The prospect of a game against Leeds always conjures up memories for me as a young boy, and the reputation of the Elland Road outfit under Don Revie at the time. They were a top side but perhaps didn’t win as many trophies when they were at their peak as they perhaps should have done. In many ways they were perhaps the team to beat, the best team in England, but somehow they didn’t always seem to achieve what they might have done. They certainly had their share of being runners-up. For example, following their promotion to the top flight in the early 1960s from 1964-65 onwards they finished 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 1st in the next ten seasons.
They were also perhaps the most hated side in the country at that time. I guess it’s a long time ago now, and perhaps that reputation is unfair? I don’t know, but my memory is such that people seemed to enjoy Leeds being beaten. Not more so than in 1970 when it seemed to me that most of the country wanted Chelsea to beat them in the FA Cup Final. They did after a replay and so many seemed to rejoice in the victory although the Chelsea side themselves had their fair share of players who could, shall we say, look after themselves.
The Leeds side of that era were certainly high profile, and even now around 50 years later I can recall so many of their players; Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter, Cooper, Madeley, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Gray. To be honest I can’t recall too many more from the subsequent 50 years, Yorath, Jordan, Batty, Speed, Bowyer, Rio Ferdinand of course, Hasselbaink, Lee Chapman are just a few that spring to mind.
West Ham fans of my vintage will recall 1966 with massive affection. Of course I’m referring to the World Cup, but there are a couple of other reasons that I remember that year in relation to Leeds. Firstly, on my twelfth birthday in February of that year we were playing away at Leeds and were soundly thrashed 5-0. But in the following season later that year the mighty Leeds brought their first team down to Upton Park on a Monday night in November to play us in the fourth round of the Football League Cup (Carabao in modern terms). They were humbled 7-0 with hat-tricks for Hurst and Sissons and a goal from Peters. It was perhaps one of the most astonishing victories in all my years of supporting West Ham. After that win we didn’t beat them at the next twelve attempts until we finally won against them, ironically in a League Cup replay at Elland Road in 1971.
That season was to be the first where the League Cup final was to be held at Wembley. Before then they were home and away two-legged affairs. We progressed to the semi-final where we lost 6-2 on aggregate over the two legs to West Brom, who themselves went on to lose the final to a Rodney Marsh inspired Queens Park Rangers who came from behind to win 3-2.
Which brings me to the present, and our visit to Elland Road today. Leeds under Bielsa won many plaudits for their football last season, their first in the top flight after a 17 year absence. But we did the double over them in empty stadiums winning 2-1 away, with goals from Soucek and Ogbonna enabling us to come from behind after conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, before the return leg in March when Lingard and Dawson scored to give us a 2-0 win. Those two victories doubled our wins over them in the Premier League to 4, whereas they have beaten us 14 times. I looked back in the records to try to find the last time that we did the double over them and eventually found it in the 1953-54 season in Division Two, the second game of which was a 5-2 victory on the day after I was born in 1954! And the last time we beat them three times in a row? That came in 1949 – we won four consecutive games against them in 1948 and 1949, although three of them were at Upton Park. And when was the last time we beat them at their ground in two consecutive seasons? It hasn’t happened.
History is irrelevant though really and current form is much more important. We lost in the league last Sunday of course to Manchester United after missing that last minute penalty which was the subject of much discussion. That was our only defeat this season, and came after two draws had followed our opening two wins. Leeds on the other hand have failed to win any of their opening five league games, but have drawn three of them (against Newcastle, Everton and Burnley) to sit in 17th in the table at this very early stage. They have also suffered heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester United.
Our much changed (virtually B team) gained some measure of revenge over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup in the week and were immediately drawn against Manchester City in the next round. We’ll certainly have to win it the hard way! Some good performances throughout the team will mean many will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up in the weeks to come. I was particularly impressed with Areola, Dawson, Diop, Lanzini and Kral, although to be fair almost everyone played their part in the victory which could have been more emphatic in the end but for two golden chances missed by Yarmolenko and Noble.
So what will happen today? West Ham have been playing Leeds since 1921 – that is 100 years now. It’s more than 100 games and Leeds have been victors in many more of those fixtures than we have. I’m hoping that we can resume our winning ways in the league this season, and also record a second consecutive victory at Elland Road for the first time in history. I reckon 2-1 today will change that. What are the chances?