A SAD NIGHT FOR ENGLISH FOOTBALL:
LEEDS UNITED & THE 1975 EUROPEAN CUP FINAL
After leading the Second Division for most of the 1989-90 season, Leeds United finally secured their return to the top flight – as champions, if only on goal difference – with a victory at Bournemouth. That the match was marred by the same kind of violence that marked the club’s exit from footballing prominence 15 years earlier is both sad and ironic.
Leeds should have been able to bask in a few minutes of glory as they entered a new and glorious era, but more than anything else, that championship-clinching match echoed the events of one of the worst nights in the history of the club – and of English football as a whole.
Exactly 15 years ago this week, on 28 May 1975, Leeds United saw a ten-year footballing dream evaporate, as Bayern Munich snatched the European Cup from their grasp. But as if defeat on the pitch were not humiliating enough, Leeds’ fans heaped insult upon injury and ran riot, first on the terraces, then through the streets of Paris. At the biggest event in the European football calendar, before the cameras of a Continent, the followers of Leeds United – or at least a maniacal percentage of them – killed the spirit of soccer.
Long before Heysel and the banning of English club football from Europe, and even longer before the scenes at Bournemouth jeopardised the lifting of that ban, Leeds United became the first English club to be tried and sentenced on the behaviour of their fans, and were excluded from European competition for five years.
It wasn’t planned to end that way. It should have been the greatest day in the history of Leeds United, the crowning accolade in a 12-year near domination of the game. After ten years and 87 matches of European football, Leeds were finally within reach of the only major trophy that had always eluded them. But the most notorious runners-up in British football were once again destined to be the bridesmaids.
Fifteen years ago, the clear, crisp voice of Alan Parry carried the tension of a warm, taut Paris evening to radios across Britain. “This is the night Leeds United are within sight of the greatest European prize of them all,” he intoned, bringing listeners to the edge of their seats a full 15 minutes before kick-off. “In the spectacular setting of one of the world’s most modern stadiums, they meet Bayern Munich in what could be their final try for the trophy they’ve always dreamed of. It’s English football’s greatest night for years, Leeds United’s biggest night ever.”
A whistle blow and the match was under way. Leeds took immediate control, and Bayern pulled all 11 men back into their own half of the field. The immaculate Irishman, Johnny Giles, was running the midfield single-handed, providing ‘Hot Shot’ Peter Lorimer (the man with the hardest shot in football, scientifically measured at 72mph) with plenty of chances to run fast and shoot hard.
Seven minutes from half-time and Allan Clarke, the ballerina-like England forward, was chopped down in desperation by the usually gentlemanly Franz Beckenbauer. The crowd roared its disapproval while Parry, in a frenzy of breathless excitement, relayed the event to living rooms around the country: “The ball falls to Giles, Giles forward to Clarke, Clarke goes forward… AND CLARKE SEEMS TO BE BROUGHT DOWN TO ME. The Leeds players are furiously appealing for a penalty as Clarke lies thrown down in the box…” The appeal was denied.
At half-time, with the score-sheet blank, Dettmar Kramer was a happy man. The Bayern manager had insisted that if his team could hold the first half, the match would be theirs. But the Leeds onslaught continued into the second period, with Brian Butler nearly falling from his commentator’s stool in the 67th minute, as Lorimer unleashed a mighty volley that flew past Sepp Maier to caress the Bayern net. The linesman sprinted to the halfway line and took up his position for the restart. But the man in the middle spotted a Leeds player standing in an offside position, and though his team-mates complained bitterly that he could not have been interfering with play (well, how can anyone interfere with a shot that’s travelling that fast?), the goal was disallowed.
Leeds had dominated the game for nearly an hour, but suddenly they looked vulnerable to a counter-attack. Kappelmann broke free on the right, crossed to Roth, and Roth struck home. Simple as that. A travesty. And a tragedy.
The 15,000 Leeds supporters could not contain themselves, and in a fit of rage, a section of them showered the pitch with debris ripped from the body of the Parc des Princes. The match was halted as Leeds skipper Billy Bremner appealed for calm.
Stunned by the speed with which their superiority had vanished, frustrated at the behaviour of their own fans, Leeds United froze. Another Kappelmann break, a final flourish from Gerd Muller, and Leeds were left for dead.
French riot police were ordered into the stadium as the match entered its dismal, dying minutes. They were equipped with truncheons, helmets, and shields, but they were no match for the madmen on the terraces, who fled the ground after the final whistle and went on the rampage, ‘car-bouncing’ their way through the most beautiful city in Europe.
In the television studio, Bobby Charlton read the lament for English club soccer, saying of Bayern’s tactics: “If this is what the sweeper system does for football, I hope we never see it in Britain.”
His voice was choked, but not as choked as the shouts of the Leeds fans whose actions had earned their club the distinction of being the first English team to be banned from European competition.
The ban ended ten uninterrupted years of Continental campaigning by Leeds, and effectively put paid to a dream Don Revie had first nurtured when he took over at Elland Road in the early Sixties and, inspired by the European success of Real Madrid, changed the team strip to all white. Five of the men who helped Leeds to the Second Division Championship in 1964 (Reaney, Madeley, Bremner, Hunter, Giles) trudged off the pitch defeated in Paris, and though Revie had by that time risen to the post of England manager and been replaced by Jimmy Armfield, the stability of the Leeds line-up was a tribute to Revie’s careful moulding and maturing of talent.
It was also a tribute to the attitude of total professionalism which Revie had instilled in his players – an attitude which spilled over into the hearts and bodies of Leeds United’s supporters, and which, ultimately, sparked the violence that proved football was no longer just a game.
On the pitch and off it, Leeds were to win at any cost. And they did. Everything but the European Cup, that is.
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2009