Some rivalries are built on pure hate. Liverpool and Leeds United have a relationship that is far more complex than that. It has swing from all-out antagonism to remarkable acts of respect. Marcelo Bielsa’s team will run out today to an Anfield without fans but the ghosts of the past lurk in every corner of the old ground. Not all the spectres of days gone by are haunting for Leeds.
This was the venue where the Yorkshire club sealed their first title in 1969. The match was a season decider. Don Revie’s Leeds needed a point to secure the trophy. Liverpool required a victory to keep their challenge alive into the final week of the season. The showdown took place on a tense Monday night in April. The visiting side came to Merseyside determined to earn the draw they needed.
Bill Shankly’s team were unable to break down their opponents. Leeds ground out the 0-0 draw required to take the title. Bill Bremner and his jubilant team-mates cavorted in front of the travelling fans in the Anfield Road in celebration. Then Revie did the unexpected. He gestured for his players to approach the Kop.
This could have been risky. Hooliganism was on the rise at the end of the 1960s and violent incidents were increasingly common. Why Revie ushered his players towards the vast terrace was never explained. It is likely, though, that there were a considerable number of Leeds supporters dotted around the Kop. Travelling fans who were unable to get into the much smaller away end frequently walked around the ground and tried their luck in the home sections.
Nevertheless, the players were apprehensive. They were pleasantly surprised. The Kop applauded and chants of “Leeds,” and “Champions” sprung up at both ends of the ground. It is likely that away fans on the home terraces stared the chanting but it spread across the Kop. Revie gushed with praise afterwards. “The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was magnificent,” the Leeds manager said. The night has a place in the folklore of both clubs.
Four years later things had changed. When the two sides met on Easter Monday both teams had title ambitions. The Kop made their feelings known by singing “We all hate Leeds and Leeds and Leeds,” repeatedly to The Dambusters Theme. Shankly’s team won 2-0 in one of the most frenetic atmospheres ever seen in the stadium and went on to clinch the league. Despite the respect between the two managers, the teams were now deadly rivals. “We always went at it hammer and tongs,” the late Tommy Smith said. The Liverpool hard man relished the battles between the clubs. “No one asked for any quarter,” he said. “You’d get no sympathy from Leeds anyway.”
Hostilities reached their height in the 1974 Charity Shield, the first time the match was played at Wembley. The new location for the showpiece made the events of the day hugely embarrassing for the FA. ‘Dirty Leeds,’ as they had been nicknamed, targeted Kevin Keegan and Johnny Giles in particular gave the England forward some very rough treatment. Giles escaped punishment after he punched the Liverpool superstar off the ball. Keegan then brawled with Bremner, leading the referee to send both men off. These were the first domestic sendings off at the national stadium and each player famously took off his shirt and threw it to the floor. The ruling body was appalled and handed down 11-game suspensions to the miscreants. “There was always a bit of rough and tumble when we played Leeds,” Smith said.
Things had changed by the 1990s and the two clubs were brought together by their mutual antipathy for Manchester United. In 1992 United were chasing Leeds in the title race and the penultimate game of the season brought Alex Ferguson’s side to Anfield. United needed victory to keep alive their faint chance of winning the league. The Kop crowed with joy as United’s hopes were shattered with a 2-0 Liverpool win. One again the chant of ‘Leeds’ echoed around the stadium.
It has been 17 years since the Yorkshire club were last at Anfield for a league match. The majority of Liverpool supporters will be pleased to see them back – even if it is unlikely that they will ever sing Leeds’ name again.