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In November 1963, Leeds United chairman Harry Reynolds gushed
enthusiastically: "We not only want to be one of the best clubs
in England, but in Europe. We want to be in that Super League
if it comes. We do
not just wish to get into the First Division but to win it and
get into the European Cup."
At the time, Reynolds' words sounded like the fanatical ravings
of an over enthusiastic geriatric. By the autumn of 1965, though,
United were indeed contemplating their European debut after finishing
runners up in both Cup and League. The season had ended disappointingly,
but coming second in the title race brought the consolation of
entry into the Inter Cities Fairs Cup tournament for 1965-66.
The competition was almost as old as the European Cup, although
it had enjoyed a less straightforward history. According to the
Encyclopaedia of British Football, "In 1950 Ernst Thommen, then
vice-president of FIFA, proposed the establishment of an international
competition between clubs, or city-wide teams, from cities which
hosted industrial fairs. His idea was to give a competitive edge
to friendly matches played between teams during trade fairs. Following
a meeting in Basle in 1955 the first competition eventually got
under way in June 1955, with a match between Basle and London.
"The regulations for the competition were drafted by Sir Stanley
Rous. Essentially these were that only one team from a city could
enter, that matches would coincide with the cities' trade fair,
and that the competition would be called the International Industrial
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The trophy was called the Noel Beard trophy.
"Two English teams entered - London, which was made up of the
11 professional teams playing in the capital, and Birmingham,
which was represented by Birmingham City. The first competition
was organised into four mini leagues with the four group winners
qualifying for the semi final. The first competition was scheduled
to last two years, but because of fixture congestion it took three
years to complete.
"The first final was a two-legged affair between London and Barcelona.
Following a 2-2 draw in the first leg, Barcelona won the second
leg 6-0 at the Nou Camp in front of 70,000 fans.
"The second Fairs Cup took two years to complete, 1958-60, but
henceforth it would be an annual tournament running parallel with
the European Cup and the newly established Cup Winners' Cup."
Everyone associated with Elland Road was highly delighted when
United's nomination as one of England's representatives in 1965-66
was confirmed. They were equally pleased with the news that they
would be pitted against Torino, one of Italy's crack teams, in
the first round.
The Turin club had a long and rich tradition in Italian football,
but were still rebuilding after a tragic end to a glorious period
in their history. A legendary Torino team perished in a terrible
air crash in 1949 when their plane hit the church of Superga in
the hills over Turin. In all, 31 people died, on the way back
from Jose Ferreira's farewell match in Lisbon. The crash was the
biggest tragedy in Italian sports history, claiming the lives
of a team that had won the Serie A title for four years in a row,
along with the last championship before the war. The club struggled
to recover from the blow and were relegated in 1959 after a decade
of mid table finishes, though they returned at the first attempt
after winning the Serie B title.
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The Italians were under new management: the redoubtable Nereo
Rocco had deserted
AC Milan after leading them to a European Cup triumph in 1963
and had taken up the reins at Torino.
Rocco was a renowned coach, the inventor of the legendary Catenaccio
formation. The Guardian: "Catenaccio - Italian for 'doorbolt'
- is a defensive style of football created by Padova coach Nereo
Rocco in the early 1950s. It takes the form of a diamond-shaped
defence, in which a midfield 'libero' (free man) is accommodated.
Rocco introduced the system to counter the goalscoring of rival
Italian clubs and, once it proved successful, it was used by AC
Milan, who won the European Cup playing Catenaccio in 1963 and
Rocco enjoyed a stormy relationship with ace goalscorer Jimmy
Greaves, when the two were together at Milan.
David Winner describes the episode in Those Feet: A Sensual History
of English Football: "Under Rocco at AC Milan, Greaves felt 'like
a little boy lost'. He thought the Italian game 'spiteful and
vicious', detested every second of his fourteen game, nine goal
career and blamed the experience for turning him into an alcoholic.
Years later he described Rocco as being like Mario Puzo's Godfather
and claimed: ' The Italian press murdered me. They could not have
done a better assassination job had they been given a contract
by the Mafia.' Greaves was paid a fortune, but lost most of his
money to fines as Rocco vainly attempted to get him to observe
the strict Italian codes of sporting behaviour: no booze, no sex
before matches, spartan training camps and obedience to the coach
at all times. Greaves refused to be, as he saw it, 'just another
sheep in his flock of highly paid but unhappy footballers'. Rocco
despaired of Greaves' late night carousing, one night even nailing
his hotel door shut with planks of wood. It didn't work; Greaves
climbed out of his window three storeys up and crept along a narrow
ledge while his manager waited downstairs watching the main exit."
Torino had already dispensed with two British imports, Denis
Law and Joe Baker, in the summer of 1962, though the goals of
another Brit, Gerry Hitchens, took Rocco's men to third spot in
Serie A behind the two Milan clubs in 1965. It was Torino's best
finish since Superga and they also reached the semi final of the
Cup Winners' Cup before losing to 1860 Munich - they were hot
favourites to beat Leeds when the draw was announced.
United manager Don Revie
flew to Italy with chief coach Syd Owen to watch Torino play a
goalless draw at home to Cagliari in the week before the tie and
commented: "They are a hard, strong side and will be difficult
to beat. Their defence is very tight and they have several cracking
good players. They will be hard to open out."
For all United's lack of familiarity with the subtleties of Continental
competition, the first leg at Elland Road on September 29 saw
United take to the new challenge like a duck to water. Revie sent
his forwards out in mixed up shirt numbers to confuse the Torino
marking plan (7 - Peacock, 8 - Collins, 9 - Cooper, 10 - Lorimer,
11 - Giles). Phil Brown in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "That little
ruse of Mr Revie's nearly nicked a goal while Torino were sorting
it out, but, like the very good professionals they are, Torino
held." The ruse was quickly rumbled by the Italians, who resisted
United's opening lunges thanks mainly to solid performances by
goalkeeper Lido Vieri and centre-half George Puja.
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However, they could not hold out for long. Billy Bremner ("the
best player on the field" according to Phil Brown of the Yorkshire
Evening Post) scored the opening goal of the game and United's
first in European football after 25 minutes with a speculative
curling shot from the left wing: "Vieri could only juggle it into
his own net. The crowd were ecstatic and the goalkeeper surveyed
the muddy turf no doubt wishing that it would open and swallow
him." The Whites came close to increasing their lead as the interval
neared, but it was the 48th minute before Alan
Peacock's header crowned a decent passing move and doubled
the advantage. Later Peacock had a goal disallowed with the referee
ruling the ball had not entered the goal, "though the centre-forward
was afterwards to claim the ball was a good 18 inches over the
Opting to go for a killer third goal rather than sitting on a
decisive 2-0 lead, United's inexperience betrayed them. They left
themselves exposed late on and Torino centre-forward Orlando pulled
one goal back 12 minutes from time.
Nevertheless, Leeds had played astonishingly well against outstanding
opponents. They earned high praise, with Italian sports writers
describing United as "the strongest and best team in Britain."
Don Revie was unstinting in his praise, telling Phil Brown: "The
team has never played better since I became manager at Elland
Road. They were splendid in their skill and determination, and
they gave the lot and a bit more in effort. They had not a thing
left when they came in. How they maintained the pace on a poor
night and soft pitch I do not know. I am the proudest manager
in Britain today. Yet when I went with them into the dressing
room after the game they were so grieved at having won only 2-1
that Bobby Collins said
to me: 'Boss, just listen to them! You would think we had lost
3-1!' I would like respectfully to remind our critics and our
doubters that seven of last night's United side were only 22 or
under. The experience they gained last night against a very good
team under a very good manager should be most valuable to them.
But above all my own feeling is of pride in them after this Continental
Nereo Rocco said: "Leeds were a fine team, but they have a singly
magnificent crowd. They were splendidly fair to us, despite the
importance of the occasion to both teams, and the fire in the
play. I must thank them and hope that our crowd is as fair to
their team next Wednesday. Your crowd has
a splendid team. They should have scored four or five goals in
the first half." Some of the wily Italian's comments were made
purely for the benefit of public consumption, and he was confident
of recovering the tie at home.
The away goals rule had yet to be introduced so it would take
a victory by two clear goals in Turin to put the Italians through,
but most independent experts believed Torino's greater experience
would be decisive. Revie saw things differently: "We are one of
the hardest sides to beat away, and we will be trying for a quick
goal to surprise Torino."
Leeds, enjoying a weekend's rest before the game with England
in Home Championship action against Wales, fielded the same eleven
that beat Blackburn 3-0 on 25 September and saw the Italians off
in the first leg. Terry Cooper continued to deputise for the injured
Albert Johanneson, while
youngsters Paul Madeley and Peter Lorimer demonstrated the worth
of Revie's youth policy. Leading the attack was the in form Alan
Peacock, fresh from restoration to the England team after three
years' absence. Along with Jack
Charlton and Gary Sprake, Peacock had played in the goalless
draw between England and the Welsh in Cardiff.
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In contrast to United's settled roll call, the Italians rang
the changes for the match in Turin, with Fossati, Teneggi and
Meroni coming in for Rosato, Bolchi and Schulz. The return of
Gigi Meroni on the right flank was particularly crucial. The 22-year-old,
nicknamed La Farfalla Granata, the "Grenade Butterfly", was a
Continental equivalent of George Best. Torino's record buy (£130,000
from Genoa in 1964), he was a prodigious talent, "a first-rate
dribbler and expert at nutmegging his opponents".
Meroni, all "elusive running", and George Ferrini, "a strong
and incisive player", were prominent as Torino took the game to
United in the early stages in the Stadio Communale. Leeds, though,
manufactured the first chance of the game.
Jack Charlton: "We could have been a goal up after only thirty
seconds, but Peter Lorimer's shot was clutched safely by goalkeeper
Vieri; then Vieri clawed a header from me as the ball was sneaking
under the bar; and Norman Hunter, put through after a great Lorimer
run, missed his kick in front of an open goal."
The openings for United were scarce as they devoted their first
half for the most part to maintaining their slim advantage. Peacock
was left to plough a lone furrow up front with his fellow forwards
supplementing a packed midfield. Phil Brown
in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Charlton held the middle from
the first minute and Bremner and Hunter covered acres on their
flanks, challenging, intercepting, tackling, forcing men to part
with the ball unsuitably and taking all the danger out of Torino's
attack. But the half-back line even in top form still needed help,
for Torino sometimes attacked with 10 men in the second half,
and they got it. Giles, Lorimer, Peacock and Cooper all came back
in defence, with Collins likewise while he was on, and all did
The overlapping full-backs, Reaney and Madeley, often presented
the greatest threat, freed by the smart passing of Giles to counter
swiftly from defence. Eric Stanger wrote in the Yorkshire Post:
"Right from the start Torino made the running to wipe out the
goal lead which Leeds had from the first leg, but their neat progressive
football was countered by the immaculate Leeds defence. Leeds,
indeed, came nearer to scoring with their quick breakouts."
In the last five minutes of the half, United had a decent spell,
prompted by skipper Bobby Collins. He collected smartly from Peacock
and sent in a shot which skimmed a post, before dispossessing
Ferrini with a wonderful tackle and swiftly turning deep defence
into dangerous attack.
Suitably revived by their captain's example, Leeds took their
break in good heart with the first challenge successfully negotiated.
They had been outmanoeuvred and penned in, but had proven their
defensive solidarity. The players' mood was buoyant, although
any degree of complacency was dissipated five minutes after the
Bobby Collins had been United's fulcrum since his arrival in
1962, and in Turin he was again the heartbeat of a fiercely defiant
display. Unfortunately, he would not see out the hour.
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Norman Hunter: "I can still remember the tackle that put him
out of the game and left us to battle for forty-five minutes with
only ten men. Bobby and I were both well up the field when I saw
a big defender coming towards him. Bobby was extremely quick over
five to ten yards and he knocked the ball forward and accelerated
after it but the big guy didn't pull up. He kept on running and
his knee went right into Bobby's thigh. When I got to Bobby, his
leg was waving around at the top because the bone was snapped
high up the leg. It was horrendous."
Jack Charlton: "I remember it very vividly - Bobby was lying
there, the referee wanted to move him off the park, and the Turin
players were trying to bundle him off. I wouldn't let them move
him; I knew that if Bobby
Collins wouldn't get up, he must have something broken. I stood
over him, whacking one Italian and punching another to keep them
back, until eventually the referee realised that Bobby must be
seriously hurt and called for a stretcher."
Eric Stanger: "For a few minutes tempers flared in a game which
up to that point had been cleanly fought. Meroni kicked Bremner,
Giles and Pestrin clashed, but Mr L Roomer, the Dutch referee,
kept a firm hand and very soon had things under control again."
Billy Bremner, for whom Collins was an idol, was incensed and
the guilty man, left-back Fabrizio Poletti, needed no interpreter
as the Scot bitterly promised, "I'll kill you for this."
The mythology surrounding the game paints Poletti as some kind
of cold blooded assassin, but at the time there was a more restrained
reaction, as typified by Phil Brown: "Italian journalists assured
me that Poletti has no name for fouls, and indeed it was the only
one he committed in the game. He was a clean player at Leeds last
week, too. But in the fever heat of the tie I think Poletti lost
his head. He is only 22, and he has been to see Collins to apologise
Poletti seemed genuinely remorseful, saying, "It happened so
quickly. He was going so fast. It has been a shock to me, and
I am sincerely sorry."
After the dust had cleared, United were left to withstand 40
minutes of all out pressure by one of Europe's best attacks with
just ten men. Substitutes had been introduced for Football League
games at the start of the season, but were still some way off
for European competition. What followed was a remarkable performance,
quite possibly the greatest rearguard action that Don Revie's
Leeds United ever fought.
In the first period they had played disciplined, controlled football,
laying down an ironclad wall across the pitch, denying their classy
opponents time and space and harrying them out of their poise.
The absence of Collins seemed merely to reinforce the players'
Eric Stanger: "Now came Leeds United's finest half-hour. Every
man gritted his teeth and shouldered the extra burden imposed
on him by the loss of Collins. Torino grew more and more worried,
as they found out they just could not shake off these brave fighters.
Their football became ragged. The crowd whistled in disapproval
as the Leeds tentacles gripped tighter and tighter, with every
man refusing to give an inch or admit defeat."
For all their ability, the Italians could find no chinks in the
United armour. Gary Sprake made a couple of decent saves, but
for the most part the men in front of him, working like drones,
shielded him from danger.
The Italians' football grew increasingly frenetic as the
end approached, and United came close to snatching a remarkable
victory at the death when Bremner burst clear from midfield, beat
the defence and saw his shot scrape the post.
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The home crowd turned on their team during the final quarter.
The game ended in a "gale of whistles of contempt and the fans
lit 20 bonfires on the terraces at the end - another gesture of
thumbs down. United left the field to a round of applause and
it was nice to see them turn and see 200 odd Leeds supporters
who were there, for those supporters had let the Italians hear
'Leeds Leeds Leeds' and 'Ilkla Moor' in grand style."
The game finished without a goal, leaving United in the second
round by virtue of the 2-1 aggregate score.
It was a memorable evening, and the triumph in adversity proved
a turning point in the history of Leeds United. Their football,
for so long reviled in England, seemed perfectly designed for
the European game and they were generously praised by the Italian
"Leeds know how to defend themselves - Torino eliminated" was
the headline in Milan's Gazzeta Della Sport. The piece ran on:
"Leeds built its remarkable play on the Bremner-Collins diagonal
- at least until the game turned into a brawl - without giving
up attack in advance, but with vigorous defensive tactics, continuously
dotted by violent counter attacks. What we saw was once again
a very fine team, entirely worthy of continuing its march in the
"After their well deserved win in Britain, they succeeded in
controlling a Torino that was in fine shape and determined to
play to the end. And in the second half Leeds, with only 10 men,
succeeded in resisting the forcing play of their opponents. Left
without schemer Collins, the Leeds players turned into defenders,
forming a barrier in a strong and energetic way but without any
Vittorio Pozzo, who coached the Italian national team to World
Cup victory in 1934 and 1938, wrote in Turin's La Stampa:
"This was the fastest game for a long time in Italy. Leeds are
a robust, determined team, full of willpower and with exceptional
ability. This team had said a word about British soccer which
for years had not been heard and which convinced the crowd. The
whole team seemed to be spurred by fire, but
the work performed by inside-left Collins and right-half Bremner
will not be forgotten soon by those who watched the game."
For Bobby Collins, however, there was only the fear that, as
he neared 35, his playing career might be at an end: "The pain
was agonising and I knew immediately that my leg was badly broken.
Les Cocker came on and supervised as I was carried off to be taken
to hospital. Willie Bell, who
had been in the squad but was watching in the stadium, escorted
me and helped keep the stretcher and my leg steady.
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"The only fortunate thing, though I didn't realise it at the
time, was that I was seen at a local hospital that specialised
in repairing shattered limbs. Surrounded by mountains, they had
gained a reputation in this field, having dealt with many ski
and mountaineering casualties, They had perfected techniques for
all kinds of fractures. The medical team was headed by a world-renowned
surgeon, Professor Re. I could not have been in better hands.
"The Professor assessed the injury and operated immediately.
When I came round, he told me that he had reset my shattered thigh
bone with a fifteen inch pin and was confident that I would play
again with the pin inside, which was very reassuring.
"Leeds flew Beryl and Robert out to be with me, and throughout
my two week stay at the hospital, I had plenty of visitors, including
the entire Torino side. Poletti was particularly apologetic, but
it didn't stop him injuring another player in the next match!
"The flight home wasn't the most comfortable as
I had a special cast devised only for reclining seats, but they
"Back home I immediately began my rehabilitation under Les (Cocker)
and Doc Adams. The pin was hollow, which enabled it to stay in
my leg as I regained fitness. It stayed there for two years, before
Mr Archie McDougall, an orthopaedic surgeon in Glasgow, removed
it. The injury effectively ended my career at Leeds."
Shorn of his pocket general, Don Revie gave Irishman Johnny Giles
his head as play maker, thereby creating a midfield partnership
with Billy Bremner that would inspire United's success over the
decade that followed. Revie secured the services of Huddersfield
Town's England winger Mike O'Grady to fill Giles' berth on
the flank and saw his men emerge from the shadow of Bobby Collins
to become a truly great team.
The injury was not quite the end of the road for Collins, and
astonishingly he was back for the season's climax, a draw with
Manchester United that secured runners up spot for a second successive
The return was a short one, however. Collins made the United
team for the start of the next campaign, but joined Bury on a
free transfer in February 1967, marking the end of a remarkable
liaison between player and club. It had been a match made in heaven,
although many of Collins' opponents might have muttered that it
was forged somewhere less pleasant!
Billy Bremner: "I learned many great lessons from Bobby Collins,
not the least being able to take the knocks as well as hand them
out and always play the game as a man. They say that one man doesn't
make a team - but Bobby Collins came nearer to doing it than anyone
else I have ever seen on a football field."
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