(Originally Published on Clarke One Nil)
Being a Leeds United fan has meant taking the rough with the smooth more often than most other teams. Despite a relatively glorious history, we all know it could have been so much more. Rudyard Kipling could have written “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same” about the trials of a Leeds United fan. Just 12 months after the most famous triumph in the clubs history, they were about to face their greatest on the field disaster.
Both before and after this 1973 FA Cup Final, Leeds would lose big games thanks to dubious refereeing decisions. West Brom and Wolves had happened; Milan and Munich were still to come. However on this wet early spring afternoon, Leeds could look at no one but themselves, and maybe Lady Luck. The team could still be playing now, and would probably have never won.
Leeds United went into the game as one of the hottest favourites in FA Cup history. The current holders were at the peak of their powers. Their opponents, Sunderland were once a rich club, dubbed “The Bank of England” team but had fallen away since World War II and were now just a middling 2nd Division outfit.
Despite the gulf in class, Sunderland had a manager who hated his counterpart at Leeds with a passion. Bob Stokoe had clashed with Revie as The Don started his Leeds career, later claiming that Revie had tried to bribe him as Bury boss before a vital second division relegation clash in Revie’s first season in charge. Stokoe was intent on getting one over on his now far more illustrious opponent. In fact he was so focused on victory he told ITV’s Keith Macklin before the game: “We’re going to take a lot of beating… We’re ready to die out there.”
They also looked ready to kill. Richie Pitt was an afro haired centre back, who appeared remarkably nonchalant as the teams came out, keeping the ball up with his head as he walked onto the sodden Wembley turf. His demeanour had changed within 30 seconds of the kick off as he attempted to maim Allan Clarke, scything through the Leeds striker with what Brian Moore described as “a stern challenge”. It was the good old Seventies livener, to let Clarke know he was there, an instant red card these days, in those a bit of a finger wagging.
The rainy conditions were difficult for both sides and Leeds in particular struggled in the early stages as pass after pass went astray. They looked nervous too and were not fully on their game, Moore commenting that the Whites were “a little slack and it’s so unlike them.”
It was the least that Sunderland deserved when they went in front. Driven forward by their tiny Bobby Ball lookalike captain, Bobby Kerr, it was his over hit cross that forced David Harvey to tip over the bar for a corner. From the set-piece, the ball fell to Ian Porterfield seven yards out, and his cushioned volley rose into the roof of the net.
The goal rattled Leeds and Bremner rattled his red-headed midfield opponent Geoff Horswill with a fierce challenge. Whilst Leeds raged, Sunderland oozed confidence, burly striker Billy Hughes and Kerr sharing three consecutive back-heels between them to keep possession. This cockiness though seemed to wake Leeds up, and it was now time for Sunderland’s defensive rock, Dave Watson to step up to the plate, proving immovable in the heart of the Mackem’s back four as the interval came.
Leeds started the second half on the front foot, and in Sunderland’s goal, Jim Montgomery looked susceptible. He fumbled a Bremner shot and then moments later was fouled by Clarke, allowing Trevor Cherry to tap in, the goal rightly disallowed.
Leeds were pressing relentlessly, but were being caught on the break, and as time went on had not really looked like scoring. Despite looking worried, they were surely still confident that there class would tell.
Midway through the half, United had their moment. A long raking cross from the right found Cherry ghosting in at the back post, and he met the ball with a fine diving header. Montgomery reacted to push the ball away but straight into the path of Peter Lorimer who lashed the ball goal wards. “And a goal … no” said Brian Moore, amazed as anyone as to how Montgomery had recovered to get a block on the effort and turn it on to the crossbar and away. The most amazing save in FA Cup Final history had denied Lorimer and Leeds the equaliser and at that moment the game was up.
Leeds dominated the rest of the game, wave after wave of attack being repelled by Sunderland’s defence. Despite the pressure it was Sunderland who came closest to scoring in the closing stages, Harvey producing a great save to deny Hallam. The final whistle saw Bob Stokoe bound onto the pitch, racing around hugging his players as Brian Moore proclaimed it as “the most surprising result Wembley has seen in 50 years of Cup Finals.”
Leeds trudged off the field as losers in the Cup final for the second time in 4 years. No-one connected to the club thinking it would be the last time to date we would ever appear in an FA Cup Final. The team though couldn’t look that far into the future. The result had to be swept under the carpet, and as 12 months previously, the team had to prepare for another massive midweek game. Whilst this result was written in the stars, United’s next result had also already been decided. The Cup Winners Cup Final in Salonika was a game Leeds could never have won.