Leeds United party that took the lengthy trip to the mining district
of South Wales on the eve of a Second Division match with Swansea
Town in April 1964 did so in high spirits. They knew that a point
from the game would all but guarantee their return to Division
One after four years out of the top flight. While a win was needed
to make United mathematically certain of finishing in the top
two, the Whites' goal average was so markedly superior to third
placed Preston North End that to all intents and purposes the
draw would be enough.
Leeds were top of the table, a point clear of rivals Sunderland,
and winning their final three matches would ensure they won the
Division Two title for the second time in their history. As the
Yorkshire Post's Eric Stanger observed, however, "the Second Division
championship … is merely the gilt on the gingerbread" and for
the moment manager Don Revie's
thoughts rested solely on the match in hand.
It was a deeply symbolic occasion for Revie, the supreme fatalist,
with promotion up for grabs at Vetch Field: two years earlier,
Bobby Collins, a £25,000
buy from Everton, had made his debut at the same ground before
inspiring United's escape from
an unprecedented drop into Division Three; Swansea was also
the venue when the manager had gambled
on youth in September 1962, giving debuts to teenagers Paul
Reaney, Norman Hunter and Rod
Johnson. Both of those Swansea contests brought memorable
With almost a superstitious nod in honour of those fateful occasions,
Revie now blooded 19-year-old Terry Cooper on the wing in place
of Albert Johanneson.
Cooper had started his career as an outside-left before being
converted by Revie into a full-back and promised to make United
a little more solid down the flank, hinting that the manager would
be happy to settle for a point.
Originally, Pontefract-born Cooper had been due to travel as
a standby left-back, but Johanneson injured a thigh muscle during
training and was left behind when the coach left Yorkshire.
Cooper was the only change in the line up that had seen Leyton
Orient off at home the previous weekend. That meant the first
choice defence of Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Jack
Charlton, Norman Hunter and Willie
Bell was on duty again - Charlton had only recently returned
from a lengthy spell out through injury but had restored much
of the defence's early season impenetrability.
Arrayed in front of the back four were Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner
and Bobby Collins, possibly the best midfield combination in the
country and definitely the shortest, while Cooper took his place
in the front line alongside Don
Weston and Alan Peacock.
Giles and Peacock had arrived during the season in big money
moves from Manchester United and Middlesbrough respectively and
were proven international players. They had brought polish to
a team that had previously resembled a collection of rather rough
Don Revie offered no predictions of the result, saying only,
"We will approach it as a normal game and do our best for 90 minutes,
like we do every other match." He was confident of victory, if
understandably nervous. Swansea were 18th in the table, just three
points off the relegation places, but had come close to pulling
off a shock before losing 2-1 at Elland Road in November.
They had also enjoyed a tremendous run in the FA Cup, beating
First Division Sheffield United and Stoke City on the way to a
shock 2-1 win at Liverpool's Anfield fortress in the quarter final
- the Reds were about to become League champions. Swansea finally
went out in a semi final showdown with Preston North End, who
beat them 2-1 at Villa Park.
However, Leeds United were now a battle hardened team, having
led the Second Division title race for most of the season, and
they slipped quickly and smoothly into top gear on a fine spring
day with little wind and the pitch in excellent condition. Eric
Stanger: "They almost instantly began to show a superiority over
the home side, cutting their defence open with swift attacking
play out to the wings and back and very promptly crushing any
United had no intention of leaving anything to chance on such
a momentous day and overpowered
the home side, racing into a three goal lead in little over half
an hour. It was Terry Cooper who set the wheels in motion, supplying
the cross after 15 minutes that centre-forward Alan Peacock slammed
home to open the scoring. Within four minutes, Peacock had repeated
the dose, scoring his and United's second after a corner by Bobby
Collins was flicked on by Johnny Giles.
There was no holding Leeds in this period, although it was another
15 minutes before they added to their lead. Cooper's corner from
the left reached Giles on the right edge of the area, about 12
yards out. He caught the ball perfectly and, although his shot
was partially blocked by defender Roy Evans, there was enough
pace on the effort for it to find the net. The game was as good
as over, with the Swans having no answer to Leeds' slick football.
Phil Brown: "United looked almost home and dry and yet only 34
minutes had gone. What Elland Road would say to three goals in
little over half an hour I can hardly imagine."
Even a top notch side would have struggled to pull such a lead
back against a team renowned for its defensive excellence, but
the improvement a 3-0 scoreline brought to United's goal average
was too important to risk. Rather than going all out for more
goals, as they could well have been excused for doing, United
remembered the lectures of Don Revie and settled for a no frills
performance from then on, doing only what was necessary to preserve
their emphatic lead.
Bobby Collins played supremely in a holding role and, with Giles
and Cooper tucking in well, gaps proved hard to find for Swansea.
However, United's conservative approach allowed the Welsh side
to come more into the game in the second half, when they found
new fire. They carved out some decent chances, but found United
keeper Sprake (a native of Swansea) the equal of everything they
could throw at him.
Leeds were not wholly negative after the break and did have the
chances to increase their lead, but Town keeper Dwyer had the
luck with him on two occasions when foiling Weston.
While Collins was, as so often in this wonderful season, the
man of the match, Terry Cooper enjoyed an impressive debut, prompting
Phil Brown to write in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "I've seen
a few good League debuts since Mr Revie's nursery began to work,
but Cooper's was among the best. This Pontefract lad had just
astonishing composure and moves, admirable determination and enterprise,
good control and judgement. You would have thought he had been
in the team for months. One match can deceive, but I doubt it
in Cooper's case. If ever a poor debut could have been forgiven
it was in this match. But he was clearly United's best forward."
In the end, there were no more goals and Leeds ran out comfortable
3-0 winners, confirming their promotion. With Preston and Sunderland
both involved in scoreless draws the result also strengthened
the club's title bid.
Phil Brown said that the win was "just about the best of their
11 away successes
in the League this season. I say 'just about the best' only because
their autumnal 4-1 win at Southampton was a really brilliant performance
against a better side than Swansea.
"United's play, both in their attacking first half and their
contrasting second, was technically almost faultless. The fast,
sudden and accurate striking of the first half, plus finishing
of the kind Elland Road would have erupted had it seen it, had
Don Revie paid tribute to his men after the game: "We have a
family spirit at Elland Road and everyone has been prepared to
work that little bit harder and do that little bit extra. That
has been shown on the field. The players have given 100 percent
effort in every game, and no team, win, lose or draw, can do more
than that. Their obedience to orders, tactical and otherwise,
has been most gratifying and I know they have repeatedly lost
the chance to make flattering headlines by making sure of victory
or a point with unspectacular methods."
The Yorkshire Post's Eric Stanger used the occasion to laud the
achievement of Revie in transforming a dying club:
"Leeds United's return to the First Division is all the more
remarkable when one considers that two years ago only a desperate
late effort prevented them from slipping into the Third. Yet that
was not the nadir of their fortunes in recent years. That followed
their relegation from the First Division for the fourth time in
their history at the end of season
1959-60. Muttered discontent became open revolt against the
board after a moderate start to the
following season and resulted in the moving of a vote of no
confidence in the directors in the December of that year.
"The motion was easily defeated on a shareholders' vote, but
the acrimony at the time helped not only to clear the air but
eventually led to almost complete reorganisation. The hint was
taken, new directors, with wealth to put into a club faced with
liabilities of more than £100,000, were elected and generally
there was a transfusion of both money and energy.
"A most significant step was taken the following March, when
Don Revie, still an active player, was appointed team manager.
He had no experience of management, only a wealth of football
knowledge and ideas gathered from
some 15 years as a player and he quickly showed himself a person
of strong character. From the beginning he insisted on full control
of the playing side. All he asked was five years in which to build
up a really good side and that was not unreasonable considering
the state of the club's playing register at the time.
"The gospel he preached in the boardroom and out of it was that
no club could be successful in modern football unless it built
from the bottom. By that he meant signing the best of schoolboy
talent as junior professionals, coaching and teaching them so
that as footballers they grew up with the club. That was long-term
but it is a policy which has paid Revie and Leeds United much
earlier dividends than they expected. How many miles Don Revie
has travelled in search of young talent and how many hours he
has put in only he knows. Few managers can have shown such an
infinite capacity for hard work.
"One of the first things he did, and to my mind one of the most
important, was to lay down with his coaches and training staff
a club pattern and style of play. That was something which had
been lacking in the 40 years or so I have known Leeds United.
"The benefit of an overall team plan is that players can step
from the junior side to the reserves and to the first-team knowing
exactly what is required of them. The club's style and general
tactics are ingrained in them. But in United's case, before it
could be fully operative, there had to be a lot of improvisation,
and a lot of make and mend in the first team if relegation to
the Third Division were to be avoided. Of the signings in March
1962, none turned out to be more important than that of Bobby
Collins, a bargain, so it proved, at £25,000 from Everton.
"Collins, whose best days were thought to be over at 30, not
only led them to safety that season but his shrewd generalship
and leadership have been decisive factors in taking them back
into the First Division. Few inside-forwards work harder than
Collins and generally they are a hard-working race - they have
to be in the modern game. Few players can strike such a response
from their colleagues. His influence both in the dressing room
and on the field has been incalculable. It may be an overstatement
to say that he has made Billy Bremner into one of the best wing-halves
in the country, but not so much so. Bremner, I know, has such
respect and affection for his fellow Scot and his football has
improved so much under his lead that United, who could not get
£25,000 for him a couple of seasons back, would now not take double
that fee for him.
"Bremner and Collins have formed the hub round which the team
has revolved - the midfield dynamo, as current football phraseology
has it. They are responsible for the quick transformation from
defence to attack, which is so essential if the modern blanket
defence system is not to be completely stultifying.
"But Leeds United's success this season has not been due to any
one or even two men. It stems really from a happy boardroom, a
happy executive and happy players. Man for man, position for position,
other Second Division clubs could point to a pull over United
but none can boast a better team in the full sense of the word.
"Every man has been prepared to pull every ounce of his weight,
to shoulder extra burdens to help out a colleague in trouble.
Individual glory has been readily sacrificed for the good of the
whole, which is true team spirit and has enabled many a game to
be won when victory has seemed unlikely. United may not always
have been an attractive side to watch, in the sense of providing
glittering spectacle, but they have been a mightily efficient
Andrew Mourant recalled the aftermath of the match: "Revie, almost
pathologically superstitious, did not buy the champagne they were
to drink beforehand, fearing it might tempt some malign fate.
Instead, he and several players made a tour of the Swansea pubs
after the match in search of celebratory bottles. It did not take
them too long to become inebriated on the train journey home."
Bagchi and Rogerson: "In a jubilant dressing room Harry Reynolds,
openly weeping, uncorked the champagne he'd requisitioned from
a nearby pub, composed a telegram to congratulate Sunderland on
their promotion, lionised his manager - offering him an improved
contract, the third in three years - and promised to buy the fish
and chips on the trip home. The tortuous journey had begun in
South Wales; fittingly, it also ended there."
Leeds United had toiled hard and with scant praise outside the
confines of Elland Road all
season. They fully merited the chance to let their hair down,
even with games yet to play, and took it with gusto, ready for
all that the giants of the First Division could throw at them.
Stage one of the Revie revolution was complete.
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