For Leeds United, 11 September 1968 brought a real moment of
truth. They faced mighty Ferencvaros of Budapest in the second
leg of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup final enjoying the advantage
of a 1-0 victory in the home leg almost a month before. They were
desperate to become the first British team to win the trophy and
prove their many critics wrong.
The game had been in grave danger of being cancelled following
the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the unrest this had
caused in Central Europe.
Cold War tensions were still rumbling between the United States
and the Soviet Union. Earlier in the year, Antonin Novotny had
lost control of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia to Alexander
Dubcek, who launched a programme of liberalisation in an attempt
to revive the country's economic fortunes.
Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, was concerned that Dubcek's
actions would weaken the Communist Bloc's position and decided
on radical measures. On the night of August 20,
Eastern Bloc armies from five Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia.
During the invasion, Soviet tanks occupied the streets. They were
followed by hundreds of thousands of troops and 72 Czechs and
Slovaks were killed and hundreds wounded during the troubles.
There was widespread anger throughout the western world, but
the only response was written and vocal criticism - the reality
of nuclear stand off meant they were in no position to challenge
Soviet military force in Central Europe.
In an attempt to 'forestall disruption by possible boycotts over
the Czechoslovak crisis', UEFA took the decision to segregate
Eastern and Western clubs in the European Cup and the European
Cup Winners Cup.
Despite dire warnings, there was no doubt about United's willingness
to travel to Hungary. They had come too far to be denied at this
stage. Don Revie used his weekly column in the Yorkshire Evening
Post to lay out the club's position.
"We will be condemned by many people for not refusing to play
the Hungarian champions in view of what has happened recently
in Czechoslovakia. Much has been written and said about the ways
in which the western world can show its disapproval. Sadly, soccer
is being used as a weapon in the political arena.
back to top
"Celtic, who were due to meet Ferencvaros in the first round
of the European Cup this season, threatened to boycott the match
because of the Czech crisis. They asked UEFA not to force clubs
to meet sides from Warsaw Pact countries, and as a result all
Eastern and Western Europe countries, paired in the Champions
Cup and Cup Winners Cup, have been separated in the draw.
"Politics? I prefer to leave this to the politicians. This does
not mean I do not feel strongly about what has happened in Czechoslovakia
- but I feel that political opinion should not be allowed to interfere
in any way with sport. Boycotting matches against Communist countries
is the easy way out. Surely trying to beat them on the soccer
field is a better way to show one's distaste.
"I believe we have the ability to win, although I would have
liked to go to Budapest
with a bigger lead than the 1-0 margin we established in the first
leg. The Hungarians did not set Elland Road alight with their
attacking play, but I know from past experience that on their
own ground some continental sides have the ability to let all
"The Hungarians are probably the finest passers of a ball in
the game. They have always been adept at playing one two football
… their forwards have the ability to create chances with bouts
of first time passing in confined areas. When up against this
type of football, it is essential to stick to the man and avoid
the temptation of following the ball. It is someone else's responsibility
to pick up the player for whom the pass is intended.
"A very difficult match is ahead of us. We know how formidable
the Ferencvaros attackers are. We expect them to produce some
fireworks. But Leeds has proved time and again that its defence
can stand its ground in the hottest moments.
"In the past we have produced some of our most masterful football
away from home - particularly in Valencia, Leipzig and in Budapest,
too. That was against Ujpest Dozsa. Against Ferencvaros at Elland
Road I was most impressed with their defence. But now for a change
they must worry about us. The onus is on them to score. If we
score one then they must score three to beat us. For in this competition
if the teams are level on the goal aggregate, the away goals count
With Johnny Giles (knee) and Eddie Gray (ankle) unavailable through
injury, and Jimmy Greenhoff,
who had played in the first leg, now at Birmingham, Revie drafted
Mike O'Grady and Terry
Hibbitt into his starting line up.
Revie's counterpart, Dr Karoly Lakat, the coach of Ferencvaros,
a history teacher and one time left-half with the Hungarians,
said before the game, "We are faced with a difficult match as
we have to win by a two-goal margin to take the Cup. We will apply
our tactics accordingly, with an emphasis on attack. The best
possible training Ferencvaros could have had for this tie against
Leeds was on Saturday." He referred to a clash against local rivals
Honved, who had employed a nine-man defence. The game was won
with a last-minute goal from Varga.
Lakat made only one change from the first leg. Fenyvesi, a 35-year-old
veterinary surgeon, with 26 appearances for Hungary, stepped down
to make way for Katona, regarded as "a more thrusting outside-left."
Those who were not fully converted to the Leeds cause were of
the opinion that the world class Ferencvaros attack would be simply
too strong for even United's powerful defence to withstand. There
had been enough flashes in the first leg to leave little doubt
as to the threat Florian Albert and his men represented.
But Don Revie was confident in his men and had attacking options
- Mike O'Grady on the right and Terry Hibbitt on the other flank
would be outlets, and Terry Cooper's attacking sorties were becoming
legendary, while Peter Lorimer was always a threat from distance
with his power shooting. Nevertheless, Revie's tactics were founded
on a smothering defensive barrier across midfield, for the most
part leaving Mick Jones alone up front to forage for scraps. It
was a style that United had perfected over three hard years of
Fairs Cup competition and had proven an effective option.
The Nep Stadium was a magnificent venue for a historic occasion,
and the Leeds team strode out determined not to yield an inch.
back to top
Gary Sprake: "Although my recollection of some games is beginning
to fade somewhat, the game at the Nep Stadium remains etched in
my memory to this day. I remember walking out of the tunnel to
be greeted by a crescendo of noise and the atmosphere was unbelievably
hostile. The political situation behind the Iron Curtain was very
tense at that time and for the 76,000 Hungarian fans in Budapest
it was one of the few chances they had to express and show their
feelings in public. They certainly did that with their hostility
focused directly towards us."
Ferencvaros were straight onto the attack, and committed themselves
to all out assaults on Sprake's goal. Whether by design or not,
United dropped straight into a thoroughly defensive game, packing
their box and funnelling back behind the ball whenever danger
threatened, which was virtually a constant. For all that, the
Hungarians struggled to pose any direct threat and it was 16 minutes
before a real goal attempt was made, so tight was the United covering.
Then Rakosi made his way into the United area through a host of
white shirts and got in a shot.
Billy Bremner: "He was wasting his time - Terry Cooper made it
look easy, as he cleared the ball with a seemingly nonchalant
overhead kick, though I breathed a bit more freely when I saw
that Terry's move had come off, I can tell you. It was Terry to
the rescue again a few minutes later, when Albert sent in a hard,
low shot. Our left-back deflected it out of danger, and the pressure
on us was eased again for a brief while."
During that opening 20 minutes, the Leeds defenders had been
all calm confidence, coolly averting attacks and taking pains
to retain what little possession they had. The green-shirted Hungarians
were swarming all round them, penning them back into their area,
but calm Yorkshire heads were everywhere. There were no panicky
clearances, inviting Ferencvaros back onto the offence, and United
grew in assurance. They broke out in the 35th minutes to earn
a free kick wide on the right flank, giving Jack Charlton the
opportunity to make one of his customary advances. The Hungarians
had seen enough of the defender's aerial dominance in the first
leg to know the threat he offered at dead ball situations. It
was his challenge that led to the goal at Elland Road.
With the attention focused on Charlton, Jones was given the space
to meet O'Grady's free kick and his high looping header dropped
onto the bar before going behind. It was a clear demonstration
that Ferencvaros dare not take Leeds lightly, especially as O'Grady
was probing constructively down both wings. Two more shots followed
in quick succession, though keeper Geczi parried them both.
These were rare moments of relief as United were forced to defend
in depth, with the majority of the game played in their defensive
third, and Albert and Varga conspicuous in attack. Nevertheless,
the hard working Leeds defenders seemed to have found the measure
of the Ferencvaros forwards, reading their every intention almost
before they made their move. The front line were among the world's
best, but had encountered nothing like this resolute defence.
Even with Novak and Szoke controlling the right flank and Varga
and Rakosi the other,
giving defender Juhasz the opportunity to join in, Ferencvaros
could find no way through or round a white wall.
Bremner: "As soon as the whistle had gone to signal the start
of the second half, we were thrown back once more, as right winger
Szoke hared down the line and whipped in an angled shot to which
Gary Sprake leaped for a brilliant save. Then we were caught out
when one of the Ferencvaros forwards slipped into our penalty
area, kept on running, but made a smart back pass for a team mate
to collect. For a few seconds we really were all at sea, but the
danger was soon over - the shot went harmlessly wide."
Rakosi sent in a first time shot from a high Varga centre, but
again the shot was wide. Sprake had to save with his feet from
Szoke, making one of his final contributions. The Ferencvaros
attacks were like a wave and on the hour they sought to give themselves
fresh impetus, bringing on Karaba to replace him. Eight minutes
later, Don Revie made a tactical switch, replacing the tiring
Hibbitt with Mick Bates as the Hungarians continued to press.
back to top
There had been signs that Leeds had weathered the best that the
Hungarians could throw at them, but now Ferencvaros found a second
wind and intensified their efforts to snatch a precious equaliser,
forcing a succession of corners and hemming United into their
Most of the chances that had fallen to Ferencvaros had gone to
Rakosi, but he was found wanting when they arose. As the game
entered its final ten minutes, the Ferencvaros attacks grew more
focused and intense with thrusts coming from everywhere.
In the 86th minute, the Nep rose as one as Varga cut in from
the left to beat Sprake, but United were reprieved when West German
referee Schulenberg ruled the goal offside. Then Bremner had to
clear from Albert, Varga's overhead strike just beat the post
and Sprake was forced to dive at Albert's feet to deny him a shot.
Geoffrey Green in the Times: "In the second half Leeds were camped
in their own half as the Hungarians threw all their efforts into
trying to make the breakthrough. But Leeds held their lines superbly
and twice were saved by dazzling saves by Sprake under his crossbar.
First he kept out a close range effort from Szoke with his left
foot, and then he dived with poetic grace to turn away a free
kick from the edge of the penalty area to his top corner from
Novak. How the goalkeeper ever saw the ball at that moment was
miraculous, since there was a solid wall of ten white shirts in
front of him."
Phil Brown in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "It was the save of
the match … His shot was of such ferocious strength that it required
of Sprake the riskiest save of all - a diving one-handed punch.
If Sprake had tried to push that ball out with an open hand he
would probably have had that hand in splints today. Instead,
his lithe leap and powerful punch out sent the ball whirling away
high round the post in what will be one of the saves of a lifetime,
however long he plays."
Gary Sprake: "Our defence that night was amazing and it was probably
my greatest performance for Leeds. Near the end of the game I
made what I regard as my best ever save. With minutes to go the
Hungarians were awarded a free kick outside the box in a very
central position, to be taken by their dead ball ace Novak. I
lined up the wall to my right hand side and stood just behind
it to cover my left hand post. He hit the ball as hard as he could
and you could feel the crowd trying to suck the ball into the
net behind me. After Novak hit the ball I had only a split second
to see it as it dipped over the wall and I managed to dive full
length to my left and slightly behind me. It was important that
I got a full hand to it as it was hit so hard it rebounded off
me and ended up halfway up the stand.
back to top
"I was still feeling the pain in my wrist when minutes later
the referee blew for full time and we had won our first European
trophy. Although I felt that I had more than helped us to win
the cup it was a fantastic defensive effort from every player
and Terry Cooper had a brilliant game. He was everywhere and even
cleared one off the line. I think this game was the only really
consistently good report I got off the national press who were
especially complimentary of the Novak save. Looking back, these
two games still give me great memories but if push comes to shove
I do think that the away performance in Budapest was my best ever
performance. It is certainly one that gives me immense pride."
The save from Novak was the finest moment of Gary Sprake's footballing
career and it signified almost symbolically that Ferencvaros'
challenge was exhausted. They had thrown everything they could
at United's stonewall defence for ninety enthralling minutes and
had been defied resolutely. This Hungarian team was described
by Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein as the finest in
Europe, and the forward line certainly was one of the most dangerous
in world football.
They had given the United defence its sternest test yet, coming
at them from all points, with inside-right Varga, wriggling like
an eel in his slippery attempts to work his way through
the eye of a needle. In reality, he never stood a chance against
a team that was peerless in the defensive arts.
The final whistle went and the neon lit scoreboard said it all
- Ferencvaros 0 Leeds United 0 - the Inter Cities Fairs Cup was
Billy Bremner went up at the end of ninety minutes' furious play
to receive the trophy from Sir Stanley Rous, president of FIFA,
and the United players gleefully embarked on a lap of honour to
mark a historic victory, which was greeted with triumph in the
British press, seemingly ready to welcome Leeds United at last
as 'their' team.
R H Williams in the Daily Telegraph: "If 0-0 suggests a boring
was of attrition it could not be more misleading … Leeds were
engaged in the battle of their lives against a fast, fluent and
clever Hungarian side who would probably have humbled any other
defence in the world."
Alan Thompson in the Daily Express; "Fingernails may need a manicure,
all adrenaline has been drained and the heart has taken a hammering,
but Leeds, those masters of deep and disciplined defence, held
out against an onslaught of green-shirted Hungarians that lasted
for almost the entirety of this game. How they did it is something
of a miracle."
Frank Clough (The Sun): "Leeds United can now proudly display
the Fairs Cup next time the critics label them the biggest also
rans in British football."
back to top
Colin McIntyre (Yorkshire Post): "By any standards the achievements
of Leeds United have been outstanding, record breaking in fact,
for an English club … Leeds last night denied Ferencvaros with
an unyielding defence … Leeds gave a superb but not exciting exhibition
of defensive football. Leeds, the most consistent team in English
League soccer for the past four years, showed their mastery of
defensive tactics to achieve the greatest honour in their history."
Desmond Hackett (Express): "When tired limbs screamed rebellion
over extra exertion, there was not one Leeds player who failed
to drive himself in that further yard of effort."
Don Revie was the proudest man in the Nep Stadium, as he offered
his thoughts: "After the disappointments over the past four years,
when we got into those final few minutes, my heart nearly stopped
beating. Every minute as the final whistle drew near seemed like
an hour. It was a real team effort here tonight. Ferencvaros pressed
very hard, particularly in the second half when they attacked
all the time. The way the boys kept their heads and their cool
play was really tremendous.
"We decided to keep it tight and play the game as it came. In
the first half we had two chances to score in three minutes when
a Mick Jones header struck the bar and a shot from Mike O'Grady
hit the keeper.
"Everyone is in high spirits here, and we are proud to be the
first British club to bring home the Fairs Cup."
He didn't say so, but Revie knew that the victory would come
as a real slap in the face for United's many critics, those who
had written so spitefully following the dull-as-dishwater League
Cup final victory over Arsenal and had not even tried to hide
their pleasure when Everton beat Leeds in the FA Cup semi final.
This was poetic justice, indeed, for Revie, but he knew well
enough not to gloat. He had won two of the four trophies that
United had chased, but it was still the League championship he
craved, the true endorsement of Leeds United as a magnificent
back to top