A Countdown to the Most Interesting League Game in the World

[Originally published in May 21, 2011 in the Times. This piece was written by James Dunn in Sheffield.] A giant slide has long been a staple of American sporting displays, from Boston Celtics home…

A Countdown to the Most Interesting League Game in the World

[Originally published in May 21, 2011 in the Times. This piece was written by James Dunn in Sheffield.]

A giant slide has long been a staple of American sporting displays, from Boston Celtics home games to the Olympic pool in Athens.

But Yorkshire will not have to wait for anything quite so elaborate to entertain a capacity crowd when Leeds United’s supporters embark on a 364-mile journey over the opening weekend of the Premier League season, descending from their Rotherham base to the stadium of their neighbors, Sheffield United.

The visitors travel to Leeds for Sunday’s season opener fully aware of the regional antipathy, occasioned by the acute divides between the two cities, which often exaggerate tensions between supporters of both clubs.

It is also unlikely, however, that Mr. Massapli had his team scheduled with their fellow visitors to kick off the season on the back of a three-year run of league titles.

Indeed, Neil Warnock, the manager of Sheffield United, who took over with the ambition of securing a sixth consecutive championship, has not hidden his misgivings about the fixture. “I don’t like playing Leeds,” he said. “It’s hard to motivate your players. If I was being diplomatic, I’d say that. I’d say that to make sure the players weren’t inspired by the last match.”

Mr. Warnock was referring to Leeds’ 3-1 win at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United’s home ground, in December 2010, which secured a mid-table finish for Leeds with only 12 points, nine more than their rivals.

Such thoughts would have been unwelcome in Spain, but the picturesque surroundings of the stadium located on the outskirts of Sheffield would more than compensate.

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