Twelve at the Top 1963 to 1964
For the first time in many years there was a genuine optimism surrounding Elland Road, as Leeds United embarked on the new 1963-64 season. It was only two years earlier that Leeds had endured the worst ever season in their mediocre history when barely just avoiding relegation into Division Three, but the preceding campaign had given rise to encouragement. Team manager Don Revie had introduced several teenage players into the side and this injection of youth had triggered off a great improvement, which saw them finish in fifth place in Division Two, as well as lay the 10 year bogey of never winning an FA Cup-tie before going out in round five.
Oddly enough United began season 1963-64 four days after the opening Saturday, as their fixture at Northampton had to be re-arranged - a County cricket match was being played on the County Ground that day - and so it was the following Wednesday night when Leeds United took their first step on the long ladder to the top when Rotherham United visited Elland Road. It's interesting to list the eleven players that were named in the match programme for that game :- 1 Sprake, 2 Reaney, 3 Bell, 4 Bremner, 5 Charlton, 6 Hunter, 7 Weston, 8 Lawson, 9 Storrie, 10 Collins, 11 Johanneson.
November 1963: United's defence in action against promotion rivals Preston North End during the one-all draw at Elland Road. From left to right : Norman Hunter, Willie Bell, Gary Sprake and Freddie Goodwin.
Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney and Norman Hunter were among the youngsters who Revie had introduced, and they had retained their places on merit and were improving steadily whilst Billy Bremner was only 20 and, although he had considerable first team experience, he was playing his first competitive match at No. 4 having previously operated in the forward-line. Bobby Collins was the most experienced man in the side - in his early thirties - and was an ex-Scottish international who had been signed from Everton two seasons before to help in the fight against relegation and such was his contribution that he was quickly appointed team captain - the perfect leader for a basically young team. Willie Bell and Jack Charlton were both in their mid-twenties, with centre-half Charlton the more experienced of the two and a potentially good, if rather erratic, player. Don Weston, Ian Lawson and Jim Storrie were fairly experienced forwards who had been signed for moderate fees, during the preceding couple of years, while young, coloured, left-winger Albert Johanneson was gaining in reputation as a speedy, skilful goalscorer.
Leeds United won a tight game with Rotherham 1-0 - Don Weston scoring - and faced Bury at Elland Road on the Saturday with a new face in the side on the right wing. Don Revie had gone to Old Trafford to pay £35,000 for a young Irishman named Johnny Giles, who was in some dispute with Manchester United after being left out of their team following a heavy defeat. Leeds beat Bury 3-0 and so had made a confident start, but the previous season's form away from home had not been too impressive, and it was obvious that there would have to be a considerable improvement in the side's results on their travels, if they were to gain promotion.
The first away match of the season was the return fixture at Rotherham, against a competent team and on the tiny Millmoor ground which has a distinct slope from end to end. As a closely fought game entered its final 20 minutes there had been no goals but in a really cracking finale Rotherham took the lead, only for Jack Charlton and Albert Johanneson to put Leeds in front, before the home side rushed back up the hill to equalise and the match finished in a breathless 2-all draw.
Things were also moving well at boardroom level too, where the club chairman Harry Reynolds, a down to earth but go-ahead Yorkshireman, seemed to be radically changing the outlook of a board of directors never previously noted for ambition, and suddenly Leeds United, the club without a single major honour to its name, seemed to be aiming very high indeed. Mr. Reynolds would often speak to the Elland Road supporters over the loudspeaker system at half-time, and on one such occasion United were two goals down to Derby County and not playing well when the chairman took the microphone to tell everyone that Leeds United were going to win promotion, and having done that would attempt to win the First Division Championship, not to mention the FA Cup as well. He said that the club was very ambitious and its intention was to be in the major European competitions where he also expected them to win trophies, and - as if that wasn't enough - the money that would be made from all this great success would be put back into the club, in order to build Elland Road into a super stadium! Hardly able to digest all this, the fans were then told to get right behind the team to make sure that they didn't lose the game with Derby. It worked! Leeds fought back to draw the match, and despite some scepticism, particularly from the older, long suffering followers there was a general feeling that United might just at long last be going somewhere.
They certainly didn't waste much time in reaching the top of what was a high class Second Division, where Preston North End, who finished third, took part in the FA Cup final and Swansea Town although finishing in the bottom half of the table, were good enough to be Preston's semi-final opponents that season. Even though Jack Charlton suffered a bad leg injury which kept him out of action for several months, and Fred Goodwin, until he broke a leg, and then the youthful Paul Madeley had to deputise for him, none of this adversely affected the consistently good results that Leeds were achieving. It appeared the only fault was that the forwards were not taking as many as they should of the numerous goal scoring chances that were being created, so in order to remedy this Don Revie was allowed to pay out £50,000 - a large fee for a club heavily in debt - to Middlesbrough for the England international centre-forward Alan Peacock, who made his debut in February at Norwich where the teams shared four goals with Peacock heading one. United had made their exit from the FA Cup with a creditable display in a fourth round re-play with First Division Everton at Goodison Park, and as they had been beaten by Manchester City, when fielding a weakened side in the fourth round of what was then a lukewarm League Cup competition, Leeds were free to concentrate on winning promotion.
March 1964: Plenty of Southampton defenders around here, but the ball went to United's Ian Lawson (second from right) who promptly shot into the net to open the scoring in a 3-1 victory that took Leeds another step nearer promotion. Alan Peacock is the United man on the right.
The struggle at the top of the Second Division table was between United, Sunderland, Preston and Charlton Athletic and as the race hotted up in the final two months of the season the matches, naturally, increased in importance. A two goal defeat at Preston in early March set United on their heels, but they showed their character by bouncing back to record victories over Southampton (Home), Middlesbrough (Away), and Grimsby Town (Home) in successive matches, all by the same scoreline of 3-1, so that when they travelled down to Swansea on 11th April 1964 they needed just one point to make certain of promotion back to Division One. Leeds United won there by three clear goals, with Alan Peacock two and an own goal making sure that the journey back to Leeds was a memorable one and when Peacock scored two more at Charlton a fortnight later it won not only that match for United but also the Second Division Championship as second placed Sunderland dropped a point at Grimsby to complete their league programme with a total of 61 points - two less than Leeds.
It was Sunderland who had been the greatest danger throughout the 1963-64 season, for in two bitterly contested encounters with United over the Christmas period they had gained a one-all draw at Elland Road, in front of a crowd of 41,167, and then won 2-0 at Roker Park two days later - all this making the Wearsiders feel that they were the best team in the Second Division. Most newspaper critics agreed with them too, suggesting that Sunderland would do well in Division One, whilst the general consensus of opinion among the scribes was that unless Leeds United increased their goalscoring power - they had scored 71, a total which eight teams in the Division bettered - then they would, in the words of one writer - 'Struggle among the rabbits in the top League'. What critics didn't know, was that United were developing a capacity that they would need many times in the future, namely to use criticism as a spur to greater efforts.