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Manchester United vs Leeds United: Why do the two clubs have such a fierce rivalry?


The bad feeling that exists between Manchester United and Leeds was once described as ‘English football’s most intense, and most inexplicable’.

And it is a rivalry set to be renewed today when the two sides meet during their pre-season tour of Australia.

The Optus Stadium in Perth will host the historic occasion, eight years after they last faced off in a 3-0 Man United triumph at Elland Road.

But why is there such hostility, we hear you ask? The two clubs are situated some 40 miles apart, after all.

Leeds and Man United fans will renew their rivalry when the teams meet next summer in a pre-season ‘friendly’


Well, the rivalry (bizarrely) has its origins in the days of Tudor kings and William Shakespeare.

The feeling between United and Leeds is believed to be a manifestation of the rivalry between the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire, established during the 15th century War of the Roses – a series of civil wars fought for the throne of England.

Lancashire’s historic symbol is a red rose, while Yorkshire’s is a white rose – which is quite fittingly corresponded to in the kits of United and Leeds.

Jump forward three centuries and the two cities were at it again, this time during the industrial revolution, as unprecedented economic growth saw them competing over who could construct the most impressive architecture.

The clubs’ rivalry grew when both were dominant forces with some of the best players such as Billy Bremner, George Best and Bobby Charlton

Busby vs Revie

In the post-WWII era, Matt Busby’s Man United were the dominant force in English football, while Leeds established a reputation as a tough, uncompromising side under Don Revie.

The two sides met in the 1965 FA Cup semi-final, a match which saw a punch up between Jack Charlton and Denis Law. The Yorkshire Post issued the following verdict: “Both sides behaved like a pack of dogs snapping and snarling at each other over a bone.”

The ill-tempered game finished 0-0 and Leeds won the replay at the City Ground courtesy of an 89th minute goal.

United, however, had the last laugh as they pipped Leeds to the league title due to a better goal average that season.


The rivalry has extended far beyond the action of Old Trafford and Elland Road.

In the 1970s, when football hooliganism in Britain was at its most violent, fights between the Leeds United Service Crew and Man United’s Red Army were commonplace.

They were two of the most notorious hooligan firms in Britain and their fights became known as some of the most violent across the country.

Thankfully, these clashes have faded out due to a combination of a decline in both hooliganism and Leeds’ fortunes on the pitch.

Alan Smith, right, was a Leeds fan who played for the club but joined Man United in 2004


Despite famous clashes between Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haland, Ian Harte and Fabien Barthez, Robbie Keane and David Beckham – these encounters have become increasingly scarce as time has gone on.

Leeds were relegated in 1982 and did not face United until they returned to the top division eight years later in 1990.

And a similar period has followed in recent times: the two clubs have not been in the same division since Leeds were relegated in 2004 and have only played each other twice since.

Nonetheless, polls show that Leeds fans still consider Man United to be their main football rivals. Perhaps they’re still bitter about Alan Smith.

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