• First XI

United in a distaste for one another

Robin Hackett
September 22, 2011
Michael Owen scores his side's second goal © PA Photos

Arrests were made after another bitter encounter between Leeds United and Manchester United on Tuesday. Here, ESPNsoccernet looks at a rivalry that has raged for almost 50 years.

Manchester United 0-0 Leeds United (FA Cup semi-final, 1964-65)
Though the Wars of the Roses give the rivalry historical context, it was not until the 1960s that the clubs' enmity began in earnest.

Leeds, promoted in 1964 under Don Revie and having developed a reputation for violent and underhand tactics, instantly proved themselves in the top-flight, and they had lost just two of their previous 29 games in all competitions when they met Matt Busby's Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. What transpired was a game so fiery that it sparked a burning hatred that has lasted almost half a century.

The Guardian labelled the match "a sordid shambles that would have been flattered by being played on an ashpit" and added: "Everyone knew it would be more than manly - for there are players on both sides who do not like to give way in a physical challenge - but few were pessimistic enough to expect that it would so often come so close to open violence."

The Daily Mirror's Frank McGhee expressed similar outrage: "This was X-certificate stuff, ferocious soccer that crawled from underneath a flat stone to spread the ugly diseases of provocation, retaliation and revenge."

Just before the hour mark, a scuffle between Denis Law and Jack Charlton saw the game descend into a brawl of which McGhee wrote: "Men become mad dogs in a snapping, snarling, clawing, spitting, punching, kicking mob ... I thought I saw Law's head jerk forward in what could have been an attempt to butt. I certainly saw Charlton's head snap back before he appeared to swing both fists at Law. Leeds right half Billy Bremner jumped dangerously, studded boots first, between them. United right half Pat Crerard, apparently incensed, joined in and seemed to hoist Bremner off his feet by the throat as half-dozen others raced to get to the lynching party. They included Alan Peacock and inside right Bobby Collins of Leeds, [Nobby] Stiles and Bobby Charlton - of all people! - of Manchester."

The referee, Dick Windle, simply lectured the worst miscreants. There were 32 fouls committed on the day - Leeds committing just ten of the total - but only Law and Stiles were booked, and both for comparatively trifling offences.

Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United (FA Cup semi-final replay, 1964-65)
With the press and public stunned at how the first semi-final meeting had plunged to such depths, there were calls for Windle to be replaced as referee for the replay, but the authorities stood by their man.

"The players started the trouble at Hillsborough, not Mr Windle," FA Cup committee chairman David Wiseman said. "He was set problems he should never have had."

Leeds won the replay at the City Ground, Billy Bremner heading home the only goal with two minutes remaining of extra time, but more significantly, as the Daily Express reported, "the football was once more clean, bright, and brilliant".

At the final whistle, though, hundreds of fans poured onto the field, and violence was more splashed across the front pages. An angry Manchester United supporter - just 16 years old - knocked Windle unconscious before running off into the mass of Leeds fans only to be rugby-tackled and handed over to police. League secretary Alan Hardaker later said the referee had "been advised by his doctor to take a holiday because of the strain of his last two matches".

Manchester United 0-0 Leeds United (FA Cup semi-final replay, 1969-70)
After 210 minutes of FA Cup semi-final action, neither Manchester United nor Leeds United had been able to score a goal, but the games at Hillsborough and Villa Park were some of the most entertaining clashes the sides have played. Even so, it was a waning George Best's role in the encounters made them the stuff of legend.

There had been a feeling among fans that his popstar lifestyle meant he no longer cared about his performances, but he showed contrition after the first encounter. "I should have tied it up in the first half," he said. "I had a clear-cut chance and messed it up."

For the first replay at Villa Park, though, he was apparently caught in bed with a woman by manager Wilf McGuinness shortly before kick-off. It is said McGuinness wanted to drop Best, but in the end kept him in the side on the insistence of then club director Sir Matt Busby. It's claimed Best was taunted throughout the match, and he again missed a golden chance as he raced away in the driving rain only to lose the ball in the mud as he approached goalkeeper Gary Sprake. "He had an absolute nightmare," McGuinness later said. "We drew 0-0 again, and George had the chance to win it but fell over the ball in front of goal."

Even so, it was a sublime contest. Denis Howell, the Minister of Sport, said: "This was a wonderful advert for British football. You wouldn't see a game like this anywhere else in the world." Busby added: "It would have a been a pity if either side had lost this terrific battle."

The third replay, at Burnden Park, brought a 1-0 win for Leeds courtesy of a superb Billy Bremner goal in the eight minute; The Guardian's match report appeared under the headline: 'Is George Best in need of a rest?'

Leeds United 5-1 Manchester United (First Division, 1971-72)
Manchester United had ended 1971 at the top of the table, but Frank O'Farrell's men visited Elland Road on February 19 without a league win since early December and on a run of five straight defeats.

Leeds midfielder Johnny Giles said ahead of the game: "Manchester United are now in the same situation as a child who has been given a bar of chocolate and then had it taken away before it can be eaten. I'm convinced that United will be much more dangerous after their slump than if they had been in the middle of a good run."

What transpired was a true demolition job as Leeds ran out 5-1 winners after a second-half rampage in which they scored five in 27 minutes, and they could feasibly have ended the match with ten. Leeds eventually finished second, behind Derby County, while Manchester United ended the campaign in eighth.

Leeds United 2-3 Manchester United (First Division, 1978-79)
Legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein's first match in charge at Leeds came amid a roar of excitement, but his bow was always likely to be overshadowed. Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, having made protracted and rather bitter moves to Manchester United the previous season, made their first returns to Elland Road.

Eric Cantona pushes Jon Newsome away © Getty Images

Jordan had already played against Leeds at Old Trafford but he faced, according to a genteel Guardian, "mob queries about his parentage as well as his value as a player"; McQueen was said to have been pelted with objects from the stands.

Both players were to have a significant impact on a thrilling match. McQueen headed the opener before Paul Hart's equaliser, while Jordan nodded the ball to Sammy McIlroy for 2-1. Frank Gray then converted a penalty for Leeds before McIlroy scored the winner, having linked up well with former Leeds forward Jimmy Greenhoff.

"We were pretty popular players at Leeds, and we both decided to leave, both for the same reason," McQueen later told the Scotland on Sunday. "That caused an unbelievable stink at the time, with all sorts happening. It wasn't very nice."

Leeds United 0-0 Manchester United (Premier League, 1992-93)
Eric Cantona made his first appearance at Elland Road a matter of weeks after his hugely controversial move from champions Leeds United to champions-to-be Manchester United in November 1992. It was, as would be expected, a fiery affair.

The visitors' team bus was greeted by hundreds of furious home fans, who surrounded the vehicle and chanted 'Judas', and his every touch throughout the game was met by ferocious boos. Cantona had an uncharacteristically quiet night on the pitch - though he did have a couple of efforts on goal - and a soft booking on the half-hour was his most significant contribution.

Even so, he was in the headlines for weeks after the game: he spat at the Leeds supporters as he made his way towards the dressing room and subsequently received an FA fine of £1,000, mitigated on the grounds of provocation. "I knew I was going to get a hot reception tonight," Cantona said after the match. "If I was a Leeds fan, I would have reacted the same way."

Leeds United 0-4 Manchester United (Premier League, 1996-97)
Leeds were unable to replicate their title success in the wake of Eric Cantona's crossing of the Pennines, and the transfer of power to their bitter rivals was painful. When they hosted champions Manchester United in September 1996, even their own players were talking up the visitors. In the matchday programme, Ian Rush rated the Red Devils favourites to win the league while Gary Kelly was paying glowing tribute to the opposing manager ("If anyone can win three successive titles, it's Alex").

Leeds lasted just three minutes before goalkeeper Nigel Martyn deflected the ball into his own net and, while the home fans had their moment when Cantona missed a first-half penalty, there were no such joyful distractions in the second half. Nicky Butt and Karel Poborsky put the game beyond their reach before Cantona, in the final minute, made it 4-0, indulging in extended celebrations before his former acolytes.

Even Juventus scout Narciso Pezzotti, watching the game ahead of a Champions League meeting with Manchester United, lined up to stick the boot in: "They were playing such a poor team, it was no real indication. This wasn't a real game."

On the Monday morning, Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson was relieved of his duties.

Leeds United 1-0 Manchester United (Premier League, 1997-98)
A rather unspectacular game, settled via a David Wetherall header in the 34th minute, took on historical relevance after the publication of Roy Keane's autobiography in August 2002.

This was a game in which Keane launched into an angry challenge on Leeds defender Alf-Inge Haaland, for which he received a booking. Haaland angrily rebuked Keane as the Manchester United captain writhed on the floor, but it later emerged the Irishman had ruptured his cruciate ligament. On his return, he described his time on the sidelines as "ten long months of agony".

It was not until April 2001 that Keane took his revenge, by which time Haaland had moved on to Manchester City. "I'd waited long enough," he wrote in his autobiography. "I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries. Even in the dressing room afterwards, I had no remorse. My attitude was, f*** him. What goes around, comes around. He got his just rewards."

Haaland did not complete another 90 minutes in his career and, asked in 2008 whether he feels Keane's tackle brought the end of his career, he told the Daily Mail: "I never played a full game again, did I? It seems like a great coincidence, don't you think?"

Leeds United 1-1 Manchester United (Premier League, 2000-01)
This encounter, which took place during a campaign in which Leeds reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, was described in the Daily Express as "pure, undiluted, domestic warfare".

Luke Chadwick and Mark Viduka scored the goals in a 1-1 draw, but a Wes Brown own goal had been chalked off at the death for an offside. However, it was another decision from the officials that prompted a bitter war of words in the aftermath. At the end of the first half, goalkeeper Fabien Barthez came to claim a cross and, as the ball was cleared, directed his studs into Ian Harte in a petulant off-the-ball challenge.

Referee Graham Barber awarded a penalty but failed to produce a red card and, as Barthez saved the resulting spot-kick, Leeds were understandably incensed. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted afterwards that he "would have thought" Barber would have dismissed Barthez had he actually seen it, but he changed his tune when Leeds captain Lucas Radebe said Manchester United had "built up a reputation they are bigger than referees" and suggested there was "one rule for United and one rule for everyone else".

"What Radebe has said is a piece of nonsense," Ferguson said. "The idea that we are controlling referees has no foundation. We all know Harte has had players sent off this season and last season. He made a meal of that incident on Saturday. That player has a record of diving. In the context of the player involved and his record in the game, you have to say we did not deserve to have a player sent off."

Leeds boss David O'Leary then hit back at Ferguson: "Maybe it's age. Maybe the great man's memory is going at 59 - he did say Barthez should have been sent off on Saturday ... I don't know, maybe he has had a bad weekend."

Leeds United 3-4 Manchester United (Premier League, 2001-02)

Jermaine Beckford of Leeds United scores the winning goal during the FA Cup third round game with Manchester United © Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson had warned his players that, coming off the back of a shock defeat to Middlesbrough and with Arsenal and Liverpool holding the advantage in the title race, they would have to win each of their remaining six games to take the title.

Travelling to Elland Road, Manchester United duly ran up a 4-1 lead by the 55th minute - Paul Scholes and Mark Viduka scoring for either side before a brace from Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and one from Ryan Giggs put the visitors in charge. An Ian Harte free-kick on the hour gave Leeds hope, though, and Lee Bowyer - returning from a six-match ban - made it 4-3 with a header on 80 minutes.

Manchester United held on grimly for the final ten minutes, and afterwards Ferguson said: "We were desperate to win and we achieved it. It was very difficult because they were desperate to win the game, too." The three points ultimately proved insufficient, with Arsenal finishing ten points clear at the top of the table.

Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United (FA Cup third round, 2009-10)
The teams had not met for almost six years at the time of their FA Cup tie in January 2010 and Leeds, then residing in League One, had not won at Old Trafford since February 1981.

Even so, Sir Alex Ferguson sustained his first ever third-round FA Cup exit - and first FA Cup defeat to a lower-league side - as a result of Jermaine Beckford's 19th-minute goal. "It was shocking," Ferguson said. "I don't think any of the players can say they had a good day."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.