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Why are Man Utd and Leeds football rivals? History of the derby explained

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By Michael Graham

Manchester United and Leeds United will meet twice in one week in the Premier League to renew one of football’s longest lasting rivalries.

Rivalries are everywhere in football, of course. They arise and last for various reasons and for different periods of time.

Some are dormant rivalries, the result of competition for honours. Those settle down and only resurface when trophies are in play. Some rivalries are due to geography, others stem from football itself.

Occasionally, in the case of Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, they’re, well, complicated.

The rivalry between Man Utd AND Leeds it is one of the most enduring in all of football, with its roots dating back to the mid-15th century to the pre-Tudor era.

So why are the two clubs, which are 40 miles apart, such fierce and historic rivals?

Why are Man Utd and Leeds rivals?

The rivalry between Man Utd and Leeds long predates football. You have to go back more than 500 years to discover its roots.

Don’t worry though, you don’t have to be a history buff to get it. Just watching Game of Thrones will pretty much catch up with you. It’s basically the Starks and the Lannisters, two powers vying for control and influence in a castle-strewn landscape.

The War of the Roses was a series of bitter conflicts in a 32-year civil war between the House of Lancaster (the red rose of Lancashire) and the House of York (the white rose of Yorkshire) which ultimately resulted in extinction of both houses and the birth of the Tudor dynasty of England.

Once the swords and spears were dropped, the rivalry between the cities of Manchester and Leeds continued into England’s Industrial Revolution as once again both directly vied for greater regional prosperity. Often the success of one meant the decline of the other.

Football rivalry between Man Utd and Leeds

At this point, some may be wondering why, then, Leeds e Manchester City not rivals. If this were just a distant and entrenched story, they sure would be.

The answer is, of course, soccer, and it can be traced back to two men: Matt Busby and Don Revie.

In the 1960s, both clubs were really taking off with iconic managers in their respective histories and were on a collision course. A 1965 FA Cup semi-final turned into a brawl between Jack Charlton and Denis Law, with Yorkshire’s post reading: ‘Both sides behaved like a pack of dogs biting and growling at each other’ other on a bone”.

Leeds won the cup semi-final, but Man Utd won the championship that year, beating Leeds on goal difference.

That was the beginning of the football rivalry, but not the end. They fought bitterly on and off thereafter. In 1991/92, for example, the last season before the Premier League began, Leeds and Man Utd were challenging for the title. Leeds won, Man Utd won the title the following year.

Then there were the individual player battles as well, with Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland immediately popping into my head.

Alan Smith didn’t help much either. Smith was asked at the height of Leeds’ modern era in 2002 if there was a team he would never play for: “Yes,” he said. “Man United”.

Smith was born and raised in Leeds and, following their relegation in 2004, vowed to stay at the club to help rebuild it. Within weeks he had signed for Man Utd, and the anger and sense of betrayal is still palpable today.

So, the reason why Man City and Leeds are not rivals is essentially down to football alone, and from Leeds’ point of view there is a definite ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ kind of situation. The red color of the Man Utd kit is also an important factor given the history.

Head-to-head record between Man Utd and Leeds

Manchester United have certainly got the better of the rivalry over the years. Indeed, they have nearly won twice as many derbies between the sides as Leeds.

This includes winning all their meetings in the League Cup and even just shadowing the head-to-head FA Cup.

Top scorers in matches between Man Utd and Leeds

Famously, the Charlton brothers were on different sides of the Pennines division in their club careers. Bobby played for Man Utd while Jack wore the white shirt for Leeds.

Bobby scored five meet goals during his career, the same as Billy Bremner and Ryan Giggs, and that tally can be broken by two players.

Current Man Utd star Bruno Fernandes has a real taste for scoring against Leeds, and already has six goals against them to his name.

The overall top scorer in the match, however, is ex-Leeds Mick Jones. He scored seven derby goals during his career. Bruno will certainly have that record in his sights.

Mick Jones (Leeds) \- 7 goals
Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd) \- 6 goals
Billy Bremner (Leeds) \- 5 goals
Ryan Giggs (Man United) \- 5 goals
Sir Bobby Charlton (Man United) \- 5 goals

Memorable matches Man Utd vs Leeds

Manchester United 4-3 Leeds, 2002

Leeds had an outstanding squad in the early 2000s. During that time, they were standing with the best clubs in Europe. This included Man Utd.

The teams also played a real thriller at Old Trafford, with a brace from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer helping the Red Devils to a 4-3 victory.

Manchester United 0-1 Leeds, 2010

After Leeds’ financial woes that came with looking for a shortcut to glory, they fell back into the EFL for many years.

In January 2010 they were drawn in the FA Cup against Man Utd at Old Trafford. Nobody gave them many chances but surprisingly a goal from Jermaine Beckford won it for them.

It was the first time Sir Alex Ferguson had been knocked out of the FA Cup by a lower league side.

Manchester United 3-2 Leeds, 1998

Man Utd had many memorable moments in their 1998/99 treble campaign, but there was also an early season home win against Leeds.

The game was back and forth with both teams in an attacking mindset and looked to be heading towards a 2-2 draw.

However, Nicky Butt of all people appeared with a late winner for Man Utd.

This article was originally posted on 90min.com as Why are Man Utd and Leeds football rivals? History of the derby explained.