By Katie Whyatt
I’ve got a confession to make. It’s not pretty, but the whole rivalry between Huddersfield and us, that local derby game, has got me thinking, and I feel it’s time to come clean. It’s a secret I’ve been harbouring for a long while. Please don’t chase me out of Valley Parade.
Here goes. Ahem.
My dad is a Leeds fan.
There, I’ve said it. Cringe. Yelp. Gasp. Think what you will. And this unconventional set-up has given me so many funny, amazing memories over the years, that it’s helped me to discover what local derby matches are all about.
I can’t remember whether or not there was an exact time or date when I found out he was one of their supporters. In our house, it had always been him with his Leeds and me with my Bradford City. United were a Championship side and we were in League Two. That was it. Ironically, it wasn’t so much of a big deal.
But steadily, that began to change.
The 2007/08 season proved to be a significant milestone for both Leeds and Bradford: we would be opening our campaign in the bottom division for the first time since the 80s, whilst United were reeling from relegation to League One and suffering the fallout from a 15-point deduction. Stuart McCall’s side made steady progress, but Leeds took their league by storm, winning their first seven matches to wipe out their penalty. No longer condemned to relegation, or even a stay in the third tier, the Whites burgeoned and greater things became possible – soon, they were marching down to Wembley.
That play off game was the first time that I’d ever found my loyalties torn. Everyone I knew, especially the City fans, were rooting for United’s opponents, Doncaster Rovers, and, having pledged myself to the claret and amber, perhaps I should have been, too. But, upon seeing how excited my dad was about the fixture, I decided that (whisper this one quietly) I wanted Leeds to win.
I mean, what did it matter? The result wouldn’t directly affect us. It didn’t make our campaign better or worse; it was just a matter of making sure Leeds didn’t climb another division above us.
The margins in a play off final are paper-thin. The game was closely fought, but Doncaster scored and Leeds couldn’t find the vigour to bite back. Their fate was decided: the Whites would be spending another year in League One. While my friends undoubtedly entered into inevitably ecstatic celebrations, the atmosphere in our front room was much more sombre, and I’ll never forget the despair and heartbreak etched all over my dad’s face that day. He went upstairs and I didn’t see him until the next morning.
My love for the Bantams continued to grow, and it wasn’t long before we’d drawn Leeds United in the JPT cup competition the following season. We decided against getting tickets and instead chose to listen to the action unfold in the front room: besides, we weren’t exactly short of the two sets of supporters when including our friends, so we could recreate the atmosphere at the game accurately enough. The previously quiet grumbles about the opposition eventually extended to sly but innocuous jibes about players and recent form, and, with each tongue in cheek insult fired from either side, my dad and me grew more and more geared up for the midweek clash. As we crowded around the radio, family ties were relegated to the back seat for that evening only. We were both looking forward to this match.
It was a frustrating game, for more reasons than one. Leeds snatched the lead through a controversial penalty, and, as my dad danced around wildly, I couldn’t help but feel we’d been cheated. Omar Daley’s equaliser was disallowed. More jokes flew. What was going on with this referee? These were our most bitter enemies, the evil Leeds United, and they were beating us even though we weren’t playing that badly. Did they even deserve the win? Probably, but it seemed unfair that their performance had been so reliant on a helping hand from the officials.
City lost, but I finally understood the local rivalry. All of a sudden, it mattered. Bragging rights, pride, having the upper hand over our Yorkshire neighbours… I got it. I knew why everyone hated Leeds United.
We moved on and continued to support our respective teams. My dad would pick us up from the night matches at Valley Parade and we’d clamber into the car to hear ‘Marching on Together’ emanating from the radio. Giddy commentators would toast another Leeds victory, their voices sore and hoarse from the excitement of the game, and we would sulk in the back and evaluate why we’d been unable to salvage a point, a consolation goal, anything, from our match. After the Saturday games, we would come home, drenched and deflated after another Peter Taylor defeat, for dad to swing in with a few carefully selected words of consolation.
“Another defeat? What’s going on with that club? Don’t feel as though you’ve got to keep going down there. You can come to Elland Road, you know, and come and see some proper football and a proper crowd.”
It was good to be a Leeds fan, but it was a dire time to be donning the claret and amber. As they pushed on to the Championship, the Bantams found themselves stalling in League Two. The appointment of Peter Taylor offered a brief glimmer of light, but his promises of success failed to materialise. Like a car in the mud, City struggled to move forward. Sinking was the only feasible option.
What we needed was something to show the Leeds fans that, for all we might be languishing in the deepest pits of the bottom tier, we were still a big club, still a side to be reckoned with and we could still play attractive football. What we needed was a cup tie, a loud City away following and a certain Mr. David Syers.
And it came. The Bantams were drawn against Leeds United at Elland Road in the League Cup and Sky bought the TV rights.
We decked out the living room, the TV stand barely visible under the swarm of football shirts and scarves. Half claret and amber, half blue, yellow and white.
And we all know what happened.
“We’re winning! Wow! Did you see that?”
As my mum struggled to contain her excitement, dad sat quiet on the other end of the couch, his expression riddled with concern.
“Oh, wait. 1-1. We can pull this back, though!”
“We’re winning again! What a goal that was! Isn’t Syers playing well? Aren’t they all playing well? Leeds aren’t as good as I thought they’d be, actually. We might win this!”
“Uh oh. Syers is injured.”
Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough left in the tank and City ran out of steam. Leeds stole it in the dying moments, but the Bantams trooped back to Bradford with their heads held high: they’d frightened the Whites, and, for quite a while, it looked as though an upset was about to play out.
There were no cheeky remarks from my dad this time. No jokes, no digs, nothing. He was quite subdued. And although we had wanted to keep hold of that lead, Leeds had been matched, maybe even outplayed, and that was enough for us. They were going through, but we were leaving with the pride. And dad knew it.
Perhaps that was a sign of things to come later. Last season, Neil Warnock’s team performed poorly, struggling in the league and crashing out of the cup to Chelsea; in contrast, City were doing well for the first time in a decade. And not just ‘well’, but simply sensational. TWO trips to the national stadium. Three Premier League scalps. A place in the history books as the first team from the bottom division to make it to a major Wembley final. My dad was pleased for us and viewed it as our reward for all those years of bleakness and dismalness and mediocrity and pain and hurt. He went to both Wembley games, and even wore a City scarf at one point – albeit hidden under a coat, but at least the intention was there.
That doesn’t mean that my dad’s not a ‘proper’ Leeds United fan, and, equally, it doesn’t mean I’m not a ‘proper’ Bradford City supporter.
Rivalries mean different things to different people. There are some fans who struggle over the words ‘Huddersfield’ and ‘Leeds’, the names like poison trickling over their lips, and they relish the matches because everything – from the chance to boast to the respect of their workmates – is at stake. Conversely, there are other fans who aren’t bothered about the derby games at all. Some people have the wrongs and wrongs of the Terriers drummed into them from an early age, and there are others who develop their own feelings towards the other Yorkshire sides in their own time and in their own way, like me.
I see our games against Leeds as a chance to sit down with my dad and cheer on our beloved teams with the cocky banter that only derby day can provide. It’s about passion, comical insults and going through the whole gamut of emotions.
Leeds fans are irritatingly positive at the moment. I know because I live with one. About three times a day, I have to listen to how the club is on the up now that the ‘tyrant’ that was Ken Bates has left at last. But, if my dad can cheer Bradford City on throughout that notable cup run, I figure that it can’t do me too much harm to allow him to celebrate his side’s little victory.
But you won’t get me sporting a Leeds United scarf if they ever get to Wembley.