Twelve at the Top 1966 to 1967
After two successive seasons of near misses - Championship runners-up twice, FA Cup finalists and Fairs' Cup semi-finalists - it was clear that United had a team of considerable ability, but the question was nevertheless being asked - Are they good enough to win major honours? Many supporters felt that the side was just one or two players away from greatness, and manager Don Revie was under some pressure to make the necessary signings that would bridge the gap between potential, and proven, greatness. In November 1966 something of a mini-crises developed, when Leeds crashed out of the League Cup in round four at West Ham, by the incredible score of 7-0, and this was followed 12 days later with a five goal trouncing at the hands of Liverpool, all of which intensified the call for some action from Revie. One of the reasons for these alarming set-backs was the seemingly incessant injuries which were affecting several players - with Alan Peacock once more out of action for a lengthy spell - but also, the United team often contained promising but inexperienced youngsters who were, not surprisingly, struggling in such difficult circumstances.
However, Don Revie stood by his young players, obviously feeling that there was no point in pursuing a youth policy if the players it produced were not allowed the time needed to serve their apprenticeship in the First Division, and he declined to make any new signings and instead rode out the storm. The decision proved a correct one in the long term, although Leeds United never looked quite good enough to win the League title in the 1966-67 season and finished fourth, but they recovered splendidly from that rather bleak November and didn't concede more than two goals in any match during the next six months - proving that they had learned something from those two harrowing experiences. Forward Rod Belfitt and mid-fielder Mick Bates were two more young men who were given an occasional taste of first-team action and they, like most others of their ilk, invariably performed well when they got the opportunity, a point illustrated when West Bromwich Albion visited Elland Road in the FA Cup fourth round, with Belfitt scoring twice in a 5-0 victory.
February 1967: Peter Lorimer (arms raised) hammers in one of United's five goals in the FA Cup fourth round tie with West Bromwich Albion at Elland Road on a day when Leeds changed their strip. Mick Bates (white stockings) watches the ball enter the net.
The FA Cup certainly provided plenty of interest for Leeds for they went on to meet lowly Sunderland at Roker Park, on a bitterly cold and windy day with a full house willing their struggling side to win, but the game finished level one-all, so it was then Elland Road's turn to almost burst at the seams for the re-play. A new ground record attendance of 57,892 was set, and at one point a crush barrier collapsed and people spilled onto the pitch causing a hold-up in the play until order was restored, whilst things were hectic on the field as well in a real 'needle' match, with Sunderland going ahead before Johnny Giles drove in a free-kick to level matters once more, and even extra-time failed to separate the teams. The third meeting was at Hull where the score was 1-1 yet again, with only a couple of minutes left, when Jimmy Greenhoff went down as he raced towards goal and amid pandemonium the referee awarded United a penalty. Sunderland were so incensed that they had two men sent-off for arguing, but Johnny Giles survived the turmoil to somehow, remain cool and win the tie with a perfect penalty kick.
May 1967: The Fairs' Cup semi-final first leg with Kilmarnock produced six goals - United scoring four of them - and here Rod Belfitt dives to head one of his personal hat-trick. This helped Leeds to take a winning lead to Scotland for the second leg.
When Manchester City came to Elland Road in the sixth round most people expected them to defend and settle for a draw, but they attacked from the first whistle throwing Leeds out of their stride, yet Jack Charlton headed a goal against the run of play which meant a Villa Park semi-final date with Chelsea. There, it was Leeds United's turn to feel a gross injustice had been perpetrated, when, with the Londoners clinging to a one goal lead in the second half Terry Cooper had a 'score' disallowed for offside, but that was nothing to the furore that followed when United were awarded a free-kick from which Peter Lorimer duly hit the net with a scorching shot - only for the referee to order the kick to be re-taken because the Chelsea defensive wall was not fully ten yards from the ball!
That FA Cup semi-final defeat was particularly cruel when one considers the mammoth effort that United had made to get there, as they were caught up in an absurd congestion of fixtures around Easter, and had to plough through six matches in only 11 days. Those important games covered three different competitions - League, FA Cup and Fairs' Cup - with four of them away from home including one in Italy, which was the only match of the six that they lost.
Bologna were the Italian side that beat United, 1-0 in the quarter-final, first leg, but the result was reversed when the two teams met in the return match at Elland Road, and it was Leeds who won the ludicrous toss of a disc to decide which club should go through to the Fairs' Cup semi-finals. So, for the second season running it was Europe that provided the best opportunity to land that elusive first major trophy, and Kilmarnock were the first team standing in the way. The first 45 minutes at Elland Road produced a scoreline of 4-2 in United's favour, with Rod Belfitt helping himself to three more goals which, added to a Johnny Giles penalty made up the home side's tally and as there was no further scoring in either that first leg match, or indeed in the return game in Scotland, it meant that Leeds United had reached the final of the European Fairs' Cup in only their second attempt.
Because of fixture difficulties involving the other finalist Dynamo Zagreb of Yugoslavia, the final itself was held over until the following season, but it meant that United ended the 1966-67 campaign on a successful note and ensured something special to look forward to during the summer months.