Leeds United Football Club was founded in 1919 after previous iteration Leeds City was forcibly disbanded by the Football Association due to allegations of illegal payments made to players during World War 1. The new and current version of the club was elected to the Football League in 1920 and subsequently gained promotion from the Second Division to the First Division in 1924. Leeds used to be known as “The Peacocks”, a name they got from a pub which was once situated across the street from their Elland Road stadium, where they still play home games today. Now they are more commonly known as simply “United” or “The Whites” after the colour of their kits.
Leeds were mostly anonymous throughout their early existence until the famous Don Revie Era began in 1961. When Revie took over as manager, he instituted a new training regime, hardcore preparation protocols and brought an overall more professional feeling to the club. He changed their kit colour from blue and yellow to all white - a move intended to emulate the great Real Madrid. During his tenure, they claimed two league titles and two cup victories. Perhaps their finest achievement but also their most heartbreaking moment was losing the European Cup final of 1975 to Bayern Munich. Throughout this era they were buoyed by the likes of fearsome captain Billy Bremner and iconic England World Cup winning stars Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter.
After a short, ill-fated reign under iconic manager Brian Clough, about which a hollywood film entitled “The Damned United” was made, Leeds returned to relative mediocrity until 1992. Manager Howard Wilkinson assembled a young, talented squad made up of names like Gary Speed, David Batty and French maestro Eric Cantona and won the final edition of the First Division. They were the last team to be crowned champions prior to the division’s rebranding into the Premier League.
The beginning of the Premier League era was a period of stability and decent performance for Leeds. They regularly competed for the European spots and were rarely found in the bottom half. However, in 2001 they outdid themselves by reaching the semi finals of the hotly contested UEFA Champions League, losing 3-0 on aggregate to a fantastic Valencia team.
Unfortunately, by 2004, the great squad which David O’Leary had assembled began to be picked apart amid financial ruin and they were relegated. The club had incurred enormous debts and needed to sell the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Lee Bowyer and Robbie Keane to stay afloat. In 2007, things went from bad to worse and Leeds were relegated to League One.
Over the next 13 years, the Yorkshire giants have battled and scraped their way back from the doldrums of the third tier to the promised land once again. Today, under world renowned maverick coach Marcelo Bielsa, they play an eye-catching brand of balls-to-the-wall football which has made them the darlings of the internet football intelligentsia and many a neutral fan. However, their fans are not quite as popular as their players, with Leeds still bearing the reputation of one of the most hated clubs in the land, a reputation which was well earned by decades of football hooliganism on the part of their most radical supporters.
Leeds United play out Yorkshire derbies with local sides like Sheffield United and Barnsley but nothing compares to the bloodthirsty rivalry they share with Manchester United. The two teams despise each other, their fans positively revel in any bad luck that befalls their greatest rivals. Many believe the disdain goes all the way back to the 15th century, the War of the Roses, and the conflict between natives of Lancashire and Yorkshire. One thing is for sure, today this rivalry represents one of the most highly anticipated derbies on the football calendar.