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Seven painfully short days after winning
the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in September 1968 with a 0-0 draw in
the Nep Stadium, Leeds United were off on their defence of
the trophy. The two-legged final against Ferencvaros had been
held over to the start of the 1968/69 season because of fixture
congestion the previous campaign and a week after their triumph
in Budapest, Leeds were back in action, pitted against Belgium's
Standard coach, Roger Petit, spoke almost humbly before the teams
met. "I suppose this game has come too early for us. It would
be much better to have met Leeds in the semi final or the quarter
final, but seeing the cup holders will be a treat for our supporters."
Though the standard of Belgian football was much lower than in
England, and United's dominance of the Fairs Cup since 1965 had
been a wonder to behold, Petit's words smacked of a psychological
attempt to lull United into complacency.
Standard had adapted well to the loss of Roger Claessen, who
had been Belgium's top scorer in 1968 and left in the close season
to join Alemania Aachen in West Germany. Even without Claessen,
Liege were on their way to recapturing the Belgian title at the
They were undoubtedly a strong outfit, boasting a wonderful attack.
22-year-old striker Erwin Kostedde (who became the first black
West German international in 1974) was Claessen's replacement,
joining the club from Duisburg. He was Belgium's top scorer with
26 goals in 1971. Antal Nagy played in the World Cup finals for
Hungary in 1966 and went on to be top scorer in Belgium that season;
Nagy played in the first leg, but was replaced for the Elland
Road game by the Yugoslav international Milan Galic, who came
to fame with Partizan Belgrade and won a gold medal at the Olympic
Games in 1960.
In midfield they had the Belgian internationals Leon Semmeling
(the skipper) and Wilfried Van Moer (92 caps between them), along
with Louis Pilot, generally rated Luxembourg's best ever player,
winning 49 caps between 1959 and 1971. Van Moer was the pick of
the bunch. He won the Belgian Golden Shoe three times and was
a mainstay of the Belgium team from 1966 to 1982. He had been
signed by Standard at the start of the season after quitting relegated
The rearguard, too, was redoubtable: goalkeeper Jean Nicolay
won 39 Belgian caps, while Leon Jeck, Nico Dewalque and Jean Thissen
were all regulars in the national side.
Don Revie had promised to
attack in the first leg in Belgium, but United had to be content
with a goalless draw in the Sclessin Stadium. Leeds were forced
to rely on a classic stone walling defensive display as Standard
continually pushed them back. A sterling performance by Gary Sprake
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Phil Brown in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Sprake had a positively
inspired 20 minutes in the first half and was perfectly competent
in the other 70 minutes. His rainbow 20 minutes got him round
after round of applause although he was frustrating the strong
and clever home forwards after they had interpassed or dribbled
their way into United's box. They finished off with cracking shots
too, but Sprake was just unbeatable. He had
to face a barrage of shots from close range, but his responses
were electrifying. High and low he soared or dived in panther-like
style, and three times he kept the ball out of the angle only
by acrobatics. But his best save, for it involved leaving the
play and anticipating together with other virtues, was a racing
run out and dive on to Nagy's shooting foot as he cracked in a
perfect centre from Semmeling. Once Reaney's head saved for Sprake,
once the home centre-forward Kostedde blasted the bar with a cannonball
drive, but Sprake deserved the help and the luck he got in those
"The game would have been a better spectacle - the capacity 35,000
crowd was quiet for long periods - if United had opened up or
rather if they could have risked opening up. Open up they must
and will at Leeds, but their forwards, lion-hearted Jones apart,
carried little thrust after the first 10 minutes, during which
they briskly won three corners. The big home defence lay too heavily
- sometime literally - on them after that, although Jones, shooting
out of a tackle, had a 15-yard drive deflected on to the bar."
Don Revie said after the game: "I thought Standard played some
good football until 15 minutes before half time. In the second
half our defence was magnificent. I am very pleased with the result
and I think we have got a good chance at Leeds. I feel confident."
Roger Petit: "I thought it was a hard game, perhaps too hard.
We had hoped to go to Leeds with one or two goals. Naturally this
is a very good result for Leeds."
United had started the season well and were confident that they
would have enough in the Elland Road locker to clinch the second
leg and the tie. They did have the worry of going into the match
on the back of two defeats, against Second Division Crystal Palace
in the League Cup and then by 5-1 away
to Burnley, but argued that lightning could not possibly strike
The match kicked off late after a controversial prelude. United
had already been awaiting the entrance of Standard Liege for five
minutes and were shocked when they then trotted out in pristine
white, sparking fifteen minutes of heated argument.
Standard's normal strip was red shirts and white shorts, which
they had worn in Belgium. For some strange reason they chose to
come to Leeds with only an all white kit, even though they knew
there would be a colour clash. Billy Bremner pointed out the problem
to referee Gunnar Michaelson, who asked Standard to change strip.
With Don Revie and Roger Petit arguing bitterly in the tunnel
about who should change, matters became farcical.
The Belgian party argued that they only had the white strip with
them and that the rules made it clear that the onus was on the
home team to change. United accepted the point, but asserted that
had caused the problem by their strange choice of kit. United's
change strip of all blue was offered to the Belgians, but they
claimed angrily that it did not fit and blatantly ignored the
officials' decree that they should change.
In an irritable acceptance that something would be needed to
break the deadlock, Leeds eventually accepted that someone would
need to compromise and they agreed to play in blue.
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Finally released from the trivia of the argument, United showed
their relief by getting instantly into gear and forcing Standard
back onto defence. The home crowd hooted them with derision, both
for their pre-match pettiness and for some rough play.
Eric Stanger in the Yorkshire Post: "They were loudly booed,
not only before a ball was kicked, but for a succession of fouls
in their efforts to stem United's all out bid for an early goal.
The nearest Leeds came to one was when Cooper burst through the
middle, beat off four tackles only for Nicolay to bring off a
fine save. That apart, Liege, through the sterling covering of
their back four - Blaise, Thissen, Dewalque and Jeck - kept them
either at long range or effectively crowded them out when Charlton
and Jones took to the air from corners and free kicks."
Leeds were without Johnny Giles, who had failed to recover from
a knock on the thigh at Burnley, and they missed his subtlety
and eye for the opportunity. Standard were in fine form, "balanced,
well organised in defence and quick to counter attack" (Stanger).
They appeared to have the measure of United, though Mike
O'Grady looked like he might force a breakthrough with his
tireless probing and neat ball control. He came in for some heavy
attention from left-back Thissen, who went into the referee's
book after 27 minutes.
O'Grady saw his snap shot well held by goalkeeper Nicolay, who
then saved from Mick Jones' smart header.
United were tending to rush their work in an eagerness to attack
and displayed none of their customary coolness. They were a side
better equipped to sit on a lead than chase a game. The gung ho
approach was always likely to leave openings at the back and Leeds
were found badly wanting at the end of the half.
A minute before the interval the worst happened. Standard had
shown impressive speed on the break on several occasions, with
Erwin Kostedde a constant threat. Jack
Charlton, displaying a lack of concentration, was guilty of
a loose pass which was picked up by Van Moer, then fed on to Galic.
With the United rearguard out of position, a fine though ball
exploited the gap, sending Kostedde clear down the middle. He
hurdled two strong tackles
to get in a shot, which Gary Sprake blocked. Kostedde reacted
more quickly than the chasing Cooper and Reaney to fire home at
the second time of asking.
Cooper had been nursing an ankle injured at Burnley and did not
come out for the second half. He was replaced by Mick Bates, with
Paul Madeley moving to left-back. The switch did nothing to calm
their defensive anxiety and Leeds were suddenly facing an uphill
Six minutes had gone in the second half when the visitors launched
another swift break. The Leeds defence was guilty of more slack
marking and slow challenges, when a through ball down the left
channel put Galic in the clear. He added the second goal with
clinical efficiency, leaving Sprake clutching at air.
It was a devastating blow. With the Burnley debacle fresh in
their minds, United could have been excused for buckling at that
stage and accepting defeat gracefully. With away goals counting
double, they needed three goals to stay in the competition and
it was a mighty big ask.
Whether they would have been able to recover anything other than
pride if they had been given pause to reflect on the size of the
challenge is anybody's guess. As it was, they did not have the
time to start feeling sorry for themselves and were back in the
game almost immediately, Charlton making partial amends for his
earlier lapse by outjumping everyone to head home a Lorimer centre.
Suitably revived, Leeds attempted to build on their precarious
foothold, committing everything to attack. They continued to take
wild risks, leaving themselves open to the distinct possibility
of conceding a third. The speedy Standard raiders exploited the
space - Depireux struck an upright and then Reaney was forced
to head another effort off the line.
The wave of United attacks seemed to be running out of steam
when Eddie Gray was called from the bench after 70 minutes. He
replaced the disappointing Terry
Hibbitt who had been kicked on the thigh. Gray added fresh
legs to the onslaught and ran meaningfully at the Belgian defence.
His skill brought anxiety where there had previously been calm
assurance and promised new hope. Gray was fouled within minutes
of entering the fray to earn a free kick in a position that was
perfect for a man of Peter Lorimer's shooting prowess. He needed
no second bidding and hammered the dead ball low and true from
25 yards. It pierced a disintegrating wall and beat Nicolay's
dive to bring the scores level on the night.
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Their two away goals left Standard with the advantage, but the
brought fresh impetus to the Leeds revival.
They kept plugging away, seemingly convinced that victory was
written in the stars. Nevertheless, as the clock ran down, it
looked like Liege would have enough, either nous or luck, to secure
an impressive victory. United had not managed more than two goals
in a game since they had beaten Ipswich 3-2 in August and were
distinctly lacking a Jimmy Greaves or Geoff Hurst type to apply
the rapier finish to their grinding attacks. A disappointing inability
to turn possession and territorial advantage into goals looked
to be a critical weakness.
But three testing years of competition against the very best
the Fairs Cup had to offer had honed United's play. They had triumphed
against the odds before and had a blinding conviction that things
were never over until the final whistle. They battled on manfully,
pinning Liege back into their final third, seeking to roll them
over on the strength of guts alone.
There were barely two minutes remaining when continuing Leeds
pressure forced a corner on the left. Lorimer took the kick and
floated it to the heart of the Standard area. Jack Charlton, in
his customary position on the goal line, got to the ball and flicked
it down. Billy Bremner had always had the knack of scoring goals
in big games and was not found wanting on this occasion. He had
been thrust forward for most of the second half as support to
Mick Jones and was now in the perfect spot to stab the ball home
for an unlikely winner. Elland Road went wild with excitement
and relief. It was the most dramatic of goals, crowning one of
United's most spectacular European nights.
Phil Brown in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "After a cliff hanger
with a drop as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high, Leeds United
beat Standard Liege 3-2 at Elland Road in United's most exciting
Fairs Cup-tie yet. It seems incredible that they can have a harder
match in their defence of the trophy, and no congratulations can
be too warm.
"Even Don Revie, whose determination and optimism matches his
side's, had inwardly given up hope, he told me. But on the field,
with skipper Bremner doing an heroic job of leadership by example,
the side battled on.
"I have often written these last few years of their bottomless
grit and courage against high odds, but this was their best bulldog
Eric Stanger wrote a cautionary piece for the Yorkshire Post
in the days after the game, reflecting on the brittle nature of
"When Bremner scored his dramatic goal two minutes from the end
of time against Standard Liege at Elland Road, I was just about
to begin my report by saying that in the space of eight days Leeds
United's cosy little world had tumbled about their ears. Such
is the narrow margin between success and failure. To be put out
of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup on top of the Football League Cup,
after holding both trophies, would not only have been a serious
setback to a side still struggling to find normal form but could
well have meant a total loss of revenue from the two competitions
of £50,000 or more.
"While Leeds United's finances have taken a startling turn for
the better since the days when they were in debt to the tune of
£135,000, they are still not a rich club, not in terms of such
as Manchester United,
Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton. And there is a new £200,000
stand to pay for.
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"One of the things which must worry the board is how stout is
their present support. The Leeds crowd was always more fickle
than most and while the average attendance has doubled since they
began their successful run five seasons ago, would it stand up
to a period of failure after being fed on so much success?
"I pose the question rather than attempt to answer it but there
may have been a clue in the comparatively meagre 24,178 attendance
against Standard Liege. There was no price increase quarrel between
supporters and club this time as there was against Ferencvaros.
Mr Keith Archer, the general manager, yesterday was inclined to
blame the threat of fog for keeping the crowd down. But I have
an idea that the defeat at Crystal Palace plus the trouncing at
Burnley kept quite a lot at home.
"Of course, the public are quite entitled to stay away if they
do not think they are getting value for money and being a supporter
today is an expensive business even if admission charges in Great
Britain are still below continental level except in the subsidised
Communist cities. Football is a business and if the public do
not like the goods they will not buy. Old time 'support your local
team' loyalties do not apply as they used to do.
"That is why increasingly football followers demand success.
If they cannot find it in their own town, in these days of quick
easy transport they will go elsewhere.
"It is also the reason why such clubs as luckless Bradford, so
deep in debt, cannot get out of the red because they have not
the money to spend on building a better team, while it makes clubs
like Leeds United prisoners of their own success. They just cannot
afford many failures.
"Not that I think there will be a real
slump at Elland Road. After all they still lead the First Division
and any side off form which can fight as they did against Standard
Liege cannot take a lot of harm. They have too many talented players
not to do well over a full season and premature critics might
remember that the best of teams have bad patches.
"Yet before they achieve the necessary balance of a prospective
championship side Leeds United may be driven to adding to their
financial commitments by signing one if not two forwards of proven
ability. Where to get them and get them at a fair price is less
easy than finding the money as every club manager and director
"At present not even Mr Don Revie would claim that his attack
is flowing with any sort of smoothness. Sheer effort such as was
shown against Standard Liege cannot always succeed and, in my
opinion, too many Leeds goals are either coming from players nominally
defenders or from the set pieces of free kicks and corners."
The drama of the victory went a long way in helping to erase
the painful memories of the defeats at Palace and Burnley. To
have gone out of the Fairs Cup in that same week might have done
United's championship challenge irreparable damage. As it was,
the high octane thriller had replenished their belief in themselves,
setting the team up for the challenges to come over the winter
The startling fightback against Standard was to prove a turning
point in one of United's finest campaigns.
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