‘Sniffer’ Clarke arrives….
The summer of 1969 didn’t see Don Revie ‘resting on his laurels’. Having watched his team finally finish at the top of English football the previous season, the boss was determined that his side would become more entertaining, and lose the ‘boring, defensive’ label some elements of the English press had given them. To that end, Revie had his chairman open the chequebook and give Leicester City £160,000 for a promising young striker called Allan Clarke. It’s fair to say that it would prove to be money very well spent.
Their opening fixture for the season was in the fledgling Charity Shield competition, which brought the previous season’s League Champions and FA Cup winners together for a one-off curtain-raiser to the new season, with the gate receipts going to charity. The game against Cup holders Manchester City was staged at Elland Road, and Leeds United emerged as 2-1 winners thanks to goals from Eddie Gray and Jack Charlton, thereby adding the Shield to the growing collection of silverware on the sideboard.
Thirty-four… not out!
As had been the case for a few years now, Leeds were a very difficult side to beat, and they established a new Division One record for an undefeated run of games, 34, by remaining undefeated until the visit to Goodison Park on 30th August 1969, when they went down 3-2 to Everton. However, frustratingly for Revie, most of the first six league games of the new season had been drawn, rather than won, so the club were not in the top six by the time they lost on Merseyside.
On the bright side, however, Clarke and Mick Jones looked to have established a good partnership up front, with Peter Lorimer an excellent accomplice in finding the opposition net. Indeed, Revie had got the players believing in themselves so much that they felt invincible, no matter who the opposition was in any game.
The most unfortunate victims of this self-belief were Norwegians Lyn Oslo, drawn against Leeds United in the opening round of the 1969-70 European Cup. Over two legs, they were beaten by a club record score of 16-0, with Jones claiming four goals over the two games.
Chelsea had developed into a very decent side at this point in time, too, and they ended Revie’s interest in the League Cup, winning the Third Round tie 3-1 on aggregate. However, in his first clash with the man who would quickly become his nemesis, Brian Clough, Revie’s side beat Clough’s newly-promoted Derby County 2-0 at Elland Road on 25th October, Clarke with both goals.
One defeat in almost six months…
Four days later, Nottingham Forest were hammered 6-1, Lorimer grabbing a hat-trick, as the Whites went up to 3rd in the table. It was just one in a long run of games which saw Revie’s side lose ONCE (a surprise 2-1 reverse to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park on Boxing Day) between 6th October 1969 and 28th March 1970. That’s one defeat in almost six months of top-flight football. It was a remarkable period for Revie and his team.
That winning run included two victories over Hungarians Ferencvaros in the European Cup, each by 3-0, as Leeds progressed to the latter stages of Europe’s elite cup competition in their debut campaign.
That incredible consistency was something to admire, as was the fact it was achieved with such a small squad of players. The Leeds United side of 1969-70 essentially consisted of:
Paul Reaney, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper;
Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner (c), Johnny Giles, Paul Madeley;
Allan Clarke, Mick Jones.
Eddie Gray was interchangeable as a substitute, usually with Lorimer or Madeley.
A ‘familiar’ problem arises….
However, as February gave way to March, once again Don Revie was faced with the same huge problem he’d encountered so many times before: Leeds United were the victims of their own success. Revie’s team now faced a mammoth backlog of fixtures as they competed for trophies on three fronts: they would have to play 17 huge games in just eight weeks.
After travelling to Belgium to beat Standard Liege 1-0 on Wednesday 4th March in their Third Round first leg tie in Europe, Revie’s men drew 0-0 at Liverpool the following Saturday 7th March, before facing Manchester United in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Hillsborough the following weekend, a game which finished goal-less and would therefore require a replay.
Four days later, 18th March, they finished Standard Liege off, 1-0, before beating Wolves 2-1 at Molineux on the Saturday. Incredibly, they had to play United in the Cup replay at Villa Park TWO DAYS later, on the Monday evening 23rd March, and when that game again finished 0-0, the second replay was scheduled for the Thursday evening at Burnden Park, Bolton.
A solitary goal from Billy Bremner took Revie’s side to the FA Cup Final, where they would face old foes, Chelsea. However, that seemed far in the future, because just TWO DAYS after knocking Manchester United out, Leeds had to face Southampton at home in the league.
It never ends…
It was simply too much for the players to cope with, even though they were supremely fit. Don Revie did what he could to help his men, bringing in young and/or reserve players like Nigel Davey (right-back), Terry Yorath (centre-back), Rod Belfitt and Terry Hibbitt for the Southampton fixture, but the Saints were in a relegation fight, desperate for points. They fought like tigers and won 3-1, ironically being aided by two own-goals from Charlton and Yorath (who is the father of the lovely BBC Sport presenter Gabby Logan).
That day (28th March), Revie knew ‘the game was up’ as far as the league title was concerned. Everton, with their fantastic young midfield triumvirate of Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball were purring along at the head of the league table, virtually unbeatable. Leeds United wouldn’t catch them now.
With that in mind, Revie made a decision which would cost him and Leeds United a hefty £5,000 fine from the Football Association. TWO DAYS later (30th March), Leeds United had to travel down to Derby County, where Brian Clough and his side-kick Peter Taylor lay in wait, seeking revenge for the defeat they had suffered earlier in the season. By then, Revie had all his attention focused on the European Cup Semi-Final first leg tie with Jock Stein’s Glasgow Celtic, slated for Wednesday, 1st April at Elland Road.
At Derby, Revie named a side in which midfielder Mick Bates, making only his ninth appearance of the season, was BY FAR the most ‘experienced’ Leeds United player on the park. Not surprisingly, Derby County thrashed them 4-1. Revie was unapologetic. He didn’t care about the fine he received from the F.A. either. The First Division title was long gone, the European Cup was still up for grabs. Brian Clough was, by all accounts, furious at what he perceived as a professional slight from Revie towards him and his team, and it may well have been this that ignited one of the most bitter, acrimonious ‘relationships’ between two top managers in football history.
You WILL play on, Mr. Revie!
However, Revie’s seemingly cunning plan didn’t work out. Despite resting his star players in both Leeds’ preceding league fixtures, Revie watched on as Stein’s slick Scottish Champions came to Elland Road that Wednesday evening, played their stuff, and left with a 1-0 win.
I actually had to read this twice as I was researching this piece…the VERY NEXT DAY, Leeds United turned out at Upton Park against West Ham, fielding mostly the same players who had lost to Celtic the evening before and still claimed a point in a 2-2 draw. It was a costly point as well: right-back Paul Reaney suffered a broken leg in the second half, and wouldn’t play for the Whites again that season.
It seems to me (in these days of clubs and managers complaining bitterly if their players have to play more than two games in any given week) utterly preposterous that Don Revie’s men had to play two big games on two consecutive days! Indeed, their whole schedule during this two-month period undoubtedly was a major factor in what ultimately happened to their chances of winning silverware in 1970.
The ridiculous timetable didn’t end there. TWO days later, 4th April, they hosted Burnley in the league, a game they miraculously managed to win 2-1, despite having only three ‘regular’ players in the line-up, Madeley, Lorimer and Eddie Gray, who scored both goals. By this stage, if you had brought your boots with you when you turned up to watch Don Revie’s troops, you might have gotten yourself a game!
Wembley Woes and Hampden Horrors
A week later, it was the FA Cup Final. Chelsea, at Wembley. With Reaney missing out due to his broken leg, Madeley filled in at right-back. The ‘regular’ side fought out a 2-2 draw on a very heavy North London turf, twice taking the lead through Jack Charlton and later Mick Jones, but seeing the Stamford Bridge side equalise in the dying minutes of normal time. Extra time couldn’t separate them, which was galling for Revie and his troops as they had hit the Chelsea woodwork three times, and dominated the game. Their deserved victory eluded them.
Worse than that, they had to travel up to Glasgow to meet Celtic in the European Cup second leg tie at Hampden Park on the Wednesday evening, weary legs and all. By now, what had promised to be a season littered with silverware was instead turning into a never-ending nightmare of difficult fixtures, one after the other in rapid succession.
Celtic, despite having lost their own Cup final the previous week, were much the fresher team on the evening, and a raucous Hampden crowd of 134,000 people (yes, you read that correctly!) roared their heroes on to a 2-1 victory, ending Revie’s hopes of European success on the biggest stage. To rub salt in the manager’s wounds, experienced first-choice keeper Gary Sprake was injured during the game, and wouldn’t play again until the following season. A youthful David Harvey took Sprake’s gloves.
The team played out two final Division One games, not surprisingly losing both to finish the domestic campaign as runners-up (again) to Everton before they faced bitter rivals Chelsea in the replayed FA Cup Final game at Old Trafford, a final chance to salvage some silverware from what had turned into a traumatic season.
The least friendly Cup Final ever?
There was absolutely no love lost between the two sides, a mutual loathing which probably found its origin in the controversial FA Cup Semi-Final game that Chelsea had won several years earlier. On that occasion, Leeds United had had two late ‘goals’ disallowed, both incorrect decisions in their opinion.
The two clubs also represented two very differing ‘versions’ of English life and culture during this period of time. Chelsea were widely regarded as the hip Cockney club of the “Swinging Sixties” fashion and entertainment business, their star players like Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke often found in the bars and boutiques littering the trendy King’s Road in West London. By contrast, Leeds United were a club steeped in the ‘grim’ industrial North; working-class, hard, ‘dark angels with dirty faces’- they couldn’t give a toss for fashion and posh parties.
A war on the pitch
Of course, it all went wrong on the day for Revie. The game was a running battle throughout, with players from both sides frequently clashing as tempers quickly frayed. Indeed, when modern referee David Elleray studied a replay of the game in 1997, he concluded that the sides would have received SIX red cards and TWENTY yellow cards between them in the modern era of football rules! Back in 1970, only Chelsea forward Ian Hutchinson actually received a booking.
Chelsea hardman Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris effectively took Eddie Gray out of the game after only a few minutes with a brutal kick to the back of his knee, but Leeds made most of the early running nonetheless, even though in reality they were now playing with only ten fit men.
Mick Jones combined well with Clarke to open the scoring with an accomplished right-footed finish in a first period which Revie’s men dominated- but crucially they couldn’t make their advantage count with further goals. Chelsea emerged the fresher side as time wore on, Peter Osgood equalising from a delightful Charlie Cooke cross late in the game. Jack Charlton was supposed to have been marking Osgood, but ‘lost’ him while chasing after Hutchinson to exact retribution for a ‘dead leg’ the Chelsea man had given him a minute earlier!
Extra time was the last thing Leeds United needed. A long, gruelling season was proving just too taxing for Revie’s men, and when Chelsea right-back David Webb bundled a header into the Whites’ net late in the first period of additional time, Revie’s side had nothing left in the tank. It was over. Leeds were a worn-down, beaten side.
A season that had promised so much delivered nothing but heartbreak in the end. The ridiculous schedule had ultimately penalised Leeds United for being so successful in nearly every competition they had entered. Don Revie was powerless to do anything about it, too, as only one substitution was allowed during a game (and that was only in the case of a player being injured)! The Football Association were clearly not going to alter their calendar to assist his players with recovery between matches, nor were they willing to allow Revie to field what they perceived to be a ‘weakened’ side in any first team game his club were due to play.
Leeds United had played 62 competitive games in season 1969-70, and that in itself was primarily responsible for Revie ending the year without a trophy, beyond the token Charity Shield. Paul Madeley had played in 59 games, Peter Lorimer 58, Billy Bremner and Paul Reaney 55, Gary Sprake 54, Mick Jones 53… it was simply too much to ask of players, with little or no time between games to recover stamina and nurse frequent injuries.
Sympathy for the devil
For once, there was some sympathy for Revie and his men that summer. Most pundits and fellow managers recognised that the fixture problems Don was unable to overcome at the tail-end of the previous season arose from his team’s long unbeaten runs that stretched back into the season before that.
Understandably feeling aggrieved at the injustice of winning no tangible rewards for their considerable industry during 1969-70, Leeds United started the new season of 1970-71 in a very determined fashion. They reeled off five wins ‘on the bounce’, including a 1-0 win at Old Trafford on the opening day, and a 3-2 win over reigning Champions Everton the following weekend, with Jones, Giles, Clarke and Bremner in red-hot goalscoring form.
Their first defeat was a surprising 0-1 loss at Second Division Sheffield United in the League Cup (the goal scored by a young man called Tony Currie…), and that was followed by a 0-3 loss at Stoke City on 12th September.
Thereafter, however, things ran much more smoothly with a convincing 6-0 aggregate victory over Swedish minnows Sarpsborg in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (which Leeds had been ‘demoted’ into again after failing to retain their Division One title), and a string of unbeaten domestic games that would last until they fell 1-2 at home to Tottenham Hotspur on 9th January 1971.
We see you all down there!
It was more than enough to have Revie’s team looking down at everyone else from the top of Division One. In fact, their stay in the top slot of the league table from the opening day of 15th August 1970 until a controversial 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion (more about that game later) saw them slip to second place on 17th April 1971 has surely got to be a record for the English top flight?! Leeds United sat at the top of English football for eight unbroken months.
The ‘Don’ of the family
People often wonder how Don Revie had a team of players who appeared willing to literally ‘run through brick walls’ for him. The answer seems to have been that he pretty much became a father-figure to them all, taking immense care of their family needs off the pitch so that the players could give their full attention to the game on it, without any distractions.
The season was ticking along nicely as Revie headed into 1971. True, the team lost their first game in months when Spurs caused that upset at Elland Road, but Leeds United had already seen off both Dynamo Dresden and Sparta Prague in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and were top of the table in England. They also then progressed to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, beating lower league clubs Rotherham United and Swindon Town in the process.
Cold-shouldered in Colchester!
When they were paired away to Fourth Division minnows Colchester United in the Fifth Round Cup draw, everyone (probably including Don himself) assumed it would be akin to a “gimme” in golf. Perhaps the 1-0 loss at home to Liverpool the preceding week should have served as a warning of imminent danger. They were without the energy and drive of skipper Billy Bremner, who missed the Cup game with a leg injury…and it didn’t half show! Without him, Leeds United crashed to a shocking 3-2 defeat at Colchester – on 13th February 1971. Maybe there is something in the superstition about the number thirteen, after all! It was possibly the most embarrassing result of Don Revie’s entire managerial career.
The jolt of being ambushed by such lowly opponents certainly had a beneficial effect on Revie’s team in the short-term. They embarked on a run of eight unbeaten games, including overcoming Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal 3-2 on aggregate, which set up an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
However, having been fully seven points clear of Bertie Mee’s Arsenal (their only serious rivals for the Division One crown) at one point in the season, Revie and Leeds watched on with increasing agitation as that lead got whittled away, such that by the time they travelled to the Hawthorns on 17th April, the Gunners were breathing down their necks, only a point in arrears. It would be yet another fateful day for Don Revie and his players. Despite Clarke scoring for the visitors, West Brom fought back to secure a 2-1 win with a goal which owed a great deal to an Albion forward who was clearly off-side during the build-up. The referee over-ruled his linesman’s flag and allowed the goal to stand, which led to the game having to be temporarily halted when several Leeds fans invaded the pitch to protest and the linesman was hit with a beer bottle as things threatened to get out of control.
It would prove a decisive result, too. Arsenal still had to visit Elland Road, which they did just nine days later. Revie’s side had beaten Southampton 3-0 at The Dell in the interim period but had just two league games left as they took to the pitch to face the Gunners. Arsenal had three left and were now a point clear of Leeds. In the irony of all ironies, Leeds United won the game 1-0, thanks to a goal from Jack Charlton which looked suspiciously off-side!
Revie and his men duly won their final league game, 2-0, at home to Nottingham Forest as well but then had to wait to see if Arsenal would steal the title away from them. Ironically, the Gunners final game was… away to their bitter neighbours Tottenham Hotspur! Arsenal needed a draw or better at White Hart Lane to clinch their first league title for 18 years. In, by now, familiar feelings of “so near, yet so far” for Don Revie, Arsenal won a scrappy game 1-0 and left the Elland Road men empty-handed again. Days later, Arsenal became only the second club in the 20th century to complete the ‘Double’ when they overcame Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley in the FA Cup Final.
Another European reprieve…
Yet again, Revie turned his attention to Europe in a desperate bid to close out the season with a piece of silverware. His side had overcome familiar foes Liverpool in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Semi-Final ties, progressing through due to a single headed goal from Billy Bremner at Anfield. Now they faced the daunting task of beating Italian giants Juventus in the two-legged final.
Of course, with Don Revie, it wouldn’t be without drama! The first leg game in Turin had to be abandoned after 50 minutes at 0-0 because the pitch became unplayable due to a freak thunderstorm. Two days later, Leeds United twice fought back from a goal down to emerge with a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Paul Madeley and Mick Bates.
The return game at Elland Road was a frantic affair. Allan Clarke gave the hosts a deserved early lead, but Juventus had a side full of Italian international players, and they fought back to level before half-time. In the second period, Revie’s side laid siege to the visitors’ goal, but couldn’t find a decisive goal…but more importantly, they didn’t concede one either.
The final whistle saw Revie claim his second European trophy for the Whites, as they won the tie on the ‘away goals’ ruling. It wasn’t really a satisfactory way to decide the destiny of a major trophy, but after the trauma he and his men had suffered with so many ‘near misses’ over the previous two years, Don Revie wasn’t about to complain!
The Inter-Cities Fairs Cup represented a poor return, given the position the club had been in at the turn of the year, but everyone at Elland Road felt confident that Revie could lead the team to bigger glory days in the seasons ahead.
Join me again next time, as we look back at the never-dull career of one of English football’s greatest managers as he embarked on season 1971-72.