‘Fiercest derby I went to was so volatile Man Utd didn’t want to take corners’

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    It was the game police had been dreading.

    Officers formed a ring of steel around the visiting team bus, drafted in extra manpower to deal with a powder keg atmosphere and braced themselves for what was to come.

    Welcome to Elland Road for Leeds United versus Manchester United – one of the most explosive fixtures in English football. It was February 20, 2000 and just weeks earlier Leeds superstars Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate had both been arrested following an alleged attack on an Asian student in the city centre.

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    How that case panned out is now part of the club's infamy – and it felt like the incident had added even more fuel to the fire which burned between these two clubs. But nevertheless, back then Leeds had become a genuine force in the game.

    United felt a genuine threat to their dominance from their old rivals from across the Pennines. Six weeks earlier, Leeds had gone top of the table while United competed in the Club World Cup in Brazil.

    Can you remember Leeds United vs Man Utd in 2000? Let us know in the comments section below

    When this game came around, Leeds trailed Sir Alex Ferguson's men by just three points.

    In his infinite wisdom, then Leeds boss David O'Leary decided it was a bright idea to ramp up the tension even more. Looking ahead to the game of that season, the Irishman said: "I'd love that game to be kept in the pot for the end of the season. "Let's have a real winner-takes-all match in front of our crowd at Elland Road. Don't suggest it to Sky, they would wet themselves with excitement!"

    Come kick-off, the only people 'wetting themselves' were the home supporters, desperate to lavish vitriol, hate and vile abuse on those in red. The slight problem from Leeds fans' point of view was that the biggest target of all wasn't even on the pitch.

    Fergie had taken the seismic decision to axe David Beckham from his squad because he'd skipped a training session in the build up. Not that Beckham's absence diluted what was a poisonous atmosphere from start to finish.

    The referee handed the poisoned chalice of somehow controlling the game was Peter Jones, who struggled throughout.

    Leeds had combative players like Bowyer, Erik Bakke and local hero Alan Smith. United were no shrinking violets either, with a midfield containing notorious hardmen Roy Keane, Nicky Butt and the devilish Paul Scholes.

    Scholes would tell me years later that, of all the grounds he played at during an illustrious career, Elland Road was the one he hated going to the most. When asked why, he replied, "because they're all *****".

    Keane and Bowyer revelled in a running battle throughout, while United players appeared reluctant to take corners in front of the baying mobs. More than 40,000 had packed into the ground, most of them creating a cauldron of hate reigning down from the stands.

    It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time, not least when Andy Cole scored the only goal of the game, a sublime one in the second half, to win it for United.

    Afterwards, I ventured into the directors' entrance to speak to the Leeds chairman at the time, Peter Ridsdale – and took a seat next to a certain Beckham while waiting for Ridsdale to appear.

    The look on Beckham's face at the time suggested he'd been relieved not to have been out on the pitch for this game. Which said it all, really.

    • Manchester United FC
    • Leeds United FC
    • Premier League

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