Twelve at the Top 1967 to 1968
Leeds United went into the long awaited Fairs' Cup final, first leg, in Zagreb out of form, having taken only one point from their opening three fixtures of the 1967-68 season, and to make matters worse they had injury problems once again. It was no great surprise therefore when they went down 2-0, and faced a stiff task which proved too much in the second leg match at Elland Road, where Dynamo Zagreb held out for a goalless draw and fully merited winning the trophy. Any depression the fans were suffering following that blow was replaced with interested anticipation when Don Revie paid a club record fee, approaching £100,000, to Sheffield United for their England Under-23 striker Mick Jones. The newcomer was playing for Leeds when they went back into European Fairs' Cup action just three weeks after the final failure, in the first round of the 1967-68 competition, and they began with a sensational 9-0 success in Luxembourg against Spora.
Just for good measure, United extracted some revenge for previous frustrations suffered at the hands of Chelsea when they hammered the Blues by seven goals at Elland Road - making a total of 16 goals in four days and in so doing completely transformed the atmosphere at the club to one of great confidence and optimism. One tournament that Mick Jones was ineligible to play in that season was the Football League Cup, which had risen in status in 1967 when the final was changed from a two-legged affair to a more prestigious Wembley occasion, and carried with it qualification into the Fairs' Cup for the winners. Leeds United had never made any notable impact in the League Cup, but when Luton Town 3-1 (Home), Bury 3-0 (Home), Sunderland 2-0 (Away), and Stoke City 2-0 (Home) were all accounted for without undue trouble, almost suddenly, it seemed there was another real chance of a Wembley appearance and - dare one say it - that long hoped for first major trophy.
March 1968: Leeds United's first ever major trophy - the League Cup. This picture was taken at Wembley after the one goal victory over Arsenal. Back row, left to right: G. Sprake, P. Lorimer, E. Gray, J. Charlton, P. Madeley, R. Belfitt (Substitute). Front row, left to right: J. Greenhoff, T. Cooper, P. Reaney, N. Hunter, J. Giles, B. Bremner.
Second Division Derby County gave United a hard match in the first of the two-legged semi-final tie, but all the same a Johnny Giles penalty won the game at the Baseball Ground and although Derby again put up a good fight at Elland Road, it was Leeds who triumphed 3-2 with two goals from Rod Belfitt and one from Eddie Gray. In fact, at this time, Leeds United were in with a chance of winning everything they were involved in - League, FA Cup, League Cup and Fairs' Cup - and they were becoming just about the most talked about club in the country as they steamed through two matches a week carrying all before them. Indeed, some cynics said it was a surprise that Leeds were not entered for the Grand National and Wimbledon as well !
There is no doubt that 2nd March, 1968, is a date that will always carry great significance throughout the history of Leeds United F.C., because it was on that day that the club at last won its first major honour, when Arsenal were beaten in the final of the League Cup at Wembley. The match itself was by no means a great one, with United showing tension on an occasion when they dare not fall again at the last hurdle, and after Terry Cooper had struck a superb half-volley into Arsenal's goal from a corner clearance with 19 minutes gone, they were prepared to defend that lead - with Arsenal lacking the guile to do much about it. After the game Arsenal claimed that Jack Charlton had fouled their goalkeeper in the corner incident that led up to the vital goal, but they conveniently ignored the fact that Charlton was pushed down as the ball was on its way across from another corner-kick a few minutes later, and most people felt that a penalty should have been awarded.
Arguments or not though, the crucial psychological breakthrough had been made and it now seemed only a matter of time before other, even bigger, honours would come the club's way - perhaps in that same 1967-68 season. When title challengers Manchester City visited Elland Road three weeks later they sank to defeat, with goals from Johnny Giles and Jack Charlton settling a classic encounter, but it was City who recovered from that set-back and they went on to win the League Championship in which Leeds again finished in fourth place.
The FA Cup had once more provided considerable interest for United, and they reached the semi-final stage again where they met Everton in a close, hard fought match on a heavy Old Trafford pitch, but it was Everton who went on to the final with a single goal scored in rather bizarre circumstances. Goalkeeper Gary Sprake made a ghastly mess of a throw out from the corner of the penalty area, and intended for Terry Cooper, but instead the ball landed at the feet of an Everton forward who was left with a straight shot at an almost empty goal. There was no alternative for a desperate Jack Charlton, who managed to get a hand to the ball and prevent it from entering the net, but alas, Johnny Morrisey scored from the resulting penalty-kick and so once more it was the dear old Fairs' Cup that Leeds were left to fall back on.
March 1968: Jack Charlton finishes in the back of the net along with the ball when scoring during United's 2-0 win over the eventual League Champions Manchester City.
European competition had again provided a challenge which the team had tackled with relish, and they had dismissed Spora 16-0 and Yugoslavia's Partizan Belgrade 3-2, on aggregate, before starting a string of three successive ties against Scottish opponents beginning with a visit to Elland Road from Hibernian. United won 1-0 and drew one-all in Edinburgh, which then brought a confrontation with powerful Glasgow Rangers in the quarter-final, and 80,000 at lbrox Park, along with 22,000 watching on closed-circuit TV at Elland Road, saw an absorbing goalless draw, so setting the scene for a thrilling second leg.
Leeds won it 2-0 and went on to meet Dundee in a semi-final which saw the teams draw 1-1 in Scotland, before United clinched the tie with a late goal from Eddie Gray in the return at Elland Road, in what was Leeds United's 66th competitive match of the campaign, and it brought the just reward of another Fairs' Cup final appearance. As had been the case the previous year the final had to be delayed for a few months, so giving United the chance of a rest that they had fully earned, for in addition to the incredible number of matches they had played for their club several players had been performing at international level too throughout that season.