5 December 1964 - Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1
|First Division - Old Trafford - 53,374|
|Manchester United: P Dunne, Brennan, A Dunne, Crerand, Foulkes, Stiles, Connelly, R Charlton, Herd, Law, Best|
|Leeds United: Sprake, Reaney, Bell, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Giles, Johnson, Storrie, Collins, Cooper|
Leeds United, 1964/65 was the season dreamed of ever since the
club rose from the ashes of Leeds
City in 1919; United had set about their return to the top flight of
English football with the same approach that had seen them emerge as such
impressive Second Division champions
the previous spring, and their results were every bit as impressive
in the top flight. By the end of November, as they reached the halfway stage
of the league campaign, the Yorkshiremen were proving the year's surprise
After winning their first three games, United stuttered to four defeats in their next seven matches, before recovering strongly to climb back up the table.
As they prepared to face a star studded Manchester United side at Old Trafford on 5 December, Leeds were sitting at the dizzy heights of third in the table. It was an astonishing turn of events for a club that had been on the verge of slumping into Division Three in 1962, a year after Don Revie was appointed manager.
Jim Storrie: 'Revie used to say: "Anyone who beats you at home must know they've been in a game." We tended to take this a bit too literally; it became an offence for an opponent to encroach our eighteen-yard line! I think we were over-exuberant more than anything. But Revie must take part of the blame because when we were getting all that bad publicity, he told us: "Don't worry about the press ... what matters is the fact that they are talking about you." I am sure he later regretted this attitude.'
For Manchester United, the times were even more exciting. In February 1958, Matt Busby had fought for his life as many of his legendary Babes perished in the snow of a Munich runway. Less than seven years on, the Scot had rebuilt his club from that devastating horror to become once more the most exciting side in British football. They had won the FA Cup in 1963, and were leading the race for the championship. Their team was among Europe's finest and a new golden age beckoned for Old Trafford.
As Brian Hughes recalled in The King, his biography of Denis Law: 'With Harry Gregg still struggling with a shoulder injury they had started with goalkeeper David Gaskell but after just five games he was replaced by Pat Dunne who had been signed back in May 1964 for £10,000 from Shamrock Rovers. The full-back pairing would prove to be the bedrock for the entire season. Shay Brennan and Tony Dunne played such commanding roles that club captain Noel Cantwell managed just one appearance. The half-back line was Paddy Crerand, Bill Foulkes, and little Nobby Stiles, who had replaced Maurice Setters.
'In the minds of Busby and Murphy these players would merely provide defensive cover for the fantastic forward line the Reds now called upon: Connelly - Herd - Charlton - Law - Best! All these players could be almost guaranteed to score double figures: it was a football fan's dream. Supporters would set off early to get to Old Trafford so that they wouldn't get locked out. In those days fans turned up and paid at the turnstiles and it was mostly standing. Thousands would climb the concrete steps onto the Stretford End, while others made their way behind the scoreboard and still more for the United Road. Inside the ground the build-up would throb with undiluted excitement in anticipation of watching this highly entertaining vintage of Red Devils. There were very few boring 90 minutes in the era that gave birth to the 'Theatre of Dreams'. It was a virtual guarantee that one of Bobby, George or Denis would produce a touch of magic to brighten even the bleakest winter's day.'
Manchester United were role models for everything Don Revie wanted his club to be. He had sought out Busby when he had first been appointed at Elland Road, in an attempt to glean some insight into the managerial arts. There were other connections, too - Jack Charlton had lived his entire footballing life in the shadow of his younger brother Bobby, though he was now emerging as a star in his own right; Johnny Giles was in the Manchester club's Cup winning line up in 1963 before leaving for Elland Road, and was brother-in-law to Nobby Stiles, the short sighted enforcer of Busby's team.
Leeds suffered badly in any direct man-for-man comparison with their star-studded opponents, and it was widely predicted that the Old Trafford showdown would end with an easy win for the home side. Eric Stanger, however, struck an optimistic note in his preview of the game in the Yorkshire Post: 'A leading firm of London bookmakers last night was asking for odds of no less than 3/1 on Manchester United winning the Football League championship. Chelsea were quoted at 5/1 against and Leeds United 10/1. Brilliantly as Manchester United have been playing, those strike me as ridiculous odds seeing that there is still half the season to go. I wonder what the revised odds will be if Leeds United should win at Old Trafford today. It is a big if and frankly I think at present it is beyond the capacity of Mr Don Revie's talented but still mostly immature side. This is their sternest test to date in a season which so far as been successful beyond their expectations.
'To have taken 28 points from their first 20 matches - 17 of them from the last 10 - is a wonderful start back in the First Division, but Manchester United's record is even more impressive. They have taken 32 points, have gone 15 matches without defeat and been held to a draw only twice in this run.
'The tactics Leeds employ today will be interesting. Will Mr Revie, who tries to plot the course of his side's games down to the last decimal point, continue to use both his backs and centre-half as marauders in search of a surprise goal? Or will he instruct his men to play tight, as they did when fighting for promotion last season, and try to make sure of one point?
'How will he try to cut out the menace of Law? Nominally Law will be marked by Bremner, who had such a fine game for the Scotland Under 23 this week, but Law will probably occupy Hunter's attention just as much since he makes every square yard of the pitch his playground.
'Will Reaney, greatly improved back though he is, be able to put a break on Best, the slim Irishman now reckoned just about the best winger in Europe? On the other hand can Stiles stop Collins from making the Leeds wheels go round and Manchester generally be able to shatter the triangle of Collins, Bremner and Giles from which so many Leeds moves stem?'
The Reds fielded the same eleven players that were on duty though virtually the entire season. In addition to their brilliant forward line, former Celtic No 4 Paddy Crerand was a match winner, with his silky ability to control play and dominate proceedings. He had signed for Busby after the 1963 Cup win and had made the difference to a team that had previously been merely the first fruit of a seam of rich potential. They were now very much the finished article.
Leeds were still without the injured Alan Peacock, and young Rod Johnson continued to partner Jim Storrie in attack. Another of Revie's youngsters, Terry Cooper, was preferred to Albert Johanneson, but Gary Sprake was back in goal after recovering from the injury that kept him out of the 1-0 home win against West Bromwich Albion.
Don Revie's game plan relied on his wingers, Cooper and Giles (made skipper for the day against his former club), playing deep, where they added defensive width in a midfield quartet with Billy Bremner and Bobby Collins. Paul Reaney was delegated to man-mark danger man Best and neutralised any threat from the gifted Irishman. With Norman Hunter and Willie Bell moving forward regularly, the middle of the pitch was heaving with bone and sinew, leaving little room for manoeuvre and restricting space for Crerand.
The Scottish international schemer added to his side's troubles by persisting in carrying the ball forward before playing his pass, gifting Leeds precious extra seconds to adjust their covering blanket. He would have done better to inject some pace with an early through ball, but instead played into the Yorkshiremen's hands by delaying his break.
The home team enjoyed some early moments of promise and Law came close twice with a wonderful volley and a trademark header, but Sprake was equal to both. Gradually, however, the Reds' attacks became frenetic as they struggled to cope with the smothering tactics of their opponents. Stanger described the Leeds defence as 'a purse net across the field into which Manchester United often fell like rabbits pursued by a ferret. The longer the game went the more they were confused and after some 25 minutes it became obvious that they were puzzled because they did not know whether it was better to hold the ball or use it first time in their search for a hole.
'The answer to the problems Leeds set was surely for Manchester to hold the ball in defence and try to draw Leeds to them and thus create more room for themselves in midfield. They never tried it and the reinforced Leeds half-backs, well buttressed from behind by Reaney and Bell, ruled the roost.'
Phil Brown was similarly taken by the Leeds performance when reporting events in the Yorkshire Evening Post: 'Don't be surprised if Collins yet gets the further Scottish cap his work for two seasons has richly deserved. Law looked almost a novice beside him and Bobby Charlton little better. That all-international forward line of Manchester's could no more solve the problem of the resolute Leeds defence than fly, least of all Law and Bobby Charlton. After half an hour near panic was overtaking refinement. They could not even do the basics quickly. Of real inspiration there was no sign, nor was there to the end. Approach after approach landed on the penalty area rocks, or was driven on to them.'
The Reds had the majority of the play and the home crowd groaned their disappointment as Gary Sprake made save after save. Leeds, though, did far more than defend and made a number of opportunities themselves. With Bobby Collins prompting most of their best moves, Storrie and Johnson posed a number of serious problems in a goalless first half. Home keeper Pat Dunne was guilty of poor judgement on a number of occasions when coming out for crosses, spreading panic through his defence and giving the away side plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
If Matt Busby's men expected the rearguard action to continue after the break, they were forced to rethink as Leeds came out fighting. The Whites seized the early advantage with a number of sharp and pacy attacks before opening the scoring after 55 minutes.
Giles began the move on the right and combined well with Bremner, allowing the Scot to slide Cooper in. The left winger smashed a hard drive across goal which Pat Dunne could only push out. Collins was on hand to collect the rebound and was all contained self-assurance as he stabbed the ball home.
The goal came as a real kick in the teeth for Manchester, and their play grew erratic and panicky as they struggled to get back on terms. Their tension spread to the crowd and there were endless groans of frustration, as Gary Sprake proved almost unbeatable. Eric Stanger: 'Manchester fretted and fumed in their search for an equaliser but the longer they went the tighter was drawn the Leeds net, with Sprake apparently catching everything which came along with magnificent aplomb.'
The game had started in mist, and as time drew on it turned to fog, growing thicker as the end approached. Leeds' hopes of a sterling victory seemed about to be crushed ten minutes from time when referee Jim Finney called a halt to proceedings because visibility was so poor.
Billy Bremner: 'When we went to Old Trafford for the first time we lost our cool once again - but not with the opposition. We were leading with a goal from Bobby Collins and we could sense victory. Manchester United could not break us down. We were far too disciplined in defence and they could not find a way through. Then, with eight minutes to go, the fog that had been swirling around the ground suddenly became much worse and the referee halted the game. We went absolutely crazy and told him that he couldn't possibly abandon the game, that we could still see from the halfway line, that the spectators wouldn't mind because they had already seen the best part of the game, and so on and so on. The poor man could not get a word in. A few of us were still young and impetuous in those days and we had a bit of a chip on our shoulders too. Referees were authority and we kicked against that at every opportunity - even if we were harming ourselves by doing it. When the referee finally got to have his say he explained that the fog had been made worse by a passing steam train and that he was only waiting for a couple of minutes for the smoke to clear. He was as good as his word and about four minutes later we returned to the game.'
Altogether, play was on hold for eight minutes, during which a number of disgruntled Leeds supporters left for home, grumbling dark words about home refs and acts of God. Their pessimism had little substance, though, and Finney brought the teams back out to finish the game as the fog lifted a little. It was now the turn of the disgruntled Reds fans to decry the fickle finger of Fate, complaining that it was impossible to see both ends of the pitch at the same time.
If anything, Leeds grew stronger in the final minutes, and only a last ditch header from underneath the crossbar by Brennan denied Johnson with Pat Dunne beaten after a sharp effort from Storrie.
Don Revie's men had soaked up all that Manchester could offer and had done so with some style, securing a 1-0 win that ended the Reds' 15 game unbeaten run. Eric Stanger claimed 'In their 44 years of somewhat chequered existence in the Football League, Leeds United have won no more notable victory than that at Old Trafford on Saturday.' The result reduced the gap at the top of the table to a slender couple of points as Old Trafford shook with the thunderous cries of 'Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!' and 'On Ilkla Moor bah t'at'.
Frank Clough in The Sun: 'In a split second that is still captured in the deep freeze of memory Bobby Collins made a major contribution to English soccer. He scored a goal and it carried a greater, deeper significance than even the shrewd and stocky Scot realised. It narrowed the points gap at the top of the First Division and that means fiercer, keener and more intense competition in the future, which in turn means more excitement and entertainment for the paying public. It proved conclusively that Leeds, smeared as a dirty, roughhouse side are worthy of a place in the First Division and worthy of more support from their half million population. And it showed to the world that this Manchester United team of all stars can be beaten. Thank heavens Bobby didn't think of all these things as he drew his foot back. The weight of such responsibility might have made him miss!'
Now, none could dispute the burgeoning status of the Yorkshiremen as their title campaign gathered momentum.