How the mighty have fallen. Old foes from the past, now ensconced as a run-of-the-mill second-level team. That is still not how many of us of a delicate age view this particular club, however. The Leeds United that City faced in the 70s usually provided one of the sternest tests of the season, and it is in this way that many of us like to remember our old foes from across the Pennines.
Later on, in the 80s, the two clubs were just as likely to meet in the second division as the first after the God of Decline and Decay treated us both with equal generosity, but in the 90s both clubs came strong again to populate the higher echelons of English football and do battle for European rewards. In more recent times, both clubs have visited places they dare not speak of, shot down in darkness and despair and Millwall.
Modern football has been unkind to Leeds. The other face of the same coin has catapulted City into the European spotlight, right at the time the riches of European glory were being snatched away from this season's cup opponents. Somewhere in there a cautionary tale waits to be told, but today's job is to celebrate the rich Cup history of these northern giants.
Two games stand out in a modern cup history shared.
The third-round FA Cup tie City played at Elland Road in January 1978 was not only a classic of its kind but was also something of a mirror on all that was football of that era: two sides packed with talent, players with long hair and wide morals, packed terraces, a fistfight between David Harvey and Gordon McQueen -- supposedly teammates for the occasion -- and heaving, rumbustious ill-discipline among the crowd. Bill Elliot, writing in the Express, was moved to say: "It takes a rare kind of match to overcome pitch invasions, a 16 minute stoppage and some of the worst crowd behaviour in the history of our football. The fact that there was as much talk about the game on the park as the sickness on the terraces highlights just how special was Manchester City’s defeat of Leeds United ..."
City, fresh from a glorious season in which the Blues finished a single point behind the champions, Liverpool, had been more than unfortunate to exit at Leeds in the fifth round the year before. During that particular game, Joe Corrigan had pulled off what was possibly his best-ever save before a late toe poke from Trevor Cherry nailed it for the home side. It seemed harsh to be going out. Here, then -- just under a year later -- was an opportunity for the Blues to exact revenge on the Yorkshiremen.
A packed Elland Road witnessed a flowing classic of a match from the very first whistle. With Peter Barnes and Dennis Tueart swapping wings throughout the first half, City took the game to a heavily fancied Leeds side. Fed by the inspirational Colin Bell, four games into his tear-jerking comeback from career-threatening injury, City were firing on all cylinders. The first half involved such heavy pressure on the Leeds rearguard, the Leeds players took to fighting among themselves. Harvey and McQueen were spoken to by the referee after comically swinging haymakers at each other. The Thriller in Manila it was not. If this was a shambolic hors d'oeuvres, a main course of utter chaos lay just around the corner.
There was a huge upswell of noise from the 12,000 travelling Blues fans as Tueart flung himself through a jungle of bodies to head high past Harvey for the opening goal. A second goal came with 18 minutes to go, as Barnes got a toe end to the ball to make it 2-0. With 13 minutes left on the clock, a massive surge of Leeds fans carried those at the front onto the pitch at the Kop end. City were dominating the cup tie and this was the home fans' solution: to try to get the game abandoned. The referee took the teams off and reappeared with a tiny microphone to tell the stadium in a trembling voice that "this match will not be abandoned." He repeated his mantra for effect (earning great cheers from the Blues following) before the players finally reappeared some fifteen minutes later. By now, the game had lost its pattern, the crowd were being held back by police horses, and most wanted it to finish as quickly as possible. A penalty came to Leeds among the chaos, but the match was dead as a spectacle and as a contest.
What memories the players had left for us, though.
It seems strange to recount that not much more than a decade ago, Leeds were a European power with a team full of superstars. Their recent demise has been well-documented but they arrived at Maine Road for an FA Cup fourth-round tie in 2000 expecting a hard game from Joe Royle's first division high-fliers. They got just that ... for all of twelve minutes. With City top of the First Division and Leeds top of the Premiership, Maine Road prepared itself for a classic tie. Could Royle's successful dogs-of-war tactics upset the aristocrats from Elland Road? Shaun Goater gave City the lead within two minutes of the kickoff, Eirik Bakke levelled, and Ian Bishop nearly broke the Leeds net with an unstoppable pile-driver. Maine Road was in a complete froth. Unfortunately City had nudged ahead slightly too early and were faced with the prospect of trying to hold Leeds back for the remaining 78 minutes. This proved just beyond Royle's tigers, and Leeds came back into it with goals from Smith, Kewell, Bowyer and Kewell again. Had there not been an athletic Nicky Weaver in goal and a sturdy set of posts, it might have been even more embarrassing by the end.
Leeds had a 5-2 victory and safe passage into the next round, City fans could return to concentrating on the league, and the journalists had their 'Kewell and the Gang' headlines for the Monday editions.
You can see pictures and reports on these games and other classic images and encounters between Leeds and City here.