No home comforts….
Don Revie came into the 1971-72 season with ‘one hand tied behind his back.’ This was thanks to the actions of some Leeds United fans back in April. They had reacted violently to a blatantly offside goal awarded to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns (a goal which ended up winning the game 2-1 for the Baggies, and that defeat very much played a part in denying Leeds the league title) by invading the pitch and throwing missiles. One of those missiles struck one of the linesmen, and the Football Association quite rightly took a very dim view of its officials being attacked in any way. The consequence was a four-match ban on the Whites staging First Division games at Elland Road, and took effect at the beginning of the new league season.
This turn of events was particularly galling to the club, because the board had invested heavily on the Elland Road playing surface itself over the previous 12 months, having a new pitch with a vastly improved drainage system laid, and then having an under-soil heating system installed as well. Consequently, the West Yorkshire venue was seen as having one of the best pitches in the country.
On the plus side for Revie, goalkeeper Gary Sprake and right-back Paul Reaney had recovered from injuries sustained towards the tail-end of the previous season and were fit to go back into his starting line-up. He also promoted a young Scottish striker called Joe Jordan into the first-team squad; Jordan was a bruising forward he had bought from Greenock Morton for £15,000 a few years earlier, and he wasn’t afraid to ‘put himself about!’
Given the situation with the ban on playing at Elland Road, it was perhaps not a big surprise, then, when the team got off to an indifferent start to the season. An excellent 1-0 win at Manchester City on the opening day of the season thanks to a Peter Lorimer goal was followed by a shocking 0-3 defeat at Sheffield United. The next two “home” games, against Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur, were both drawn. The first was played at Huddersfield, the second at Hull City’s old Boothferry Park ground.
However, three wins in a row lifted Leeds United to second place in the table. These included a 5-1 drubbing of Newcastle United at Hillsborough, Sheffield, and a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, the last “home” game to have to be staged elsewhere, this one again getting played at Huddersfield’s former ground, Leeds Road.
There may be trouble ahead…
The first sign of some difficulties ahead surprisingly came in the newly-renamed UEFA Cup competition, which Leeds United were holders of, having been the final winners of the trophy under its former name of European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Having easily disposed of Belgian side S.K. Lierse, 2-0, in the away leg of their first-round tie, Don Revie was perhaps guilty of dismissing the return leg at Elland Road as a mere formality. To be fair to Don, everyone would have reasonably assumed that to be the case. Lierse were not a big club, even in Belgium. Even their own supporters couldn’t have held much hope that their players could overturn a two-goal deficit at the home of mighty Leeds United.
The Whites came into the game off the back of an excellent 2-0 aggregate victory over Brian Clough’s Derby County in the League Cup competition, and Revie decided he could name a virtual reserve side to take care of the Belgians. The starting eleven had only Paul Reaney, Terry Cooper, Paul Madeley, Peter Lorimer and Rod Belfitt from the regular side named in it. It was a mistake.
Lierse strolled to a 4-0 win in front of a stunned home crowd of only 18,680 people on 29 September. Realising too late his grave error of judgement, Revie threw on regular keeper Gary Sprake and experienced centre-back Norman Hunter at half-time, but the tie had slipped away from Leeds United by then. Unbelievably, the scoreline apparently flattered the hosts, not the visitors.
The team continued to display some very patchy form thereafter. A handsome 3-0 home win against Manchester City was sandwiched between drab 0-0 draws with West Ham United in both the league and League Cup competitions, and after going down 1-3 at Coventry City, the Whites crashed out of their second competition in a month when they lost the return leg of their League Cup tie with the Hammers, 0-1, at Elland Road on 20 October.
Revie was not about to allow his men to let the season slip meekly away, and he let them know that what they were producing simply wasn’t good enough for either him or the fans. The side sat in seventh position, and now only had the FA Cup to aim for, unless they could get their domestic form sorted out quickly.
What followed was a show of grit, determination and character that marked the side out as special; a team full of men who were prepared to ‘roll their sleeves up’ and get down to business. Leeds United went on a run of games through the late autumn and Christmas of 1971, to the end of January 1972, during which time they lost only once – a very surprising 2-1 defeat at lowly Southampton.
On a charge…
Fellow title rivals such as Everton, Manchester United and Liverpool were beaten, as were the likes of Stoke City, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Sheffield United. The man in red-hot goalscoring form was Peter Lorimer, who notched 11 goals in just over two months. He was ably assisted by Allan Clarke, who had by now made his transfer fee from Leicester City look like such a ‘steal’ by Don Revie that he should have been serving time “at Her Majesty’s pleasure” for it!
A 1-0 win at home to Sheffield United, thanks to another Clarke goal on 22 January, took Don Revie to the top of English football once more, and it must have looked to all the world as if Leeds United would once more become the Champions of England that May. What no-one could have known is that that was the only time they would top the league table that season.
A 1-0 defeat the following weekend at White Hart Lane saw Revie’s side slip to second place, but two titanic battles against Liverpool in the FA Cup Fourth-Round, culminating in a pulsating 2-0 replay victory at Elland Road thanks to a brace from Allan Clarke, soon occupied everyone’s attention. The draw for the Fifth-Round sent Leeds to Cardiff City, which would be a tough assignment.
Revie’s men on a rampage!
However, the Cup replay against Liverpool had taken its toll on the side. They could only draw 0-0 at Everton the following Saturday, and despite then going on a fabulous run of form, which included beating Cardiff City 2-0 in front of 50,000 people at Ninian Park thanks to a Johnny Giles double, Leeds remained second in the table. Manchester City and Brian Clough’s “surprise package” at Derby County were the two sides who looked to be willing to give Revie a fight for the league title.
Incidentally, this sparkling run of form by Revie’s men included a 7-0 drubbing of poor Southampton at Elland Road on 4 March 1972, and footage from this game showing the Whites’ players basically tormenting the visitors, almost cruelly rubbing in how much of a superior team they were, is still available to watch on YouTube. It was a lesson in how to ‘pass and move’ around opposition players, albeit the Saints players were an extremely demoralised bunch by the time Giles, Bremner and company reverted to “training session” mode!
Revenge was wrought on Tottenham Hotspur for the earlier league defeat when the teams met at Elland Road in the FA Cup Sixth-Round tie on 18 March, goals from Clarke and Jack Charlton giving the home side a 2-1 victory and setting up an FA Cup Semi-Final tie with Birmingham City at Hillsborough, Sheffield. Indeed, had it not been for the heroics of the young Northern Irish goalkeeper playing for Tottenham, a certain Pat Jennings, Leeds would have won by a much greater margin.
Clashing with Cloughie
However, despite spanking Arsenal 3-0 and Nottingham Forest 6-1 in the league, disappointing draws at Leicester City and West Ham United during the remainder of the month saw Revie’s side travel to Derby County on 1 April sitting in second position in the league table. They really needed to beat Brian Clough’s side to put pressure on them.
On the day, though, it was Revie’s nemesis Clough who wore a smile as the Rams won 2-0 at the Baseball Ground, to take a huge step towards winning their inaugural top-flight title.
Leeds didn’t have time to ‘lick their wounds.’ Four days later, they beat local rivals Huddersfield Town 3-1 at Elland Road and followed that up with a 3-0 win at Stoke City to remain in second place in the table. By now it was clear that the title race would go right to the final day, with the Whites neck-and-neck with Clough’s Derby side; Manchester City and Liverpool were right up there too.
Booking a Wembley date
Mick Jones had hit a purple patch in front of goal, so it was little surprise when he helped himself to another brace as Leeds United proved far too strong for Second Division Birmingham City in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough on 15 April. Peter Lorimer got the other goal in a very comfortable 3-0 win, to set up a date at Wembley with Cup holders Arsenal.
A very poor 1-0 loss at mid-table Newcastle United four days later would end up proving very costly indeed to Don Revie’s hopes of bringing a second League Championship to West Yorkshire. That wasn’t immediately apparent, though, as the Whites prepared for their Wembley showdown with Arsenal by winning 1-0 at West Bromwich Albion (thanks to a Johnny Giles penalty) and 2-0 at home to bitter rivals Chelsea, with goals from Bremner and Jones. Those two victories left Leeds United sitting in second place behind Brian Clough’s Derby County, just a single point in arrears with a final game at Wolves still to play.
However, before that, there was the small matter of the FA Cup Final to play, and what Revie hoped would be the first part in Leeds United securing the fabled ‘Double.’ Opponents Arsenal had achieved that notable feat the season before, and although their defence of their league crown had proved inadequate, the North London side were renowned for being hard to beat, with talismanic Scottish captain Frank McLintock at the heart of the Gunners defence.
Of course, Leeds had never won the FA Cup in their history, so 6 May 1972 will always be fondly recalled around Elland Road, because on the day Revie’s men were much the better side during a typically bruising encounter, and clinched the Cup when a fabulous run and cross from the right byeline by Mick Jones on 53 minutes was met by the head of Allan “Sniffer” Clarke. His diving header from 15 yards gave Arsenal keeper Geoff Barnett no chance.
The most intense finish to a title race…. Ever!
However, Don Revie and his men had no time to celebrate finally clinching an FA Cup triumph at Wembley. Just TWO days later they had to travel to Wolves, needing at least a draw to deny Brian Clough’s Derby County their first ever Division One title. That’s because the Rams had beaten fellow challengers Liverpool 1-0 in their final league game on 1 May, but then had to sit back and pray that both the Merseysiders and Leeds would fail to win their final league fixture, as both clubs were within touching distance of Derby’s 58-point final tally. Liverpool had 56 points and a superior goal difference. Leeds United had 57 points and a superior goal difference too.
On a thrilling final day of the season, Monday 8 May, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool blew their chance to overtake Derby County and win the title themselves when they could only manage a 0-0 draw at Highbury against the same Arsenal side that had just lost the FA Cup Final.
So, could Revie finally ‘get one over’ on Brian Clough, whom he had come to dislike intensely over the previous few years? It’s funny, but in many ways, Clough and Revie were the “same man” just with very differing personalities. Clough was publicly bullish, almost arrogant, never afraid to ‘blow his own trumpet,’ and he knew how to ‘play’ to the TV and print media men. Revie, by contrast, was much more withdrawn, almost secretive, often making little attempt to disguise his mistrust and dislike of those who made their living ‘talking’ about football. However, both men became huge successes within the game because when it came down to the rub, they were single-minded and driven when it came to winning football matches.
Misery at Molineux
Leeds United travelled to Molineux that Monday evening to face a Wolves side that, in reality, had nothing much left to play for. They lay in tenth position, exactly mid-table, and were a mix of young players like the mercurial John Richards and keeper Phil Parkes, and battle-hardened warriors like Northern Irish centre-forward Derek Dougan. The press had depicted Wolves as huge underdogs, there simply to provide a ‘guard of honour’ to the Champions-elect.
The visitors were suffering after their FA Cup Final exertions, too. Lethal hitman Mick Jones had been injured in the closing minutes of that game, and had to be helped up the famous old Wembley steps to collect his winners’ medal by team-mates; he was definitely out of the Wolves game. Allan Clarke and Johnny Giles had to have pain-killing injections to play, having had no time to recover from niggling injuries they had sustained against Arsenal.
Revie knew it wouldn’t be easy. However, the press had pretty much given Wolves’ manager Bill McGarry’s team-talk for him, by depicting his side as no-hopers. The men in old gold shirts played as if THEY were the ones who needed a result to win the title, their professional pride clearly wounded by the press suggestions that they wouldn’t even give their full effort. Referee John Gow turned down a strong Leeds appeal for a penalty when Wolves full-back Bernard Shaw appeared to handle the ball early on, and minutes later Wolves took the lead through Frank Munro.
The visiting players had not had time to recover their stamina after winning the Cup at Wembley on the Saturday afternoon, and Wolves simply wore them down. Dougan grabbed a deserved second goal for the hosts on 67 minutes, sliding the ball calmly past the advancing David Harvey, and Revie must have known then that it was going to be another case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for him and his men.
Leeds United responded immediately when captain Billy Bremner pulled a goal back from a Madeley pass. Thereafter Leeds laid siege to the Wolves goalmouth, but try as they might to find the goal that would take the league title to Elland Road, Leeds couldn’t equalise. Parkes had an inspired game in the home goal, denying Bremner, Lorimer and Clarke on numerous occasions throughout the game. Wolves even cleared a shot off their goal-line in the dying seconds… there had never been a more dramatic finish to a league season.
At full-time, the Whites’ players were disconsolate as the title celebrations got underway in Derby. Brian Clough was famously on holiday with his family when news filtered through that, against all the odds, his Derby County side were the new Champions of England.
Afterwards, Revie spoke through his obvious disappointment to pay tribute to young Phil Parkes for a number of outstanding saves for Wolves. It was a bitterly disappointing end to another season for a man who had been down the same road so many times before.
Again, in retrospect, it seems incredible to me that a side that had just competed in the FA Cup Final on the Saturday afternoon were made to take the field less than 48 hours later in a final league game of the season that had the destination of the league title resting on its result…utterly incredible. There is simply no way such a thing would be permitted in the modern Premier League era, and that can only be a good thing. Put in its starkest terms, Leeds United had, once again, found themselves penalised by the Football Association fixture calendar for winning football matches. The players simply could not recover from injuries nor regain their stamina sufficiently between matches to perform at their best levels.
It had been a good season for Don Revie, despite the heartbreak at Wolves, with the FA Cup residing on the Elland Road sideboard for the first time ever. Could he take this Leeds United squad to further glories? Join me next time, as we see how 1972-73 would unfold for the undisputed ‘King of Leeds.’