That Old Northern Business (War of The Rose Man Utd vs Leeds)Written by Chris Clark
After battle utters its own sound
Which is like nothing on earth’
It’s across the M62 corridor and simultaneously the naturally dividing Peninnes that arguably English footballs bitterest rivalry exists. Could this War of The Roses, this rivalry, envy, and hatred, be rooted in the bloody and turbulent Middle Ages, or the power hungry, industrial northern textile magnets, constructing their own temples of civic pride, or can it be a more recent encounter? An FA Cup semi-final fought in March 1965, brought two teams face to face, one an unstoppable force with a point to prove and a reputation to build, the other, an immovable object fuelled with the determination to succeed and lay the ghosts of their fallen Munich comrades to rest?
The nation’s sweethearts following the Munich air disaster Matt Busby gradually rebuilt his original ‘Babes’. With Bobby Charlton’s, survivors guilt and burning desire to honour his lost teammates, George Best’s sublime skills, and Denis Law’s prowess in front of goal, Busby had the weapons with which to finally capture the holy grail of European Football the ‘Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens’ . In contrast, Don Revie grabbed hold of a middling second division Leeds Utd in 1961, and by 1964 through a mixture of sheer bloody-mindedness, guile, and craft, dragged them kicking, punching and scoring, into the rarified air of English league division one football. By the time of the 1965 FA Cup semi-final, Man Utd sat atop of the league with Leeds perched third.
The ensuing battle on a boggy March, Hillsborough pitch, resulted in a stalemate, with the Yorkshire Post comparing the two teams to packs of snarling dogs intent on biting lumps out of each other instead of playing football. The two teams regrouped ready to go again the following Wednesday at Notts Forest’s City Ground. Leeds resolutely stood shoulder to shoulder repelling the constant bombardment from the League leaders until Don Revie spotted a chink in Man Utd’s armour and entering the final quarter sent Billy Bremner up front. As the game entered ‘Fergie Time’ Leeds began to assert their superiority, Bremner latched onto a long floated ball forward by the ex-Utd midfielder Johnny Giles, and piercing the Mancunian defence, sealed Leeds first ever FA Cup Final appearance. Incensed Utd fans confronted and attacked the referee at final whistle as the cauldron of hate boiled, bubbled and spilled on to the pitch. The battle won, Leeds ultimately failed to win the war, losing to Liverpool in the Cup Final as Utd completed a Red Rose double finishing the season as champions of Division One. However, finishing in second place Leeds where menacingly poised on Utd’s shoulder. Don Revie and his Real Madrid clad imitators had planted the White Rose of Yorkshire firmly in the nations’ footballing conscious.
There’s a picture taken of Jack Charlton during a training session for Leeds Utd in August 1970. Set against a blue sky scattered with fluffy white clouds, he stands, lean and imperious sporting his Leeds Whites, head tilted slightly skywards, taking in a big draw of his cigarette. Big Jack had plenty to be feeling pleased about, as a world cup winner, and integral part of the illustrious Leeds team currently building on their ‘big team’ foundations with regular domestic and European successes. Whether it was over confidence, a lack of foresight or, a sense of directionless following the realisation a formidable challenge had been overcome; Utd were powerless to resist footballs cyclical nature and the new dawn rising in the east, as the sun began to set on their Holy Trinity, they stumbled glassy-eyed into the 70’s.
If Utd had represented the glamour and optimism of the swinging sixties, with their fifth Beatle, midweek continental adventures and free scoring fluid football, then Leeds were a team for the tough, uncompromising and lean 70’s. Exorcising the ghosts of Munich and the eventual capture of the European Cup proved to be the peak of Busby’s Utd. Leeds built on their foundations and strode regally into an increasingly economic desperate 70’s crushing any dissent remorselessly. The 1973/74 season climaxed with wildly different fortunes for both teams. Just as one of their own had made the pass from which Bremners pin prick began Utds deflation, so it was another Denis Law, sporting the Sky Blue of their noisy neighbors City, back-heeled Utd into the ignominy of the second division.
Six years previous they’d sat above Europe surveying all beneath them, now they had a goal keeper as joint leading scorer. Across the Pennines pints were raised in ‘God’s Own Country’ as Leeds finishing the season 5pts clear of their nearest challengers Liverpool, celebrated their 2nd league championship success. In 1461 during The Wars of the Roses, at the Battle of Towton, Edward the Duke of York routed the Lancastrian King Henry claiming the title of King of England as his prize. By 1974, Don Revie and his Leeds team had disposed the Red Rose of Lancashire and forcibly imposed themselves, and the White rose of Yorkshire, on Englands’ footballing throne.
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