What is a derby match as Leeds United argue they have no local rivals

In the Championship on Tuesday evening, a club recently promoted from League One entertained a side recently relegated from the Premier League. But while it might have appeared the home fans would be excited at such an occasion, it was largely the visiting supporters who considered it a big game.

Leeds United were entertaining Hull City in what appeared to be a Yorkshire derby, with 2,500 Tigers’ supporters travelling down the M62 on a cold Tuesday evening to back their team in a 2-2 draw. The overall attendance of 24,906 was higher than Leeds’ three previous home fixtures, but indifference towards their evening’s opponents was apparently the overriding emotion from a large section of United fans.

In an attempt to represent at least part of the overall mood, an article by a Leeds fan in the matchday programme declared that Leeds United don’t have any true derbies. In the piece, the writer revealed:

Given the proximity of Hull, it would be fair to say that our visitors probably consider this game as a derby…yet from our point of view…our games against them are not what you would call derbies.

At the end of the article the writer concludes:

So do we have a proper derby match? My view is no. We have some proper rivalries, but in terms of derby matches we just don’t seem to do ’em.

The comparison between derby and rivalry is at the heart of this issue and their own chosen outlook. Leeds is in a central position of probably the largest density of football clubs in the country, with numerous Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs comfortably within an hour’s drive, so they are not short of opponents who qualify as a derby. Nor are they shy of neighbours who look upon them as rivals. We Bradford City fans, of course, have a strong disliking for our nearest league club. We’re in good company with Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers supporters joining Hull in loathing the Elland Road outfit.

But to Leeds, none of us are truly worthy of the title ‘derby match’ because we’re not considered worthy of being their rivals. Leeds United unquestionably have the most successful history of any Yorkshire club, and during the glory days were able to build up huge derbies against Manchester United and big rivalries with Liverpool and Chelsea. They’ve fallen from their top flight perch during recent years, which has caused them to face the likes of Huddersfield on a regular basis. But even the three defeats and two draws from six games against the Terriers hasn’t resulted in any significant development of a reciprocal animosity towards Town.

Back to the article, talking about potential derbies:

There are a handful of teams nearer to us than them (Manchester United, their considered rivals). In no particular order: Huddersfield, Bradford, Oldham, Bury, Rochdale, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers all come in at less miles than a trip to Old Trafford.

Of those, we’ve never played Rochdale, barely played Bury, Oldham doesn’t have that feel and neither does Huddersfield, and the South Yorkshire clubs have each other.

The simple truth is that Leeds fans continue to believe their only rightful place is among the elite – a view that an increasing number of national media pundits seem happy to encourage too – and so victories over neighbours they are ‘temporarily’ forced to slum it with remain largely hollow. This is largely understandable, it’s not as though you can turn on the tap and start hating someone that for a long time you considered yourselves above, indeed we ourselves were a few years back intensely disliked by Hull when most of us couldn’t care less about them.

But perhaps it might be worth considering the relationship of Leeds United – and specifically its supporters – in the medium term history with the rest of the clubs in Yorkshire and beyond. The hooliganism problems of Leeds United have been detailed at length elsewhere but suffice to say that much of the antipathy towards Elland Road has a basis in the violence of the 1980s. City centres boarded up, riots at ground, the infamous scenes of Odsal. That the antipathy is not historically reciprocal is perhaps reflective of the fact that that violence was not, or at least was not to the same extent.

So what about us?

That leaves Bradford City as our only real derby candidates. Situated less than 10 miles away and knowing their fans dislike of everything connected with ourselves – their fanzine onece produced a “Super Leeds” special containing only blank pages – it would seem that our occasional games against the Bantams are the closest we come to a proper Yorkshire derby.

Yet, even still, that’s hard to grasp. Aside from a handful of meetings in the late ’80s and a couple in the Premiership, we have never played each other enough to generate a proper rivalry. I dare say that on that basis we could share the same “rivalry” with Guiseley or Farsley.

Hmm…consider ourselves well and truly put down.

Which leaves the Bradford City-Leeds rivalry looking extremely one-sided. Over the years I’ve had numerous Leeds-supporting friends tell me that City fans are petty and jealous-minded for disliking Leeds United, and how they couldn’t care less about the Bantams. Indeed many Leeds fans also have season tickets at Valley Parade, and City have a long-standing agreement that home games don’t clash with the days Leeds are at Elland Road. Throw in the lack of times the two clubs share a division, and you and I are often lectured to “get a life.”

But at the same time the behaviour of some Leeds supporters towards City suggests not all of them feel indifferent. Aside from the trouble at Odsal in 1988, witness the ugly scenes before, during and after the first ever Premier League meeting at Valley Parade between the two clubs in 2000; where at the height of the Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial, certain good citizens of Bradford were singled out for abuse and, allegedly, violence. Or what about the JPT tie at Elland Road in 2008, when a bus containing City fans was attacked by Leeds followers?

Elements of their support are also known to semi-reguarly chant about the Bradford Fire. A Leeds-supporting friend told me that, on the day City marked the 25th anniversary of the tragedy with a home game against Northampton that saw BBC Football Focus in attendance, the coach load of Leeds fans he travelled back from their game at Charlton with included renditions of that horrific song.

If any of these incidents were due to a derby rivalry they would still be emphatically wrong. But if these are the actions from a minority of a club’s supporters, let us be thankful their majority do not consider us serious derby rivals. It would only encourage such morons even more.

Football derbies can be an ugly and over the top thing, but in a sport that is all about beating others to triumph they can also add positivity and colour. As a football fan you want your team to be the best, and that especially includes getting one over teams who you know supporters of. Victories over Huddersfield will always mean more than wins over Watford, similarly the pain of losing to Burnley – round Skipton way at least – is more unbearable than a defeat to Nottingham Forest. Football supporting is all about enjoying the highs and coping with the lows, and if those highs cause lows to your mate or your uncle or your boss at work they are that bit sweeter.

Above all though, derby rivalries give more depth to football and something to aim for. Only three or four teams can be promoted from a division each season, only one team can win the FA Cup. Finishing 11th in a division might be disappointing, but if your neighbours finished 12th and you beat them on their own patch or in the cup there’s a significantly greater degree of pride to take. In 2005, for example, Premier League Blackburn’s FA Cup win over Championship Burnley was ranked by Rovers supporters as the highlight of the season.

In the world of Bradford City, Leeds United are an evil and obnoxious presence while we are the good guys. That may seem unfair and unjust, but it adds a greater level of purpose and provides us something to strive for – beating the dark side, eventually. Their failings offer light relief when we’re feeling blue over our own. It should never distract from the thing that ultimately matters – our own team. And in all my time supporting City I’ve never met a fellow fan who would consider Leeds losing to be anywhere near as important to City succeeding. There’s a sense of perspective at all times, but along with Huddersfield it’s still an important rivalry to us.

Jealousy? Not at who they are, and certainly not at what they want to become. I lived in Sunderland for three years and saw first-hand the intensity of the rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle – and I feel jealous that we don’t have a derby as passionate. Huddersfield for sure is a great rivalry and I hate them more than I dislike Leeds, but personally I don’t know a single Town fan so to me it isn’t quite the same. When I saw a Newcastle fan crying because his team had lost to Sunderland and everyone else in the work environment supported the Mackems, I was jealous. I’d love us to have that sort of rivalry with Leeds, but that’s probably never going to happen.

As for Leeds, they may consider themselves above forming a derby rivalry with any of their near neighbours, but deep down their fans must know that when it comes to rivals they actually have plenty to choose from. The rest of the football-supporting country appears to hate them.

The one sided derby with Lincoln City

The most damning jibe between modern football fans comes when one declares that having assessed the situation that passed between two once competing clubs that the former now no longer considers the latter a rival.

This happened first at Old Trafford who sneered across to Moss Side at City saying that United’s main rivals were now the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan and not the Blue half of the City at all. This week might have given cause for redress on that but the insult rankled with those at Maine Road.

Indeed the same was said in the direction of Elland Road a few years later. Manchester United were concerned with putting one over Barca and not with Leeds United the supporters of whom took some delight in mocking this attitude in the recent FA Cup win. Goes the song: “1-0, but it’s only Leeds.”

Sympathy for Leeds in this situation dries up when one recalls how the Whites apply the same thinking to Bradford City – and Huddersfield Town, who join the Bantams in considering Leeds and not each other their closet rivals – with one interesting debate on the subject on a Leeds website featuring our much missed writer Roland Harris in which our boy tried to explain that the reason why City disliked Leeds more than Leeds disliked City was down to the fact the Leeds were simply more obnoxious. Paraphrasing here but Roland’s argument went along the lines that if you go around cutting people up on the motorway then the offended parties will feel more negative to you than you do to them.

Nevertheless the rivalry turn off is the brickbat of the modern game and is liberally thrown around as clubs look to establish a local dominance in what is increasingly a centralised game.

All this said, I don’t consider Lincoln City to be a rival.

It is not because we have outgrown them or gone past them (only to return) or any of those freely and liberally thrown around comments but rather because never in my life have I considered the two clubs to be rivals in any way and considering our shared tragedy in the fire of 1985 I had thought we were – well – friends.

theimp.tk‘s Nathan Jackson would seem to think differently saying to highlight a common theme on his site of antagonism between the Imps and the Bantams

As much as I’d love to beat Bradford at Sincil Bank, I can’t really picture a maximum haul against a side who are fairly decent travellers.

Jackson’s optimism about City’s form is welcome but his distaste is simply curious and goes beyond my comprehension. Answers on a postcard please, for I am none the wiser.

Wisdom, or the lack of it, seemed to be in short supply at Sincil Bank earlier in the season when Peter Jackson was fired seemingly for the crime of not having The Imps competing for the play-offs. The Sincil Bank board had a plan: they were going to hold interviews and ask anyone who came if they had a plan and someone did in the form of one time best pal of Lee Power Chris Sutton who took the management position and within a couple of months was declaring the Lincoln were in a relegation fight.

The stunning thing about this turn around from promotion contenders to best best in a relegation dog fight was the way the degradation has been readily accepted. Sutton’s press is good on the whole – the popular media love a face they recognise from nights at Wembley watching England – but as his team struggle one has ton wonder how a spotlight has not been put on those who made and influenced the decision to remove Jackson from the big seat and replace him with such massive uncertainty which would seem to have the club sailing much closer to the relegation winds than one would have thought possible at the start of the season.

Or, as one Lincoln fan put it recently:

Who’s bright idea was this? And where is that person now to explain just what Jackson was doing wrong that Sutton is doing right?

Indeed.

Naturally the person – and I have no idea who he is – probably heard and used the word “gamble” which is cropping up more often at City than it should do for a club that last gambled on six week of spending in the Premiership and lost the ground as a result. When Jackson was fired there was calls for the same to happen to his former City team mate and current Bantams boss Stuart McCall and naturally the fear for those who nail colours to a mast against such a move is that the Bantams would follow Lincoln’s slump. None of which is to say that Sutton is or will do a poor job, just that those people who suggested that a new man couldn’t do any worse than Jackson seem to have been proved wrong.

As City enter the second half of the season which – should Stuart McCall’s predictions of it all resting on the next four weeks be accurate and should the next four games go the same way as the last four – looks increasingly like resulting in a lack of result then one suspects that the Bantams and the manager might be set for a summer parting of the ways which were it not for the squabbling and back-biting from the terraces could have been dignified. No such luck.

A summer revolution leaving the likes of Coventry City target James Hanson, Scott Neilson and Steve Williams in place presents an attractive proposition for a new gaffer (if we must, I’d rather not but that is another story) but one wonders what the reaction would be if a similar downturn that followed Jackson’s exit came with a new City manager. If within a few months of the mob getting what they want the new manager is – like Sutton – talking about winning a relegation fight.

Do not worry, dear reader, for I’m sure at that point public apologies and remortage funded player investment will follow from people who promise that improvement will follow with come forthwith.

On the pitch City spent so much time off that frankly at BfB we forgot who the players were in some cases and why they might not be playing in others. Who is suspended, who is injured, who has roast beef, who has none. We fail to recall these things with a reliable level of accuracy.

City should start with Matt Glennon in goal following his début at Bury and Glennon will have the reformed back four of Simon Ramsden, Zesh Rehman, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien ahead of him following Ramsden’s midfield sojourn at Bury. Ramsden’s return is brought about by the return from injury of Lee Bullock to start another round of being book for having two legs while Michael Flynn partners him in player of the season form. Stuart McCall’s usual 433 vs 442 question arises and in a three one could expect Chris Brandon to play in a forward laying position while in a four Brandon may be left and Omar Daley make a start on the right.

James Hanson – who has not a yellow card to his name this season – may recover from injury to return up front as Gareth Evans struggle for form with one or the other set to partner Michael Boulding.

Leeds United vs Bradford City – Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round 2008/2009 preview

If Bradford City’s 2008/2009 campaign were a film, tonight’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy First Round trip to Leeds United would represent little more than an early sub-plot for added interest while the main one takes shape.

Sure, it could provide an exciting action sequence or two and it may include moments that are remembered long after the closing credits are run next May; but, regardless of the outcome, it’s not what this season is all about – nor will it define it.

Nevertheless the Bantams make the 9.5 mile journey to the other side of Pudsey with some expectation. The League Cup embarrassment at Huddersfield showed that, so far, manager Stuart McCall has been unable to better the efforts of previous managers when it comes to cup competitions, but this trophy is one which joint-Chairman Julian Rhodes said City should be taking seriously during the summer.

The often-maligned competition has rarely been kind to City, especially since the club returned to England’s bottom two tiers in 2004. During the first season back there was the home defeat to then non-league Accrington and while the area Quarter Finals were reached the following year – helped by a first round bye – progress came to a crashing halt at another non-league club, Kidderminster, with manager Colin Todd and player Lee Crooks having a bust-up after the latter got sent off only six minutes in.

The last two seasons have seen first round exits and controversy, first by Scunthorpe in 2006-07 when they went against rules and fielded a largely reserve side – a league encounter at Valley Parade five days later in manager Brian Laws thoughts – and last season when Stuart did the same at holders Doncaster and City were duly thrashed. Both Scunthorpe and City received fines for doing so, with Stuart paying ours out of his own pocket.

Such restrictions on team selection may not be welcomed by former Scotland team-mates Gary McAllister and Stuart this evening, but they should at least ensure both sides take the tie reasonably seriously. The disappointing news that Matt Clarke will be out for a month means Mark Bower will make his first start of the season, while the sight of Graeme Lee playing out the second half at Aldershot with a head bandage may mean TJ Moncur is drafted in. Barry Conlon is also expected to start, confidence lifted by his five-goal haul in the reserves last week. Peter Thorne will probably be rested and Stuart may look to find room for on-loan Dean Furman in the centre of midfield.

Leeds, who’s slow start to this season is in contrast to their flying one to the last, may also make changes; though it should be noted McAllister is making noises about this tie’s importance. On Saturday they drew 2-2 with Bristol Rovers meaning they have collected only 19 points from a possible 42 at Elland Road in 2008 so far.

The City-Leeds rivalry is a curious one given its apparent one-sidedness, with Leeds supporters I speak to, at least, usually at great pains to point out how indifferent they feel towards us. Indeed we are often accused of being ‘jealous’ – though why we would be envious of a club often dragged down by sections of their support, have a Chairman who is no friend to football fans, were voted the most hated club in the country and who’s financial mismanagement has arguably been worse than ours is beyond me. What Leeds should be proud of is the passion and level of their support and, for all the success of the season ticket initiatives at Valley Parade, we certainly wouldn’t mind a few more bums on seats to rival them.

Whether they care about us or not, it’s likely there will still be a sizeable home support and why not? Derbies are a great feature of football and playing their neighbours is arguably still a more interesting proposition than some of the clubs Leeds face in League One and even the Championship, should they return. It’s a tin-pot competition that means little to anyone but the winners, yet tonight’s game is of far more interest to both clubs than if City were travelling to Hartlepool and Leeds were at home to Lincoln.

For us City fans it’s a chance to avenge the previous meeting and gain our first victory over Leeds for 22 years. It might not matter as much to them, but a few thousand City fans will be situated in the South Stand, hopefully chanting non-stop. A victory would be talked about for years and may just irritate those Leeds fans, who would have to put up with our gloating, enough to look forward to the next derby with more relish.

Tonight may be a short lived sub-plot and, in our heads, we’d swap victory for three points on Saturday; but it’s still one for us City fans to relish and create a white-hot atmosphere to spur on our players in their efforts to take bragging rights.

Let’s-make-some-noise…

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