Shaun Derry relishing Cambridge United’s ‘monster test’ against Leeds United
PUBLISHED: 09:10 08 January 2017
Iliffe Media Ltd
Cambs Glass Stadium to host bumper FA Cup tie
One of the most eagerly-anticipated moments in any football season is the draw for the third round of the FA Cup.
It is difficult to explain the significance to any non-football fans, but waiting for the ties to be plucked out leads to a build-up of tension and excitement.
All supporters want a home tie, and the smaller clubs want a bigger club for the revenue streams and the hope of causing an upset, while the bigger clubs want a smaller club in the hope of easier progression.
So when Cambridge United landed Leeds United at the Cambs Glass Stadium – a tie to be televised on Monday night – it was almost a dream come true, and for manager Shaun Derry it brought back memories of a fond, albeit sometimes difficult, spell in his career.
“I thought it was a standout draw if I’m honest,” said Derry. “Leeds are a monster of a football club, they really are.
“I know how big Leeds is because I was up there as a player, and when that draw got announced I thought it was an unbelievable draw for us.”
Derry’s association with Leeds started in February 2005, when he made the move to Elland Road from Crystal Palace.
“I would say it’s definitely the biggest football club that I played for,” he said.
“The first year that I got there was the year they got relegated out of the Premier League and there were still 35,000 to 40,000 fans at Elland Road, religiously watching every single Championship game.
“You quickly realise how big the club is, and I remember going on tour to Stavanger in Norway and there being something like 2,500 Leeds fans welcoming the club off the plane. It’s immense.”
Derry was sporting a flowing mane in those days and, together with his all-action style, it helped make him a cult hero at Elland Road.
That was further fuelled by scoring the winner against West Ham on his home debut, and he believes that is what helped him strike a rapport with the fans.
“I was definitely one of those characters who gave more than everything that he possibly could on a match day – they are passionate to the core up at Leeds and I think they respected that,” he said.
When Dennis Wise took over as Leeds manager in October 2006, Derry was appointed vice captain, but then things took a turn for the worse with a serious injury.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “That was a real turning point in my career and it came at the age where we’d just had our children, my little girl was 18 months and my boy was six months and I was out for a year with a really bad heel injury.
“I got an innocuous kick against Stoke – I remember (Mamady) Sidibe caught me on the back of the heel. I thought I would be out for a week and I was out for a year!
“The swelling calcified and it took three operations and numerous trips to specialists all around England to get back, and I never played for Leeds again.
“I never pulled on the shirt for Leeds United because the manager at the time, Dennis Wise, had his own agenda and from when I came out of the team to being fit again, we had been relegated into League One.
“I went straight on loan again back out to Crystal Palace and rekindled my relationship with Palace at that time.
“It was very sad. I didn’t want it to end that way, absolutely not.
“I wanted to play for Leeds continually. That would have been a club that I would have gladly stayed at for a number of years.
“But I also wanted to play at the highest level I possibly could as well. So when Neil Warnock came knocking for Crystal Palace and I knew Dennis had his own thoughts on me as a player and the club itself, I knew the right thing was to go and play for Palace.
“I went on loan initially and it just felt right that I had to leave.”
But Derry still has fond memories of his time at Leeds.
The U’s trained at Thorp Arch ahead of their EFL Trophy match against Bradford in December, and Derry is delighted to see them re-emerging as a force in the Championship under Garry Monk.
“This is the highest they’ve been for eight years,” he said.
“I think the expectation that’s now being felt at Elland Road, that they can actually mix it with the top end of the Championship, will only drive another 10,000 fans into the stadium.
“When you’ve got that backing and you’ve got that history that’s just ready to come back to the football club, Garry can bring that back.
“He will be so determined to take them into the Premier League at the right time. And I just think now is probably the right time for them.
“I look at the Championship and there are some massive clubs in it, but there’s not many bigger than Leeds United. You look at Newcastle, you look at Villa, then Leeds, they are just huge. I think Garry has done an unbelievable job there, an unbelievable job.”
The U’s are going great guns themselves, but Derry is all too aware of the task in hand for the hosts on Monday night.
“We know it will be a really tough night for us. But it’s one where you want to go and mix it with the big clubs – you don’t want to be there just making up the numbers,” he said. “We want to make sure that we do ourselves justice and I know and I always say this, when you play against a team above you, you’ve got to hope that they don’t hit the highs that they can and you’re expecting a little bit of luck as well.
“So for us to get anything out of the night, Leeds United can’t play to their full maximum and we need an element of luck as well.
“We have to be absolutely right on top of our game, but that will happen at round three with certain teams and that’s what we’ve got to make sure, that we can do everything we possibly can to put ourselves in that position.”
The match will be televised live on BT Sport 2 at 7pm on Monday.