I’m a proud Yorkshire man, I’m proud to be many things: English, British, even European, but above all I’m proud to be from God’s own county. So with last seasons FA Cup final featuring a team from London and a team from Yorkshire, you would assume I was cheering on the Tigers, and you’d be correct – but this rule doesn’t always apply. If either Leeds or Huddersfield were in the final I would gladly cheer for any team that was playing against them, even if they were from over the Pennines in Lancashire. Why is this? Surely I should want the teams local to me to do well?
As a Bradford City supporter the next best thing to seeing City win is seeing Leeds or Huddersfield lose, and I suppose because they are our closest rivals (in a geographical sense at least), it makes sense. In all walks of life you want to get one over on your neighbours don’t you? That sense of wanting to be the best on your patch can easily become a general dislike of those you want to be better than, and this is what makes derby games the most anticipated in the calendar. When I talk to friends of mine that support Leeds about this they dismiss it as jealousy, inferring that living in the shadow of such an illustrious club, we of the smaller club are bitter and green-eyed, to which I obviousy reply with “yeah cos I’m well jealous of a mid table Championship club who have been to less cup finals in the last ten years than us” -almost certainly not helping my cause. But it can’t be just a jealousy thing. For example, we genuinely have nothing to be jealous of Huddersfield for, yet the rivalry is just as keenly felt. For me, more than anything it’s about having someone to be the pantomime villain, the token enemy – Star Wars doesn’t work without the Dark Side, and the opportunity to rub it in with friends and colleagues at work who support the other lot means that the more local it gets the better a rivalry is, and the better that feeling of winding them up becomes.
The silly thing is I can see how childish and unproductive all this hatred is. Let’s face it, when Bradford City was at its peak in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, all the other West Yorkshire teams were doing well also – Leeds were in Europe, Huddersfield were in the Championship, and Halifax were a Football League club. Today only one of those things is still true, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence either. When your local rivals do well it pushes you on to do better yourself and healthy rivalry based on trying to do better is surely more productive than hatred and negativity. The real rivals should surely be those we have least in common with, I mean when you see the money being thrown about at Man City and Chelsea and their flagrant lack of respect for financial rules, they should be enemy all football fans should rally against, but it doesn’t get your juices flowing like a local rival, all it breeds is indifference.
I suppose local rivalry is inevitable, and also important – financially derby games are a massive bonus for clubs, and the supporters get a few games a year that take on more importance than just the three points up for grabs. The problem is that when rivalry becomes hatred, it isn’t healthy for anyone. Nobody enjoys scenes like those after recent Tyne-Wear derbies where emotions spill over into violence and disorder, and surely it’s much better to be able to sit in the pub with friends from the other side and have a bit of banter about the result and enjoy the unique experience of the local derby. Don’t get me wrong I’ll never cheer for Leeds, but let’s just hope the next time we play each other in the league it’s in the same division as the last time we did.
(This post was originally posted on a football blog I contribute to (straightyellowcard.wordpress.com). Bradford city have since played, and beat, Leeds, and my immediate reaction was of it not quite meaning as much as I thought it would. Don’t get me wrong it was great to put one over on Leeds, but I just don’t think I dislike them as much as I used to, maybe I am growing up after all!)