FOR just over half a century, Leeds United have lorded it over their near-neighbours in Huddersfield Town.
But times may be a-changing...And Trevor Cherry, a man revered by supporters on either side of the A62 divide, insists both head into Saturday’s lunch-time showdown at the John Smith’s Stadium as footballing equals.
Anyone needing further evidence only need take a look at the current Championship table, with just two points and four places separating the Tyke rivals ahead of their derby joust, with Town currently ‘top dogs’ in West Yorkshire – although that could change if United triumph in two days’ time.
It will not have been lost on seasoned Town fans that their heroes have not finished above United in the league table since way back in 1961-62, but the tantalising prospect remains they could, finally, claim the bragging rights they crave come early May.
Claiming local honour may be one thing, but prizes and not parochialism is what both clubs should be striving for come the spring-time, according to Cherry, who sees no reason why both cannot be firmly in the play-off shake-up come the business end of the campaign if each invest in what promises to be a crucial January.
Currently in 11th spot and just four points behind the team in the final play-off spot in Hull City – Town have made an excellent and better-than-expected start to the Championship, give or take a couple of blips.
The smart money is on go-ahead chairman Dean Hoyle, who gave Simon Grayson the green light to bring in high-profile loan recruits such as Jermaine Beckford and Simon Church in the autumn, to support the Town boss further if the club are still in the top-six mix following a key run of fixtures to the turn of the year – and not pass up the opportunity of a serious play-off tilt.
January also represents a massive window of opportunity for new United owners GFH Capital, with Whites fans fully expecting them to waft the transfer cash to enable Neil Warnock to formulate a serious promotion bid, a luxury the club have not truly been afforded in their time back in the second tier.
Cherry, who will be present at Saturday’s eagerly-awaited derby and is a regular at both the John Smith’s Stadium and Elland Road, said: “I think both clubs could get in the play-offs. But it is a tall order to get automatic promotion with the teams who have come down with all the money and both would need investment to go further.
“I think the clubs are equals at the minute, with the only thing being that Leeds have a bigger fanbase.
“To be fair, Dean has been fantastic at Huddersfield. He made a few mistakes early on, which new chairmen sometimes do and he would admit that himself. But he is putting his money where his mouth is.
“Dean is the best chairman I have known in my time, even though I am getting on a bit now. I think he will back Simon to the hilt as best he can.
“Town are doing tremendously well and Simon has settled in really well. I know they had a blip at Middlesbrough, but I am sure Town fans, at the start of the season, would have taken where they are now. Being critical, Leeds have not really thrown any money at being in the top six.
“I have only spoken with Neil once, but I know he has been very frustrated with how things have gone this season.
“To be perfectly honest, I do think Huddersfield have got a better squad and Neil would probably admit that as well.
“With this new takeover, I think it is like a breath of fresh air at Leeds. It has obviously given Neil and all the lads a lift.
“If Leeds got three players to the level of (El-Hadji) Diouf, they would have a chance.
“I think Leeds are a fantastic investment. The club are as big as Villa and Everton if not bigger; they are just in the wrong division.”
As recently as seven days ago, if you had asked Cherry what he thought the outcome of Saturday’s derby would be, the answer would have been crystal-clear. A home win and an emphatic one at that. But now he is not so sure, given that United, generating momentum on and off the pitch, have clawed back five points on Town by way of morale-boosting victories over Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
Cherry, a boyhood Terriers fan who served both his hometown club and United with distinction during some glory days at both, said: “Before last Saturday, I thought Huddersfield would have won the game two or three-nil.
“But Leeds, on the back of two good wins against top-of-the-table Crystal Palace and Leicester City in third, have got things going.
“I thought they battled tremendously well on Tuesday. The Leeds lads were really up for it.
“I do think discipline will play a big part on Saturday and certainly neither side can afford to go down to 10 men.
“There will be a lot of little battles going on and pride will be at stake. I am sure Simon will want to put one over Leeds and Neil will want to get another result.”
Cherry’s two most famous derby memories arrived in the early seventies, with Town scuppering Leeds’s quest for a league and cup double twice.
Five-and-a-half months after frustrating United in a 0-0 Leeds Road draw in April 1971, Town famously beat their near-neighbours on home soil in a 2-1 win, with Cherry and fellow defender Roy Ellam – who went onto join Leeds with the latter hitting the winner – immaculate at the back.
It proved a rare chink of light in Town’s last season in the top-flight, with Ian Greaves’s side winning just six league games all season, while Leeds were pipped to the Division One title by Derby County by a point.
Cherry said: “I can remember when we did not exactly help them win the title and remember Big Jack gave me a few verbals and me and Alan having a right ding-dong. I kicked bricks off Clarkey and am then shaking hands with him in the dressing room not long after.”