View from the press box: what is it about Leeds United?



Leeds spygate was all over the media at the weekend. The Leeds United-Derby County clash at Elland Road, televised by Sky on Friday evening, was always going to interest those who follow the fortunes of the EFL Championship.

Then Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa confirmed that he had sent a spy to watch Derby training. A dodgy looking individual had been spotted in the bushes, equipped with a pair of pliers and binoculars – think John Buchan not Charles Buchan here – and the rest of football became apoplectic. They were even talking about in Argentina, although there nobody could see what all the fuss was about.

Elsewhere, though, “dirty Leeds” became “cheating Leeds”, and all those things that Brian Clough said about them needing to chuck in the dustbin their medals won under Don Revie and start again under Cloughie’s whiter-than-white managership were regurgitated.

Leeds United came out as the most hated team by quite some distance

What is it about Leeds United? Last summer a survey run by LeedsLive and its sister titles asked fans of each club whether they love, hate or are indifferent to each current Championship club apart from their own.

The view of fans of each club were given equal weighting in drawing up the results, no matter how many voted, to keep the overall table fair. Leeds United came out as the most hated team by quite some distance.

On average, 74 per cent of fans said they hated Leeds. Strangely, the club that hates Leeds most is apparently Bristol City, where 84 per cent of the fans at Ashton Gate find the Elland Road club unpalatable. I wonder what happened there?

Overall, Millwall is the second most reviled club in the Championship with 67 per cent of fans saying that they hate the London club. Interestingly, the biggest number of any single club’s fans that hate Millwall is Leeds with 88 per cent. In a strange kind of way you could say that they are kindred spirits.

Life of Brians: ITV’s Brian Moore working with Brian Clough in the 1970s

Bottom of the pile is Ipswich Town, with only 11 per cent of haters. The Suffolk club seem to have done little to alienate anyone outside of Norwich.

It was under Revie that Leeds, although hugely successful in the top tier of English football – we called it the First Division in those days – were still widely criticised for their physical play and gamesmanship.

Leeds had players such as Norman “bite your legs” Hunter, as well as a number of other, shall we say, robust defenders and midfielders, and they also practised a few dark arts behind the referee’s back.

We must not forget that they were also a fine football team. Remember that 7–0 defeat of Southampton in March 1972, where Leeds retained possession of the ball for what seemed like most of the match? That 39-pass ring which they ran around the hapless Saints, to a chorus of “Ole, Ole”, and Match of the Day commentator Barry Davies seemingly wincing as he tells viewers: “This is almost cruel.”

We must not forget that they were also a fine football team. Remember that 7–0 defeat of Southampton in March 1972?

Brian Clough had a complicated history with Leeds United. Indeed, his apparent hatred of them seems to have played a part in him leaving Derby County.

Stuart Webb, then club secretary, recalls: “Rows had been escalating for weeks, if not months, with Cloughie spending days out of Derby’s loop being outspoken, to the delight of London Weekend Television’s bigwigs for their On The Ball and Big Match programmes, and to the dread of the Rams chairman, Sam Longson, and the Derby board, who began to fear repercussions for the club every time the manager opened his mouth.”

It was just bizarre that Clough should later become Leeds United’s manager, albeit for only 44 days.

Here we are, 44 years later, and the rest of football apparently still hates Leeds. And unlike Millwall, maybe they do care?