Mel Sterland declares Leeds United confidence for Manchester United opener and relives Red Devils and Whites 'hatred'
Leeds United had just fallen behind upon their first league visit to Manchester United for nine years.
In front of a packed Old Trafford, Neil Webb’s strike had given Alex Ferguson’s men a 1-0 lead.
Six minutes later, Howard Wilkinson’s newly-promoted Whites were awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out in front of a packed away end.
Mel Sterland can still vividly remember what happened next.
The right-back’s ferocious drive flew into the bottom left corner for the goal that ensured Leeds left their fierce rivals with a point.
And 30 years after starring for Leeds against their bitter rivals, Sterland firmly believes Marcelo Bielsa’s side can now make their mark at Old Trafford in next weekend’s Premier League opener.
Sterland’s stunning strike against the Red Devils came on December 8, 1990 during Leeds United’s first season back in the country’s top flight.
Thirty one years later, the Whites are approaching a second campaign back amongst the country’s elite and a trip to their fiercest rivals is the first port of call next Saturday lunchtime.
Sterland – who signed for Leeds from Rangers – admits he was unaware of the full extent of the rivalry between the two clubs upon first signing for the Elland Road outfit in 1989.
Following promotion as Second Division champions, Leeds then faced the Red Devils eight times in the next two seasons via four league clashes, three League Cup ties and a FA Cup fixture.
Sterland was the hero as Leeds took a point upon their first visit back to Old Trafford and the 59-year-old is relishing the prospect of next Saturday’s fixture 31 years on, especially with fans now back in the stands.
“Man United away, what a game,” Sterland told the YEP.
“And it’s not just about memories for me as the fans can go to.
“Leeds will be taking 4,000 and that’s wicked is that, fantastic.
“It brings back memories of great times.
“I can remember scoring that free-kick against them when Les Sealey was in goal who is not with us any more, bless him.
“But it was lovely to score against them at Old Trafford.
“It was absolutely fantastic to go there and do that.
“There is obviously a lot of hatred between Man U and Leeds United which obviously adds a bit of spice as we all know.
“But to get them away at Old Trafford in the first game of the new season is just fantastic.
“The Leeds players will be excited and what a season they had last year.”
Reflecting on the feeling when his vicious free-kick hit the back of the net at Old Trafford, Sterland recalled: “It was magnificent. I loved it.
“I was playing for Leeds United – a fantastic football club and a big football club.
“And scoring against a team which were not liked by Leeds United fans was just lovely. I can remember running up and just smashing it.
“Sealey got his hand to it but it was great and just nice to score at Old Trafford.”
Leeds scored a few more at Old Trafford over the next few years but the Red Devils had the upper hand in the Manchester fixture, despite Leeds having been crowned champions in 1992.
It did not take Sterland long to realise the full extent of the rivalry.
“There was no fear going to Old Trafford but I didn’t realise how bad Leeds hated Man United,” said Sterland.
“They didn’t like them at all. That was all new to me.
“But there were no nerves whatsoever, you just went out and gave it your best shot.
“That’s what we did and what we tried anyway but I didn’t realise how bad it was.
“You could feel it, 100 per cent as soon as you went on to the pitch, even in the warm up.
“You could feel what it was like between those two clubs and this is not just overnight.
“It’s been going on for years and years and years.
“You could definitely feel it and it was nice just to play there really in front of a full house which was fantastic.
“You got your tackles in and there were some bad tackles.
“It was always just a hundred mile an hour game and it’s two clubs who just don’t like each other. It’s hatred.
“Everybody hated Leeds United but now all of a sudden everyone loves them. It’s mental.
“But when it’s Leeds United against Man United, I am sure that every Man United fan would be looking out for that fixture and it’s come out in the first game of the season.
“I am sure the Leeds players will be looking forward, as the Man United players will be.
“They’ll all be wanting to play and kick each other but unfortunately it’s a non-contact sport now.”
Sterland, after all, is old school, a former no-nonsense and tough-tackling right-back who made 146 appearances for the Whites between 1989 and 1992.
The former defender remains a big follower of Leeds and has been hugely impressed by the club’s Premier League return.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites stormed to a ninth-placed finish upon their first season back in the top flight and Sterland believes his former side have every chance of getting a positive result at Old Trafford.
Leeds were blitzed 6-2 in the corresponding fixture last season but Sterland said: “I feel confident in Leeds United at this moment in time.
“The manager is absolutely outstanding. Bielsa is different class and his backroom staff and the chairman.
“It’s a football club that I personally think is going places.
“They have fetched players in and quality players.
“No disrespect but they have added more quality and you look at the team from last year and a lot of them were Championship players.
“But they came up and did magnificently.
“They are a pleasure to watch.”
He now has only seven more days to wait before watching them again in the Premier League opener but in the meantime Sterland is going to take a look back at his Old Trafford free-kick.
He might remember it like it was yesterday, but insists he cannot recall the full extent of the celebrations.
Sterland explained: “To be honest I was talking to some Leeds fans the other day and they mentioned that goal.
“They said have you seen the fans behind the goal and I said no!
“They said shut up you must have but I didn’t!
“They said they were jumping up and going mental.
“I’m going to have to have a look back at that!”
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Thank you Laura Collins