Twelve at the Top 1974 to 1975
The prestigious post of England manager was vacant in the summer of 1974, and the logical choice to fill it was Don Revie, who, after much thought as to whether to remain at Elland Road and attempt to fulfil his one unfulfilled ambition there - winning the European Cup - decided instead to make the difficult break and take charge of the England team. Leeds United then proceeded to astound many when they appointed as Revie's successor Brian Clough, who had often been among United's fiercest critics in the past, and immediately the club was thrown into a turmoil with rumours flying around daily about transfers in and out of the club, as well as unrest among the players and back-room staff. After only 44 extremely eventful days Clough was sacked, and left the club near the bottom of the First Division table, with spirit at a low ebb, the opinions of the supporters split forcibly down the middle, and almost £400,000 worse off financially as a result of transfer fee outlays and a golden handshake!
Before United secured another team manager, they had to play their most important match of season 1974-75 so far, when F.C. Zurich came to Elland Road in the first round, first leg of the European Champions Cup, and considering the confused state of the club at that time Leeds did well to conjure up a fine performance and win 4-1. When the return game took place in Switzerland United had a new man in charge, as Jimmy Armfield had been appointed, and although Zurich won the match 2-1 it was not enough to prevent Leeds from winning the tie, so giving Armfield and his men some encouragement for the future.
Jimmy Armfield replaced Brian Clough as Leeds United manager after his disastrous 44 days in charge.
During Brian Clough's brief reign at Elland Road he had purchased - for a club record fee reputed to be some £240,000 - Duncan McKenzie a skilful if highly individualistic forward, as well as John O'Hare and John McGovern who were two players unable to command regular first team places at Derby, but for whom Clough had paid a joint six figure fee - so Jimmy Armfield inherited an excessively large senior squad when he took over.
Of the players who had taken part in Leeds United's promotion success way back in 1963-64, Paul Reaney, Terry Cooper, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley and Johnny Giles still remained, which was remarkable, as probably no other club in Britain had so many players in their side who had been playing first team football with them 12 seasons earlier. It was a tremendous tribute to the consistency of these great campaigners that, although they were now approaching the twilight of their careers, they were still able to compete at the very highest levels and for them the most motivating competition now was undoubtedly the European Cup, for like Don Revie they had felt for some time that to win that supreme honour would be the cherry to top off their distinguished careers.
Having made such a bad start to the season, there was virtually no chance of United retaining their League title, and when they turned in an atrocious display against Fourth Division Chester and lost by three clear goals to go out of the League Cup in round four, things looked black indeed, yet oddly enough that catastrophe at Chester had come just a week after a superb performance against Ujpest Dosza in the European Cup. United had triumphed in Budapest in the first leg by 2-1, despite missing a penalty and playing with only ten men after Duncan McKenzie was sent off in the opening minutes, and when the Hungarian champions visited Elland Road they were swept aside by 3-nil and must have left baffled at the very modest results that Leeds were producing in domestic competitions. Slowly but surely however, Jimmy Armfield began to steady the rocking boat, and United started to string together good results with something approaching their famed consistency of the past, and they eventually finished a creditable ninth in the First Division table as well as reaching the quarter-final of the FA Cup - where they finally went out after four titanic battles with an impressive Ipswich Town.
A considerable change had also taken place in the appearance of the Elland Road stadium, which went a stage nearer its proposed super status when the old 'scratching shed' at one end of the ground was demolished and replaced by a spanking new stand, which brought the overall seating capacity up to 18,000, and the new structure was in use in March when R.S.C. Anderlecht of Belgium made a European Cup third round visit. The match should never have been played really, as there was thick fog shrouding the ground from start to finish, but it was nevertheless possible to see that Leeds were once more inspired by the tournament's glamour and Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen and Peter Lorimer scored to give them a three goal victory with a distinctly Scottish flavour about it.
Conditions for the second leg in Brussels were not too good either, as the surface was very heavy, but the Scots contingent excelled themselves again with goalkeeper Dave Stewart saving everything that Anderlecht threw at him to ensure that a cheeky Billy Bremner goal was enough to win the match, and therefore the tie 4-0 on aggregate. Stewart had been another of Don Revie's astute signings when he came south from Ayr United in exchange for around £30,000, and he had always deputised with distinction whenever David Harvey had been absent so, because of a persistent injury to Harvey in the 1974-75 campaign, Stewart had the chance of an extended first-team run.
April 1975: Billy Bremner is seen here scoring his most famous goal at Elland Road to give United an early lead in the European Cup semi-final first leg with Barcelona in front of a 50,000 crowd.
The semi-final of the European Cup brought Johan Cruyff and the crack C.F. Barcelona side to Elland Road, where, on one of the ground's most famous occasions, over 50,000 witnessed a pulsating struggle with Billy Bremner and Allan Clarke both profiting from the aerial supremacy of Joe Jordan to score the goals that gave United a 2-1 advantage to take to Spain for the second leg. Again Jordan won a vital ball in the air and headed it through for Peter Lorimer to drive Leeds into an early lead in Barcelona, and it seemed as if they would stroll into the final until the Spaniards equalised midway into the second half before, a few minutes later, Gordon McQueen foolishly threw a punch in anger and was rightly sent off the field. But United survived a fierce onslaught from Barcelona to deservedly go through on a 3-2 aggregate to the final of the European Champions Cup - becoming only England's second club to achieve that distinction - and meet the reigning European Cup holders Bayern Munich in Paris.
Leeds United did by far the most of the attacking in the final at the Parc de Princes stadium, and in the first 45 minutes had two loud penalty appeals turned down before, in the second half, Peter Lorimer volleyed in an unstoppable shot from 15 yards range for what everyone thought was to be the historic goal that won United the European Cup. The linesman in that half of the field thought so and ran back to the centre-line to take up his position for the re-start, but the French referee thought otherwise and decided that two Leeds players were stood in offside positions when Lorimer shot, and he ruled that they were interfering with play and so disallowed the 'score'. The West Germans could hardly believe their luck and they went to the other end and scored two excellent goals that were allowed to stand, to leave United staggered at their misfortune with their fans so incensed that the hooligan element among them found the perfect excuse for violence and the wrecking of seats in the stadium.
April 1975: Watched by Billy Bremner (left), Allan Clarke shoots United's second goal against Barcelona which gave them a 2-1 victory. A draw in the second leg in Spain, before 110,000, sent Leeds into the European Cup final in Paris.
As had happened so often in the past then, Leeds United were deprived of an honour that they had deserved in controversial circumstances, and in looking back over the 12 seasons of this story it is surprising just how often United did finish second in various tournaments as they were in fact 'bridesmaids' on 11 occasions! The club's critics had always taken a delight in saying that Leeds were the best runners-up in the business, yet they chose to ignore the honours that Don Revie's team did win which were:- Division One Champions - twice, Division Two Champions, FA Cup Winners, League Cup Winners, European Fairs' Cup Winners - twice. To finish second can not be anything less than success and when it is realised that Leeds United, at their peak, won six major trophies in the space of seven years, it is clear that as a team they were nothing short of phenomenal.
Yet beneath all the trophies and records credited to United, there were also numerous individual awards, which emphasised the highest esteem in which they were held, for Don Revie was three times the winner of the Manager of the Year title in 1969, 1970 and 1972 and Bobby Collins (1965), Jack Charlton (1967) and Billy Bremner (1970) were each elected by the sports writers as their Footballer of the Year, whilst Norman Hunter was the first recipient of the professional footballers own Player of the Year award in 1974. At one time there had been no fewer than 14 players on the books at Elland Road, all of whom had full international honours to their name, so that no one could seriously fail to recognise the club's pedigree and standing in modern day football.
But for all that, there were those who had always, it seemed, been searching for something to complain about, and an epitaph to the Don Revie era at Elland Road could well be that - Leeds United were too professional for the amateur idealists and too successful for the jealous.
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