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Rivalry Watch: The War of Roses

Continuing our journey through Leeds' most famous rivalries, we take a look at what the Daily Telegraph called "English football’s most intense — and inexplicable — rivalry", the one between Leeds and Manchester United.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images


Popular opinion says that the United Rivalry has its roots way back in the medieval War of Roses. It can even be seen in the colours of the clubs home kits, Red Lancashire Rose with Manchester and White Yorkshire Rose with Leeds. It doesn't really matter that the Red Devils weren't always red and the Whites weren't always white, now does it?

When it really started was during the Industrial Revolution when Leeds' economy began to flourish thanks to the woollen industry. At the same time Manchester had grown into one of the most important cities in England thanks to its cotton production. Enough to say that the production of those two made it impossible for both cities to coexist peacefully.

Another adversities can be found in cricket, for example. It is best seen in every Roses Match, a game played between Yorkshire Country Cricket Club and Lancashire Country Cricket Club. Over the years, those games have proven to be just as thrilling as those played on football fields.

The roots:

Both clubs met for the first time in Second Division on Banks Street Stadium in Manchester in 15th January 1906 with Leeds winning the match 3-0. But what is worth noting, the first time they had met, the two teams weren't named as they are today. What is today known as Leeds United was then Leeds City and Manchester United was then playing under the name of Newton Heath L&YR.  While the latter is using its new name for a while now (since 1902), the former had changed it quite recently, in 2005. As the team from Manchester saw their immediate promotion, the two times those teams met in Second Division in 1906 were also the last. The next time they would meet would be under their new names.

As Leeds City saw it's disbanding due to financial irregularities, Leeds United emerged and took over the Elland Road. Starting from the Midland League, the new-born team took 20 years to grab a win over Manchester United in season 1925-26. Three years later, Leeds became the first of the two teams to claim a double victory by winning 3-2 at Elland road and 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Revie vs. Busby:

The rivalry gained momentum as the teams were both led by their legendary coaches. Matt busby in Manchester and Don Revie. Under Revie's lead, The Peacocks earned their reputation as a team preferring physical solutions over technical beauty. Busby's legendary squad with the likes of Bobby Charlton or George Best is considered one of the best of all time and Leeds with Bobby's brother, Jack Charlton and ex Devil Johnny Giles had proven to be a tough nut to crack a couple of times.

In 1964-65 they met in FA Cup Semi-Finals and there is nothing more to describe the match better, than the photo of Denis Law and Jack Charlton having a go against each other. Truly a vicious duel which has ended with Leeds winning in the replay thanks to Bremner's late goal.

Law and Charlton having a row march

Law and Charlton having a row march on the courtesy of Mirror Photos UK

The Whites and The Red Devils were going head to head in nearly every competition. Finishing league both at 61 points and ManU winning the title due to a better goal average.

What definitely hurt Leeds' fans the most was Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen being sold to Manchester United, due to their financial problems. Both of the players were Leeds' best at the time and it was too much for the fans to take. But the player who's transfer hurt Leeds the most was Eric Cantona. Legendary King Eric, who was named a player of the century by the fans from Manchester, was sold by Leeds after a successful season in which he led them to League Championship, leaving the Whites' fans baffled.

View from the opposite side:

The rivalry's flame is a bit dim, and a lot of nowadays fans of both teams tend to focus on other adversaries. So I decided to ask one of the fans of the Red Devils about his take on the case. Meet the guy behind one of the most popular blogs about ManU in Poland, Robsterblog.

"To be honest, all of the magic and glitter of the rivalry, for a common fan from Poland is nearly imperceptible. Of course, every fan of particular team knows, that we avoid each other, that there is no love between us, but due to the geographical and historical issues it’s more of a curiosity for us, than an actual state of mind.

However, I happen to be lucky enough to live in the UK, moreover I live nearby both of the cities in question, so my view on the situation might be a little more reliable. Going quickly through my memory I come to the conclusion that most of the people living around me is either a fan of The Whites or The Red Devils. But, to make things clear, if you are walking the town wearing anything red you don’t need to be armed with a baseball bat or anything like that. The only thing you are exposed to is a sarcastic comment from one of the "unfaithful" passer-byes and even that would be said with a dose of sympathy and humour.

Years go by and the world is changing. From the moment the British stadium hooliganism had been taken care of, that fierce and viscous aura of rivalry is vanishing in my opinion. It’s hopeless to seek any signs of aggression or hypocrisy between the two teams, unless you take the fact that the Whites’ fans consider their team the best in the world. "

His summary of the rivalry is a great example of how things look like. The rivalry might be a song of the past right now, but that's still a great way to have some fun by someone else's expense.


As stated above, it's not much left from the fierce atmosphere of the rivalry. The bygones are bygones and both teams are facing their battles at the moment. Let's leave it on the shelf in the memory book for the time being, just so that we can go back to it once in a while. At least until the time the Peacocks earn their promotion to the Premier League and we can go all out once again.