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Balkans Bound

Don Revie’s Leeds United side started the 1967-68 season in poor form, losing two of their opening three games, at Manchester United and Wolves, having only drawn the season opener at home to Sunderland 1-1, thanks to a Jimmy Greenhoff goal.

It was therefore not an ideal time to be heading out to Yugoslavia to face Dinamo Zagreb in the opening leg of their postponed Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final tie from the previous season. A Leeds side low in confidence duly struggled throughout against slick opponents, eventually deservedly losing 2-0. The return leg, a week later, was a turgid affair, ending goal-less, and yet again leaving Revie without a trophy to show for his side’s strenuous efforts of the previous season.

Off To The Market We Go

By now Revie realised he had a problem. Despite playing some decent football, the team were not finding goals easy to come by and hadn’t been prolific for quite some time. Despite that handicap, the Whites went on an unbeaten run of five games (four wins and a draw), climbing the table to 8th position, before Revie acted.

That act was to spend a new club record fee of £100,000 to acquire the services of prolific young Sheffield United striker Mick Jones, who had also just been capped by England. Although Jones wasn’t initially a frequent name on the scoresheet, Revie had given him the specific task of being a nuisance, Leeds United’s “first line of defence”, and Jones took to that role with relish. He was basically a ‘pain in the arse’ for opposition centre-halves.

Cloak And Daggers…?

As he’d just shown with the swoop for Mick Jones, Don Revie was not afraid to spend money when he thought it necessary. Indeed, Leeds United had been in the market for a few ‘big’ players over the previous few seasons, and not always in an “above board” manner either.

There were accusations and allegations of improper approaches being made to players at other clubs, to both unsettle them and also entice them to seek transfers away from their current employers, with Leeds as the beneficiaries.

One such player was England international midfielder Alan Ball, who had signed for Everton from Blackpool for £112,000 in August 1966, just after he had played an instrumental role in helping his country to win the World Cup. Ball later alleged that he was given a £300 ‘bung’ by Leeds United to reject Everton’s approach for his services and request that the Blackpool chairman sell him to Revie’s club instead.

Needless-to-say, both Leeds United and Revie strenuously denied that any such thing had ever happened, but that didn’t prevent the Football Association from later charging both Revie and Ball (who claimed to have pocketed the ‘bung’) with bringing the game into disrepute.

Unbeatable… almost

Anyway, back to matters on the pitch. With Jones in the fold, suddenly things clicked, and in a big way. On 7th October, Elland Road witnessed a genuine massacre as the hosts gained some measure of revenge on Chelsea for the F.A. Cup defeat of the previous season. Leeds spanked the Londoners 7-0, with winger Johanneson grabbing a hat-trick.

Though still susceptible to the very occasional narrow defeat away from home, at Elland Road Don Revie’s team were, from then on, virtually unbeatable. With the exception of a 0-2 reverse at Anfield on 9th December, Leeds United didn’t lose a single game between 11th November 1967 and 12th April 1968, a run of 23 victories and 9 draws in all competitions. It was enough to take them to the top of the league table, all the way to a League Cup Final date at Wembley with Arsenal, an F.A. Cup Semi-Final game with Everton at Old Trafford and into the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-final stage, where they faced Scottish side Dundee.

Some pundits apparently joked at that time that Revie should consider entering his team into the Grand National and the Wimbledon tennis tournament the following summer because as winter gave way to spring, Leeds United were still very much in the running for all four competitions they had entered the season hoping to win!

Silverware… At Last!!

Of course, the charge that had been increasingly thrown in Revie’s face by some elements within the media was that for all their progress from a mid-table Second Division outfit to a constant fixture near the top of Division One, there was no silverware on the Elland Road sideboard.

That changed on 2nd March 1968, when Don led his team out in front of 98,000 fans at Wembley for their League Cup showdown with Arsenal. As noted, the side came into the game in sparkling form, though ironically, despite not having been beaten in the league since that loss at Liverpool before Christmas, they were only in second position! It’s fair to say that under the old ‘two points for a win’ system, it was much more difficult for one club to see a good run of unbeaten form carry them too far in front of their competitors than would be the case now under the three-point system.

The team that Revie named that March day was as follows:

Gary Sprake;

Paul Reaney, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper;

Jimmy Greenhoff, Billy Bremner (c), Johnny Giles, Eddie Gray;

Paul Madeley, Peter Lorimer.

The single substitute was Rod Belfitt, who replaced Eddie Gray after 75 minutes.

A Game, Well ‘Managed’

The Whites had developed into a dogged, determined side with immaculate defensive discipline and they knew how to ‘manage’ a game to their advantage. That proved to be the case on this particular afternoon. After a tense opening, Leeds United scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game on 20 minutes, Terry Cooper thundering home a half-volley after a corner had only been half-cleared by Arsenal. Gunners protests that Jack Charlton had fouled keeper Jim Furnell during the corner-kick were waved away by referee Hamer. Thereafter Revie had his men dig-in and frustrate an ordinary Arsenal team, and so claim the first major trophy in the club’s history.

With the trophy ‘monkey’ off his back, Revie undoubtedly looked forward to the rest of the season with relish. The team were playing well as a unit, and right in the mix for more glory. Two weeks later they welcomed title rivals Manchester City to Elland Road and proceeded to demonstrate their own title credentials to the Mancunian Blues with a tidy 2-0 win thanks to goals from Giles and Charlton.

Things were going equally well in Europe, where the side had battled through to a Fourth Round Inter-Cities Fairs Cup meeting with Rangers. In the ‘Battle of Britain’ contest, it was the Yorkshire side who triumphed with a 2-0 aggregate scoreline, both games played out in front of massive crowds, reportedly 80,000 attending the 1st leg game at Ibrox Park!

Hitting The Skids…

However, a downturn in form was just around the corner. A narrow 1-2 loss at White Hart Lane on 17th April signalled the beginning of an unsettled period of form which would cost Revie and Leeds dearly. Approaching the F.A. Cup Semi-Final tie with Everton at Old Trafford, they suffered a shock 3-2 defeat at struggling Stoke City, and that upset turned to despair when a rare mistake from a throw-out by Gary Sprake allowed Everton to score the only goal of the game in Manchester to send the Whites crashing out of the Cup.

Revie tried to lift the morale of his troops for the final title run-in, but they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at home to title rivals Liverpool the following week, and he knew the game was up. Manchester City had reacted well after losing in West Yorkshire and spurred on by the likes of Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, they wouldn’t be caught again, ending up Champions by two points from their crosstown rivals United. Leeds’ league season petered out with two further losses at Arsenal and Burnley, to leave Revie’s men in fourth place.

Scots Bashing…

So, yet again, it was to Europe that Don turned in a bid to prevent the season from turning into an anti-climax. After seeing off Rangers, Leeds United had ironically been drawn against another Scottish First Division side, Dundee, in the Semi-Final stage; a late Eddie Gray goal at Elland Road gave the hosts a 2-1 aggregate victory just four days after their league season had ended in disappointing fashion, and so the Whites had a double-date with Hungarian side Ferencvaros to overcome in order to round the year off in style.

As had been the case at the end of the previous season, though, Revie and his men would have to be patient if they wanted to get their hands on the European trophy, because the final ties against the powerful Hungarians were scheduled for August and September. The first game would be the opening match of the 1968-69 season for Leeds United.

Grounds For Improvement

As well as making strides on the field, Leeds United were keen to improve facilities for fans at Elland Road too, and that opening game of the new season against Ferencvaros also witnessed the first use of a new Spion Kop stand, which was in some ways a parting gift from Harry Reynolds, who had had to step down as club chairman due to failing health.

The game itself was anything but ‘friendly’, with some crude challenges coming in from both teams. Indeed, the Whites lost both Giles and Jones to injury over the 90 minutes, but not before the latter had poached the only goal of the game from close range after the Hungarian keeper had missed a corner, under a challenge from Jack Charlton.

That victory over a side that were widely regarded as one of the best in Europe at the time did Revie’s team a world of good in terms of boosting confidence going into the domestic season. Leeds started the campaign in determined mood, with Mick Jones bagging five goals in the opening seven fixtures as the Elland Road men marched straight to the top of Division One.

The Bradford City Fire Foretold…

As a bizarre aside, and in yet another example of a fixture that Leeds United were involved in during this period that foretold a future tragedy in the English game, Revie’s team saw their match at Nottingham Forest on 24th August 1968 abandoned at half-time after the main stand at the City Ground caught fire during the game, and eventually burned to the ground. This, of course, would be replicated to devastating effect at Bradford City’s Valley Parade stadium on 11th May 1985, when 56 people would lose their lives in a similar type of fire, ignited by a live cigarette butt carelessly tossed into dry litter in a wooden stand.

Yet again, as with the overcrowding of terracing that had occurred at Elland Road and other football venues in previous seasons, lessons that should have been learned by those in positions of authority over the game were not learned, and it would be the ordinary football fans who would would pay a terrible price for that failure of those in power to heed warnings.

Europe Conquered

By the time they flew out to Budapest for the return game with Ferencvaros on 10th September, Leeds United remained unbeaten in all competitions, sitting 2nd in Division One after beating Wolves 2-1 thanks to goals from Terry Cooper and Jack Charlton. The Hungarians carried all the threat in that game, putting the visitors under severe pressure for virtually the entire match. However, in the end, they were unable to breach what was by now a fearsome rearguard, marshalled superbly by Charlton and Hunter.

So, in perhaps an understated fashion, Don Revie claimed his second major trophy as Leeds United boss as the Whites triumphed 1-0 on aggregate, and brought the 1968 European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup back to West Yorkshire. However, by now, the boss had his sights fixed on much bigger prizes than the secondary European trophy. Put frankly, Don Revie was tired of finishing as a runner-up in the League Championship and was determined that Leeds United would have their name inscribed on the trophy the following May.

Hard To Beat

It seemed his men were as determined as their manager to finish the season on top of the table, because Leeds went undefeated until 28th September, when they were beaten 3-1 at Maine Road by reigning League Champions Manchester City. That loss didn’t seem to adversely affect morale though, as they then won three games in a row against Newcastle United, Sunderland and West Ham United, before surprisingly exiting the League Cup following a 2-1 reverse at Crystal Palace on 16th October.

Burnley Poke The Bear…

However, the following Saturday, the Whites travelled across the Pennines to Turf Moor, where they ran into a young Burnley side that were absolutely ‘on fire’. They handed Revie one of the most humiliating losses he would suffer for years, trouncing Leeds United 5-1. Unbeknownst to those watching on, it was another pivotal moment in time. The manager pointed out a few ‘home truths’ to his men afterwards, and his stinging words found their mark. Such drubbings would not happen again under Revie’s watch.

Burnley would visit Elland Road nine weeks later for the return game. In the intervening period, Revie’s team suffered defeat only once, and that was a 2-0 loss away to Italian side Napoli in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, a tie which the English side won, yet again, on the toss of a coin after the sides couldn’t be separated after extra-time in the southern Italian city.

…And Then Burnley Get Mauled!

Three days before the Clarets came calling, Leeds had thrashed German side Hannover 96 by five goals to one- it should have been a warning to Burnley. If it was, the warning wasn’t heeded. On the day, Don Revie’s team handed out a footballing lesson to their Lancashire visitors, as goals from Lorimer (2), Bremner, Jones, Giles and Eddie Gray gave Leeds United a 6-1 win and avenged the humiliation the Whites had suffered at Turf Moor.

It was also a ‘statement of intent’ because it was quite clear to anyone looking on that this team was now close to the peak of its formidable powers. Revie had a very settled side, with quite a few players either ever-present or as ever-present as injury and suspension would allow them to be.

Settled Team = Very Good Team

Amongst those that played in every game if they were available for selection were goalkeeper Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter and Mick Jones. Paul Madeley, the ultimate “utility man”, filled in wherever there was a need and was thereby virtually an ever-present too. Johnny Giles, Terry Cooper, Mike O’Grady and Eddie Gray missed some games with injury, but played when fit to do so. Forward Peter Lorimer had a fitful season with injury problems, but still managed nine goals in 25 league appearances.

If there was one ‘problem’ that had cost Revie and Leeds United dearly in previous seasons, it had been that of fixture congestion. Fighting on multiple fronts for silverware, whilst a sign of a consistently good team, was also a recipe for an over-worked playing staff who became much more susceptible to tiredness, injuries and suspensions as the season wore on. The gap between matches was also much shorter, sometimes leading to the team having to play three games in the space of seven or eight days. Whilst this fixture congestion was much more commonplace in the 1960s than would be tolerated now, it was still just as taxing on the players, perhaps even more so, given the ‘pudding’ pitches they often had to play on.

‘Leeding’ The Way…

It was perhaps a real blessing in disguise, then, when Leeds United stumbled to a surprise Third Round exit in the F.A. Cup, losing a replayed tie 1-3 at home to bitter Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday on 8th January 1969, having drawn the first game 1-1 at Hillsborough.

Inadvertently, that freed up the calendar for Revie and his men a little, and this was reflected in the team’s league results. Leeds United went on an unbeaten run of 18 league games until the final day’s 1-0 victory at home to Nottingham Forest, thanks to a goal from Johnny Giles.

That winning run included a feisty 2-1 victory at Highbury over Arsenal, which saw Gary Sprake blatantly punch Gunners full-back Bobby Gould (who would later find fame as manager of the original Wimbledon ‘crazy gang’ in the 1980s!) in the face yet remain on the pitch, the referee showing a leniency to the Leeds United goalkeeper that most definitely would not be in evidence today!

The only defeats during that period of almost four months came in the Fourth Round of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which Leeds were, of course, the holders of. They came unstuck against Hungarians Ujpest Dozsa, losing both legs to exit 3-0 on aggregate.

Champions…At Last!

It was a minor annoyance to Revie because by the time his troops emerged from their penultimate fixture at Anfield on 28th April 1969 with a precious point from a 0-0 draw, Leeds United were the Champions of England for the first time ever. No-one could argue that they didn’t deserve it, either, because they had only been beaten TWICE in the First Division all season: at previous season’s Champions Manchester City and on that fateful day at Turf Moor in Burnley, a defeat which they had since avenged.

During the season Leeds United had beaten reigning European Champions Manchester United at Elland Road and drawn 0-0 at Old Trafford; they had beaten Liverpool at home and drawn 0-0 at Anfield; they had beaten Everton at home and drawn 0-0 at Goodison Park; they done the ‘double’ over Arsenal and Newcastle United, and remained undefeated against Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves and Sunderland.

The Whites side that won their final league game at home to Nottingham Forest on 30th April and paraded the league championship trophy at Elland Road for the first time ever was as follows:

Gary Sprake;

Paul Reaney, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper;

Paul Madeley, Billy Bremner (c), Johnny Giles, Mike O’Grady;

Mick Jones, Peter Lorimer.

The unused substitute was striker Rod Belfitt.

Giles’ winning goal was his eighth of the season. There were 46,500 people packed into the ground to serenade the new Champions, and Don Revie was now akin to a ‘messiah’ for nearly all of them. Leeds United had gone top of the table after beating Ipswich Town 2-0 on 12th February, and never looked back. The glory days were finally here…

Join me again next time, as we reflect on the flourishing fortunes of Don Revie and his team as the 1970s beckoned and major silverware started finding its way to West Yorkshire with growing regularity.