SHEFFIELD UNITED don’t do fashionable. The outside world has little understanding, but it is because the club represents down-to-earth, straight-talking, honest, working-class characteristics of the city it represents that, despite all the knocks, post-war lack of success and boardroom shenanigans, it has such a loyal and genuine fanbase.
The same should be said of the noisy neighbours, but not quite. Sheffield Wednesday and equally loyal supporters have always viewed themselves as a cut above, famously self-styled as ‘massive’ with not too much evidence to back it up. All fur coat and no knickers so to speak.
Leeds United, meanwhile, are in a league of their own when it comes to arrogance; already in the Premier League if you listen to midfield man Jack Harrison. “You see the style of play we have. It is not like the rest of the Championship teams. It will be interesting to see if we can continue that style of play in the Premier League as the standard is that much better”, he said after scoring the winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Manchester City loanee is not ruling out a return to Leeds next season, which is hardly surprising given that he has never made a senior appearance for his parent club. He added: 'It is exciting, with the history of the club, we deserve to be there.”
Granted, in the second automatic promotion position, four matches remaining and a three-point lead over third-placed Sheffield United, Marcelo Bielsa’s team hold fate in their own hands. If it remains so then yes, they deserve to be returning to the Premier League following an absence of 15 years. But not because of the club’s history. If Leeds are promoted it is because under their Argentine manager’s guidance in his first season there, Leeds have played attractive, attacking, innovative football, winning many admiring glances. As coincidentally have the Blades under Chris Wilder but, inexplicably, for some that’s not viewed as so sexy.
Harrison’s arrogance is indicative of the media’s outpouring of love for Leeds in recent days, seemingly based on the fact they have won three top flight titles since the Second World War, the last of which was 27 years ago. That of course was under the management of Sheffield-born Howard Wilkinson whose functional style in winning the last First Division crown before the Premier League was born, was rather frowned upon.
No, the media gets all misty-eyed about the Don Revie era at Elland Road where Leeds became a great football team, spoiled by their bare-faced cynicism. Revie, a flawed character who later walked out on England in pursuit of cash offered to manage the United Arab Emirates, announced by selling the story to a national newspaper, delivered two top flight titles, in 1969 and ’72, the latter mired in unproven allegations of bribery to fix a result.
Under him Leeds also won an FA Cup, League Cup, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup twice and were losing European Cup finalists to Bayern Munich in Paris. At the time only the second English team to have reached the final. Managed by David O’Leary, they reached the were beaten Champions League semi-finalists 26 years later before the rot set in.
Whilst Revie built a squad full of top quality which played sublime passing football, it was their passion for brutality which created a universal dislike. A memory which has stuck with most football fans outside of Leeds to this day and passed down two generations. ‘We all hate Leeds scum’ the accompaniment from opposing supporters wherever they play.
Since then, of course, Leeds became a beacon of how not to run a football club. Wreckless spending led to insolvency, administration, points deductions, legal battles and the sale of Elland Road as well as the club’s training ground. Thirty-one managers have followed Revie, 22 of them since the turn of the century.
The latest homage to Leeds was penned by Henry Winter, much-respected chief football writer for The Times. The award-winning journalist and author wrote this week with apparent gushing affection and fluttering eyelashes: “The Premier League needs Leeds United.” A common theme among his national press box colleagues.
Adding: “Leeds know they still have major work to complete. They also know how much they want it. If Leeds do go up, the city will acquire even more of a buzz, there will be more students switching there, and there will be smiles among broadcasters, knowing that noise is guaranteed at Elland Road.”
Ross Kennerley, a Yorkshire-based journalist writing for website 90MiN, says: “Cast your minds back 18 years and we're talking about a club that reached the Champions League semi-finals, before tumbling out of the top division three years later, shrouded in years of off-field turmoil and huge debts. They sank lower still, falling into League One in 2007, with grins sweeping all across the country as jubilant rival supporters smirked in the face of the club's misfortunes.
“You can forget that now. Save your joy and laughter for when your side beats them in the Premier League. All who loathed football’s bad boys derived sadistic pleasure as Leeds' over ambition proved their downfall, but they've had their suffering.”
Well, maybe they have and good luck to them if it is West Yorkshire not South Yorkshire flying the Premier League flag next season. But spare us the right of entitlement and doey-eyed romance of bygone years bearing little resonance to anyone over the age 40 who is not a Leeds fan.
Sheffield United are where they are despite the eighth smallest budget in the Championship. To date they have scored the same number of goals (69) as Leeds and conceded less. Last month they beat Bielsa’s team at Elland Road and were only undone in the earlier encounter at Bramall Lane by a schoolboy goalkeeping error. Indeed, Bielsa admitted afterwards that the Blades were unlucky not to have won, let alone lose. The
As for atmosphere, 30,000 fans watched the recent shock defeat to Bristol City at the Lane and a similar crowd is expected for the visit of Nottingham Forest on Good Friday.
Automatic promotion is looking less likely after the Blades imploded to let relegation-threatened Millwall take a point at the Lane at the weekend before Leeds beat Wednesday at Elland Road. But as it stands, before the Easter fixtures, the race still hangs in the balance. Hopefully that remains so when Sheffield United emerge on the other side with two matches remaining.
Otherwise it's the play-offs. A football lottery. But the national media darlings will still have something to write about. The shabby chic of Aston Villa, champions of the old First Division 38 years ago and European Cup winners in 1982, currently fifth in the Championship table.
By the logic of those scribes who move in rarified circles and suffer from big-club-syndrome, Villa must be entitled to rejoin the Premier League.
Fortunately, in the real world it doesn't always work out like that.