For Leeds United Football Club the 1950's
were a bizarre, almost schizophrenic, period. They had begun the
decade as a Second Division team and ended it in the top flight,
but in every respect it was as a lower league unit that they enjoyed
the most exciting times.
In 1950 they could boast a charismatic, big time manager in Major
Frank Buckley, employed one of the biggest talents in British
football in John Charles
and enjoyed a remarkable run in the FA Cup that was only ended
by mighty Arsenal. The decade held great promise for the
humble West Yorkshire club.
By 1959, however, the rot had set in. A once vibrant youth development
programme had fallen into disrepair during Raich
Carter's time in office. Bill
Lambton resurrected the scheme during his brief spell as manager,
but that was his only achievement.
The Sixties saw unimaginable progress from those terrible times,
and rarely has a decade seen such remarkable advances in the fortunes
of any club. The story of Leeds United over that time is an extraordinary
one, possibly never to be matched.
The decade began with the club in a desperate situation - manager
Lambton's services had been dispensed with after a players' revolt
and the Leeds board faced an uphill battle to find a successor.
The fans were deserting the club in droves, money problems were
as bad as ever they had been and Leeds United had few stars -
a rebellious centre half called Jack
Charlton and a former England inside forward called Don
Revie were rare personalities in a rag bag of has beens and
never wases, with the youth scheme holding much promise for the
future, but little solace for the present.
The situation was so dire that Arthur Turner, manager at non
League Headington United, preferred the promise of his existing
team and turned down the Elland Road job when it was offered,
as did former captain Tommy Burden. Eventually, Queens Park Rangers
manager Jack Taylor was persuaded
to return to his Yorkshire roots and take on the challenge.
He must have wondered whether he had made the right choice when
1959/60 brought a desperate
battle to avoid the drop which was ultimately unsuccessful. The
Leeds defence leaked like a sieve, conceding a wretched 92 goals
in the League. One bright spot came in the spring when 17 year
old Scot Billy Bremner was blooded on the right wing, an enthusiastic
replacement for 20 year old Chris Crowe who moved to Blackburn,
where he won full England caps to go with the Under 23 honours
he earned while at Elland Road.
During the close season, Taylor looked to turn things round and
first team regulars Wilbur Cush, Archie Gibson, George Meek and
Jack Overfield followed Crowe out of the club. He used the money
to reinforce his ranks - drafting in tough tackling Scottish wing
halves Eric Smith from Celtic and Queens Park's Willie
Bell. He forked out £15,000 apiece for St Mirren defender
John McGugan and Sunderland left winger Colin Grainger, with forwards
Peter Fitzgerald and Tommy Murray completing
his haul. Goalkeeper Alan Humphreys and Manchester United centre
back Freddie Goodwin had arrived during the battle against the
drop, and the side for the new season was much altered.
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The replacements made little difference as Taylor sought in vain
for a winning combination in 1960/61,
using 27 players in all. Don Revie's appearances became spasmodic
as he surrendered the captaincy to Goodwin with his thoughts turning
to management and retirement. The defence was little improved
and 83 goals were conceded. In the end, Leeds rallied to finish
14th after a decent final month, including a 7-0 win over Lincoln,
but they were a mere five points clear of relegation.
Amidst the chaos, however, matters were about to take a dramatic
new turn. Director Harry Reynolds was becoming increasingly influential
on the board. He took it upon himself to tip Taylor the wink that
the board no longer supported him, prompting the manager to resign
in March, with 12 months still to go on his three year contract.
On 17 March 1961, Don Revie accepted Reynolds' offer to take up
the position of player manager, and a brave new era began.
There was little progress in the short term, however, and for
many weeks in 1961/62 Leeds
United seemed destined for an unprecedented dive into the Third
The youth scheme was starting to throw up some excellent young
talent, but they needed time to mature and Revie had to draft
in some experienced professionals to buy the club time. Former
Liverpool and Stoke keeper Tommy Younger, who had won caps for
Scotland, arrived in September 1961, and, towards the end of the
season, with Leeds in deep trouble, Revie gambled £25,000 of the
club's slender resources to bring former Scottish international
Bobby Collins from Everton.
Collins assumed both the captaincy and Revie's number eight shirt.
He was a tiny man, but he brought a huge desire to win, one which
had been missing from the Leeds side since Charles departed, and
one which would sustain the club through the next five exciting
years. Burnley reserve forward Ian
Lawson and Cliff Mason, an experienced left back from Sheffield
United, also arrived at Elland Road just prior to the transfer
deadline and all three newcomers were in the side for the home
game against Swansea. Collins opened the scoring in a vital 2-0
victory. It was a crucial result and, although Leeds lost 4-1
the following week at Southampton, set the team up for a phenomenal
run in, during which they remained unbeaten.
They battled manfully through their remaining fixtures, building
on a stout defence. Just four goals were
conceded in eight matches following the Southampton reverse. For
all that fortitude, however, Leeds still had much to do. As the
season entered its final day Leeds took a testing trip to Newcastle
with a point still required to make them safe.
An extraordinary performance saw Leeds triumph 3-0 to preserve
their Second Division status. Skilful
South African left winger Albert Johanneson gave an outstanding
performance, opening the scoring and laying on the second goal.
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The successful battle for survival brought Reynolds, now chairman,
and Revie new heart and they spent a record £53,000 to bring old
favourite John Charles
back from Juventus. The move was not a successful one and Charles
played just 11 matches before returning to Italy. Revie's blushes
were spared by the £65,000 that he received from Roma for Charles'
signature. It was just as well that Jim
Storrie, a bargain £15,650 buy from Airdrie, was more successful
in front of goal, because the side struggled, losing three of
the first six games of 1962/63.
Revie lost all patience, and uncharacteristically threw caution
to the wind, drafting in a bunch of his youngsters. The move came
sooner than he had wished, but proved a great success. On 8
September 1962, Paul Reaney, Rod
Johnson (both 17) and Norman Hunter (18) all made their first
appearance, while goalkeeper Gary Sprake (17), a veteran of one
game, also came in. Johnson scored one and Billy Bremner (19)
the other in a 2-0 win. Four games later, Scottish winger Peter
Lorimer became the youngest player in the club's history at 15
years, 289 days old. Lorimer played only one more match that season
and Johnson quickly faded, but Sprake, Reaney, Hunter and Bremner
were there to stay, mainstays of the team for the next decade.
Revie feared for his callow young men, but was reassured by their
progress and lack of fear. Albert Johanneson (22), Jimmy
Greenhoff, Barrie Wright
(both 16), Barry Williamson
(23), Tommy Henderson, Mike Addy
(both 19), John Hawksby (20) and Ian Lawson (23) all appeared
that season - it was a truly amazing development.
The pressure on the youngsters intensified when the big freeze
that winter left Leeds without a game from 22 December until March
2, leading to a run of 22 games in just 78 days. The youngsters
never flinched and Leeds stormed through the spring, with only
a run of three defeats in May preventing a startling promotion.
Leeds missed out by just four points, astonishing their manager
and confirming that Elland Road was now a very exciting place
to be. The following season, an amazing march to the top began
in real earnest.
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Don Revie kicked off 1963/64
by completing a transfer deal to rival the Bobby Collins purchase
- he managed to tempt 23 year old Irish right winger Johnny Giles
away from Cup winners Manchester United for a miserly £35,000.
It was an astonishing signing, and many well known judges questioned
Giles' sanity. He was leaving one of the biggest clubs in the
country, now back winning honours after the disaster of the Munich
air crash, for a move to a down at heel Second Division side.
But Giles saw something in the urgency of Revie and the ambitions
of Leeds United which excited him. Whatever the exact reason,
Revie and Leeds never looked back from the moment that the Irishman
arrived at the club.
Leeds had already commenced their campaign with a 1-0 win over
Rotherham by the time Giles signed, but he settled in quickly
and missed only one other game that season. All round, it was
a very settled side - Norman Hunter was the only ever present,
but Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Billy Bremner, Bobby Collins and
Giles missed only eight matches between them, while Willie Bell,
Don Weston and Albert Johanneson
all played more than 35 times. Such stability brought consistency
and the defence was now almost flawless, conceding just 34 goals
in the League.
The Leeds United formula was founded on being hard to beat and
unpleasant to play against, relying on points ground out rather
than won in style. The club were making enemies for their fearsome
approach, but the tactics were undoubtedly successful - Leeds
were unbeaten at home and lost just three times away from Elland
The battle went down to the wire as Leeds, Preston and Sunderland
pulled away from the pack, but in the end a run of eight wins
and two draws at the end was crucial. Just as significant was
the contribution over the last three months of England centre
forward Alan Peacock, a £55,000
buy from Middlesbrough. Peacock came in to solve a goal famine,
and weighed in with 8 crucial strikes in the last 14 matches.
When Leeds beat Southampton 3-0 at home on 7 March, it was the
first time they had scored more than two goals in any game since
they had beat the same side 4-1 the previous October. The win
eased the pressure which had built up and promotion back to Division
One was secured on April 11
with a 3-0 win at Swansea.
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It took until the last game, however, when Peacock scored both
goals in a 2-0 win at Charlton, for Leeds to secure the championship
they wanted so badly to prove their worth. The critics derided
journeymen and cloggers, but the title was sweet reward for Revie
and his young team. Leeds United were on the march.
Leeds had never come within a country mile of winning the League
Championship or the FA Cup, but they nearly won both in a single
season as they took the English
game by storm in 1964/65. They won their opening three matches,
including an astonishing victory
against reigning champions Liverpool, and were in the running
for the title all year.
The hatred they inspired outside the club only served to drive
the team closer together. They enjoyed a run of 13 wins in 15
matches at one point and it was only a stumble in the run in,
with two defeats and a draw in the last five games, that let eventual
champions Manchester United in. The 1-0 loss at Elland Road on
17 April against their main rivals was crucial, but even then
victory in the final match away to Birmingham would have given
Leeds an unlikely title. They
fell three goals behind before fighting their way back to level.
It was not enough, however, and Manchester United took the title
on goal average after winning their last game that same night.
The form also sustained a marvellous FA Cup run, with a
late goal from Billy Bremner seeing off Manchester United after
a replay in the semi finals. However, the youthful upstarts
froze on their big day against Liverpool
in the final at Wembley. Nevertheless, Leeds managed to take
the match into extra time, and the indomitable Bremner equalised
against the run of play before Ian St John's diving header won
the Cup for the Anfield club.
It had been an extraordinary season and Charlton, Hunter, Sprake,
Bremner and Giles were honoured by international calls. However,
the star of the season had been Bobby Collins - the captain won
a recall to the Scotland team after years out in the cold and
was voted Footballer of the Year. It had been a startling turn
of events for a club which only three seasons previously had been
one match away from the Third Division.
Their achievements guaranteed a new experience in 1965/66
- European football via qualification for the Inter Cities Fairs
Cup. Revie left his squad unchanged for the new challenge, but
a purchase was prompted when Collins broke a thigh in the second
leg of their first European tie against Torino. It cost £30,000
to bring Huddersfield right winger
Mike O'Grady in as a replacement, and the player brought
fresh options up front, although the unique fire and determination
of the skipper was sorely missed. However, Johnny Giles slotted
into Collins' central midfield slot alongside Bremner as if born
to it and an awesome new partnership was formed.
Leeds finished runners up in the League again, although they
always lagged behind pace setters Liverpool, finishing six points
Their first foray into Europe brought both controversy and glory,
with some violent clashes and a run which took them to the last
four. Eventually, a far more experienced Real Zaragoza side beat
them 3-1 in a semi final play off.
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1966/67 saw Leeds once
more in contention on a number of fronts, and going through a
number of changes. Collins had manfully fought his way back from
injury, but the combination of Giles and Bremner was too irresistible
for Revie to disrupt. Collins played only a handful of matches
after his return and was away on a free transfer to Bury during
The defensive unit of Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter and Bell
was normally on duty, but the versatile Paul Madeley had become
a useful addition to the squad, featuring in eight different shirts
as injuries disrupted things. Peter Lorimer now regularly featured
on the right flank with any one of Albert Johanneson, Terry Cooper
or the gifted Eddie Gray on the left. This brought a more creative
approach, but the lack of a regular goalscorer was noticeable.
Giles was the leading marksman with just 12, and there was never
a consistent combination up front. Rod Johnson, Mike O'Grady,
Alan Peacock, Jim Storrie, Jimmy Greenhoff and Rod
Belfitt all got their chances, but only Greenhoff managed
more than 14 games.
For all their lack of fire, however, Leeds had a useful season.
They never challenged seriously for the title, finishing fourth,
but it was in Cup football, where success was more dependent on
being difficult to beat, that Leeds really made their mark, for
they were nothing if not durable opponents. Charlton became the
second Leeds player in three seasons
to win the Footballer of the Year award for his performances at
the heart of the defence.
They battled their way through to the FA Cup semi finals, although
they needed three attempts to
overcome Sunderland in the fifth round. Their clash in the
last four with Chelsea was a torrid affair and Leeds lost
out to the only goal of the game, having a late equaliser controversially
They went even further in the Fairs Cup, reaching the two legged
final against Dinamo Zagreb, although they had to wait until the
start of the following season to settle matters because the tie
was postponed due to a fixture congestion. Leeds
lost the first leg in Yugoslavia 2-0 and then Don Revie's
over cautious approach in the
second leg condemned the side to a goalless draw and another
runners up spot.
It was an awful start to the new season, and talk started of
Leeds United always being the bridesmaid but never the bride.
In three seasons they had been runners up twice in the League,
achieved the same status in both the FA Cup and the Fairs Cup
and reached the last four in both competitions on another occasion.
In terms of consistency, they were difficult to match, but they
were also consistently left with nothing to show for their efforts.
In fact, it was that very consistency which was the problem -
Leeds' competitive will to win kept them so involved that they
simply had too much on their plates. Even so, one could not deny
that this led to exciting times, and Leeds
were again battling on four fronts in 1967/68.
Revie reacted to the shortcomings in attack in October and laid
out a club record £100,000 to buy Sheffield United's hard working
young centre forward Mick Jones. The player made a difference
alright, but still only managed 8 goals in the League. However,
it was his brave and unselfish running, together with an ability
to hold the ball up long enough to bring others into play, which
really counted. Terry Cooper and Eddie Gray were now regulars,
working in tandem on the left, and their attacking skills added
enormously to the side's creative dimension.
Leeds lost too many games away from Elland Road to mount a serious
challenge in the League, but still repeated their fourth place
finish, ending just five points behind champions Manchester City.
Disappointment also followed in the FA Cup, when United
again went down 1-0 in the semi final, this time to Everton.
However, Leeds did not finish empty handed and enjoyed success
in two Cup competitions.
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Their first trophy came courtesy of the still fledgling Football
League Cup competition. Leeds conceded just a single goal on their
League Cup run and defences were on top again in a
drab battle for the trophy against Arsenal. Leeds were understandably
interested more in victory than contributing to a showpiece, and
once Cooper had hammered home a long range goal after 20 minutes,
United simply shut up shop - it wasn't pretty, but it was successful
and Leeds finally had something to show for their efforts.
Six months later,
they won more silverware. The Inter Cities Fairs Cup final was
once again held over until the start of the following season,
with Leeds facing Ferencvaros. United looked to have missed their
chance when they could only manage a solitary goal in the
first match at Elland Road, but another masterly rearguard
performance secured a goalless draw in the away leg and an aggregate
1-0 win, leaving Leeds United as the first British winners of
They won an even greater
prize, however, in 1968/69. Revie had told his players at
the start of the season that they were going to win the League
Championship and do so without losing a single match. They did
in fact go nine games undefeated before reigning champions Manchester
City ended their run at Maine Road with a 3-1 win. Four games
later Leeds were humbled 5-1 away to Burnley, but that was the
end of that, as the side strode through the next 28 matches undefeated.
They conceded just 26 goals all season, and won the championship
with a record haul of 67 points.
It was unbelievable. The club which had started the decade making
the numbers and so nearly dropped into the Third Division when
Don Revie took over as manager had become the biggest club in
the country, feared and respected throughout the land. Their dominance
in 1968/69 was frightening and when Leeds United were on their
game there were few clubs who could live with them.
Revie didn't rest on his laurels, however, and during the close
season he set about preparing his charges for their first assault
on the European Cup by breaking the British transfer record, spending
a cool £165,000 on Leicester City's England Under 23 striker,
Allan Clarke. It was a bold and astute move and with it Revie
delivered the classic Leeds United line up, one which could be
recited by fans the length and breadth of the land: Sprake, Reaney,
Cooper, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles,
Gray, sub. Madeley - it was the stuff of legend…
The triumph of 1969 was light years away from Lambton and Taylor,
and the knife edge escape from the Third Division. The club was
no longer a one man team, or a music hall joke - Leeds United
had every right to claim for themselves the title of team of the
Sixties, and looked forward to continuing their domination as
the Seventies dawned.
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