LIKE a number of ex-professionals resident in the West Yorkshire area, David Wetherall had a bit of a wry smile when he learned that Leeds United had been drawn against Bradford City in the Capital One Cup.
The centre-back enjoyed golden associations with both near-neighbours in his playing days and is remembered with fondness by supporters on each side of the Pudsey divide. His only regret is that there will be one loser at Valley Parade tomorrow evening.
Wetherall, who now works for the Football League, will be viewing matters with considerable interest, along with many players who have been associated with both West Yorkshire clubs, including the likes of Trevor Cherry, Terry Yorath, Arthur Graham and John Hendrie.
It was Cherry who was at the helm on the last occasion that Bradford turned over their local rivals in an infamous 2-0 victory in the old Division Two back on September 20, 1986, a wild autumn afternoon sadly remembered for a shameful riot at Odsal Stadium as opposed to a football match.
In the 14 matches since, the Bantams have failed to beat United and you have to go way back over 82 years to March 1932 for City’s last win over Leeds at Valley Parade in a 4-1 triumph, excluding war-time games. In the pair’s two previous meetings in the League Cup, Leeds have prevailed, but not without a scare or two, with the last meeting of the neighbours coming just over three years ago in August 2011, when goals from Ross McCormack and Ramon Nunez saw United overturn a 2-1 deficit to beat plucky City 3-2.
Heading into tomorrow’s eagerly-anticipated fixture, just 11 places separate the two sides in the Football League pyramid, suggesting that the televised spectacle will be a close one to call – you suspect, hand on heart, both sets of supporters would say the same.
Both sides head into the game on the back of weekend defeats, but in terms of being in the dock with their own supporters, United and their hugely under-pressure head coach David Hockaday are in a league of their own after a capitulation in the final half-hour against Watford.
A further setback at Valley Parade would be beyond the pale for many Whites supporters who will pack out the Midland Road stand, although Wetherall himself believes that patience will be required by the Leeds faithful in the weeks and perhaps months ahead.
On the tie, Wetherall told the YEP: “Like a lot of people around West Yorkshire, I had a bit of a wry smile when I heard. It’s a bit of a plum draw.
“It’s one that is difficult to analyse as it’s early days in the season. But Bradford have got off to a good start and I don’t think anyone is really sure what is going to happen at Leeds this season with everything that has happened.
“With Leeds, it’s so difficult at the minute with the changes they have had on and off the pitch and knowing how exactly that will work out. It needs time to settle down and gel there and players will need to get to know each other’s games and quite often, that does take time.
“For Bradford, as Paul Jewell used to say, you are as good as your front players and you need goals out of your frontmen to have a great season. Bradford will be hopeful the frontmen in Hanson and Mclean and Billy Clarke can fire to propel them on.”
He added: “Wherever the clubs are in the league and whatever their form is, it is always going to be a cracking game. It’s one of those local rivalries where the teams don’t get to play each other too often.
“So when they do come up against each other, it has that extra spice about it.
“It is so difficult for me. In some ways, it’s a fantastic draw, but in other ways, it’s not so good and one of the teams will be out. But I had fantastic times at both clubs and follow the fortunes of both really closely.”
The head-to-head statistics may be massively weighed in United’s favour going into the tie, with the fact that Bradford are without a win at Valley Parade over their neighbours since March 1932 a particularly eye-catching one.
But Wetherall insists statistics will all be thrown out of the window come kick-off tomorrow in one of the most raucous cup atmospheres this week.
Given Bradford’s story-book run to the final of the competition in 2012-13, expect plenty of pre-match footage of those famous Valley Parade nights against Arsenal and Aston Villa in the build-up to kick-off and one thing is for sure, the atmosphere should be every bit as vibrant as those two unforgettable winter evenings in December 2012 and January 2013 which warmed up thousands of Bradfordians.
Wetherall said: “Stats may be good for the press, but they won’t make a blind bit of difference to those players when they get out onto the pitch.
“I would expect a real blood-and-thunder tie full of commitment and lots of energy and noise coming off the terraces. For Bradford, it’s an earlier round than those games a couple of years ago. But I would expect a very similar atmosphere as there will be a great crowd in with both lots of representation from both sides and both sets of fans will be vocal. Let’s hope it will be a great game.”
Now 43, Wetherall has experience of playing in a Bradford-Leeds derby and being in the dug-out; he was part of the Bantams coaching staff for their narrow 2-1 Football League Trophy loss at Elland Road in September 2008.
All told, the former centre-half, fondly remembered by Whites fans for goals against Manchester United in Premier League wins at LS11 in September 1994 and September 1997, played in three fixtures for Bradford against Leeds during City’s two-season spell in the top-flight between 1999 and 2001 and didn’t finish on the winning side once.
Wetherall, transferred from Leeds to Bradford for a then club-record £1.4m in July 1999, said: “I missed the 6-1 (in May 2001) and I was actually commentating on the radio for that one. That wasn’t an easy one to commentate on from a Bradford point of view!
“I also remember playing in the game when Stan Collymore scored the overhead kick at Valley Parade and for me, they were always strange occasions against Leeds, going back to play against my former club as I didn’t have too many former clubs!”