Twelve at the Top 1973 to 1974
Don Revie was encouraged by the performance of his team in the 1973 European Cup Winners' Cup final, and also with the attitude of the players, who were determined to make the critics eat their words, for there were many who had said that Leeds were over the hill, after the shock Wembley defeat by Sunderland. And so Leeds United breathed a sigh of relief when Revie decided against moving elsewhere and instead got down to the job of preparing for the 1973-74 campaign, and working out a plan of action aimed at improving the image of his much maligned side. There had been some criticism during the previous season of the methods that Leeds had at times employed, and in addition to the oft used one of over physical play, there were now also accusations of too much gamesmanship or play acting.
It is true to say that over the past decade United had, because of their continuous success, been subjected to severe pressure, as it was they who were usually considered to be the team that everyone else had to beat, and they had been used so often as the yardstick against which other sides could measure up their own capabilities. But having said that, it is also true to say that Leeds had always been a ruthlessly professional side - they couldn't have survived so long at the top otherwise - and although some of the criticisms levelled against them had been exaggerated, they were not entirely without substance as a persistently bad disciplinary record proved. Don Revie rather placed his head on the chopping block then, at the start of the new season, when he made a public statement promising a vast improvement in the behaviour of his men on the field, and he even went so far as to say that he hoped United might get through the season without receiving a single booking - although this was probably said somewhat tongue in cheek.
For the umpteenth time Leeds United made those who doubted their ability look very foolish, when they began the 1973-74 season in sensational fashion by winning their first seven league matches, scoring 19 times in the process. It had become clear very early that the First Division title was well within United's capabilities and not surprisingly that great honour became the main target, particularly when weakened sides were fielded in the League Cup at Ipswich, where Leeds lost 2-0, and in the U.E.FA Cup, where they made their exit in round three.
August 1973: United start the new season with a bang as Billy Bremner explodes this shot into the net after only three minutes, to set Leeds on the way to a 3-1 win over Everton on the opening day.
The team to knock United out of Europe was Vitoria Setubal who lost by the only goal at Elland Road in the first leg, but won by 3-1 in Portugal, to take the tie and also become the first side to score more than twice against Leeds, for in nine years of travelling abroad two goals was the most that United had ever conceded away from home.
When December came around 17 League matches had been played, and Leeds were riding high at the top of Division One still unbeaten, with the main question seemingly who, if anybody, could beat a team that at times was looking invincible - but there was no shortage of sides who were all too ready to boast that they would be the first. Ipswich Town for example, were well placed in the table and confident that they could repeat their earlier League Cup success over United at Portman Road, yet they were found wanting when it mattered most and Terry Yorath, Mick Jones and Allan Clarke all scored second half goals, whilst the home team failed to muster even one in reply. A week later it was Chelsea who were sure that they would work the oracle at Stamford Bridge, yet they too were not good enough, going down 2-1, and when Boxing Day arrived Newcastle United were certain that they were the chosen ones, but 54,474 at St. James' Park were stunned when the Tynesiders had to give second best to 'Super Leeds', for whom Paul Madeley netted a rare but decisive goal.
That victory put Leeds nine points in front at the head of the table - with only Liverpool having even a remote chance of catching them - while the whole country was enthralled by the quality of the football that the Elland Road outfit was producing and just to rub it in, as it were, the behaviour of the players had been exemplary with Don Revie's promise being carried out to the letter. By now every match that United played in was like a red hot cup-tie, with the opposition knowing what glory could be gained from being the first to defeat the League leaders, and some sides even indulged in special training to prepare for their meeting with the masters, while massive crowds inevitably attended when Leeds were the visitors. All this just had to have an effect and gradually United's performances began to lose some of their earlier zip, as the pressure started to tell, and when Second Division Bristol City forced a draw at Ashton Gate in the fifth round of the FA Cup and then pulled off a startling, but fully merited, one goal victory in the Elland Road re-play, the danger signals flashed ominously for Leeds. Four days after that, on the 23rd February, Stoke City came back from two goals down to beat Leeds United 3-2 at the Victoria Ground, in what was United's 30th League fixture of the 1973-74 season - so consequently it had been the longest unbeaten start to any season in Football League history.
It was thought that with the heavy burden lifted from their shoulders Leeds would recapture their form and cruise on to the League Championship, yet it seemed to have an opposite effect with United only scraping draws in two successive home matches, before narrowly defeating Manchester City at Elland Road as a result of a disputed penalty goal. To coincide with all this, second placed Liverpool were running into peak form and closing the gap at the top of the table, and when they avenged an early season defeat by Leeds, and beat them by the same 1-0 scoreline at Anfield, there was no doubting that Bill Shankly's 'Red Army' were in with a real chance of retaining their First Division title.
April 1974: After going through a worrying spell Peter Lorimer scores the first in a 2-goal win over visitors Derby County - to give United a boost and put them back on course for the League title.
Things went from bad to worse for United as they suffered defeat in their next two games as well, so that when Derby County came to Elland Road with only six fixtures remaining, the situation was rather desperate and it seemed as if Leeds might well finish as frustrated runners-up - something that had happened too often in the past. Despite the team not playing at their best, Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner scored precious goals to give United two most valuable points, and after goalless draws with Coventry City (Away) and Sheffield United (Home), Lorimer scored twice more at Bramall Lane to give Leeds a victory over Sheffield United that put the Elland Roaders back in the driving seat.
Liverpool were heavily committed, with a backlog of matches in both the League and FA Cup to fulfil, and when they dropped a point at home to Everton it appeared that they were showing a few signs of fatigue, while on that same day United managed a 3-2 win in a tight, tense, tussle with Ipswich Town. All the same, it was a wonderful surprise when, four days later Arsenal pulled off a shock win at Anfield which meant that Liverpool could no longer reach United's points total and that the 1974 Football League Champions were - Leeds United. To celebrate taking the honour for the second time, Leeds won their final League match of the season, in London against Queens Park Rangers with an expertly taken goal from Allan Clarke, and in the end finished five points ahead of runners-up Liverpool. But although such a margin flattered them a little, United were very worthy Champions if only for the unforgettable football they had played in the first half of the season.