There is little doubt that the Leeds United side from 1965-1975 was one of the greatest the world has ever seen. Not as captivating as the Brazilian side of 1970 and not as successful as the Liverpool side of the 70’s and 80’s but for a ten-year period were as dominant a force as there had been in the game at that time. However they had not won the glut of trophies that their football deserved, too often robbed by cruel luck or crippled by nervous tension on the big occasion.
By 1975, that era of success was drawing to a close. With the architect of the rise of Leeds United, Don Revie, having moved on to lead the national side, the Leeds board’s appointment of Brian Clough was an explosive start to the inexorable slide back to mediocrity. After 44 days of madness, Jimmy Armfield had been brought in to steady the ship and set them on course to claim the one prize that had eluded this great side, the European Cup.
The Leeds team had grown up together and all saw this as a last chance to capture the greatest title in club football. Wins over FC Zurich, Ujpest Doza and Anderlecht had set up a semi-final clash against Barcelona which Leeds had sneaked through with a heroic defensive performance in the Camp Nou, the hallmark of the Revie side.
Now laying before them in Paris was the final hurdle, Bayern Munich. They were formidable opponents, featuring five of the West German side which had won the World Cup less than 12 months previously. Franz Beckenbauer led the side with Uli Hoeness and the ever dangerous Gerd Muller up front. They were also the reigning champions, having beaten Atletico Madrid the previous season.
The Leeds team practically picked itself. Gordon McQueen was suspended after his red card in the Nou Camp semi final, allowing Armfield the chance to partner Hunter and Madeley at centre back. Barring David Stewart in goal, the entire side had become familiar names under Don Revie. It was surely written in the stars that Leeds would win.
The man who had moulded this struggling second division outfit into one of the great powers in European football was on hand to witness the match. Revie was alongside David Coleman in the commentary box for the BBC as they broadcast the game live, feeling buoyant after his England team’s stunning win over Scotland four days previously.
Backed by mass hordes of supporters clad in White and Yellow behind David Stewart’s goal, Leeds got the game underway. This team had become famed, and feared, for their ferocious determination and will to win. It had always been seen as borderline brutality, and Terry Yorath crossed the line after just four minutes. A ball in midfield was played away by Bayern’s Bjorn Andersson a second before Yorath came in and caught him. The Swedish international was felled and play was stopped to allow him to get some treatment. With a break in play Revie commented that “Leeds have opened quite well…I think Terry Yorath went for the ball but I don’t know what happened then.” What had happened was that Yorath’s tackle was actually a vicious stamp which Uli Hoeness later described as the most brutal tackle he had ever seen. Andersson was stretchered off, replaced by Sepp Weiss.
The shock of that challenge seemed to really unsettle the German side, who were being hustled all over the pitch by the men in white. As Leeds pressed hard, Bayern could not get their passing going at all. Paul Reaney was booked on 8 minutes, capping what David Coleman described as “a chaotic start”.
With the early tension diminishing, Leeds started to take control of the game. Peter Lorimer, hero of the semi-final win in Barcelona, had the first effort on goal in the game, with a 30 yard free kick which just whizzed over the bar. Lorimer and Joe Jordan were providing Leeds with their main attacking threat in the opening stages, with Jordan dominating in the air.
Lorimer had a half-hearted claim for a penalty turned down when he beat two men on a mazy dribble into the area. As one of the defenders fell over the ball hit his arm whilst he lay prone on the floor, but the Leeds appeals, not for the first time that night, were turned down.
Leeds were totally on the front foot and seemed determined to test Sepp Maier at every opportunity. Norman Hunter was next to try his luck from 25 yards out, the ball again whistling over the Munich crossbar. Coleman was clearly of the opinion that Maier was a possible weak link. “Leeds obviously don’t believe in the goalkeeper and they’re working him as much as they can” whilst also observing how much on top Leeds were as he said “Bayern Munich really haven’t troubled the Leeds defence.”
Lorimer was causing Bayern all sorts of problems with his pace, something difficult to comprehend when you see him these days. He went close to opening the scoring as he scooted away from Jupp Kapplemen before unleashing another powerful shot just past the post. Next Jordan forced Maier into a spectacular save, driving a shot across goal from 12 yards out which the keeper held at full stretch.
The travelling support which had crossed the Channel to back Leeds were making their presence felt inside the Parc Des Princes. “Tremendous support from Leeds behind the goal they’re defending. Certainly seems to be more than 8000 Leeds fans here” said Coleman. The confidence of everyone was building with Don Revie adding that “Leeds have definitely got this game in complete control.”
It was at this stage that most Leeds United fans will have though that destiny was going to be fulfilled. In total control of the game it was only a matter of time before they would make the breakthrough. After all the heartache of previous finals. surely nothing could stop them now. Unfortunately as in the 1973 Cup Winners Cup Final it would be time for a referee to step in. Michel Kitabdjian was about to take centre stage.
Alan Clarke collected the ball outside the penalty area with Beckenbauer in front of him. A little shimmie from the Leeds striker but the Der Kaiser on the back foot and Clarke took the opportunity to drive past him. Beckenbauer in desperation dove into a tackle and took away the striker’s legs. “Brilliant play by Clarke and is that a penalty?” asked Coleman. “NO” was the answer as the referee pointed to the corner. Don Revie was incredulous “Beckenbauer doesn’t like that situation, it looked a definite penalty to me, Clarke was through and see Beckenbauer clearly pull the right leg from underneath Clarke” he commented as the replays showed the incident again.
Bayern were hanging on at this stage, and a injury to Hoeness further damaged the Germans hopes as five minutes before the break he was forced to limp off, replaced by Klaus Wunder. “Bayern seem to have lost a lot of heart and spirit” said Coleman with Don Revie adding that “if Leeds continue to play this way, it’s only a matter of time before they score.”
As the teams came out for the second half, it seemed inevitable that glory was about to come United’s way. “The Leeds supporters in tremendous voice” Coleman said as the Whites had to repel Bayern’s first real attack of the match, as Muller and Franz Roth combined well with Roth shooting well over.
However, there were more tell-tale signs of strange officiating and Leeds started to get frustrated as every 50-50 decision started to go against them. Those frustrations would mount as time ticked away and Leeds could not make the vital breakthrough. Lorimer took a free kick which was won easily in the air by Madeley. His header fell to Bremner six yards out from goal, the Leeds skipper shooting instinctively only to be denied by a sprawling block by Maier. “Superb goalkeeping by Maier and when it’s mattered tonight, Maier has produced it” Coleman said.
A minute later Leeds finally beat the keeper, only to have the rug tugged from under their feet by another mysterious refereeing decision. Giles had lofted a ball forward which once again picked out Madeley, this time on the far side of the area. His header back across goal caused panic in the German defence and the ball was headed into the air, rather than properly cleared. It fell to Lorimer on the edge of the area who hit the perfect volley into the roof of the net.
As the replays were being shown, David Coleman began to describe the bizarre sequence of events which would break Leeds hearts. “While you’re watching this, bedlam on the field. Lorimer put it away and Bremner may have been offside, and what’s happened. Photographers on the pitch, the Leeds players pointing to the linesman who has gone back to the halfway line. The linesman has no doubt. What’s the referee given? The linesman is on the halfway line having made up his mind.”
What we were seeing was a replay of the goal, and the possibility that Bremner was possibly half an inch offside as he was retreating from goal. As the ball hit the net there was no hint of a protest from the German players, but by the time the replay had been shown all hell had let loose.
Monsieur Kitabdijan was now making his way to the linesman, and was being chased there by Yorath and Bremner. Paul Reaney attempted to intervene, holding up his arms in a plea to not have the conversation. Coleman was still in the dark, but could see that there was pressure coming from the German bench. “Dettmar Cramer, the coach, has gone to the touchline and the referee who seems to have had his problems has now given a goal.” The commentator had come to this assertion but then changed his mind when he saw the referee run back to the penalty area waving his arms about. “Total confusion, and in fact he hasn’t. He’s given offside. Well the replays show Bremner may have been offside and this will show I think, possibly, that Bremner was in fact offside.”
Coleman had been sold by the replay which when frozen showed Bremner was in an offside position, but miles away from the goalkeeper who was in no position to save the shot, and most definately not interfering with play. For a club who had been on the end of a decision against West Brom some five years earlier when a player in an offside position was deemed not to be interfering with play, you could understand the anger at events once again conspiring against them. “Well I think it supports the referee” Coleman said, almost through gritted teeth.
Ten minutes later came the hammer blow which caused Leeds United’s dream to fall apart. A long ball forward saw Bayern make a rare attack, with Conny Thorstensten getting the ball under control before rolling a pass into the path of Franz Roth. The midfielder scuffed his shot past Madeley and completely wrongfooted David Stewart in the Leeds goal, the ball rolling in at the far post. “Bayern Munich have stolen a goal…they’ve done very little attacking but they’ve got the goal that matters” said Coleman.
The remaining moments of the game were a lament to the glory days gone by, played out to a backdrop of the violence the club would become infamous for over the next 15 years. David Coleman observed that there was a “bit of trouble behind the goal where most of the Leeds supporters are and objects being thrown on the grass behind the goal.” Those objects were the Parc Des Princes seats which were being ripped out to the sound of “Gelderd Aggro” being sung by the enraged fans.
The action on the pitch had slowed, Leeds seemingly unable to summon up the fight to level the match, Bayern Munich perfectly happy to sit back and soak up what the Whites had to offer. The real drama was happening off the field, with David Coleman providing a poetic soundtrack,
“There must be despair in some of these Leeds players hearts, they’ve worked so hard, their whole ambition and for a lot of them this could be their last chance to win a European Cup. This the trophy so many of these experienced players have wanted for so long … Don Revie looking very sad beside me.”
Revie’s heart was breaking as not only were his team failing once again at the final hurdle, but the reputation of the club he had built from 2nd division strugglers into one that was feared throughout the continent, was being torn into tatters. As photographers spilt onto the pitch to avoid the missiles heading their way, Revie pleaded that “I hope they don’t let the club down by doing silly things.”
Eddie Gray, the player with perhaps the greatest flair, that Revie had produced came on in place of Yorath as Jimmy Armfield chanced his arm, sacrificing midfield steel for some silky skills on the flank. Unfortunately it was the action off the pitch that was continuing to occupy the minds of the BBC Commentary team. Police in tracksuits and riot gear had moved into the Leeds end, with Coleman noting: “It really is sad, I presume the Leeds fans feel badly done to when Lorimer put the ball in the net but it was disallowed.”
The final nail was hammered into the coffin nine minutes from time. Jupp Kapplemen burst down the right hand side, breezing past Frank Gray and pulled the ball back towards the near post. There was Gerd Muller, who had barely had a kick all night, pulling away from his marker, Madeley, to tap in past Stewart. “Surely that is the end for Leeds” said Coleman, but the Whites dug deep once last time.
From a free kick Lorimer unleashed another of his famous rocket shots, but there was to be no way past Maier on the night, the German international diving away to push the ball around the post. It was becoming too much for the Leeds fans to take and by now anger had become the overriding emotion, with any common sense having been discarded. It was the seats in the stand that were bearing the brunt of the fans frustrations as Coleman noted: “Terrible scenes behind the goal on the right, debris showering down.”
Joe Jordan had Leeds final chance of the night, rising imperiously above the Bayern defence, as he had all night, only to see his header drift the wrong side of the post. As the game entered it’s final stages, David Coleman and Don Revie both had very poignant words to say about the end of an era for the Elland Road club.
“It looks like one of those nights when nothing will go for Leeds. Again here they are in a major final, again seeing the game go away from them even though they’ve had so much of the play” Coleman said just before the final whistle which he greeted with the simple but heartbreaking statement; “Bayern Munich have retained the European Cup…A really sad evening for Leeds.”
As the German side went to collect the trophy, chants of “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” provided the backdrop for a soliloquy by the architect of this great side. As Don Revie watched the side he built end their careers by collecting another losers medal, he summed up the greatest era in my clubs history perfectly, and from the heart:
“Well this is a line of great disappointments for Leeds United. They’ve had many bad decisions go against them and I think that penalty in the first half for Allan Clarke and then the one that Peter Lorimer put in could have put them on the road to victory. We’ve had so many decisions like this, in 67 at Villa Park, in Cup Finals, in Championships that year we lost it to Arsenal against West Brom, but I’m sure that they have done enough tonight to have won this match.”
“When I think of the boys, Paul Reaney, Paul Madeley, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer and Johnny Giles and Terry Yorath, all of these lads, most of whom I brought to the club as boys of 15. I’ve lived with em, I’ve eaten with em and I thought tonight would be the night when they would get paid for all the hard work and dedication they’ve put into the game. I feel really upset, I feel sorry, I feel very sad indeed.”
Almost 40 years on, it’s a pain that has never really healed. The club always has been, and seems like it always be The Damned United.