By Graham Smeaton
I know what it is like to feel the fire and fury of rivalry. My father was a Manchester United fan, I didn’t hate him for that. On the Council estate I grew up on and scrabbled around in the mud and dust on, almost every street had some sort of rivalry going on; it was usually over ‘mibs’.
“Hey you’re not laikin’ right!” was often the herald to an argument over rules, a fall-out over superiority and then much stomping and huffing about whose Dad’s, mate’s, uncle’s friend who was in the Army was the biggest; then you went in for your banana sandwiches and sat down to watch $6 Million Man or Supergran. Then, it was never about football.
Now it is all about football.
I can’t help it, I’m a Leeds fan. You can have many girlfriends, many loves but, when it comes to football, your first love is your only love; no matter who you’ve watched first live. I actually used to go to Valley Parade to watch Bradford, happily trailing along behind my father in the rain to watch a Bantams’ side containing Ces Podd. I even went to Elland Road to watch one of the three games Braford played there after the tragic events of the 1985 fire at Valley Parade.
By then though, my love affair and eventual marriage to Leeds had set in and set in deep. Like a first sip of cider in the park – an older boy was to blame. However, unlike the cider my taste for Leeds United stuck with me.
Wednesday August 27th and one of the fiercest local rivalries fires up one more time – Leeds bring their circus to Valley Parade (even in my eyes it’ll never be T’Coral Windows Stadium) in a direct repeat of the game from August 9th 2011. Bradford will be hoping to continue their surging start to the 2014/15 League One campaign whilst Leeds, on the other hand, will be hoping that they play more like Roy of the Rovers and less like Roy Cropper from Coronation Street.
History, unfortunately my friends from the BD postcodes, isn’t on the side of the Bantams. There have been 23 competitive games between the two sides stretching back to 23rd September 1922 with Leeds winning 14, Bradford winning 2 and with 7 draws. In this time Leeds have scored 35 goals (1.52 per game) with Bradford scoring just 20 goals (0.87 per game). Put another way, Leeds have emerged victorious 61% OF THE TIME with Bradford claiming only 8.7% of the victories – the Leeds victories containing both League Cup games in the 1998/99 and 2011/12 seasons.
It’s an often-used cliché that playing at ‘home’ is like having a 12th man on the field; at Elland Road we would crawl through minefields of broken glass for that luxury at the moment! But a closer look at the games played in Bradford, where Leeds will be aiming for their 5th and Bradford their 3rd victories come Wednesday throws up one interesting nugget of a statistic. In the 10 games that have been played between the two teams there, both have scored 9 goals each (0.9 goals per game). This suggests the potential for a tight game, where chances are at a premium and composure in front of goal is key. That depends on which Leeds United team turns up and how Coach Whackaday (there are worse names bandied around) has prepared them.
Indulge me whilst I talk about Leeds for a moment. There is a degree of mixed feelings up in LS11 what with Cellino’s insistence on recruiting his very own legiona stranieri (Foreign Legion) to the club. His thinking behind this is one that will resonate with all football fans – irrespective of club allegiance. Quite simply, English footballers are a.) too greedy or b.) too expensive or c.) both. Take Kieran Agard, who had a stellar season at Rotherham last year scoring 26 goals across all competitions including two in an FA Cup tie. Leeds had a bid accepted but Agard’s agent marched in with a list of demands; after four minutes he was told to leave and that he wasn’t wanted. Now he has dropped back down into League One with Bristol City. Bearing that in mind, who will Leeds United roll up with come Wednesday 27th and how are they likely to play?
Looking at recent games, Bradford can only hope that Leeds play badly – something that I am sure we can easily accommodate. With the signing of Giuseppe Bellusci (from Catania), Leeds are buying in a player with five seasons (7,459 minutes) worth of Serie A experience to shore up what has been a decidedly suspect and cumbersome central defender pairing. Liam Cooper was signed from Chesterfield and he deposed Scott Wooton (ex-Manchester United) to play alongside club captain Jason Pearce. Harshly put, either Pearce or Cooper will be axed.
Midfield-wise, that’s where Leeds’ weakness lays; a unit that has carried over the ‘mediocre and mid-table’ tag from last season’s campaign. As it stands, the Leeds midfield isn’t very creative, has no real pace and no natural wide players; ‘wide’ as in wingers – not as in Neville Southall. Or Paddy Kenny for that matter. Rodolph Austin and Michael Tonge are the pick of the central four with Austin being ranked 15th midfield player for average passes per game (60 – 83% accurate – source: WhoScored.com) and who was the top-ranked defensive midfield player on the books at Leeds. Tommaso Bianchi (signed from Serie B Sassuolo) is a ball-playing central midfielder being played out of position on the right side of midfield by Coach Whackaday in his much-derided ‘4-4-2 Diamond’.
With this system, Whackaday has achieved at least one first; it apparently is possible to polish a diamond and get a turd! Leeds’ weak link, in a midfield that often resembles scene from Rorke’s Drift in the film ‘Zulu’, is Luke Murphy – a former £1 million signing from Crewe Alexandra. Over 260 minutes of 2014/15 Championship football Murphy has shown very little: 22 successful passes per game, less than one shot per game (0.67) but he does create chances for others (1.67 per game). There is also a distinct possibility that Coach Whackaday might give young Lewis Cook a run out in midfield and use recent AC Milan youngster Jen Benedicic at some point in the game.
Up front it is more straight-forward; Billy Sharp and recent signing Mirko Antenucci (19 goals – Serie B Ternera) are likely to pose the striking threat.
Rivalry-wise Leeds United are still entrenched in the ‘Everybody hates us, we don’t care’ attitude carried over from the 1970s to the present day. As a rational-thinking Leeds fan, well I like to think I am presented that way, I actually hate that dated ‘terrace mentality’; something that I find as a club we need to move away from. There are still chants about “Man Utd” and songs about “Chelsea hatred” sung on the terraces of Elland Road which, in all honesty, make us look like the pond-dwelling lowlife we are often accused of.
Terrace-wise, as a club, we need to climb out of the dinosaur era and embrace the modern world of a banter-led approach. There were encouraging signs of this in a 4-0 FA Cup defeat to Manchester City when Leeds’ fans responded to the 4th Man City goal with a rousing chant of “shoes off, if you hate Man Utd” – and the removal of many shoes that were waved in the air. No doubt though there will be chants about Bradford being a “town full of taxis” and the Neanderthal element of the Leeds’ support will show more nasty tendencies.
So, how does it feel as a Leeds fan, writing on a Bradford website, about a cup fixture upcoming in a City only 6 miles from where I live? It’s strange – weirdly strange. Chances-wise, I’d like to fall back on the clichéd phrases of “it’ll be a long hard game”, “Leeds will have too much class for Bradford” and “the difference in a division apart means Leeds’ superior class will tell in the end”…but I can’t. This game is a hard one to call; Bradford are confident and flying high in League One, whilst Leeds are scrabbling around looking for crumbs in the Championship. I suppose I will have to end by putting my neck on the line and come up with some kind of prediction and game synopsis.
I’m predicting a tight, close game with Leeds coming out 2-1 to the good; it would, for Leeds fans, be good to shut up the ‘noisy neighbours from down the M62’. Then again I am not that confident about that but, like the beggar I once encountered on the Madrid underground, one can only begin with ‘esperanza’ (hope) and eventually get off at ‘prosperidad’ (wealth). Whatever the result, I really do hope that we will be meeting each other in two guaranteed games next season, with Bradford making the step up to the Championship.
Good luck Ciddy fans on the 2014/15 League 1 campaign.
Graham Smeaton is an English teacher by trade and a self-confessed chic stats geek by nature. Graham has interests in many sports including, NFL and NCAA American Football, but he writes mainly about the trial and tribulations of his favourite football club, Leeds United, including for Bloomberg Sports.