds enjoyed much the better of their head-to-heads with their Manchester foes on their own patch, with Revie tasting defeat just once in 10 fixtures at Old Trafford as Leeds manager, in games staged from December 1964 to February 1974.
Their win at the start of 70-71 was also another choice addition to a thoroughly sweet 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions, home and away and on neutral soil against the Red Devils, which lasted from November 1967 to October 1975. After failing to beat the Whites in five matches in 1969-1970, including a mammoth cup semi-final tie which ended with a Billy Bremner winner in a second replay at Burnden Park, Mancunians suffered more gloom in a season which saw them end a mediocre eighth place in the old Division One table.
Heading into the opener, Leeds were at full-stretch apart from the injured Paul Reaney, still recuperating from a broken leg which caused him to miss the climatic denouement of the previous season and the World Cup finals in Mexico.
Wilf McGuinness’ United were without both Denis Law and Willie Morgan, but still possessed household names in the shape of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Pat Crerand.
The hosts pressed at several junctures, but found Gary Sprake in superlative form.
Midway through the first half in the space of a minute, the custodian denied Best and Bryan Kidd and the importance of those saves were magnified not too long after when Leeds went in front.
A thumping header from Mick Jones flashed past the stunned Alex Stepney, with the goal visibly giving Leeds some palpable swagger.
Despite a spell late in the game by the home side, Leeds comfortably repelled everything that the hosts threw at them in a sign of things to come on the road. That campaign saw Leeds enjoy some majestic away form – with Revie’s side winning 11 times on their travels and losing just twice.