By Mahesh Johal
Woodhouse Grove is technically a Bradford-based school. However, when I attended it was a school rife with Leeds fans. In my core group of mates, I was the only Bantam. The rest (albeit a couple of Liverpool fans) all supported the team based in LS11. Living in Leeds, amongst United fans, my personal rivalry with the club is based on much more than the 11.3 miles that separates the two cities. I guess a lot of my dislike towards United has stemmed from my school days, and ironically spending time with my best mates has in turn made me really dislike their team and club.
Upon hearing the draw for tonight’s cup tie, memories from my school days came flooding back. On the commute to work the next day, I wrote down a couple of the stories which contributed to my dislike to Leeds. This is by no means a definitive list on why there is animosity from Bradford fans towards Leeds, but more of a personal account which some of you may be able to relate to.
Non Uniform Day, City vs Leeds
For a 10-year-old non uniform day was, and probably still is, one of the biggest events in school calendar. Whilst it was an opportunity for young fashionistas to show off their newest garments, it is was the one acceptable day at school for football fan across the nation to wear your team’s colours!
A running tradition on non uniform day was the annual match between City and Leeds fans. Played over both morning and lunch break (we had slightly disproportionate halves) 12 lads would go hammer and tong to prove their club was the best in the school. The peak of my footballing career, I captained the Bantam VI to a 4-2 victory. We even made a trophy based on the impressive Stanley Cup to mark the occasion; complete with orange and maroon ribbon nicked from the art department.
It was at this point in my life that my first acts of resentment towards the Elland Road club started. After winning the game, the “Leeds captain” refused to shake my hand. I could understand that, he’d just lost in his cup final. But it was his lack of respect during the trophy presentation that annoyed me. Whilst my classmates (still confused to what I was winning a trophy for) clapped politely, I could hear a chorus of boos from the back of the classroom. Orchestrated by Williams, both Josh and Si were violently giving me the V; whilst they started the original chant of “Bradford City are so sh*tty”.
A small incident I know, but the episode highlights one of the reasons why City supporters dislike their Leeds counterparts. Quite simply, they have no respect for us or our achievements. Regardless of what we have done, they’ll never give us credit because they see us as beneath them.
The move to the Grove and the villain
My move to secondary school saw me mingle with more Bradfordians but none of them were big City supporters. I met Tordy; he has ties to the club due to his granddad, and I know he was sat and drenched in the uncovered main stand the last time the two sides met at Valley Parade. There were the two Adams, Matthews and Turner. Bradford lads with a soft spot for City, both were staunch Kopites. Matthews’ had been to a few games with me, but give him a free ticket for any team and he’ll support them for the day. Turner also attended games with me, our last being a friendly at Eccleshill. On a complete side note, Turner had tickets for the 2005 European Cup Final and couldn’t go because we had our GCSE PE exam!
I also met more Leeds fans, Jose being one. Funnily enough I used to see him sometimes at Valley Parade with his uncle during the Premier League years. Still to this day he is a big advocate of Gareth Whalley. However, he is a Leeds man through and through and today his company sponsors both United and the Rhinos. Jose was on one end of the Leeds fan spectrum. He had seen City games and was sympathetic towards me, especially during our hard times. Yes, he would send the occasional text when we lost but all in all Jose was fair fan. He understood the trials and tribulations of being a football fan whether from Bradford or Leeds.
On the other side was Dave. Dave’s the villain of this piece and in my mind is epitomises why I dislike Leeds United. I’d like to as this point just clarify that he is one of my best mates, but there are times when I genuinely dislike him. Nearly 99% of those times involve him and Leeds United.
I think my biggest qualm with Dave and his fellow members of Hockaday’s Army is their brashness and arrogance. I’ll happily admit that Leeds are a huge club with one of the biggest followings in the country. But frankly, Dave was overly loud about it. Marcus was as well. During their Semi Final run in the Champions League, I would constantly hear “We are the champions, champions of Europe” in our locker room.
Then came the 6-1 defeat at their place. Already a wounded individual, Dave raced into the common area with a massive smirk. The look compounded my already fragile state but it was his self righteous and arrogance that made my blood boil. Already a relegated side, City were completely outplayed and outclassed that Sunday evening. However whenever I talked to others about the game, Dave would abruptly but in and shout “MOT”. I’d continue to my analysis of City performance when he would again but in with “LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS”.
This isn’t just classic Dave but also classic Leeds. There is always a sense of self-importance and lack of humility towards City. I always got the feeling that they like the last word on matters – and that last word had to be about Leeds.
Teenage years, falls from grace and the cup games at Elland Road
It was during our teenage years that City and Leeds footballing oblivion started. Both clubs suffered with financial, ownership, stadium and player problems. I thought our mirroring issues would see a change in attitude from Leeds fans around school, but I was wrong. Yes, they missed the big Champions Leagues nights, but now Leeds were the biggest of fish in (some of) the smallest of ponds – and it was something they loved.
To this day, Dave will have a random outburst of “we’re Leeds United, we don’t give a f**k”. The chant again epitomised Leeds fans (in my mind) as those who belittle and lack respect for others. It’s for this very reason that I really dislike it when City chant similar things. In my opinion, it reeks of no class.
Both the JPT and League Cup games against them over recent years were fun. From my point of view, being apart of vocal away crowds is always a good laugh and the near-City victory in the most recent tie added to the occasion. Prior to that game, Dave and I sat in adjacent stands at Elland Road, and in the warm up were able to wave to each other. He said that he could see my jubilation after Michael Flynn’s goal, but I dared not look to his position when Ramon Nunez scored the tie-winning goal. If there was ever a chance to beat Leeds I thought it was then.
And to tonight’s game…
The rivalry between Dave, Jose and the rest of the boys continues. On regular occasions we will send (friendly banter) messages…mainly me trying to wind Dave up in the way he did to me in our youth. The arrival of Ceilino and Hockaday has given me serious ammunition, whilst City’s performances over the last year have deprived him of any. The only thing he has is the League Cup Final result, but in end I had the real laugh. At least it was my team in that final; Dave, who has Club Wembley ticket, had paid to watch one of the coldest and one-sided Finals in recent memory.
Whilst I read on social media the mixed feelings about this rivalry from their side; the speed at which Leeds 3,600 tickets sold out shows that their are some who appreciate this contest as much as we do. It will be a white hot atmosphere and, in Kevin Keegan style, I would love it if we won tonight. Love it.
I’ll see the boys in the aftermath of the game, and look forward to our pint to deconstruct proceedings. No doubt we’ll have a laugh about our time at school and the way our friendly rivalry has built over the years. I just hope this time it is my pint that tastes the sweetest.