If it isn’t broken…
Despite having made a very disappointing end to 1972-73 in terms of results (which ultimately, once again, left Don Revie and Leeds United empty-handed when it came to trophies), the manager was greatly heartened by the sheer will-to-win displayed by his men against almost insurmountable odds in their UEFA European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final defeat against AC Milan. As mentioned in the previous part of this review, the English club had been handicapped by an almost open bias in favour of the Italian team by the Greek official, Christos Michas, in Thessalonica. Yet, despite this, they only lost by a single goal and were unquestionably the better side during the 90 minutes.
Consequently, Revie saw no need for wholesale changes to the Whites squad during the summer, such that when Leeds United began their Division One campaign for the new season, at home to Everton on 25 August 1973, the side had a very familiar look to it. Only the giant Scottish centre-half Gordon McQueen, who had replaced retired veteran centre-half Jack Charlton, would have possibly been an unknown to casual visitors at Elland Road.
Just try and stop us…
It took the hosts only three minutes to breach the Toffees’ defence through captain Billy Bremner, and two further goals midway through the second-half from Johnny Giles and Mick Jones sealed a 3-1 opening day victory. The result had Leeds United in 6th position in the first league table of the new season, and they jumped up to 4th place with a 2-1 win at Highbury against Arsenal three days later, the goals coming from Peter Lorimer and a rare strike from utility man Paul Madeley. Apparently, the football played by the white-shirted visitors was of such a high standard that even the Arsenal fans applauded some of their moves.
What the watching pundits and print media may not yet have grasped was that Don Revie had become a ‘man possessed’. This season, he was a man who was determined to make sure that Leeds United became the Champions of England again. However, as he had alluded to in pre-season, Don wanted his men to achieve this goal in a much more ‘sporting’ manner than might previously have been the case, and he largely got his wish. Indeed, one referee was overheard remarking to a justifiably proud Revie that he wished “all matches were played in the same spirit” as that that had been demonstrated by the Whites players during the game!
After the heart-wrenching failure to secure a single piece of silverware at the business end of the previous season, Don had learned a couple of lessons. One of those was that his squad of players, as fantastically talented as they were, was simply not ‘deep’ enough to sustain a successful challenge for every available trophy in any given season. Time after time he had watched on as huge fixture backlogs had decimated his players’ reserves of energy and injury-recovery powers, such that, more often than not, they failed to win the trophies their season-long efforts deserved. He was determined to make sure that would not be repeated in 1973-74.
Four days after beating Arsenal, Leeds returned to North London to face their neighbours Tottenham Hotspur. For the third game running Revie named the same side:
Paul Reaney, Gordon McQueen, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley;
Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner (c), Johnny Giles, Eddie Gray;
Allan Clarke, Mick Jones.
Trevor Cherry was the substitute; he replaced Clarke, but not before “Sniffer” had scored one of the Whites’ goals as they comfortably beat Spurs 3-0 on their own White Hart Lane pitch to go top of the table, Bremner getting the other two strikes. Again, the football from the visitors was sublime, with some home fans moved to applaud what they were witnessing from the Yorkshiremen.
Gonna be your Number One…
Nobody knew it at the time, but Leeds United would never relinquish their grip on the top position in Division One for the remainder of the season, which meant Don Revie and his team were on top of the league table from 1 September 1973 until the league season finished on 27 April 1974. It surely has to be a record…
After beating Spurs, Leeds extended their winning start to the league campaign to seven games in a row, beating Wolves home and away (4-1 and 2-0 respectively), Birmingham City 3-0 at Elland Road and Southampton 2-1 at The Dell. The goals were shared amongst Lorimer (who got a hat-trick against Birmingham), Bremner (who maintained his superb scoring record for a central midfielder better known for his tough tackling!), Jones and Allan Clarke, who was simply deadly in the penalty area.
Drawing with the Devils
The first game to end without victory for Don Revie was away to Norwegian minnows Stromsgodset in the opening round of the UEFA Cup on 19 September, Clarke scoring in a 1-1 draw. However, that trip up to Scandinavia couldn’t be blamed for the first dropped point of the domestic league season the following Saturday, a 0-0 draw at home to rivals Manchester United. That’s because Revie had decided that the cup competitions were of secondary importance to the club this season, and he accordingly played a weakened side against the Norwegians, with only Madeley, Cherry, McQueen, Clarke and Jones featuring from his ‘normal’ Division One line-up.
Even then, the home draw with United was a poor result, because the Red Devils were in dire trouble, a side devoid of confidence and enough genuine talent to remain competitive in the division. The season would end with them relegated to Division Two, the magical glory days of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law long gone. Indeed, Law, having been controversially granted a ‘free transfer’ by United with Tommy Docherty’s blessing, then re-appeared in a sky-blue shirt at Manchester City. He would have a hand in United’s eventual demise at the season’s close before announcing his immediate retirement, heartbroken at what he had had to do to his beloved Red Devils.
A 1-0 win at Norwich City on 29 September thanks to a Giles goal was followed by a 6-1 thrashing of the lightweight Norwegian opposition in the UEFA Cup return leg, Revie naming a stronger side that had put the tie ‘to bed’ by half-time.
The first defeat of the season came in the Second Round of the League Cup competition, Leeds going down 2-0 at Ipswich Town, though, again, Revie hadn’t selected his strongest team for the game. Quite honestly, the boss was probably more upset at the league point dropped in a 1-1 home draw with Stoke City two days prior to the loss in Suffolk.
Maintaining the advantage…
Another battling 2-2 draw at Leicester City was then followed by a hugely important 1-0 win at home to Bill Shankly’s Liverpool on 20 October. Mick Jones scored the only goal of the game in front of 45,000 people; the Merseyside Reds would prove to be the biggest threat to Revie’s hopes of bringing the Championship back to Elland Road.
A disappointing mid-week 0-0 draw at home to Edinburgh-based side Hibernian in the UEFA Cup Second Round was quickly forgotten as the Leeds United bandwagon rolled over Manchester City at Maine Road the following Saturday 27 October, Mick Bates grabbing the only goal in a 1-0 victory.
The following Saturday, West Ham United were demolished 4-1 (see video coverage below), Mick Jones again to the fore…and by now popular discussion amongst football fans all over the country was centred around one question: “who will be the first team to beat Don Revie’s Leeds United in the league this season?”
After Hibernian were ousted from the UEFA Cup the following Wednesday, 7 November (Leeds winning the tie 5-4 on penalty kicks after the game at Easter Road had ended goalless), Burnley (0-0 away), Coventry City (3-0 win at home) and Derby County (0-0 away) all tried and failed to beat the Whites.
Beautiful, winning football…
The Third Round of the UEFA Cup had pitted Revie’s men against Portuguese outfit Vitoria Setubal. They were not a big name, and a disappointing crowd of just over 14,000 turned up at Elland Road to witness a 1-0 home win thanks to a rare goal from left-back Trevor Cherry. Setubal may not have been a big name, but they were a useful side, and Don knew a single goal was a slim advantage to be taking into the away leg.
Before he could worry about the trip to Iberia, though, Revie’s side hosted a Queen’s Park Rangers side that had been promoted from Division Two during the summer, and would go on to have a superb return season in the top flight; they pushed Leeds all the way to a 2-2 scoreline at the whistle, the Whites’ goals coming from Bremner and Jones.
The following Saturday the league leaders made the potentially tricky trip to Portman Road, Ipswich, but emerged with an excellent 3-0 victory, the goals coming from Clarke, Jones and a rare score from Terry Yorath, who had shown himself adaptable enough to play in either defence or midfield when Don required him to do so. At Ipswich, the Welshman (who is the father of beautiful BBC Sport presenter Gabby Logan) yet again filled in for Johnny Giles, for whom age and injury was increasingly ‘catching up’. This would be the most injury-disrupted season of the Dubliner’s career, Giles making only 17 appearances in the white shirt.
Punctured in Portugal
So, it was in good spirit that Revie took his side to Setubal, Portugal. However, true to his word, the boss wasn’t giving this competition the priority he had in previous years, aware that his squad wasn’t large enough to deal with player ‘burn out’ later in the season. Consequently, Revie included a couple of ‘reserve’ players, Jimmy Mann and Peter Hampton, in his line-up. The gamble didn’t work. The hosts were technically gifted and raced into a 3-0 lead before a late consolation goal for the visitors from substitute Gary Liddell. It wasn’t good enough and Leeds United were out of Europe on a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.
At the top of the Christmas tree…
If the players had had their confidence shaken, it didn’t show when they got back to England. Three successive victories over Chelsea (2-1), Norwich City (1-0) and Newcastle United (1-0) followed, keeping Leeds well in front of the chasing pack as Christmas came and went- only Liverpool, seven points adrift, were even still in the ‘race’.
With Giles out long-term, Yorath slotted into midfield, while Joe Jordan stepped in up front for the injured Clarke and found the net quite regularly too. Don was a happy man, his team playing superb, winning football and with a vastly improved disciplinary record to boot. At grounds all across the country, fans flocked to see if their team could be the first to beat the men in all-white. For once, Leeds may have made some new friends with the quality of football they more often than not produced.
New Year 1974 saw a 1-1 draw at home to Spurs, after which the FA Cup Third Round involved a visit to Wolves. A Lorimer penalty gave the Whites a 1-1 draw at Molineux, and then Mick Jones got the only goal of the replay at Elland Road four days later.
Leeds United remained unbeaten in Division One as January passed by. Southampton were beaten 2-1 thanks to goals from Jordan and Jones; a 0-0 draw at Everton preceded a comfortable 4-1 FA Cup Fourth Round victory at Peterborough United in front of 28,000 people at a sold-out London Road on 26 January.
February saw a faltering Chelsea side arrive at Elland Road, get comprehensively outplayed, yet somehow still leave with a 1-1 draw. Three days later, 5 February, Arsenal came to West Yorkshire but weren’t so fortunate. This time Joe Jordan grabbed a brace to add to an own-goal as the hosts won 3-1.
The record for an undefeated start to a domestic season was held by Burnley when they had gone 30 games without a loss in 1920-21. Leeds United had now been unbowed in 28 games. Game 29 took them across the Pennines to Old Trafford, where the hosts were now in a desperate fight against almost inevitable relegation. Leeds comfortably won 2-0, the goals coming from Jones and Joe Jordan, who would, ironically, become a hero at Manchester United later in his career.
Rocked by the Robins!
The FA Cup draw had sent Revie’s men to Bristol City in Round Five. The Robins were struggling in the lower reaches of Division Two… it should have been a routine victory for Leeds, especially with veteran Giles returning to the side after his lengthy injury lay-off. It wasn’t. In front of another sell-out crowd of 37,000 at Ashton Gate, a goal from Billy Bremner spared Yorkshire blushes but gave Revie a replay he really didn’t want, as the game finished 1-1. Three days later, 19 February, the unthinkable happened. In the shock of the season, a strong Whites line-up (that included returning long-term injury casualty Terry Cooper at left-back) went down 0-1 in front of 47,000 of the Leeds faithful.
Finally sunk in Stoke…
The replayed Cup game was also the last thing Revie’s men needed ahead of a tough weekend trip to Stoke City, as they attempted to equal Burnley’s 30-game record. The energy expended in that midweek defeat against Bristol City cost them dearly. As stated previously, by then there was an unofficial competition going on amongst the other First Division clubs to see who would be the first to inflict a league defeat on Don Revie! Stoke City held the ‘winning ticket’. On 23 February, almost exactly six months after the league season had commenced, Leeds United were finally beaten, 3-2. Incredibly, the Whites had led 2-0 in the game but ran out of steam as their hosts staged a scintillating comeback.
Their first league defeat really shouldn’t have mattered in the overall context of the season (Leeds were eight points clear of Liverpool), and initially it seemed that that loss at the Victoria Ground really wouldn’t matter. However, surprisingly Leeds didn’t return to winning ways immediately thereafter, instead having to settle for two home 1-1 draws against Leicester City and Newcastle United going into March.
Peter Lorimer had assumed penalty-taking duties, and his conversion of a hotly disputed kick on 9 March gave the Whites a 1-0 home win over Manchester City, and it looked like it would be just a matter of ‘when’ Leeds United would be crowned Champions, not ‘if’.
However, as you all know, life is rarely that ‘smooth’! And if life is rarely smooth, football is NEVER straightforward. Just as everyone in Leeds was getting ready to crack open the champagne on a title-winning season, along came a major hiccup.
It wasn’t immediately apparent, either. A trip to face the club sitting in second place, reigning Champions Liverpool, was never going to be an easy fixture anyway, so when Leeds suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat at Anfield on 16 March, no-one would have been unduly perturbed. The unbeaten league run had ended at Stoke City, so a second loss of the season was ‘neither here nor there’, since the team would simply ‘roll their sleeves up’ and win the next couple of games….
Except that they didn’t. In front of over 39,000 expectant Leeds fans at Elland Road on 23 March, Burnley came to town, tore up the script and destroyed the would-be Champions 4-1. Allan Clarke got what turned out not even to be a goal worthy of the usual “consolation” description. That’s because, all of a sudden, there was someone coming up very quickly in Don Revie’s rearview mirror- and it was his old friend Bill Shankly!
A Liver Bird on our tail…!
Despite their long unbeaten run of nearly six months, Leeds United had not been able to leave the Anfield men far behind in the dust, as they had with the rest of the Division. That’s because, whilst Leeds drew quite a few games, even at Elland Road, Liverpool were ruthless at home. Had Shankly been able to get his side to replicate their home form when they were on the road, Liverpool would have cantered to the title.
By the close, Liverpool had a stunning home record which read 18-2-1; Revie’s men finished with a much less convincing 12-8-1. However, Leeds United were equally adept at being difficult to beat away from West Yorkshire, and that’s what would eventually give Revie the edge on his wily Scottish managerial colleague.
Cracking under pressure…
A week after getting mauled by Burnley, Revie took his men to East London to face the other club with claret and blue colours…and it didn’t end well. Despite Clarke again helping himself to a goal, Leeds crashed to a 3-1 defeat at West Ham, and all of a sudden Liverpool were breathing down their necks, four points behind but with two games ‘in hand’.
The club were on the verge of a late-season crisis; privately, Don was a worried man- he felt as if his men were losing their collective nerve just at the wrong time, and given the Whites’ catalogue of near failures over the past decade, he had every reason to be troubled. The ‘air of invincibility’ that had set up shop at Elland Road all season suddenly seemed ready to ‘pack its bags and leave town’ just when Leeds United needed it most!
To be honest, what really came to Don Revie’s aid as far as Liverpool’s title challenge was concerned was an old “enemy” of his own: fixture congestion. Unlike Leeds United, the Merseysiders were still involved with the F.A. Cup (they would eventually go on to lift the old trophy at Wembley, beating Newcastle United in the decider), and when combined with the continuous pressure of needing to win every single league game to keep their pursuit of Leeds United on track, Shankly’s troops cracked.
Leeds got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home victory over a good Derby County side (who were now under the guidance of former Tottenham legend Dave Mackay) on 6 April, the goals coming from Lorimer and Bremner. A hard-fought 0-0 draw at Coventry City on 13 April was then followed with a disappointing goalless draw with Sheffield United at Elland Road two days later.
Liverpool were still making life uncomfortable for the Whites, as they made the return journey to Bramall Lane, Sheffield the VERY NEXT DAY (yes, I know…unbelievable, isn’t it?!). However, a more assured performance saw the visitors emerge with a 2-0 victory thanks to a brace from Peter Lorimer….and the pressure was switched back to the Anfield Reds.
The penultimate day on the league calendar for Revie’s side saw them welcome Ipswich Town to Elland Road, whilst over at Anfield there was the small matter of the Merseyside Derby! Revie must have known that Everton would not be wanting to do their Stanley Park neighbours any favours. After watching his own men secure a 3-2 win over the East Anglians thanks to goals from Bremner, Lorimer and Clarke, Don would have been delighted to hear that the Toffees had battled to a 1-1 draw with Shankly’s side.
“Shanks” gunned down by Arsenal!
So, with a single game left to play at Queen’s Park Rangers, Leeds United were in the driving seat, five points clear. Liverpool had three games remaining, but they knew they would have to win them all (you only got two points for a victory in the 1970s) and pray that the Loftus Road Hoops could do them a huge favour on the last day of the season.
It was all set up to be an absolute cliff-hanger….and then Arsenal rocked up at Anfield in mid-week and beat Liverpool 1-0 with a goal by… Ray Kennedy! The man who would go on to become a legend at Anfield himself had thrown a huge spanner into the Merseyside machinery. That surprising home defeat, their only one of the entire season, had cost Liverpool a chance at retaining their league crown…and started riotous celebrations across West Yorkshire!
Leeds United were Champions of England for the second time in their history, and Don Revie was arguably at the peak of his entire managerial career. The new kingpins closed out the season with a single-goal victory at Queen’s Park Rangers thanks to Allan Clarke (his thirteenth league goal of the season) to finish five points ahead of Liverpool. Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter had been ever-present during the 42-game season, David Harvey and Paul Madeley had 39 league appearances each. Mick Jones was the top goalscorer with 14 strikes for the campaign
Afterwards, Don remarked “When we were going through the shaky patch of losing against Liverpool, Burnley and West Ham, I thought we had lost it, but the players’ tremendous application, character and ability showed over the Easter period.”
The boss looked set to enjoy another sustained spell of success at Elland Road. Of the title-winning squad, only Johnny Giles (31) and Billy Bremner (30) were not still twenty-somethings, and having resisted the financial lure of Everton and Greek side Olympiakos the previous summer, Revie seemed like a man who could “set his own sail”.
Your country needs you, Don!
However, whilst he was understandably adored by the Leeds fans, and followed loyally by his players and coaching staff, Revie didn’t enjoy universal support from within the boardroom at Elland Road, a fact borne out by who they chose to be his managerial successor- Brian Clough! Consequently, when the suits at Lancaster Gate came calling during May and June of 1974, Don was, perhaps surprisingly to some Leeds United fans, open to their approach.
The Football Association had taken the monumental decision to dispense with the services of 1966 World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey and caretaker Joe Mercer after the side had failed dismally to qualify for the World Cup Finals in West Germany in 1974. Given his outstanding record of achievement at Leeds United for over a decade, it was little surprise that Don Revie was at the head of their list when it came to hunting for the next England boss. He was known to be a big favourite of influential F.A. board member Ted Croker.
When Don duly accepted the offer to manage his country in July 1974 he was a universally popular appointment with both the media and fans around the country, being described as “the obvious choice” for new England manager by top journalist Brian Glanville.
A glorious history
So, his time at Elland Road was at an end. In just over 13 years, from 1961 to 1974, Don Revie had transformed Leeds United from a mid-table Second Division outfit that nobody outside of the city took any notice off, to one of the leading clubs in England, a side that consistently challenged for the top trophies. It was a remarkable success story, and would have been even more notable had his teams managed to turn even a few of their numerous ‘runners-up’ placings into winning positions.
Don Revie’s final trophy record at Leeds United Football Club read:
League Division One: Champions (2): 1969, 1974.
Runners-up (5): 1965, 1966, 1970, 1971, 1972.
League Division Two: Champions (1): 1964.
F.A. Challenge Cup: Winners (1): 1972.
Runners-up (3): 1965, 1970, 1973.
Football League Cup: Winners (1): 1968.
F.A. Charity Shield: Winners (1): 1969.
UEFA Cup/Inter-Cities Fairs Cup: Winners (2): 1968, 1971.
Runners-up (3): 1967, 1972, 1973.
Don was named “Manager of the Year” on three occasions; 1969, 1970 and 1972. He was awarded an O.B.E. by Her Majesty The Queen in January 1970 for his services to football.
Join me again next time, as we look at Revie’s career after he left Leeds United. It’s fair to say it wouldn’t be smooth sailing!