LEEDS UNITED’S director of football Victor Orta is no dyed-in-the-wool Yorkshireman raised on tales of Don Revie, bitten legs and little black books.
Although, as a former journalist and agent, the Spaniard certainly knows how it feels to be hated. And he clearly does understand Leeds.
So as Leeds celebrated the end of a 16-year wait for top-flight football with a trip to Derby on Sunday, Orta pulled out a pair of binoculars to taunt the Rams about last season’s ‘Spygate scandal’ — when United were fined £200,000 after Marcelo Bielsa admitted sending a spook to their promotion rivals’ training ground.
Orta’s little stunt was crass. It was classless. And it was a glorious snapshot of why we’re so glad to have Leeds back in the big time.
Dirty Leeds. The Damned United. Football’s favourite anti-heroes. The chippiest, and the earthiest, of all England’s great clubs.
Rival supporters are adamant that Leeds are currently the subject of a mass media love-in, while Whites fans will insist — as they always have — that the entire world is against their club.
Neither is exactly true but it all adds to the gaiety of the nation.
In recent years Leeds fans can be forgiven for having a siege mentality. Their club has been to hell and back under a succession of poor owners. Now they have been revived.
There will be a whole generation of younger football fans struggling to understand exactly why Leeds are the most eagerly anticipated promotion-winners since the Premier League was formed 28 years ago (when Leeds were last champions of England).
And while the answer has something to do with their much-feted manager Marcelo Bielsa and his enterprising side, it is more about history and mythology, fear and loathing.
Some clubs, such as Liverpool and Manchester United, have been hated for being successful. Leeds are hated because they are Leeds.
Most clubs enjoy fierce rivalries within their locality. Leeds have fierce rivalries across the nation — with Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Millwall and Cardiff City.
In the 16 years since the last league fixture between the two clubs, supporters at Old Trafford have never stopped singing: “We all hate Leeds scum.”
Whereas most leading clubs play at modern stadiums, where the atmosphere can often be muted, Elland Road remains a spit-and-sawdust, fire-and-brimstone place.
You can feel the history there — predominantly from the Revie era, when Leeds were the best, and the most brutal, team in the land.
Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and the recently departed defensive duo of Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter and Jack Charlton, with his little black book.
Before them came John Charles — arguably the greatest British footballer of all time — and afterwards those 1992 title-winners and the David ‘So Nearly’ O’Leary team who reached a Champions League semi-final in 2001.
For my generation, it was the 1990 Second Division champions who nailed down the ‘dirty Leeds’ mythology with a central midfield partnership of David Batty and Vinnie Jones.
Not even Revie would have paired those two.
Revie was a brilliant manager but a deeply paranoid man.
He found his spiritual home at Leeds, where they have held grudges against officialdom since their original club, Leeds City, were kicked out of the Football League for spurious reasons in 1919.
So should Jose Mourinho ever fancy it, he would fit like a glove at Elland Road.
In recent years Leeds fans can be forgiven for having a siege mentality.
Their club has been to hell and back under a succession of poor owners, most notably the ruinous Massimo Cellino.
Now they have been revived under Andrea Radrizzani and Bielsa — regarded as a spiritual guru by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and a legion of tactics wonks.
Bielsa sits on a bucket, dresses like a dustman and speaks through a translator, yet the Argentinian is adored in Leeds, where a city-centre street is to be named after him.
His team are an image of their manager . . . workaholic, entertaining, possession obsessives capable of thriving in the top flight.
As it happens, Bielsa’s Leeds are not especially dirty, sitting halfway in the Championship disciplinary table.
Yet, once the pandemic allows it, visitors to Elland Road will feel all of that historic hostility.
And Leeds will be welcomed back to the top flight as what they have always been.
The villains which every successful plot-line demands.
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