(This piece was originally posted on ClarkeOneNil)
It’s hard to imagine a side entering a European Final in such low spirits, but as Leeds United entered the field of play at the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Salonika for their Cup Winners Cup Final against AC Milan, the clouds hanging over the side were as heavy as those overhead which were emptying themselves in a violent thunderstorm.
Not only had Leeds just suffered perhaps the most embarrassing defeat in the history of FA Cup finals at that time, but rumours were surfacing that the man who had turned them from a side battling to avoid relegation from the second division to one of the greatest ever club sides, was about to leave them for pastures new.
Don Revie was being courted by Everton, and according to Richard Sutcliffe’s biography “Revie – Revered and Reviled” had told the side two days before, that this could be their last game together. On top of this bombshell, Leeds also had to enter the fixture knowing that they would be unable to field three of their most influential players through suspension.
Johnny Giles was out injured and Allan Clarke was suspended after being sent off in the semi-final first leg against Hajduk Split. Most damaging of all was the absence of skipper Billy Bremner, also suspended.
The game was played on a Wednesday night, yet due to the archaic attitude of the footballing authorities at the time, TV coverage was not allowed that evening because of the Scotland v Northern Ireland home international being played. Those not at the match saw highlights in black and white the following night on BBC.
With Leeds missing those key players, it was a chance for some of the fringe players to have a chance for glory. Perennial substitute Mick Bates was given an opportunity, replacing Bremner, Terry Yorath came in to play as a sweeper and Joe Jordan stepped in for Clarke to join Mick Jones up front. The biggest surprise was the selection of Frank Gray, making his European debut in place of his brother Eddie.
The defeat against Sunderland in the FA Cup final appeared to have been written in the stars, Leeds fated not to win. As it turned out, this also was a game Leeds never could have won, but for much more sinister reasons.
Leeds were up against it from the very beginning of the game. On five minutes, two very questionable decisions set the tone of the entire match. Firstly Mick Bates was hacked down in the centre of the field, but the referee waved play on. As Milan moved towards the Leeds goal, Norman Hunter eased the attacker of the ball, only to find himself penalised, giving the Italian side a free kick in a very dangerous position. The feeling of injustice was compounded when Chiarugi drove the free kick low and hard, David Harvey only able to tip the ball off the post and into the net for the opening goal. Barry Davies commentating was stunned into silence as the Milan players celebrated.
Not only were decisions going against Leeds, Milan seemed able to kick the Leeds players at will. After a Peter Lorimer free kick was fumbled by Vecchi in the Italians goal, Trevor Cherry had his calves kicked for having the temerity in trying to capitalize on the keepers’ error.
Leeds though recovered their poise and were beginning to dominate the game. Milan, as Barry Davies pointed out “having got a goal, in the main being prepared to sit on it and wait for the breakaways.” From another Leeds attack, Mick Jones was brought down inside the box, but the referee showed no interest in giving Leeds anything. The crowd were catching on to something not being right, whistling and booing loudly.
With Leeds already feeling cheated, Yorath decided to take matters into his own hands, committing a dreadful foul on the goal scorer Chiarugi, and then pushing over a gesticulating Milan player. Incredibly the only booking was given to Peter Lorimer for his protests.
Leeds were playing some great football, despite the situation. The passing was fast and accurate, the iconic ball with black hexagons fizzing at high speed across the sodden turf. In Joe Jordan, Leeds had a beast in the air and on the ground, his dazzling turns as impressive as his heading ability. The only unimpressive thing about Leeds on the night was the mish-mash of shirts the players were wearing. With V Neck shirts, V Neck shirts with collars and some players in round neck shirts, Leeds looked like a pub team, but played like Gods. Half time came with the side a goal behind, but Barry Davies predicting that “Don Revie will tell them, keep playing as they are and it will come.”
The second half started poorly, a slip by Cherry seeing Alberto Bigon bear down on goal, only to be denied by a fine save by Harvey. Despite the situation, and the final being played a long way from home the chants of “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” were quite audible, Davies commenting that “the Leeds supporters who have made the trip, and there is quite a few of them, trying to get behind their team.” Nothing ever changes.
Looking at Peter Lorimer now, it’s difficult to comprehend what a superb footballer he was. In this game, he was the driving force, by far the most experienced player in a makeshift midfield. Midway through the second half he produced a sublime piece of footwork; completely bamboozling the Milan player with skill which if it happened today would be shown over and over again. Unfortunately he wasted it with a wild shot, as desperation started to kick in.
Leeds made a change, bringing on Gordon McQueen for Frank Gray, and the big Scotsman almost made an immediate impact, getting on the end of a free kick with a towering header which was scrambled round the post by the keeper. As frustrations grew, tempers began to fray, the Milanese tumbling over every time a Leeds player went near them.
McQueen had made a real impact, his long rangy runs causing havoc. From one of them he fed Paul Reaney to cross, the ball striking a Milan hand in the box. Once again the referee waved away the penalty claims, giving Leeds a corner prompting Davies to exclaim “The referee will have none of it, the Leeds bench going absolutely mad.” From the corner, Jones was flattened in the box, but again nothing was given. “The Leeds players will have to keep their heads in this situation” Davies said.
By now it was clear that something was seriously amiss with the referee, Krystos Michos, as moments later he waved away another penalty claim attracting the derision of the local crowd who were “once more on their feet wanting more than a corner.”
As the clock ticked down, the frustration which had been building boiled over. As Hunter burst forward, already carrying a knock was kicked from behind by Gianni Rivera. On the footage you can see Norman carry on running in pain, before just snapping and turning round to push Rivera over. Hunter is then attacked by Ricardo Sogliano, who kicks him in the chest. “Mayhem on the pitch, Hunter really has to go” according to Davies. Hunter did go, along with Sogliano to complete “a sad end for Leeds United.”
Seconds later the final whistle went to a chorus of boos and whistles from the Greek crowd. Whilst Milan went to collect the trophy, Barry Davies lamented on the spectacle he had witnessed and the tragic end to another trophy less season for the Mighty Whites. “A match which became a physical battle of push and shove, trip and punch and no advertisement for football … Leeds United, as in 1970, everything they have tried for they have come away with nothing.”
Leeds left the field to a standing ovation, undertaking a lap of honour to thank the local crowd for their support, a gesture which earned friends on the night and a host of supporters from Greece in the future.
The aftermath saw accusations of bribery, the referee suspended for life by UEFA, but no overturning of the result, a situation which still rankles 40 years later. There would though be a silver lining to the clouds overhanging the fixture. The injustice, both in defeat at Wembley and in this game, is said to have persuaded Don Revie to have another crack at glory with his players. The following season would see Leeds produce a record unbeaten run and finally achieve a second league title giving them another opportunity to try and win a European Cup as they looked to cement their place in the history of the game.