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Since making their Fairs Cup bow in 1965,
Leeds United had established something of a reputation as peerless
exponents of the classically cautious European style. At their
first attempt, they made it all the way to the semi finals, before
being outclassed by Spain's Real Zaragoza in a replay.
A year later, they went one better and made it to the two-legged
final, before again being beaten by a better side when Dinamo
Zagreb turned them over.
Now, United were back in another final, held over to the autumn,
and they were determined to make amends for earlier failings.
But they faced probably their biggest test yet, for they were
pitted against the crack Hungarian outfit, Ferencvaros of Budapest.
The Magyars were far and away the outstanding team in Hungary,
and reckoned by both Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly to be the
best across the whole continent. Star man was 27-year-old striker
Florian Albert. Following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956,
and the defection of three of the country's most famous players,
Puskas, Kocsis and Czibor, Albert, a teenage prodigy, was feted
as a national saviour. He scored a hat trick in the World Cup
finals in 1962 against Bulgaria when he was just 21 and went on
to be the tournament's joint leading scorer. In 1964 he led Hungary
to third place in the European championships. He shone in the
1966 World Cup finals, when he single-handedly devastated world
champions Brazil with a hat trick, and was crowned European Footballer
of the Year a year later.
Ferencvaros had provided 89 internationals for Hungary down the
years, and five, Geczi, Varga, Rakosi, Matrai and Fenyvesi, were
alongside Albert in the 1966 World Cup party.
They had won their domestic championship on 21 occasions, with
10 Hungarian Cup wins. They enjoyed a decent record in European
competition, having appeared in all three tournaments. Their best
performance came in 1965 when they won the Inter Cities Fairs
Cup by defeating Juventus in the final after besting Manchester
United in a semi final replay. Florian Albert's 6 goals in the
competition were only bettered by the eight of both Bobby Charlton
and Denis Law.
In 1963 Ferencvaros had lost to Dinamo Zagreb in the semi final
of the same trophy, and though they went out in the third round
in 1967, Albert was the competition's top scorer with 8, five
coming in a single game against Sweden's Goteborg.
Ferencvaros lost to Inter Milan in the 1966 European
Cup at the quarter final stage, but Albert was again top scorer,
matching the 7 goals of Benfica's Eusebio. The Hungarian had notched
another five goal haul, in a 9-1 massacre of IBK Keflavik.
On their way to the final against Leeds in 1968, Ferencvaros
vanquished Liverpool, Bilbao and Bologna, and few who saw it will
forget their magnificent performance in the Anfield snow in January.
Branikovics scored the only goal, and ended Liverpool's run of
13 games without defeat at home in any European competition.
The first leg of the final was in Leeds on Wednesday, 7 August
1968. United warmed up for the task with a friendly in Glasgow
against Celtic, who had celebrated a famous European Cup triumph
of their own in 1967.
John Begg in the Yorkshire Post: "On their showing against Celtic
in this challenge match at Hampden Park, Leeds United could well
be in for their best season since they returned to top class football.
They were a superbly drilled side against a Celtic team that included
no fewer than eight of their European Cup winning eleven of two
seasons ago in addition to Steve Chalmers, their second half substitute.
back to top
"When Celtic won the League championship last season, they scored
100 goals in 34 games, but their attack only once found a loophole
in the Elland Road iron curtain and it came with a penalty kick.
This was the only occasion on which Sprake blotted his copybook.
He foolishly bundled Lennox off the ball in such a manner that
the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Gemmell,
in converting in competent fashion, sent Sprake the wrong way.
It was the only blunder Sprake made and his brilliant handling
was a major contributory factor in his team's success.
"Leeds had weathered Celtic's first half storm and hit back so
strongly it was not surprising when Giles equalised in the 52nd
minute. This was a magnificent goal as Giles met a crossfield
ball from Cooper to thunder it past Simpson from 30 yards.
"United's success was completed when Lorimer got the winning
goal. It was beautifully taken as the Dundee boy gathered a long
pass from Charlton and coolly lashed the ball over Simpson's head
in the net as the veteran goalkeeper moved out in a vain attempt
to thwart the winger."
The 2-1 victory sent United into the Ferencvaros game in great
United manager Don Revie
was desperately disappointed with the pitiful Elland Road attendance
of 25,268. The low figure was partly due to the game taking place
in the middle of a local bank holiday and partly because the game
was broadcast live on national television.
Gary Sprake recalls: "We sometimes had disappointing attendances
during these times, despite our continued success. One possible
reason was that Leeds had an excellent Rugby League club and the
area was a real hotbed of the game. It took quite a while for
the football club to win these fans around. Also, Leeds was a
very working class area and so many people couldn't afford to
take the family to both Elland Road and Headingley if fixtures
clashed on the same weekend. It was understandable and no slight
on the Leeds players themselves. In fact, I don't really think
the players very much at all. They gave it very little thought,
although it did sometimes drive Don Revie to distraction as he
felt that we deserved better crowds and could only continually
compete with the Manchester Uniteds and Liverpools if we had their
Revie was able to pick a full strength side, though he chose
to leave out his natural wingers, Albert
Johanneson and Mike O'Grady,
both thankfully available again after protracted injury problems.
The manager opted instead for Paul Madeley as a midfield anchorman,
supporting Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles, with Peter Lorimer
and Eddie Gray playing wide to supplement front man Mick Jones
when the opportunity arose. The customary back five of Sprake,
Reaney, Charlton, Hunter
and Cooper were all present and correct. It was the same eleven
that had done so well against Celtic.
There had been a stream of propaganda coming out of Elland Road
over the summer months that United would opt for a more attacking
style in the new season, but the first signs were not encouraging.
Don Revie was canny enough to know that if he threw caution to
the wind, Ferencvaros were good enough to pick his men off.
back to top
The Hungarian's coach, Dr Karoly Lakat, pronounced his players
"fit and in remarkably good form," but indicated that "a draw
will suit us in Leeds". True to his words, he sent out a defensively
minded eleven, as Richard Ulyatt reported in the Yorkshire Post:
"Leeds, without a true winger in the team, had the greatest difficulty
in outflanking the first line of three defenders Ferencvaros fielded
and seldom managed to get round the second line of four players.
When they did so, Gray, in particular, and Lorimer were so slow
that the initiative was quickly lost. A good old fashioned winger
might have been in his element against a defence that was by no
means on top form.
"As Leeds interpreted it, free expression, their much vaunted
new policy, seemed to be largely the mixture as before, with Charlton,
Bremner, Hunter and Cooper slightly more frequently on attack,
and Madeley dropping back as a second centre-half, the sort of
thing we saw time after time last season. There was no increased
effort by the forwards in the face of keen and sometimes ruthless
spoiling, except perhaps from Jones, who was much more like a
£100,000 player than during last season."
The Hungarians had the first chance of the game, when Charlton's
hesitation on the edge of his own area allowed Albert to seize
possession. He passed on to Szoke who was well off target from
a decent position.
United fought back strongly and came close to a score shortly
afterwards. Ferencvaros keeper Geczi was awarded a free kick virtually
under his own bar. He struck his kick poorly and the ball fell
to Jones, loitering with intent on the edge of the box. He instantly
fed Lorimer, who slammed in a ferocious shot. Geczi made up for
his error by making a wonderful save at the expense of a corner.
United had identified the Hungarian keeper as a potential weakness,
as Johnny Giles recalled: "They might well have gained the stalemate
they wanted . . . but for the glaring vulnerability of their goal-keeper
Geczi in dealing with crosses. We remembered that, during the
World Cup, Hungary's goalkeeper had great difficulty in catching
these high balls and, in fact, many people consider that had Hungary
possessed a 'keeper of the calibre of Gordon Banks they would
have got through to the final against England. During the early
stages we set out to test Geczi's ability in this particular department
and it didn't take us long to find out that he, too, was ill at
ease when the ball was flighted into his goalmouth.
"From one cross earlier on he dropped the ball straight to the
feet of Norman Hunter, 10 yards out, but the wing-half was so
surprised at his good fortune that he mishit his shot and was
well off target. Geczi lost his nerve and I cannot recall him
holding one cross ball all evening!"
Leeds had much the better of the possession as the Hungarians
allowed them to pass the ball round as they would as long as they
were out of shooting range. United looked good until the final
ball and penned Ferencvaros back for long periods, though they
usually had to settle for corners. Indeed, it was the visitors
who exhibited the better shooting. In one move, Albert and Varga
got the better of Giles and Madeley in midfield to free Fenyvesi
on the wing. He centred for Szoke but the chance was lost when
the forward tried to shift the ball from left to right foot before
back to top
Towards the end of the half, though, the United pressure told,
with Geczi under pressure in his goal area from Charlton, Bremner
and Jones. When Jones forced a corner, United, renowned for their
dead ball routines, gleefully capitalised.
Giles: "Mick Jones grabbed Leeds United's goal just before the
interval after Geczi had again blundered in the air. To be fair
to him, though, I thought his fellow defenders were equally to
blame. We were awarded a corner on the right and as Jack Charlton
took up his familiar position on the goal line, the Hungarian
defenders surrounded him in an effort to 'protect' Geczi. But
they succeeded only in making his job a lot more difficult. As
the ball came across from Peter Lorimer, there were so many bodies
in the goalmouth that Geczi could only get his fingertips to it.
The ball broke loose from the ruck, and there was Jones on the
spot to add the finishing touch.
"I am told that Ferencvaros complained bitterly afterwards that
Charlton had impeded Geczi, but I regard this as sour grapes!
I didn't see anyone protest to the referee when the ball went
into the net and, knowing how excitable these continental players
can be, I am sure all hell would have broken loose on the pitch
had our opponents really believed they had been done an injustice."
The goal came in the 41st minute and United reached the break
one goal ahead.
Leeds started the second half with intricate passing, rather
than using the wind that was now in their favour. On too many
occasions they ran the ball into trouble and the Ferencvaros centre-back,
Juhasz, was proving the devil's own job to beat, as Ken Jones
reported in the Daily Mirror: "Where there was trouble, there
was Juhasz, a defender whose ability was only matched by his professional
instinct. There did not seem to be a trick that Juhasz did not
know. He was finally booked for destroying a Leeds attack with
his hands and there was a certain humour in that."
The Hungarians also had their moments at the other end, as reported
by Richard Ulyatt in the Yorkshire Post: "Albert showed what might
happen in Budapest when acting as a true centre-forward on his
own ground. He raced from defence into attack, giving Szoke a
long pass which was too accurate for the defence to intercept.
If Szoke had returned the ball instead of shooting wildly, Leeds
might have been in dire trouble."
After 65 minutes, both teams made a change. Ferencvaros brought
on Balint for Fenyvesi, while Giles had to go off with double
vision. He recalled later, "My mishap occurred deep in the Ferencvaros
half. With my back to the goal, I tried to get my head to a long
ball through the middle and collided with an opponent challenging
from behind. Everything went black and I must have been out cold
for two or three minutes. When I regained consciousness I was
aware of trainer Les Cocker sponging my neck with cold water and
holding smelling salts under my nose. I tried to get back on my
feet, but felt so dizzy that it was obviously pointless carrying
on. That was
the last I saw of Ferencvaros in the sense of opposing them on
the field, for I missed the return leg in Budapest through injury."
Jimmy Greenhoff came
on for Giles and was quickly into the action when he got a header
back to top
Five minutes later, Leeds had to use their second sub, as reported
by Eric Todd in the Guardian: "There was serious trouble on the
field for the first time. Jones was going through and as he entered
the penalty area, Geczi advanced and threw himself - there is
no other expression for it - at the Leeds centre-forward. If this
had been a Rugby match, Leeds would almost certainly have been
awarded a penalty try. It transpired, however, that the whistle
had been blown before Jones embarked on his solo run so that no
goal and no penalty would have been allowed in any case. Nevertheless
it was a shocking foul which merited some sort of punishment.
Geczi, applauded so many times previously, now was jeered repeatedly
while the hapless Jones was removed on a stretcher and his place
was taken by Belfitt."
Those changes broke up United's rhythm and allowed the Hungarians
to come into the game as an attacking force and Charlton did well
to rob Varga on the point of shooting. Later, Rakosi was foiled
by a brilliant save from Sprake, when he looked to have an easy
That was the final chance of a tight game and United were disappointed
to have just the one goal advantage, as Don Revie admitted: "It
is going to be tough in the second leg, but we have faced this
kind of thing before. Ferencvaros played as well as we expected
them to. The fact that we kept a clean sheet was a good thing.
If we get a goal over there they have got to get three."
Revie was not pleased with the rough tactics of the visitors:
"They were body checking, deliberately handling and obstructing
… Some of it was diabolically clever and screened. Mick Jones
has been lucky. He was kicked in the groin and it is sore, but
it could have been worse."
Jones himself said, "I had to take some punishment. As the target
man I always expected a tough game, but the Hungarians were really
cynical. I remember an incident with their goalkeeper Geczi when
we both went for a fifty-fifty ball. As I went for the ball he
came out and jumped up with his leg in the air and hit me straight
in the middle. I thought he'd broken me in two. Luckily, I jack
knifed to take the blow instead of taking the hit straight in
the stomach. Nowadays he'd have been sent off, but he got away
with it. I was carried off. It was a good result, though, because
we hadn't conceded an away goal.
"Naturally, I was pleased to score our goal, even if it was scrappy,
poking the ball in from about two yards with a number of defenders
around me, but it was one of the most important goals I scored
for Leeds. It gave us something to take into the second leg."
Dr Karoly Lakat, the Ferencvaros coach, saw things differently,
saying: "It was more fighting than a real game of football. Leeds
played the more vigorous and forceful football. I thought our
team were the better technicians. I could not see clearly what
happened when Leeds scored because I was too far away, but the
goalkeeper says he was definitely pushed."
Ken Jones summarised the night thus: "The reputation of Ferencvaros
as a team of glowing quality was lost last night as they succumbed
to the cynicism of European football. For Leeds, on the threshold
of a season when they have promised to play with more ambition,
it was a frustrating experience. Without a better than fair share
of the breaks on the return in Budapest on September 11, a one-goal
lead is unlikely to be enough.
"It began with the obvious intention of running Ferencvaros into
the floor. But in the search for a reason why their industry did
not bring them more than one goal, Leeds may discover the root
of their problems. They threw players forward from midfield and
played with ambition and aggression. But merely increasing the
number of attackers cannot balance Leeds' shortage of attacking
"Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley and even Jack Charlton
tried to squirm through the ranks of Ferencvaros defenders. But
they were rarely allowed a clear sight at goal and it is significant
that Leeds scored, as they did so many times last season, from
a dead ball kick."
It was a scathing assessment by Jones, but, for all the disappointment,
United had secured a considerable victory against formidable opponents
and could fly out to Eastern Europe in upbeat mood.
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