DERBY games are nothing new to Kyle Bartley.
As a teenager, the Stockport-born defender played in perhaps the most ferocious of all, Glasgow’s ‘Old Firm’ clash, when on loan at Rangers from Arsenal.
Bartley was back at Ibrox the following season for another taste of British football’s most bitter encounter so today’s all-West Yorkshire affair against Huddersfield Town is unlikely to faze a defender whose parent club also has a derby fixture where the rivalry between supporters can border on hatred.
“Derby games do matter massively,” said the 25-year-old Swansea City defender when speaking to The Yorkshire Post. “Everyone knows it is an important match and the fans want the local bragging rights, they are desperate to see us win.
“The players understand that but we also have to take the emotion out of it. There are three points up for grabs, just as is the case in every other league match. You have to remember that because if emotions come into it then it can affect you.”
Keeping a cool head amid a fast and ferocious ‘Old Firm’ game must be easier said than done, the build-up to today’s first league encounter between the two clubs since Rangers folded amid ruinous financial problems in 2012 has underlined just how much the game means on both sides of Glasgow’s divide.
“Playing in the Rangers-Celtic game was absolutely massive,” added Bartley, who finished on the losing side at Parkhead four times when sporting the colours of Rangers. “The fans are so passionate about their football up there. It means so much to both sides and it was a fantastic experience to be part of a game like that, even though we lost.
“Games like that stand you in good stead as a player. It was the same with my debut for Arsenal, away at Olympiacos in the Champions League.
“Funnily enough, that debut for Arsenal came after Sheffield United had made an approach about me. The manager (Arsene Wenger) at Arsenal rejected it because he said he needed me and playing in Greece was very special.
“I could barely hear a thing on the pitch, there was so much noise. The atmosphere was brilliant, and even though we lost 1-0 that was a great moment for me.
“The thing with the Glasgow derby is it is all people speak about in the week before the game. The papers also run pages and pages of coverage, it is absolutely huge. It showed how much the derby matters.
“For me and the players, though, we couldn’t get swept up in all that. You couldn’t take notice of what others were saying. We had a job to do and we have to keep our focus to do that. It is the same in any derby, you have to focus on your job.”
Leeds, famously, have not finished below Huddersfield in the league since 1961-62. It is a record that rankles with Town, who but for the abandonment of the final-day trip to Blackpool a couple of years ago following a pitch invasion could have finally ended that long wait for bragging rights over their neighbours from down the A62.
This time around, however, the Terriers are lording it over Leeds, David Wagner’s table-toppers already boasting a nine-point advantage just five games into the season.
For United, the opening month has been disappointing with just one win and three defeats under Garry Monk but Bartley insists that could be all about to change.
“There is plenty to build on here,” he added. “It has been a tough start and not what we were hoping for. But the international break came at the right time.
“We have worked hard over the past two weeks and the manager has had a chance to stress his methods, and how he wants us to play. It has also given us a chance to integrate any new lads.
“I do believe that the Leeds fans and the Leeds community will start to see how the manager wants us to play and the strides we are looking to make.”
Victory over the Championship’s surprise package would, of course, be a big step in the right direction. “Full credit to Huddersfield, they have had a very good start to the season,” added Bartley. “But we have seen it in the past where teams have a good or bad start and yet things change.
“It is such a long season and the league table will change so much between now and the end of the season. We have not had the best of starts but, hopefully, that can change against Huddersfield.”
Bartley has his own history with the Terriers. A little under three years ago, the defender was part of the Birmingham City side who triumphed 3-1 at Huddersfield. Not only that, but it was two headers from Bartley, both from crosses by Jesse Lingard, that proved the difference between the two sides.
Unfortunately, Bartley’s afternoon ended on a sour note as, in celebrating the Blues’ third goal, he briefly stepped over the advertising hoarding behind that goal to celebrate with the visiting fans – something that earned the defender a second yellow card and a bizarre dismissal.
“Talk about mixed emotions,” he recalls about that November, 2013, afternoon. “I was, obviously, happy to score the two goals on the day, especially as we won the game. It was a big three points at the time for Birmingham, who were struggling.
“But to get sent off like that was disappointing. That said, I have to take the positives out of it and those were the two goals I scored to help us win the game. What I need to do now is get another goal, we can’t just leave it to the strikers. We all have to chip in. This is a collective and we all have to try and do our bit.”