Why Leeds United fans hate Manchester United - Whites explain the fierce rivalry

They don't like red in Leeds.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 3:20 pm
BITTER MEMORY - Fabian Barthez was only yellow carded after appearing to stamp on Ian Harte during a battle between Leeds United and Manchester United. The two clubs meet on Sunday at Elland Road to rekindle a fierce rivalry. Pic: Justin Lloyd/YPN

Don Revie once playfully chided the wife of YEP reporter Don Warters for wearing a dress of the colour of Leeds United's great rivals, Liverpool.

For most with an Elland Road affinity, it's the colour associated with their fiercest rivals of today.

Hatred of Manchester United burns constantly for some and has waxed and waned over the years for others.

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The easiest starting point, when attempting to explain the rivalry from this side of the M62, is the history between people of neighbouring shires and an actual war.

But for humans born 500 years after the battles between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, the reasons to hate Manchester United are varied and personal. Particular matches, pinched players, penalty saves, personalities, 'playground stuff' or passing hatred from generation to generation have ensured that although the Old Trafford club have slipped from a position they dominated for a time at the top of the English game, they remain number one on the list of Leeds enemies.

Jon Howe, author of The Only Place For Us: An A-Z History of Elland Road, said: "The rivalry is deep-rooted in a Yorkshire-Lancashire thing.

"But in a football sense I guess the Charlton brothers and some of the epic semi-finals of the 1960s brought it to a boil. I remember Leeds fans singing about Man Utd in the 80s and I never understood why, because we never played them. But when we got promoted in 1990 it all became very clear. The 1990/91 League Cup semi at Elland Road was the most acidic occasion I've ever been to, and during that period in the 90s when we played them every season, the atmosphere was always toxic. To a young lad that was incredibly powerful."

NO LOVE - Robbie Keane shoves David Beckham during a 2001 game between Leeds United and Manchester United. Pic: Getty

Today Ben Machell is a writer for The Times. In 1990 he was a Leeds-supporting youngster living out the rivalry every day at school, with a girl called Helen.

"I grew up in Leeds and was eight when we were promoted back to Division One," he told the YEP.

"I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to support any team other than Leeds, and yet this one girl, Helen, absolutely loved Manchester United.

"She would taunt us all with cruel songs about our team and generally took pleasure in any misfortune that befell Howard Wilkinson’s mighty Whites. It was irritating, confusing and, above all, entrenching. Fine. You hate Leeds. We hate Man U. To the mind of a child, it made a certain orderly sense."

BITTER RIVALS - A coming together during a pre-season 'friendly' between Leeds United and Manchester United in Australia. Pic: Getty

For a long time after, he hated Manchester United. He really hated them.

"It was, on reflection, a fairly self-righteous hatred: it wasn’t just because I objected to our closest rivals being better than us, I told myself, it was because they were objectively, morally, bad.

"The glory-hunting fans. The transfer fees. Fergie time. Roy Keane. They were irredeemable and needed beating. Which was something that didn’t happen often enough. Which only made them worse."

Leeds' wilderness era that followed financial collapse and relegations softened his view, League One scraps providing an unwelcome distraction. Time and Gary Neville's post-retirement revelation as a reasonable, even likeable bloke, have helped heal scars left by 'Helen.'

"I still want to beat them but they don’t define my Leeds fandom anywhere near as much as they used to. A title race might be nice though. Just for old time’s sake," he added.

Stephen Thompson traces his understanding of the rivalry back much further, to 1964.

"It was aggravated by Man U constantly being chosen as the lead on Match of the Day," he said.

"So much so that for us the BBC stood for Busby, Best and Charlton. Things escalated after we beat them in two FA Cup semi-finals when it was expected that they would win both. We revived the career of Man U reject Johnny Giles and later Gordon Strachan but they always had a habit of pinching Leeds icons.

"And no matter how well Leeds played they always got the positive headlines.

"They were always the money men – able to buy any player, whereas Leeds felt they didn’t get the same credit from pulling themselves up by their bootstraps."

Andy Peterson had already cheered against Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup final before football became his sporting obsession.

Going to Leeds games helped him slip comfortably into a hate relationship.

"A chant about them was ringing round the Kop as I took my place for my first ever game in 1983, although in keeping Leeds had been relegated eight months before," he said.

"Getting promoted, at first seemed like for the most part a mechanism by which to relaunch the rivalry, especially as the catalyst for finally returning to the top flight was Gordon Strachan, discarded by Alex Ferguson only to be reborn under Howard Wilkinson. Even then things got off to a slow start, but the 90-91 League Cup semi at ER remains a benchmark for hostility I’ve never seen repeated.

"As an old timer I’m surprised at how low key this game has become but priorities are different now, although the two clubs remain as chalk and cheese as ever.

"Why has the rivalry persisted? It stems from many things, from history, from geography, from media bias, from having a totally different outlook on life. It certainly doesn’t come from jealousy, you don’t follow Leeds to see an endless stream of trophies. We thought we’d got rid of them this week of course, but it looks like we might just have to stick around and p*** them off for a little bit longer."

Alex Easton's first game against Manchester United was the 2-1 win on September 11, 1994 but it took his mother's fashion faux pas to help him understand the intensity of the rivalry.

"My mum bought a Man U shirt in protest at our incessant chirping at the rivalry, just to wind us up, and once forgot she was wearing it when coming to pick us up from Elland Road after a game," he said.

"The poor woman was spotted by Leeds fans and her tiny Nissan Micra was rocked back and forth to chants of ‘scum’."

The shirt was later used to scrub the yard.

There were no red shirts around when Bradley Deas grew up. No-one ever sat down to explain the rivalry but he soon worked it out.

"It just sort of grew after I first got involved with the club - from my very first game as a five-year-old with my dad and cousin, against Valencia in the Champions League semi-final home leg," he said.

"My uncle took it to the extreme - no red in the house, none of the kids could wear it.

"I would actively cheer on any team playing the scum - as they soon became in my vocabulary.

"The fans are another reason that it's so easy to hate them. A lot of them are majorly deluded. They are always talked about in the media as if they should be challenging and are entitled to it, yet every club goes through different periods of success and failure."

The use of the term United to refer to Leeds' rivals is something that rankles Whites. That, perceived fawning in the national media and the commercial nature of the Old Trafford operation.

"The papers loved them, the pundits loved them," said Ayrton Fontaine, a relative latecomer to the rivalry who got into football in his teens.

"And there was so much self entitlement, from the fans all the way up to the manager.

"Even now they forget they have achieved nothing of any major significance since Ferguson left.

"In my eyes they’re no longer a football club, they are a brand and a tourist attraction. I celebrate every single loss they suffer."

A 1-1 draw in March 2001 characterises Michael Normanton's relationship with 'that lot.'

"With the ball cleared upfield, Fabien Barthez decided to stamp on Ian Harte's shin," he recalled.

"A red card and a penalty seemed inevitable, but with Neville, Stam and Beckham immediately in the referee's face he was only booked. Barthez then saved the penalty. Punished, but without any real consequence.

"Even after that setback we stayed in the game and managed an equaliser through Mark Viduka. We also scored a late winner, only to see it wrongly disallowed. It remains the only own goal I can remember seeing ruled out for offside.

"The dropped points meant we didn't qualify for the Champions League and, well, you know the rest. As you can tell by the fact I'm talking about it 20 years later, I'm not bitter. For Wes Brown's own goal, their part in the Super League and a million and one other things, we owe them."

Victoria Tidmarsh relishes the rivalry and looks forward to the next match between the clubs in a full Elland Road.

"It’s a rivalry that starts from birth, the unwritten rule that if you’re Leeds then you don’t like them. There’s a natural regional rivalry but there’s a genuine disdain for them, and I’m sure it works both ways. I’m glad that we’re back in the Premier League so that - when fans get back in grounds - we can really voice our feelings towards each other again, properly, like it should be. Rivalries like this make football as great as it is, you need that hatred and that fight in games."

In football's bad old days the fight sometimes took place outside the ground. Leeds memorabilia addict Ben Hunt describes himself as a pacifist, these days.

"At 43 years I’m only a ‘young-pup’ according to most fans and only really started going to games in the late 80s so missed the naughty years previously," he said.

"But I did notice that even when not playing scum or even for that matter being in the same division, there was always that conversation of 'where have they been playing and where will they be passing through' so the rivalry was drilled into you as a kid.

"Never was told where it all began, I just assumed the battle of the Roses and both teams being so big and well supported."

For others who remember the 80s, the rivalry lay dormant for a long time.

"It was never that important to me as a kid believe it or not," said Paul Robinson.

"I was nine when I started going to games in 1982, and the prospect of ever playing them again seemed fairly remote. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

"It all changed pretty quickly after we got promoted in 1990, I remember there being a bit of a ‘lively’ edge to proceedings off the field when we played them in our first home game back up, and the atmosphere for the League Cup semi-final at Elland Road later that season was either fantastic or terrible, depending on your point of view. Malevolent is probably the word.

"Beating them to the title the following year was obviously glorious. Alex Ferguson, purple-nosed and ashen-faced on ITV after that defeat at Anfield, with Batty, McAllister and Cantona watching from Lee Chapman’s sofa? Come on, you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh."

When Manchester United visit an empty Elland Road on Sunday for only the second meeting of the clubs since 2011, the rivalry won't be as evident. But it will be there, always.

"Do I hate them? Not like I used to," said Robinson.

"This current lot aren’t anywhere near as horrible as Ince, Hughes, Schmeichel et al. Seeing them flailing around trying to recapture past glories has also given me a great deal of small-minded pleasure over the last few years.

"Do I want to win on Sunday? Of course I bloody do."