Leeds go to Hillsborough tonight in a game that should be quite titillating, even for the neutral. It certainly can't be argued this time that the sense of anticipation down south is all one sided, as our allocation of over 5,000 tickets sold out within days. No, contrary to many other games we'll play this season, Sheffield Wednesday versus Leeds United is a proper - old fashioned if you like – Yorkshire derby.
Of course it is I hear you saying. But the distinction between what is legitimately a fixture of this pedigree for me is equally obvious. There's a history. Our last meetings (A Wednesday double for the first time since Christ was a lad) were in Leeds last disastrous relegation season, a lurch towards administration, bodged CVAs, minus 15 points, boo hoo. For many Leeds fans of a certain age Gordon Watson's dive in an otherwise imperious 6-1 win there twenty years ago still rankles. From a personnel standpoint the mere presence of Neil Warnock in the wrong half of his home town should mean dogs abuse off the duck's back, and rightly or wrongly the Wendies will forever be known as the team who waved one Eric Cantona on up the M1 after an abortive trial. Hell, even the two cities are known for liking a bit, the last handbags at City Hall incident being Sheffield's protracted attempt to derail plans for our spangly new arena, a fairly obvious conceit for me as they've been happy enough to accept our dollar down in Sheffield 9 for more than twenty years. Add it all together and I don't know what the hell it means but that you can have my guarantee that there'll be plenty of banter between the fans all night and the victors will be drinking long into Saturday morning by way of celebration. Proper.
Barnsley for instance is within spitting distance of Elland Road, it is to rivalries what Simon Cowell is to the unearthing of fresh musical talent...
I say proper because derby games need to have two ingredients, and one is lost without the other. The first is geography of course, as our entrenched island mentality means there's nothing more satisfying than an opportunity to put one over on our near cousins. The second is some sense of tradition, of history, an event or sequence of events that have somehow got the two parties to where they are. Combine these two factors and you have yourself a powder keg and the ability for a game to light the fuse; miss one and all you have instead is a bit of shouting and some spilt chips. Example? Well, in Scotland Rangers/Newco travel to Mount Florida on Saturday to play Queen's Park- the mighty Spiders – in the season's first Glasgow derby. You'll see what I did there. Geography? Yes. Long term rivalry? Jog on. There are other reasons of course, but as an example although Barnsley for instance is within spitting distance of Elland Road, it is to rivalries what Simon Cowell is to the unearthing of fresh musical talent. Ditto Bradford. Oh, and Burnley.
Our slide from football's top table has had a number of implications, one of which has been the fabrication of a number of “Rivalries” of a distinctively lesser vintage from any Leeds fan's perspective than our trips to Sheffield, Stamford Bridge, Wearside or over the Pennines. These semi fictional pre texts for unrequited hatred come from two main sources, the first being an apocryphal loathing of the Revie-era side, an inferiority complex handed down like an heirloom, intra generational prejudices inbred from practically the womb. Usually this is rationalised and/or compounded by some otherwise long forgotten thrashing in a Simod cup tie, a lost girlfriend to “That gobby tw*t from Leeds” or a brick through the back of an XR2 window up a Holbeck sidestreet. Cue father and son at matches goading us for ninety minutes trying to get a rise, chins covered in spittle, all synchronised w*nker signs and hapless, mimed threats of aggression at some point after the game to be defined later.
When Leeds United arrive at your ground however, the circus really has come to town
The second developers of “Rivalries” are far more insidious; those poor man's marketers, the schmucks at football clubs up and down the land with the title “Commercial Manager” on their desk. I do have some sympathy for them, I really do. After all, you wouldn't fancy trying to fill Vicarage Road for the visit of Bristol City on a wet November night, would you? When Leeds United arrive at your ground however, the circus really has come to town. The ticket seller's pitch is simple enough: “Roll up, roll up then to see the our plucky gladiators take on the nefarious cheats from up't/down the fackin' road” and accordingly you're invited to boo and hiss, Warnock as Widow Twanky, pratfalls from the Nou Camp to Wycombe the visitor's speciality. Facepainting next to the social club, a pound. Et. F*cking. Cetera. It's lazy. It's dull. It's the invention of twenty somethings who've seen the Damned United, and measured by sheer duplicity alone, it's totally what modern football is all about.
Even looking with a degree of perspective, this reasoning stretches the imagination on both the grounds of credibility and geography. Remember our deep seated wars with Middlesborough? (60 miles away), Hull (70) and...Leicester? (More than 100 by the time the police have diverted your coach through Leamington Spa). Thought not. That's because they don't exist. There is no history between us. There is, in fact, no us. Speaking honestly although it's a bit nanny state and all that, I personally think that stoking up these completely artificial feelings of animosity can create a crowd behaviour problem where wouldn't normally exist. It would be easier to say no-one like us, and we don't care. But if you're from countless Championship towns and cities across the country, be prepared to have your emotions manipulated. Just because it's category A doesn't mean we can't all be friends though, eh?
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