Derby Daze: Leeds – A Retro-Rivalry?

SO, IS Leeds a derby? That the question even needs to be posed is telling and speaks volumes about Teesside’s cultural confusion and identity crisis. Distance, geography and logic suggest it is not… but Boro are braced for the biggest crowd of the season and the arrival of our ever friendly cousins from the south for a powder keg clash will bring generations of historical emnity bubbling back to the surface. It sure feels like a derby….


Over 4,000 away fans travelling for a game that is on the box and the rising tension on Teesside suggests this is more than just the usual three points at stake – yet in the Gazette today Teessider Matthew Bates insists emphatically that it is not a derby game. But then again, he is a young lad from Stockton, a “town full of mackems”. He will naturally look to the North and to more recent rivalries when it comes to bragging rights.
He will have grown up with regular Riverside clashes against our Tyne-Tees screentime rivals Newcastle and Sunderland and for as long as he has been in a first team feature fallen giants Leeds have been in their schadenfraude inducing post-Ridsdale nightmare of administration, relegation and lower league exile.
For an older generation though, and especially those on the “Yorkshire” side of the river who grew up before Middlebrough was culturally and politically moved 30 miles north in the municiple shake-ups of the late 60s and early 70s and who have friends and family and business links that point them south to Thirsk, Whitby, Northallerton and beyond, Leeds have a different historical footprint.
For a decade or more Leeds were the successful and dominant evil empire lurking aggressively to the south and a serious threat to Boro in the battle for hearts and minds in the playgrounds of the town and more so in the disputed badlands of North Yorkshire. For fans of a certain age, Leeds are the old enemy. Grrrrrrrr.
Leeds was always a derby in the 1970s. When you watched Yorkshire TV the Revie machine was an ever present headline hogging juggernaut. That is who you were measured against, not Newcastle and Sunderland which were still then dark and distant alien towns practically on the Scottish border.
Leeds were the Manchester United of their day, the glory hunter’s choice and all the sheep had the stupid sock tags with the numbers on and smiley Leeds badges painted on their haversacks. Duncan McKenzie could jump over a mini you know.
When Boro were still in the second division and Leeds were winning trophies and carving through Europe the pecking order was quite clear. They were the big boys who offered reflected glory and glamour and to eschew that to follow Boro was to elect for a life of self-inflicted masochism and mediocrity.
And it wasn’t just kids who fell into dirty Leed’s cynical embrace. Every fortnight there would be coach-loads of Teessiders travelling to Elland Road, adults reafffirming their Yorkshire identity and rowdy young ruffians enticed by the boot boy mystique.
The problem was made concrete when Jack Charlton took Boro up and we went head-to- head with them. More so when we started to beat them. What had been a patronising pat on the head for the little neighbours or even a smarmy second team affection because of their hero Charlton became a more marked snarling antagonism and soon the game became a serious point of friction and a real battle for status. In the seventies beating Leeds was far more important than beating the pair to the north.
Leeds was one game when Middlesbrough had to metaphorically lock up its daughters. Shops put shutters up and all police leave was cancelled. There was always trouble: in and around the station, in the pubs and in and around the ground as the meatheads on both sides fought it out. There were running battles in Boot Boy Alley and the Old Mans Park as swarms of kids in flares and parkas ducked for cover and the police horses charged up and down Linthorpe Road. At away games too. It was a trip where the Beggs Buses convoy often came back without windows and on the approach by foot you got asked the time a lot. It was a horrible and hostile place to go.
Since then thankfully the antagonism has eased. The immediate cultural conflict with our former sparring partners has faded as Middlesbrough has settled into its marriage with Stockton and started to get on better with the in-laws. We watch Tyne-Tees and are part of One North East, or South Newcastle or whatever the quangocrats’ sub-region is called these days. The once live grenade of the Leeds game has been defused.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a residual hostility. There is, and mainly because of the institutional boorish Tetley bittermen mentality of the Leeds travelling crowd, the only group that surpass Newcastle and Sunderland in their conscious nastiness. These are fans after all who sang in praise of the Yorkshire Ripper to taunt police. And Munich to taunt manchester United. And they started the paedophile taunts here too. Nice.
Of course, it doesn’t help that their fans laughed as Juninho sobbed on the pitch when we got relegated at Elland Road in 1997 too but while that still stings a bit that is a minor charge on the historic crime sheet.
So it may only be a derelict shell of a derby and not even recognised in some parts of Teesside as being relevent – the poll on the gazettelive.co.uk Boro page edged just toward sthe ‘no’ camp – but for many this will still be our biggest game of the season. And not just because of the massive pressure on the boss.
****
MEANWHILE, as we await the arrival of the silly sock tag and smiley badge wearing hordes from the south, there is an interesting and well researched bit on the Beeb blog today as their Football League man Paul Fletcher asks “What Has Gone Wrong With Boro?” Anyone want to tell him?
There’s a fantastic bit on the St Pauli experience – “The mood inside is more like an illegal rave than the sedate fare [of the PL]” – on the excellent Sabotage Times.
And now the Chilean miners have been sprung – either in a heart-warming story of co-operation, courage and redemption or a cynical airtime filler for rolling news depending on your perspective – here’s a fantastic piece on Franklin Lobos, the local football legend turned hewer stranded down there among their number.
All this and more (cue weekly plug) on my trendy twitter page which you can “follow” here.

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62 thoughts on “Derby Daze: Leeds – A Retro-Rivalry?

  1. Malcolm Allison…
    Despite all the personal difficulties, particularly during the latter years, what a truly great coach (but perhaps not manager), even in those very early days coaching the Cambridge University team. Up there with El Tel as a coach. Years ahead of your time. Sadly missed R.I.P
    As someone getting on in life (a bit), I’ve watched a lot of footy, particularly over the last 40 years in lots of places.Without doubt the worst football violence (both physical and verbal), I’ve seen has been perpetrated by the supporters of Leeds, Milwall, Chelsea, Man U and Everton(racist).
    Of course, all teams have had their element of idiots, fotunatley it’s not to the same degree now and hope it never returns. I believe it is still bad in old eastern European countries, but the worst I’ve ever experienced was being in the Olympic Stadium Rome for the derby, Roma and Lazio.Those Lazio fans, really frightening. I believe they continue to wait for the reincarnation of El Duce, Mussolini. Fantastic city and country though.
    This evenings match. Im committed to take my darling other half to see Corine Bailey Rae, so will watch first half on tv, tape second half and see it later on tonight without knowing final score. Hope it’s worth it(Corine Bailey Rae I mean)Cmon Boro, today must be the day. LOL

  2. BoroPhil picked up on my observation on Kyle Naughton: “It seems likely that this isn’t a happy group of players so he might not have found last season to be a good experience.”
    I have no hard evidence on which to base this assessment, other than common sense. Naughton (ignoring his Tottenham stay) came from a fairly successful Sheff Utd team and, in Boro, joined a team recently relegated and in turmoil so it is inevitable they were dispirited. Worse, they were singularly failing to mount the expected promotion challenge and, in fact, were dropping down the division. New players not settling, new manager not achieving and not being accepted – common sense dictates that this must have been an unhappy bunch of players to join. I’d be very perturbed if they were happy in those circumstances.
    BoroPhil says ‘the team spirit always strikes me as excellent’ – on what do you base that? Results speak louder than words and, while they talk the talk, they certainly don’t walk the walk. It would be a miracle after the events of the last 2-3 years if team spirit was excellent – in fact, it would be worrying.
    My Boro insider contact tells me a Scots-English split has developed and there’s a suspicion that the New Firm players are Gordon’s favourites. This could quite easily be GON’s beef for instance.
    However, I see the players’ unhappiness as nothing deep-seated, merely a reflection of lots of changes, lack of success and a club in danger of freefall. A decent run would soon remedy that. If this team starts to gel and gets into the top six, there will be few happier squads in the league and players will queue to join us.

  3. fred jones says that Leeds fans regard Manu U as their main rivals. Considering the gulf between those teams, this strikes me as delusional. Manu U don’t reciprocate – their rivals are Liverpool & Man City.
    The reason for the Leeds-Man U rivalry (when they were both top teams) is little different to Man U’s present rivalry with, say, Chelsea: big clubs vying for honours. In the case of Leeds-Man U, it was amplified by their closeness and the Yorks-Lancs ‘wars of the roses’.
    Depite their success in the 60s and 70s, further picquancy was added by most neutral’s dislike of the Leeds cynicism, which was in particular contrast to the purist freeform football of the Busby Man Utd era.
    But all of that is long in the past. To still see Manu Utd as your main rivals is just denial of reality. How about Barnsley?

  4. A Derby is a contest between sporting rival teams from the same area. Leeds is in the traditional West Riding of Yorkshire. Middlesbrough is in the traditional North Riding of Yorkshire. So, is it a derby match ?
    Well some of the catchement area for both clubs definietely overlaps, so I reckon that makes the teams rivals in that sense of wanting to win over people from the same area as supporters. So, yes it is a derby. Whatever …. the meeting always has an edge and it is always more satisfying to beat them that most.
    3-1 for the Boro today.

  5. Peter Holton:
    One of life’s lessons is being able to read between the lines and recognising journalistic spin that sensationalises and re-contextualises something that was perfectly innocuous at the time it was said.
    If you haven’t recognised that for what it is, then I suggest you go back and re-read it. It’s a nothing story by a New International biased hack looking to fill space and justify his Murdoch Salary. In fact, did you notice it’s a recycled piece from The Daily Star?
    You didn’t need much of an excuse to stay away, I suspect. I’m not suggesting you should do otherwise, you understand- that’s entirely up to you. But using a piece of crap like appeared in the Sky Sports website as justification is frankly, a bit thin!
    If you don’t like what the club is offering, then don’t buy it, but for heavens sake, don’t fall prey to vacuous trash like appears on Sky. It’s all politically motivated and spun for purpose.
    Boro were never a favoured club by Sky and never will be. We’re far too small to be significant in SKy’s world. They want to concentrate opinion on cities – centres of large population density where they can make megabucks. It’s why the Premier League is the Premier League! And the population of the UK is being sucked in.
    It’s exactly the same as the Harper Collins (A News Corporation subsiduary) expose of The Stig to the BBC’s detriment, and the ongoing vendetta that Murdoch has against anything that smells remotely of anything short of free-market economics. He’s having a big push early on the Conservative Government”s return to power, just as he benefitted strongly from Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s “reign”. He’s mounting a major campaign to take over BSkyB.
    If Murdoch gets such power, we’ll all lose the relative impartiality and objectivity we have in our public service media and we’ll get more and more of what Murdoch wants us to hear – the same sort of biased crap as in the article you linked. Your reaction is very worrying, because it’s absolutely typical of how Murdoch’s influence can be used to the benefit or detriment of whatever his favoured or disfavoured sectors or institutions are.
    Murdoch wants to see the BBC abolished or even better, subsumed into his own megalomaniacal empire. Be afraid. Be very afraid! Murdoch is not accountable to anyone but Murdoch. He is unelected. He is undemocratic. He has far too much power now, let alone if he succeeds.
    I’m off to the match!

  6. What is the derivation of “derby”. It’s one of those things that people just “grow into” and accept that if it’s a rival team from a close location, then it’s a “derby”.
    How close does close have to be? It’s stretching a point to suggest that Derby would be a derby. But how close do you have to be located before even being considered as a derby rival?
    Or is geographical location only one defining factor? Do you have to be in the same league, for example? Do you have to be playing in the same competition for it to be called a derby match?
    Is there such thing as a cup competition derby match?
    Does it matter a damn?
    Are their degrees of hate, intolerance and malicious bile that are dispensed with appropriate levels of venom, commensurate with the extent to which we can identify a match as a possible “derby”?
    Is the extent to which the lunatic fringe mobilise for bother dependent on their preconceptions of “derbyism”.
    If that’s its prime function – beyond its convenient inclusion as another essentially irrelevant word in the sports journo’s lexicon – then it’s somehow appropriate that it’s less than a well-considered and carefully defined term.
    As I asked, to the mainstream of supporters, does it matter?
    Well, regrettably, the answer is probably “yes”, it does matter – though to some more than others. Because conferring “derby” status does sharpen any edge there may be floating around the atmosphere and adds that little bit extra poignancy to the action and the result.
    The spectrum of emotional outpourings is expanded and the amplitude of expression more defined in a “derby” match. It’s “local” bragging rights that are at stake. It’s the right to the pro-active mickey take at work for all of the following week (or at least until the following Tuesday evening, these days). It’s heightened tribalism and pride.
    If those things are fundamentally important to you, then “derbies”, whatever they are, matter. And it follows that the definition of what constitutes a “derby” should perhaps assume greater importance and definition agreement than it apparently does.
    It’s when it’s used as an glib, easy, convenient excuse for the aggressive excesses of the relatively few who may somehow justify a regressive descent into neanderthal behaviour. “Derby” in a football context, has too often in the past become synonymous with lowering the threshold for loss of emotional control and presents an opportunity for those of a malicious disposition to vent their irrational spleen.
    It was for similar reasons that the “Home Internationals” were discontinued. When football became secondary to what became the main event – a day out for drunken louts, visits to the local hospital, and on a few extreme barbaric instances, to the morgue, for some.
    Leeds? A derby? We’re probably split down the middle on that one.
    Personally, I don’t care. What matters to me are the three points at stake. So, for me, you can call it a derby, a boater, a panama, a stetson, a plymouth, an aberdeen, a boot, a trainer, a Cheltenham Gold Cup, a steeplechase, a Stilton, a Red Leicester a Cheddar, or even just a plain old football match, it means the same at the end.
    We win, we lose or we draw.
    But it would be great to hammer Leeds! But only on the football pitch!

  7. Peter Holton if you like myself are not going to the game be honest with yourself and don’t blame David “One of our own” Wheater.
    The Sky report you have referred to is lazy, sensationalised Southern based London Journo garbage. It was lifted from an interview David gave to a NE Journalist where it was accurately reported “David Wheater has admitted Middlesbrough’s falling crowds have given the Riverside all the atmosphere of a reserve-team game, but he argued it is up to the players to get the fans back”.
    It later reported him as saying “It’s the ticket prices as well, especially with Corus going down a lot of people have lost their jobs. It’s not just the football it’s the financial side as well. Ticket prices are quite expensive, not just here but everywhere.
    “But we have a duty to entertain them. It’s all about winning for us, but the fans come to watch football, not boring football”.
    He did not launch an attack on the fans, he simply spoke the truth and answered a “posed” question by “admitting” not “stating” and by the way what do you expect him to drive? a Ford Anglia with furry dice and smoke woodbines down the Legion?
    He did not “Bemoan” or “Slam” the Boro supporters. I think you owe Wheats a huge apology!
    I didn’t go and won’t be returning to the Riverside until Stricken goes and takes his souless, clueless entourage with him.
    By the way AV have I have noticed my last few posts have not appeared, is it Gremlins or the content being too near the knuckle for those nice people at MFC?
    **AV writes: They must have gone astray although no problems in the system have been reported to me. I don’t censor stuff on diplomatic grounds.

  8. Is it a derby? Distance wise yes but thats where it ends.
    Leeds sell out their allocation week in, week out no matter what division, so dont take it as a reflection on you because it isn’t. I’d look at the increase in your fans to see once again another club having its yearly cup final against the not famous anymore Leeds
    Its about time you Boro got an identity. Your comments about not wanting to be part of the best county in the country is quite frankly embarrassing. You were kicked out of the county remember, it wasnt your choice, you quite simply didnt have the class to remain.
    Since then you have been desperately trying to associated yourself with Newcastle and Sunderland something else which not only they laugh at but the rest of the country too. They are even more laughable than you. To them you are like Bradford is to Leeds, small fry
    I’d give Darlington a call. Or more your level Whitby Town.
    **AV writes: I’ve corrected your spelling and grammar but other than delete the stuff about hooliganism I can’t really do much about the infantile mindset.

  9. Hey, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been boring… I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a little out of track! Come on!
    **AV writes: Yes Vickers, buck your ideas up!

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