Leeds United v Chelsea - A League Cup tie built on a fierce 50-year-old rivalry

Leeds United Billy Bremner Statue

The fierce rivalry between the managers Neil Warnock and Rafa Benitez has been made popular news in the build-up to the tie this week. However the rivalry of course stems back far further then that.

Ahead of the League Cup quarter-final fixture between these two fierce rivals much has been made of what will be an awkward tension in adjacent technical areas. Neil Warnock and Rafa Benitez certainly have previous and the Leeds United boss has even admitted that he may consider ignoring the obligatory handshakes both before and after the fixture. This rivalry stems back to the infamous relegation battle of 2006-07 when Fulham escaped from the clutches of Championship football after defeating a self-weakened Liverpool side. Warnock said then he would ‘never forgive’ Benitez and he even revealed he was threatened by legal action from the Spaniard.

Beyond the individual and personal squabbles of the two men in charge of each side this Wednesday there is of course a fierce club rivalry that stems back much further than the nuisance these two divisive managers have caused each other.

This rivalry stems back to the swinging sixties when Don Revie and Tommy Docherty had both teams fighting for major silverware and invariably they clashed throughout that period. ‘Dirty Leeds’ had gained a reputation of being a rough-and-tumble hard tackling side while Chelsea had more the mystique of style and the height of fashion. As described in the words of Damien Blake:

"Chelsea were the Beatles (attractive, clean-cut, fashionable) to Leeds' Stones (surly, violent, sexy, going out with Marianne Faithful)"

This relationship was accentuated by the North-South divide and what it created was a delightfully competitive microcosm of British life played out on the green rectangle.

The 1970’s saw the rivalry spill over from the pitch as the glamour of the tie diminished with both clubs in footballing decline. Into the 80’s and that remained with the infamous rivalry between the hooligan firms ‘The Chelsea Headhunters’ and the Leeds United Service Crew’ typifying the ugly times of British football.

In the past 15 years both clubs have had dalliances with financial frivolity. The once unfashionable Leeds United had the likes of Harry Kewell, Alan Smith and Robbie Fowler all among their ranks as they pursued the impossible dream.

Leeds and Chelsea have not met since the Yorkshire club were relegated from the Premier League in 2004; a year in which Chelsea finished second only to Arsenal’s Invincibles after an Abramovich-infused £100million summer spending spree.

Since then Chelsea have tasted the high life once again; a renaissance side that conquered the FA Cup, the Premier League and eventually Europe. Leeds United have gone back to their roots after their brief flirtation with the fashionable at the turn of the millennium led them to near financial oblivion.

After fighting their way back from the third tier of English football their realism lets them appreciate the simple things; like a quaint rivalry steeped in cultural significance.

The rivalry still remains to this day. Ken Bates, Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet have all learned of the animosity that Leeds fans still hold for Chelsea Football Club.

After eight years of sheer contrast they face again in the same circumstances as ever. Chelsea the stylish boys-about-town; with David Luiz flying forward from centre-back and Fernando Torres carefully re-shaping his hair. Meanwhile Michael Brown will cut away in the heart of midfield and El-Hadji Diouf bristles away with typical ferocity and rancour that we have all come to appreciate but perhaps dislike.

After Bradford City dumped out the slick Londoners who dared to cross the divide into Valley Parade last week The Bantams will dare to dream of a Yorkshire clash if Leeds United could do the same when they welcome Chelsea to Elland Road in front of what will certainly be a chorally vociferous crowd on Wednesday night.

image: © Chris Robertshaw

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