Twelve at the Top 1968 to 1969
Although Harry Reynolds was no longer chairman of Leeds United - he had to relinquish his position on the board due to ill-health - his ambitious plans were still being pursued, and this was illustrated with the construction of a new Spion Kop stand at considerable expense. The club had paid off its heavy debts of five years before, and when manager Don Revie had required money to purchase a player it was forthcoming, for though United were not rich they were putting any profits back into the club so that playing strength and spectator facilities could be improved.
August 1968: It's the Hungarian team Ferencvaros who are playing in the white strip here as United's Mick Jones forces the ball over the line for the only goal of the delayed Fairs' Cup final.
When the Fairs' Cup final, first leg, match with Ferencvaros of Hungary was played at Elland Road in early August 1968, the new stand was only just ready for use but it received a good christening with Leeds winning a close game when Mick Jones forced the ball in, after both Jack Charlton and the goalkeeper Geczi had moved out to meet a corner-kick and the ball dropped behind them. The match was rather physical and in the second-half Johnny Giles had to leave the field injured, before Geczi rushed from his goal in one United attack and felled Jones with a crude challenge which could have resulted in a penalty. It didn't but it did result in Jones being carried off. United had gone into that game very confident, four days after taking on Glasgow Celtic in front of 75,000 at Hampden Park and beating them 2-1, despite giving the Scots a goal start in what was a very meaningful friendly.
Ferencvaros were generally accepted as being among the top three teams in Europe and many felt that a single goal lead would not be enough to win Leeds the European Fairs' Cup when the second leg in Budapest was played the following month, but those doubters were proved wrong as Ferencvaros played some dazzling soccer in vain against a United defence that proved it was definitely Europe's finest. And so Leeds United prevented their opponents from scoring to deservedly lift their second trophy in the space of six months, and consequently convince themselves that the League Championship was there for the taking as well.
Don Revie had been impressed by the boldness of Manchester City when they were playing away from home on the way to winning the previous season's Division One title, and he decided that United needed to pick up a few more points on their travels in order to emulate City's success. On one of United's visits - to Nottingham to tackle Forest - the two teams really set the ground alight, and with the scores level at one-each the game had to be abandoned at half-time with the main stand being engulfed by a fire which eventually gutted the structure.
That particular League fixture was the fifth of the 1968-69 season, and it followed four successive victories by Leeds which had given them a great start to the campaign and this was maintained until Manchester City defeated them at Maine Road. That began an uncomfortable Autumn spell for United which saw them go out of the League Cup in round four at Crystal Palace, and then crash 5-1 at Turf Moor to a youthful Burnley side that was then riding the crest of a wave. However, well before Burnley came to Elland Road nine weeks later, United had fully recovered and were themselves riding high, whilst the Lancashire club had been having an indifferent period and they were crushed with Peter Lorimer two, Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Mick Jones and Eddie Gray all indulging in a six-goal scoring riot, that fully avenged the humiliation suffered at Turf Moor. Leeds United had by now developed into the best team in England, with ten individuals able to boast of full international honours, and it is true to say that at club level they were probably the hardest side in the world to beat as their record over the next few months would prove.
It appeared that the only thing that could prevent Leeds from winning the First Division title, was involvement in the kind of chaotic fixture tangle that they had struggled with in each of the seasons since promotion, and with this in mind many fans were surprised, but not unduly disturbed, when Sheffield Wednesday won an FA Cup third round re-play at Elland Road in January. This defeat meant that the only other distraction to contend with was the Fairs' Cup and when United made their exit from that 1968-69 competition at the quarter-final stage against Ujpest Dozsa, it really cleared the decks for the run-in to the 'big one'.
April 1969: A famous night for Leeds United as Jack Charlton joins in an attack on the Liverpool goal at Anfield where United forced a goalless draw to win the League title.
The main rivals at the top of the League table were Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, and it was obvious that only they could stop United from taking the Championship, but of the last 10 fixtures that Leeds faced, seven were away from home, including visits to all three of their adversaries - a real test of the team's calibre if they were to get through that lot and finish on top. At Highbury, Mick Jones and Johnny Giles scored first-half goals to win the clash with Arsenal 2-1 and a goalless draw resulted when United travelled to meet Everton, so that when they next went to Merseyside on Monday, 28th April, 1969 Leeds needed one point to make certain of winning the title, but they had to get it against a powerful Liverpool team who knew that a victory for them could still take the honour to Anfield.
In front of a packed house that generated an intense atmosphere, the Reds threw everything except the kitchen sink at the Whites who, in turn, soaked up the pressure like a sponge and at the final whistle were the worthy Champions of the Football League, an achievement that was given the seal of approval from those incredible 25,000 people at one end of that ground known as the Kop. For they generously applauded the United players when they went down to them and in so doing highlighted the most memorable night in the history of Leeds United.
Just 48 hours later, the new Champions ran onto the Elland Road pitch to a tremendous ovation from 46,508, and then proceeded to try and establish a new First Division points record of 67, by beating a Nottingham Forest side who had sportingly lined up to applaud Leeds onto the field. Forest put up a great fight, were close to scoring once or twice and only six minutes away from forcing a draw, when Johnny Giles controlled a difficult high cross from the left, pivoted, and shot all in one movement, then saw the ball drop into the bottom corner of the net to win the match, set the record, and leave the crowd almost hysterical. After that came the presentation of the Championship trophy itself to skipper Billy Bremner and a lap of honour from the players, which produced another tumultuous reception from the fans, who afterwards went home to think about it all. Was it true that dear old Leeds United, for so long only good for a laugh were really Football League Champions?
April 1969: Two days after clinching the League Championship United met Nottingham Forest at Elland Road. Here Johnny Giles (on ground, left) scores the only goal of the game enabling Leeds to set a new record of 67 points for the First Division.