Manchester United v Leeds: Crossing the Great Divide

One of the greatest rivalries in English football is revived this weekend after several years in the wilderness, as a Leeds team, flying high at the top of League 1, travel to Old Trafford in the FA Cup 3rd round…..reigniting a rivalry as bitter as any in English football.

It’s hard to better the Man U/Liverpool rivalry but, having been there in the 70’s and 80’s, there’s always been an extra edge…..a greater level of vitriol (some may call it downright hatred) between the Utd and Leeds fans.

And yet, while it is considered an almost sacrilegious act for a Utd player to join Liverpool, and vice versa, the same has never applied between these FA Cup 3rd round combatants. Quite the opposite in fact! Many great names have crossed the Pennines, in both directions, over the years….and here are 10 of the best:

1. Johnny Giles

Giles spent 6 years at OT between 1957 and 1963 playing 93 times alongside the likes of Charlton and Law and winning the FA Cup in his final season. He then moved to Leeds for £33,000 (laughable in today’s terms!)

At Leeds, Giles formed an outstanding partnership with Billy Bremner and was a shining light in their glory years of the late 60’s/early 70’s when Leeds dominated domestically…even if they did underachieve on the trophy front. Yes, Giles was United’s loss and Leeds’ gain…no question. With 59 caps for the Republic of Ireland, Giles is now a television pundit for RTE.

2. Joe Jordan

The fearsome Scot was at Leeds from 1970-1978 scoring 35 goals in 170 games before transferring to Utd for £350,000 where he spent four years, scoring 37 in 107 games.

In the days when Scotland qualified for major finals, Jordan terrorised defenders from all corners of the globe! With 52 Scottish caps Jordan is now assistant to Harry Redknapp at Spurs.

3. Gordon McQueen

Another big Scot, McQueen spent 6 years at Leeds (140 games) before joining Utd in 1978 for £500,000 and staying until 1985 (184 appearances).

The blond defender was no stranger to scoring, including netting in the 1979 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Like Jordan he featured in the ‘golden years’ for his country. Capped 30 times, ‘Big’ Gordon is now a scout for Middlesborough.

4. Brain Greenhoff

Greenhoff (younger brother of Jimmy) joined the Red Devils as a youth in 1968. He made his debut in 1973 and in the following six seasons played 271 times, scoring 17 goals. The versatile Greenhoff started his career in midfield but reverted to centre-half.

Joining Leeds in 1979 for £350,000, he remained there until 1982 making 72 appearances, before being released. 18 caps for England, I can’t actually find what he is doing these days….so if you know….

5. Arthur Graham

Another Scot, Graham started his career at Aberdeen and as a 17 year old played in the Scottish Cup Final against Celtic, providing 2 assists in a 3-1 victory.

The winger then moved to Leeds for £125,000 and scored 47 goals in 260 appearances. When Leeds were relegated in the early 80’s Graham moved on to Man Utd for £65,000 where he remained for 2 seasons, scoring 5 goals in 37 games. He won 11 caps for his country and is now coaching at the Leeds Academy.

6. Gordon Strachan

Strachan was a key part of Fergie’s dominant Aberdeen team in the early 80’s before being reunited with his former manager at Old Trafford, arriving pre Sir Alex in 1984 for £500,000. Initially a success, Strachan eventually fell out with Fergie and crossed the Pennines in 1989 for £200,000.

‘Wee’ Gordon became a Leeds favourite, winning the Footballer of the Year Award in 1991 and helping them to pip Fergie’s side to the title in 1992. Capped 50 times for his country, Strachan is now manager at Boro.

7. Eric Cantona

One of the iconic players of the Premiership era, there was never a dull moment with ‘King Eric’! Spending less than a season at Leeds, Cantona still managed to help them win the final First Division title in 1992 before manager Howard Wilkinson allowed him to move to Manchester for £1.2M in November of that year.

….and the rest, as they say, is history. The talismatic Frenchman was a catalyst for Premier League dominance and became a cult figure at Old Trafford, widely regarded as one of best players ever to don the shirt. True to form, Cantona retired at age 30, in 1997, to pursue an acting career….and other interests.

‘King Eric’ scored 64 goals in 144 appearances for Man U but his influence went way beyond that! One of the bargains of the century you might say! 45 caps in a controversial international career, Cantona is now managing the French beach soccer team…..well he would be……wouldn’t he!

8. Lee Sharpe

Signed from Torquay in 1988, Sharpe quickly became an Old Trafford favourite. With 21 goals in 193 games, the tricky winger eventually lost his way as the arrival of one Ryan Giggs on the scene and his weakness for nightlife finally brought about his demise.

Moving to Leeds in 1996 for £4.5M, Sharpey became injury prone and only made 30 appearances over the following 3 years before his career fizzled out, finally retiring in 2003. With 8 full England caps, Sharpe has pursued a ‘career’ participating in reality TV shows in recent years……always one for limelight was Sharpey!

9. Rio Ferdinand

Joined Leeds from West Ham for £18M in 2000, a then record transfer fee. Rio played 54 times in 2 seasons as Leeds gambled all on building a top team. When their demise came and players had to be sold, Sir Alex stepped in and paid £29.1M for Ferdinand, another record.

Rio has reached the heights at Utd but has also had some lows and is currently recovering from a long-term back injury. With 212 games in his Old Trafford career to date he will be hoping to prolong his stay for several more seasons. 76 caps for England, Ferdinand’s New Year wish must have been that he will increase that tally at SA 2010!

10. Alan Smith

Smith came through the junior ranks at Elland Road and his aggressive style and never say die attitude made him a crowd favourite. In six years at Leeds he scored 38 goals in 172 appearances before becoming another victim of the financial crisis at the club.

In 2004 Fergie paid £7M for his services and attempted to convert him into a ‘Roy Keane’ clone, but it never quite worked out and he suffered a terrible leg/ankle injury against Liverpool in an FA Cup match in 2006. Smith never really recovered sufficiently and was sold to Newcastle in August 2007 for £6M where he remains today. Scored 1 goal in 19 full international caps for England.

Yes, some considerable talent has donned both the red and the white in this ‘War of the Roses’ over the years!

Come Sunday, hostilities will be resumed…….but might either manager be eyeing-up another potential ‘bargain’??

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