Leeds United and Derby County meet on Boxing Day in a match sure to evoke memories of past generations. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
RIVALRY can be a peculiar thing in football, not least when it comes to deciding what makes a contest truly monumental as opposed to merely memorable.
Some will claim the two combatant clubs have to be neighbours, and preferably from the same town or city. Supporters of this theory will point, with some justification, to the events of derby day in Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield and London as to why close proximity is a vital ingredient in turning a tussle between two clubs into the highlight of the calendar.
Others, though, will point to either the need for a historical context or a modern day battle for supremacy, such as the often ill-tempered clashes between Arsenal and Manchester United that, in the not too distant past, were the must-see event of a Premier League season.
There is also even a school of thought that suggests warring fans alone are enough to promote an ordinary fixture to rivalry status, Leeds United v Millwall being perhaps the most recent example of beauty (or, as is usually the case when the two meet, downright ugliness) being in the eye of the beholder.
Either way, what all this tells us is just how subjective a football rivalry can be with perhaps the one qualifying criteria being an ability to endure down the years.
On that score, Boxing Day’s tussle between Leeds and Derby County at Pride Park is one maybe deserving of genuine rivalry status with proceedings likely to have an edge that is lacking from most fixtures in the second tier.
The reason can be explained by a combination of history and a hugely successful novel by the name of The Damned United, David Peace’s fictional account of the intense hatred that sprung up between Don Revie and Brian Clough.
Peace’s work, later turned into a film starring Michael Sheen, has led to a revival of the rivalry that peaked 40 seasons ago when Clough’s Derby pipped Leeds to the League title – a point that will be underlined on Monday when the two sets of fans will, once again, chant the name of their own former manager.
One man who knows all about the rivalry that first emerged in the late Sixties is Colin Todd, one of only a handful of players to play under both Clough and Revie.
“They were both very different,” recalls the former Bradford City manager, who was with Clough at Derby before then being part of Revie’s England side.
“At Derby, Brian Clough simply wasn’t interested in the opposition. He just sent us out to play, believing we were good enough to let the opposition worry about us rather than the other way round.
“Don was the total opposite in that he was very thorough. He wanted to cover every base and nothing was left to chance. In that respect, Don was quite ahead of his time as managers nowadays have Prozone and all sorts of things in an attempt to find a weakness in the opposition.
“It was a big change of direction from what England squads had been used to and that meant things went against him a bit. But that doesn’t mean he was wrong.”
The polar opposite characters that could be found in the Leeds and Derby dugouts between 1967 and 1973 have, of course, been well chronicled in recent years, either in print or on the big screen.
In the Michael Sheen film, it is suggested Clough’s loathing of a man he once respected came about via a perceived hand-shaking snub incident after an FA Cup game.
Whether this is true, no-one knows – though it is debatable due to the same scene including footage of the Leeds players getting off the team bus and walking the last few hundred yards to the Baseball Ground, something that Jack Charlton once told the late Earl of Harewood never happened “because if we had and then won, Don’s superstitious streak would have meant we had to do it before every match”.
Todd, too, is at a loss to identify just when the rivalry first sprung up. “It was there when I arrived at Derby,” says Todd, who moved to the Basbeball Ground in 1971 after five years with Sunderland.
“There was a real edge to our games and things could get quite hostile. It was possibly generated by a combination of the two teams being rivals for the title and the two managers not getting along, though in Cloughie’s case his feelings towards Revie were not something he necessarily spoke about in the dressing room.
“It was more a case of reading what the two of them were saying in the newspapers. It was clear the two didn’t get on but before games Cloughie was more concerned with talking about a couple of Leeds players and what they might try.”
Regardless of the origins of the rivalry, what is surely not in doubt is how the loathing that subsequently peaked when Clough succeeded Revie at Elland Road means even today that fixtures between Derby and Leeds have a certain extra resonance.
Todd said: “I always loved the games against Leeds. Let’s just say Leeds could look after themselves. But they also had great players who could play.
“The great thing about Derby v Leeds was that they were really good football games. You knew something was going to happen, it was almost like an air of expectation surrounded the fixtures.
“We went to Leeds once and got thrashed 5-0. Johnny Giles got a couple and Billy Bremner also scored. We got a real run around that day. But we also did well against Leeds at the Baseball Ground.”
After playing for Clough at Derby, Todd got the chance to play for Revie when the Leeds manager stepped up to take charge of England.
He recalls: “I didn’t really know what to expect when Don became England manager but I really enjoyed playing for him.
“I know things didn’t work out with England but there is no doubt he was the best man for the job and deserved the chance.
“I always got on well with him and I still have a lot of respect today for the job he did at Leeds.
“I better be careful what I say here but Don tried to sign me once. Let’s just say I found out Leeds were interested in me but Sunderland, my club at the time, instead sold me to Derby. Cloughie had nipped in first and I remember him being really pleased about pipping Don to my signature. It was very flattering.”
Derby were one of only two sides to do the double over Leeds on their return to the Championship last season, winning 2-1 at Elland Road on the opening day and then by the same scoreline in April at Pride Park.
On the Boxing Day contest, Todd said: “Me and my son are going to the game at Pride Park and I am really looking forward to it.
“They are two contrasting teams, with Leeds having the more experienced players whereas Derby are going with players from lower levels.
“My old club are finding it a bit tough. Leeds’s away form is probably keeping them going and it could be a tight game.
“Whatever happens, I am sure both sets of fans will enjoy the rivalry that probably dates back to the time of Clough and Revie. It gives the game an edge.”