Adding a Cherry to the cake…
Don Revie entered 1972-73 needing to do some tinkering to his squad. That was because, much like Paul Reaney at the tail-end of 1970-71, the unfortunate Terry Cooper had broken his leg in the 3-0 league victory over Stoke City at the Victoria Ground in April.
Cooper, therefore, missed out on winning the FA Cup with the Whites when they defeated Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley on 6 May 1972, the ever-versatile Paul Madeley filling in at left-back for him. The England man also had to sit watching helplessly from the sidelines as Leeds United blew a fantastic chance to win the fabled ‘Double’ when they crumbled to defeat at Wolves on the final day of the season. Indeed, Terry Cooper never really made a full recovery from that leg-break; his Leeds United career was effectively over, though he didn’t know it yet.
Revie’s nemesis Brian Clough was the grateful beneficiary of that final-day calamity at Molineux, though despite taking the Rams to their first-ever league title, Clough’s days at Derby County were soon to come to an end due to a huge falling-out with the club chairman.
Don was also increasingly aware of the ‘advancing years’ and increasing fragility of his defensive lynchpin, Jack Charlton. The big Geordie had been a central figure throughout Revie’s time at Leeds, but age and injuries had started to catch up with him. Jack himself was thinking about retirement, not wishing to ‘out-live his usefulness’ and let anyone down.
Revie went west, to Huddersfield Town, for a replacement, paying £100,000 to bring 24-year-old Trevor Cherry to Elland Road. Cherry, like Madeley, would prove useful because he could play in a number of positions across the back line, though initially, he played at left-back.
A Tartan twist
Scotland had traditionally proved a very rewarding ‘hunting ground’ for new Leeds United recruits for Don Revie and his scouts (one of whom was now former Leeds player Bobby Collins), and this continued with the acquisition of a big, commanding young centre-back from St. Mirren, Gordon McQueen. The blonde giant would eventually replace the veteran Charlton, though Jack soldiered on for a while longer. McQueen joined fellow compatriots like Joe Jordan and the Gray brothers, Eddie and Frank, in a swelling Tartan contingent at Elland Road.
Another change came in the goalkeeping position, where young understudy David Harvey finally took Gary Sprake’s place on a more permanent basis, having proved himself worthy of Revie’s trust.
Battered at the Bridge…
Mind you, Harvey must have wondered what he’d let himself in for on the opening Saturday afternoon of the 1972-73 season! Not only did he get injured and have to leave the pitch minutes into the game against hated rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but he was quickly followed after 25 minutes by Mick Jones, stretchered off in a separate incident.
With only one substitute available in those days, Leeds United were effectively down to ten men, with forward Peter Lorimer having to don the keeper’s gloves for the remainder of the game. It was little surprise when Chelsea took full advantage to win 4-0, leaving Leeds at the foot of the opening day’s league table.
Proving ‘Hard to Beat’
However, as had been the case for many years, Revie and the Elland Road ‘family’ faced adversity head-on, and thereafter the Whites went on a lengthy unbeaten run, winning six and drawing four of the next 10 games, which included thrashing Burnley 4-0 in the Second Round of the League Cup on 6 September, a game which saw Cherry get his first goal for his new club.
Having just won the FA Cup, Leeds were entered into the season’s UEFA European Cup-Winners’ Cup competition and made a winning start by overcoming Turkish side Ankaragucu 2-1 on aggregate thanks to a Mick Jones goal at Elland Road on 27 September. That win, however, was sandwiched between two league defeats, 3-2 at Newcastle United and 1-2 at home to Liverpool, which left Revie’s men down in seventh position in the table.
A side that had strikers of the calibre of Jones, Lorimer and Allan Clarke would inevitably win many more games than they lost, though. With those three sharing the goals amongst themselves, Leeds United climbed the table to third position as they went 12 games unbeaten in all competitions. Revie also started including bustling Scot Joe Jordan in his side, and the young striker chipped in with a couple of opportunist goals as well.
In the mix, again
This unbeaten run included progressing 2-0 on aggregate over East German side Carl Zeiss Jena in Europe, but defeat arrived in a League Cup Fourth Round replay at home against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, the hosts going down 0-1 on 22 November after a 2-2 draw at Anfield. By now it was apparent that Revie’s side would be in the mix for the title again, though they were certainly not overwhelming favourites, as they had been a couple of years previously. Liverpool, Arsenal, Wolves and Derby County all had strong teams, too.
This was highlighted when the Whites demolished a fading power in Manchester City 3-0 to move into second place but then went down 2-1 at Arsenal themselves in early December. However, Allan Clarke was in red-hot form, and another unbeaten run ensued, which included an epic three-game battle against Norwich City in the FA Cup Third Round. After two 1-1 draws at either club’s ground, the pair ironically met again the following week in a Division One game at Carrow Road (which Leeds won 2-1). That ensured that they were ‘familiar foes’ by the time they squared up for a deciding FA Cup tie at neutral Villa Park. On that Monday evening, 29 January 1973, Clarke was unstoppable, scoring three goals as Leeds finally won through on a 5-0 scoreline.
Chasing the cups
Indeed, the cup competitions began to increasingly look like Revie’s best hope of securing a trophy at the end of the season, because Leeds United’s league form was good, but not good enough. In the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, Leeds had disposed of Romanians Rapid Bucharest 8-1 on aggregate to set up a semi-final tie with crack Yugoslavian side Hajduk Split.
Though they also secured FA Cup victories over Plymouth Argyle (2-1), West Bromwich Albion (2-0) and a superb 1-0 win at Derby County thanks to a Peter Lorimer goal to reach a FA Cup Semi-Final showdown with Wolves at Maine Road, their league form was patchy.
By contrast Arsenal, and particularly Liverpool, were proving much more ruthless in the domestic league programme. Shankly’s men were nigh-on invincible in Liverpool (as demonstrated by a final home league record of 17-3-1), and ended the season losing just a single game at Anfield, a heavy 0-3 defeat to Arsenal. Leeds United were likewise formidable at Elland Road, dropping only eight from a possible 42 points in home games (15-4-2), but their away form was erratic.
Working overtime?! Don’t even start me…
Now, stop me if you’ve read this one before…. Don Revie and Leeds United were about to be made to pay dearly for progressing so far in cup competitions. As had been the case in the latter stages of so many seasons previously, Revie’s men were forced to compete in up to three games per week as March gave way to April. The football authorities in London were desperate to complete the domestic fixture calendar by the second week of May, come hell or high water. No sympathy, understanding or accommodation was forthcoming for clubs who happened to be having a successful season and needed some ‘breathing space’.
The biggest ‘culprit’ for the serious backlog of fixtures facing Revie had been domestic cup replays. Leeds United had been involved in no less than four ‘replay’ games in either the League Cup or FA Cup competitions so far in 1972-73, which caused the postponements of league fixtures that had been scheduled around those dates. When coupled with much smaller first-team squad sizes (typically only 15 or 16 players) than is the case these days, and the ruling that clubs could only name ONE substitute for Division One and domestic cup games, it was a recipe for player burn-out.
Worse, many of the top players in England were pressed into action again before they had properly recovered from injuries, often given pain-killing injections to enable them to take to the pitch at all. Club managers were desperate to have their best players available for selection as often as possible; it was a very much short-term gain but caused the players themselves untold long-term pain…
It should also be noted that there was no love lost between Don Revie’s Leeds United and the London-centric popular press, who of course helped to form the attitudes of many football fans around the country who were not strong enough to form their own opinions. Leeds were largely despised beyond the borders of West Yorkshire.
Some rivalries, like those with the Manchester and Sheffield clubs, were to be expected and had been formed by either historical events (“The War of the Roses” in the case of Leeds fans’ hostilities with those of Manchester United, and to a lesser degree, Manchester City) or geographical location. However, the disdain for Leeds United in England’s capital city was inflamed by a feeling amongst many journalists of the time that Revie’s side ‘had been successful for too long’ and needed ‘bringing down a peg or two’.
12 in five weeks
The Football Association’s calendar certainly didn’t do Revie any favours. Leeds United faced 12 games between Saturday 28 March and Saturday 5 May 1973, including the two UEFA-officiated games with Hajduk Split. With hindsight, it was a ridiculous schedule for any club to have to meet.
They closed out the first week by winning 1-0 at Coventry City on 2 April, having lost 1-0 at Manchester City just TWO days before that. They remained third in the league table behind Liverpool and Arsenal.
Cups, yes. League, er, no.
The following Saturday, 7 April, saw an injury-depleted Whites team take the pitch at Maine Road again to battle Wolves for a place in the FA Cup Final. Jack Charlton was rushed back from a knock to partner the relatively inexperienced Terry Yorath at centre-back, but he only lasted 32 minutes before having to be substituted by young striker Joe Jordan, leaving Revie no option but to alter his tactics to suit the able bodies he had left on the pitch. Against the odds, captain Billy Bremner scored the only goal of the game as the holders advanced to face Second Division outsiders Sunderland at Wembley.
Four days later, 11 April, Leeds United hosted Hajduk Split in the first leg of their European semi-final, a game they won 1-0 thanks to a fantastic first-half goal from Allan Clarke. By now, Welshman Terry Yorath had become an established presence at centre-back alongside ‘old hand’ Norman Hunter as veteran Jack Charlton’s career faded away due to increasing injury problems.
The huge amount of energy it had taken to see off the slick Yugoslavs left the Whites players flagging three days later as they battled to a 1-1 draw at West Ham United.
A surprising 0-1 loss on 18 April at home to arch-rivals Manchester United pretty much put paid to any lingering hopes Revie and the Leeds United fans had had of challenging Liverpool for the league title. The Red Devils were in serious decline themselves by this stage, having sacked manager Frank O’Farrell the previous Christmas after they had been thrashed 5-0 at lowly Crystal Palace. Under new boss Tommy Docherty, they were hovering just above the relegation places near the bottom of the table with an ageing squad which lacked genuine quality. It was a shock result, for sure.
Despite hammering a poor Crystal Palace team 4-0 just three days after losing to United (Eddie Gray’s younger brother Frank grabbing his first ever goal for the Whites in that game), the reality was that Revie’s side were very quickly running out of steam, not to mention fit bodies.
Their status as league also-rans was essentially rubber-stamped just TWO days later, on 23 April, as they went down to a 0-2 defeat at Liverpool. Don had had to draft in the inexperienced centre-back Roy Ellam (yes, I’ve never heard of him either…) for the important Anfield encounter, a measure of how desperately overstretched his squad had become. Yorath, a centre-back, had to play in midfield. It was simply a case of too many games in too short a space of time for any club to cope with.
Two days later, 25 April, Revie took his men to Split, Yugoslavia, where they battled superbly well to hold the hosts to a 0-0 draw, a result which took Leeds through to the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final. There they would face Italian giants AC Milan…but that was for another day.
The back of Jack…
Just three days later still, 28 April, and having had no time at all to prepare for it after flying back from Yugoslavia, Leeds United played at Southampton. They lost 3-1. The team included relative unknowns in left-winger Frank Gray, left-back Peter Hampton and the aforementioned Ellam, who came on for Jack Charlton. After hobbling off at The Dell with yet another injury, Charlton never played again, announcing his retirement at the end of the season. He had played 629 times for Leeds United, his only club, scoring 70 goals.
First team reserves
Yes, you’ve guessed it… just two days later, yet another (by now meaningless) league match. Revie’s jaded team went to Birmingham City to face a Blues team comfortably in mid-table with nothing to play for. By now Leeds United had even less to play for when it came to Division One, and in an act of open defiance at the ridiculous schedule his team had been forced to meet by the Football Association, Don Revie named what can only be described as an ACTUAL ‘reserve team’. He also had the small matter of the upcoming FA Cup Final to think about.
At St. Andrew’s, he gave season debuts to experienced keeper Gary Sprake, right-back Chris Galvin, and midfielders Gary Liddell and Jimmy Mann (and no, I’ve never heard of them either…). Novices Hampton, Frank Gray and Ellam featured again. The only truly experienced players were Peter Lorimer and Mick Bates, who must have wondered what they’d done to offend Don such that he actually selected them to play in this game! Ironically Leeds United only lost 2-1, young Joe Jordan grabbing their goal.
Sunk by Stokoe’s Sunderland…
And so, to Saturday 5 May; the FA Cup Final, and surely one of the biggest upsets of all time. Perhaps a warning that should have been heeded more was that Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland had taken a couple of notable scalps on their road to Wembley in Manchester City and Arsenal, but at that time they were a Second Division side with no international players in their team, and were looked upon by pundits and most fans alike as mere ‘lambs to the slaughter’.
Despite having battled through a traumatic couple of months worth of hectic game schedules, Don Revie and Leeds United were overwhelming favourites, virtually unbackable at the bookies. On the day, despite their weary limbs, Revie named this side to get the business done:
Paul Reaney, Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry;
Billy Bremner (c), Johnny Giles, Eddie Gray;
Peter Lorimer, Allan Clarke, Mick Jones.
Terry Yorath was the substitute, and replaced Eddie Gray after 75 minutes. The biggest ‘miss’ was obviously Jack Charlton, with Madeley chosen to partner Hunter at centre-back instead of Yorath, but this side had more than enough ‘know how’ to get the job done against Sunderland…or it should have done.
Inexplicably, despite being a much superior technical side, Leeds United started the game extremely nervously, which only served to encourage the robust, tough-tackling approach the Sunderland players had adopted from the opening whistle. After 32 minutes, Sunderland took a shock, but deserved, lead when Ian Porterfield volleyed home from 12 yards after Leeds had failed to clear a corner. Buoyed by their lead, the Roker Park men ‘dug in’ as Revie’s side threw everything at them…and luck was very much with the Wearsiders.
Jim Montgomery in the Sunderland goal had the game of his life, saving a string of difficult shots, the best of which was an unbelievable double save to deny Cherry and Lorimer midway through the second half. After palming out a stinging close-range diving header from Cherry, Montgomery managed to get fingertips to divert Lorimer’s thunderous drive from eight yards onto the underside of the crossbar before it was scrambled clear by Dick Malone. It was one of the greatest saves ever seen at Wembley Stadium.
In desperation, Revie threw on Yorath for the tiring Gray, but it simply wasn’t to be. Montgomery wouldn’t be beaten, and at the final whistle, the dejected Leeds United players collapsed on the pitch as their delirious opponents began to celebrate a famous Cup Final shock.
However, there was no time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves, because two days later most of the Leeds players were involved in a hastily-convened testimonial match for long-serving Whites centre-half Jack Charlton against Jock Stein’s Glasgow Celtic, a game the Scottish team won 4-3. Charlton’s playing career had come to an abrupt end due to persistent injury problems.
Gubbing The Gunners!
For Revie, yet again, as so many times before, Europe held the last hope of salvation and silverware. However, there was a final Division One fixture at home to confirmed league runners-up Arsenal to play before he could turn his full attention to AC Milan. The Gunners had 57 points, new Champions Liverpool had finished on 60 points; Leeds United sat in third with 51 points so in effect the game held no consequence for the final league standings.
You wouldn’t have known that to be the case if you had been an alien just visiting Elland Road on 9 May! In a show of bitter defiance against what he probably perceived as an entire nation (and especially those in the employ of the London-based newspapers) still celebrating the demise of ‘big bad’ Leeds United at the hands of ‘plucky underdogs’ Sunderland at Wembley days before, Revie fielded as strong a side as he could name against Arsenal.
Not only did he field his best available eleven; Don Revie had clearly “lit a fire under their backsides” in the dressing-room beforehand because Leeds United destroyed Arsenal, taking out all their pent-up anger and frustration at what had befallen them in the FA Cup Final on the hapless Gunners.
By full-time, the scoreboard read: Leeds United 6, Arsenal 1. Lorimer claimed a hat-trick, Joe Jordan got a couple of goals, with Bremner getting the other one. It was the biggest victory of the season in any game between two top-flight clubs, and almost made a mockery of the fact that, despite their hiding, Arsenal still finished the season above Leeds in the table.
It was a statement, if one were needed, that the result in the previous week’s Cup Final was a fluke, not in any way a true reflection of the ability of Revie’s team. It was also “two fingers up” at many in the print media, who often appeared to report on the London-based clubs in a more sympathetic manner than they reserved for the Northern clubs.
A Greek scandal…
However, most importantly for Don, it was a useful warm-up game in preparation for the difficult match his men faced against AC Milan in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final a week later. That game was scheduled to take place in Thessalonica, Greece, not an ideal location in mid-May for a tired team from the North of England.
Revie also had a multitude of other problems to deal with. Whilst it had been very satisfying to give Arsenal a beating, it hadn’t come without cost: the hugely influential Johnny Giles had picked up an injury during the 6-1 win and was almost certainly not going to make a sufficient recovery in time to play against the Italians. That loss was made even more critical by the fact that both captain Billy Bremner and leading hitman Allan Clarke had picked up bookings during the semi-final ties with Hajduk Split and were therefore suspended from featuring in the final by UEFA.
On 16 May, Leeds United took to the Greek pitch with the boss having made the following team selection:
Paul Reaney (c), Terry Yorath, Norman Hunter, Trevor Cherry;
Peter Lorimer, Mick Bates, Paul Madeley, Frank Gray;
Joe Jordan, Mick Jones.
Gordon McQueen was the only substitute used and replaced Frank Gray after 54 minutes.
AC Milan were skippered by legendary Italian international attacking midfielder Gianni Rivera and had a side filled with both quality and experience. In reality, that might have been enough to win the game for them anyway, given the patched-up nature of Don Revie’s team.
However, the perceived bias of the Greek referee, Christos Michas, in favour of the team from Northern Italy was so pronounced during the game that both he and the Milanese players were subjected to missile attacks from the largely Greek crowd afterwards. AC Milan took the lead only a few minutes into the game through striker Luciano Chiarugi, after the official had given a very dubious free-kick against Paul Madeley. That proved to be the only goal of the match.
Revie’s side had battled well throughout and were, almost predictably, denied two strong appeals for penalty kicks by Mr Michas. Despite clearly being the better side on the night, Leeds United couldn’t forge an equaliser and ended the game, and the season, empty-handed. In contrast to the missiles and jeers that greeted the AC Milan players after the final whistle, the English team were cheered and applauded off the pitch by the Greek crowd. It was of little consolation to Don Revie.
The referee’s a w****r!!
News that the Greek Football Association had suspended Christos Michas for his incompetent handling of the game a few weeks later was, again, probably neither a surprise to Don Revie nor much of a consolation. Michas was later banned for life from officiating games by UEFA after being found guilty of accepting bribes to ‘fix’ matches under his control, though it was never clarified if this game between Leeds United and AC Milan was one of those investigated by the governing body.
It had proved a difficult season for Revie and Leeds United; yet another year where the silverware that had looked to inevitably be destined for Elland Road had failed to materialise. They were also, by now, loathed by just about everyone who wasn’t already a fan of the club, due in no small part to an appalling disciplinary record. There were also claims of persistent play-acting by several Leeds players to elicit sympathetic decisions from referees; coupled with their often overly-aggressive, physical tackling, it was a recipe for an unpopular team.
Rumours swirled around in the summer involving Revie finally leaving the club to take up the reins at Everton, but whether there was ever any truth in that talk is open to speculation. It didn’t happen. Instead, Revie publicly stated that he had spoken with his players, and promised that the new season would see a ‘different’ Leeds United, promising that his men would display a vast improvement in their behaviour on the pitch. He even went so far as to state that he hoped Leeds could go through the entire season without receiving a single booking from a referee! Given the unlikelihood of that actually happening, I’d personally call that remark very much one made with “tongue firmly in cheek” by Don Revie!
Join me again next time as we look back to see how the King of Leeds got on in season 1973-74.