As Leeds United prepared for their Football League Cup final
against Arsenal at Wembley on Saturday 2 March 1968, there were
two schools of thought regarding the outcome. The Doubting Thomases
looked back on two lost finals, a couple of runners up spots in
Division One and two defeats in semi finals since United's
return to the top flight in 1964, and concluded that Leeds
were bottlers, freezing when their moment came. There was also
the little matter of an incredible 45 matches that United had
played thus far in the season, and another 20-odd still to go,
making them understandably a little leg weary.
More positive voices boasted of United's status as the team of
the season, still in the running for the League, the FA Cup, the
Fairs Cup and, of course, the League Cup. They were on a run of
16 games unbeaten in all competitions, registering eight clean
sheets in the process.
Recent form between the clubs also favoured United. In fact,
they had won all seven games since being promoted, with a goals
record of 17-3. Impressive going!
The official comments from the United camp were positive. Don
Revie: "It would be a nice reward if we could win this one
following four years of hard toil and sweat. If we do succeed
I feel it will be a springboard for even bigger things."
Billy Bremner: "The boys are all very confident of winning this
one. We only hope we do not suffer from over confidence."
Leeds were eager to wipe out the memory of their previous appearance
at Wembley, the 1965 FA Cup final against
Liverpool, a sterile occasion that raised no one's blood pressure.
But the first priority was victory and an end to all the Elland
Road hard luck stories.
The competition's status of being the least significant of the
majors did not matter to Leeds - a trophy was a trophy.
The Football League Cup was still relatively new. It was introduced
in 1960 by Alan Hardaker, secretary
of the Football League, and, according to Bryon Butler, "few
tournaments have had a more painful or difficult birth. It was
a competition just for the 92 clubs of the League, a brand new
source of income with a two-legged final on the grounds of the
two finalists, but there were many who condemned it as ill-timed,
ill-conceived and a burden on an already overloaded season. Six
big clubs even refused to take part.
"Aston Villa just pipped Rotherham in the first final and Norwich
easily overcame Rochdale in the second - some unusual grounds
enjoyed the distinction of staging a 'national' event. In 1967,
however, the final became a one shot affair at Wembley with all
the trimmings, the winner was promised an automatic place in the
Fairs Cup and suddenly attitudes changed. Alan Hardaker was soon
able to claim that 'if the FA Cup is football's Ascot then the
League Cup is its Derby Day'.
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"The first League Cup final at Wembley also happened to be rather
special. West Bromwich of the First Division met Queens Park Rangers
of the Third in front of a full house - and at half time Albion
were leading 2-0 and looking home and dried. But Rangers, managed
with style by Alec Stock and inspired by the delightfully talented
Rodney Marsh, came back brilliantly in the second half to score
three and help shape a little piece of history."
Leeds had injury and illness concerns ahead of the big day, but
were able to name Jack Charlton
(back problems), Gary Sprake, Jimmy
Greenhoff (both knee strains) and Johnny Giles (chill) in
their starting eleven, though the last two were far from fully
fit. It was a gamble that Revie felt worth taking, for Giles was
the man who made United tick and he had been enjoying a wonderful
season. Cup-tied Mick Jones was replaced at centre-forward by
the versatile Paul Madeley.
Another absentee was former chairman, Harry Reynolds, forced
through illness to return from Wembley to Leeds on the morning
of the game. He sadly missed the occasion of what he fervently
hoped would be the first of United's big time triumphs.
The Gunners were at full strength, with the three Scots, Frank
McLintock, Ian Ure and George Graham, probably their outstanding
players. The North Londoners had been without a trophy themselves
since 1953, and had been in sad decline ever since, culminating
in an embarrassing period under the management of former England
captain Billy Wright. Former club physio Bertie Mee, who had minimal
experience in professional football, took over as manager following
Wright's departure in 1966. He had started to steady the ship,
though Arsenal were a pale imitation of the side that had enjoyed
such a glorious past, particularly when inspired by the legendary
Herbert Chapman, formerly
manager of Leeds City.
Neither side had been particularly extended en route to the final,
though the Gunners had required a replay against Burnley in the
quarter finals after a 3-3 draw at Turf Moor. Leeds' passage had
taken in Luton, Bury, Sunderland, Stoke City and Derby County.
The day of the final was dull and overcast, but there was little
wind and it was a firm, if bare, pitch, with thankfully less of
the holding going that had left many former Wembley contestants
injured. The United support was outnumbered two to one, but they
were much noiser than their London counterparts.
United took the game to the Gunners in the opening minutes, with
McNab having to intercept a neat through pass from Bremner to
Madeley, and then Eddie Gray probing up the left flank. Arsenal
responded smartly to create a decent opening but young David Jenkins
sent it high, wide and not particularly handsome.
There were a number of long balls played high into the penalty
areas, but the two defensive king pins, Charlton and Ure, gobbled
up everything that came their way.
Arsenal were starting to make a mark on the game
and McLintock was prompting his forwards well, but it was United
who broke through after 18 minutes.
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Bremner went away down the right, supported by Madeley and Hunter,
and won a corner. The ball found Giles, whose shot was deflected
to bring another flag kick, and this time Gray's centre was far
more dangerous, dropping in perfectly towards a crowded goal area.
Gunners keeper Jim Furnell had both Madeley and Charlton to contend
with as he flapped at the ball. It dropped out to the left hand
side of the penalty area, where Terry Cooper was waiting. He moved
in eagerly to volley it unerringly back into the corner from whence
Arsenal protested long and hard that Furnell had been impeded
in his leap, but referee Hamer would have none of it, instantly
signalling the players back to halfway for the restart.
Arsenal were visibly shaken by the goal and Ure nearly laid a
chance on a plate for Greenhoff with a tentative pass back to
his keeper but the Gunners recovered thereafter and came out to
Giles was clearly under the weather, and not nearly the influence
he usually was. By way of compensation, Hunter and Cooper made
some useful sallies to keep Arsenal on their toes. Attacking moves
by Leeds became less frequent as they seemed content to play within
themselves and protect their advantage even at this early stage.
Had the Gunners' shooting been more accurate they might have made
more of the few chances that came their way.
Frustrated by an inability to convert their possession into goals,
Arsenal tried to turn United's own dead ball tactics against them
at a corner shortly before the break. McLintock heavily charged
he caught the cross, sparking an untidy set to. Ure was surrounded
by Leeds defenders pushing and pulling him in concerted rage.
The referee calmed affairs quickly, but things had threatened
momentarily to get out of hand.
The whistle went shortly afterwards to give time for tempers
to cool during the interval, and it was just as well, for the
mood had started to turn decidedly ugly.
Gary Sprake: "There were a few unsavoury incidents but nothing
major - even the incident with McLintock was nothing really, just
a few handbags. However, the tension between the two teams was
genuine and was similar to the hostility that had developed between
us and Chelsea. The London press hated us and this certainly created
a North/South divide. Revie really stoked us up to put one over
the London clubs every time we played them."
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Despite being behind, Arsenal had enjoyed the greater possession,
but there was always the feeling that Leeds could up their game
if they needed to and were content to keep the Gunners at bay.
The Whites came out of their shell for a moment when Paul Reaney's
speedy overlap took him clear to set up a break which ended with
Bremner's blazing shot flying across the goal and wide of the
Later, the Leeds skipper chased a loose ball into the box and
nearly took Furnell's head off his shoulders in his eagerness
to get in a shot, provoking more anger in the Gunners ranks, but
the incident was quickly over.
Such chances were becoming scarcer as United settled for not
conceding. They had missed too many previous opportunities of
success to throw this one away now that they had the advantage.
Madeley was withdrawn into an auxiliary defensive role, with Rod
Belfitt coming on for a limping Gray with 15 minutes to go
to plough a lone furrow up front.
Sprake did have to make one late save, diving low to his left
to turn a good shot from Radford away for a corner, but, that
apart, Arsenal had few direct chances thanks to a strong defensive
Leeds. They did get the ball in the net once, through a shot from
George Armstrong, but the goal was disallowed for an infringement
The stars of the day were all in defence and few played better
than Hunter and Cooper for Leeds, faultless in their covering
and tackling, and ever ready to spring United counters.
That splendid defence held out to register its 5th clean sheet
in 9 matches and secure the trophy in the process, breaking the
duck that had haunted the club. The match was hardly thrilling,
but it was a job well done, as Eric Stanger reported in the Yorkshire
Post: "It was far from being a good game. But then Wembley finals
seldom are. Not in any game where defences are obviously too strong
for the opposing attacks. As Jack Charlton said to me afterwards,
'The only time you are likely to get a spectacular game in a final
is if you have two sides in opposition each with good attacks
but poor defences.'
"Leeds, four times robbed of a rich prize in the last four seasons,
played this game as they would a cup-tie in Europe - tight, taking
no risks and leaving no loophole behind on the occasions they
did move upfield. It does not make for bright entertainment but
it is the result which is remembered long after the details of
the play are forgotten.
"United got the result they wanted, very much in the manner that
Yorkshire cricketers have won championships down the years, by
giving nothing away and by strict application of every man to
his task and attention to detail. Such as Rhodes, Robinson, Leyland
and Mitchell would have approved. Like Leeds, they did not believe
in throwing a game away merely to entertain.
"But those who yearned for fast, attacking football should not
lay the entire blame on Leeds if they found it dull. Arsenal,
themselves far stronger in defence than attack, always had eight
or nine men scuttling back at the first sign of danger. Diamond
cut diamond for nearly the whole of the 90 minutes.
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"For second favourites Arsenal, I thought, played well. Certainly
there was nothing wrong with their spirit. They refused to accept
defeat until the last whistle. They tackled hard, often more sharply
than Leeds, but like so many teams before them they found movements
they had begun so well in midfield destroyed by the power of the
Leeds defence as they approached the penalty area. They had perforce
to do most of their shooting from long range and if Cooper's was
just about United's only worthwhile shot on target, Arsenal had
not many more."
Eric Todd was more scathing in the Guardian: "Leeds United fired
only one shot in anger on Saturday ay Wembley, but it was enough
to finish Arsenal who, in spite of their name, had no big guns,
no small arms, and seemingly no ammunition. So Leeds won the Football
League Cup, their first major trophy to which their dogged persistence
and remarkable consistency assuredly have entitled them.
"It was, nevertheless, a 'poor do', as they say in the North.
What they were calling it in North London on Saturday night is
nobody's business. Even a newspaper that prides itself on getting
to the heart of things would hesitate to repeat some of the descriptions
bestowed upon the proceedings. A quickly taken Gallup poll revealed
that it probably was the worst final seen at Wembley. And many
a spectator went home determined to add a rider to his prayers
between now and May 18 asking that Arsenal will not meet Leeds
in the final for the FA Challenge Cup.
"The standard of play was low enough in all conscience, but the
behaviour of some of the players was unpardonable. In addition
to private skirmishes, there was a free for all in the Leeds goalmouth
after Sprake had been charged. Yet no names were taken, nobody
was sent off. One of these days some referee will earn undying
fame - and gratitude - by forgetting that this is Wembley, that
royalty is present, and remembering that fighting among players
should be punished so severely as it should be punished on any
"There was far too much negative, purposeless football all round
to generate sustained enthusiasm among the 100,000 onlookers.
Arsenal's shooting was quite execrable, that of Leeds negligible.
Arsenal had 75 per cent of the play, maybe a bit more, yet Sprake
was required to make only one tumbling save. The ball probably
would have gone wide anyway. Armstrong did put the ball into the
Leeds net - after the whistle had been blown for a foul on Giles.
"Out of all the drabness, however, emerged once more the indisputable
fact that this Leeds defence is nothing short of magnificent.
Cooper, in my opinion, had no equal on either side, and his goal
was a fitting reward for his outstanding work this term. He should
have a great future. Hunter also had a distinguished match, and
Reaney, Charlton and indestructible Bremner all helped to make
things more tolerable. For those who came from Yorkshire, of course.
"The Leeds forwards seldom had a look in, and in the second half,
Greenhoff excepted, they concentrated on defensive matters. Giles,
so many times the architect of Leeds raids, obviously had not
recovered fully from his cold (he did well enough to finish the
course) and Madeley was too slow at centre-forward, although he
looked more the part when he became an auxiliary centre-half.
"Arsenal's eccentric form this season justified the general prophecy
they would be defeated. Their most perfervid supporters did not,
however, anticipate such a dilatory performance. Once or twice
Armstrong and Radford promised riches, but their inside-forwards
could do no more than give full employment to the ball boys behind
the Leeds goal."
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Terry Cooper, who had a wonderful game in his first appearance
at Wembley, claimed afterwards that he had dreamed of scoring
the winning goal three nights running. He said later: "The most
important thing about that success was that it broke the ice as
regards winning something. Up until then we had been regarded
as the bridesmaids, always coming runners-up in the League or
losing cup semi-finals and finals. We didn't pick up as many trophies
as we should have but after that win against Arsenal we went onto
some big things. Our side wasn't far off its peak then. All the
players were there and it was just a pleasure to play in that
"Regarding the goal, I remember it came after we had won a corner.
Arsenal were worried about the presence of Big Jack (Charlton)
on the goalkeeper but it was an outswinger. I just whacked it
on the volley from the edge of the area, the kind of effort that
either hits the corner flag or flies into the roof of the net
which happily was what happened.
"It was a hard game with not many chances and the sort where
one strike would decide it but I think the result was a fair reflection
of the play.
"As a young lad - I was 23 at the time - you don't take it all
in and I can't remember a lot about the day even though it was
my first appearance at Wembley."
Don Revie used his column in the Yorkshire Evening Post a week
later to write defiantly of the circumstances that prevented his
men from playing the attacking game they had promised pre match:
"Our pride in at last winning a major soccer honour has not been
dented by fierce criticism about the way this was achieved. I
make no apologies for the fact that Leeds United did not keep
their vow to produce a more attractive display than on their last
at Wembley against Liverpool three years ago.
"Injuries and illness to forwards Jimmy Greenhoff and Johnny
Giles forced us unfortunately to adopt a more cautious approach
in the final. It was not our original aim to close up the game.
I wrote here last week that we badly wanted to prove ourselves
as a skilled and entertaining side in front of the millions who
would be watching. I meant it. Greenhoff and Giles would never
have played in a normal League or Cup match, but I decided to
put them in the team because of the psychological effect their
presence would have on the other players. These two have been
playing superbly this season and without them we might have been
a beaten side before the final whistle.
"After taking a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute, United contained
Arsenal rather than attempting to score more goals. Only a person
who understands the frustration and disappointment we have suffered
in recent seasons can understand why our players were so intent
on keeping that lead, rather than give 100,000 fans a soccer treat.
"Now we have won this trophy, we feel that a great weight has
been lifted off our shoulders. At last Leeds has cast away that
champion runners up tag - and are now in a good position to win
more honours. I am positive we will take another title before
the end of the season. Our best chance must be the FA Cup, but
the League championship is still my real goal."
It was a drab and dull game for the neutrals, worse even than
United's dismal defeat in 1965 against Liverpool, but no one at
Elland Road cared about that. Harry Reynolds' desperate desire
to "win summat" was the only driving force that United cared about
that day, and few could deny that they deserved their moment of
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