When Belgian club Lierse SK were drawn against Leeds
United in the inaugural staging of the UEFA Cup in 1971 it looked
an utter mismatch: United were the supreme exponents of European
tournament football and had won the predecessor Fairs Cup trophy
twice since 1968; the Belgians were naive minnows, having only
ever played three European ties in their 65-year history. They
had been beaten 5-0 by Barcelona in the European Cup in 1960;
after Lierse beat Apoel of Cyprus in the Cup Winners Cup in 1969
they went out in the next round 8-0 on aggregate to Manchester
Surely, the contest would be a mere formality for
Don Revie's battle-hardened
The odds lengthened considerably as a result of
the first leg in Belgium on 15 September. Fielding a side that
included four reserves in Mick Bates, Terry Yorath, John Faulkner
and Chris Galvin, United won 2-0 with goals from Galvin and Peter
Terry Brindle in the Yorkshire Post: "Leeds have
played better in Europe but equally certainly they can be as proud
of this win as of any. Injuries to Charlton, Cooper, Madeley,
Jones and then Clarke put the victory in amazing perspective.
"The match was virtually over after 56 minutes by
which time Leeds had withstood considerable pressure and exerted
their authority with two goals.
"Both were masterpieces of precision. The first
came after 26 minutes of sparring when Bremner found Lorimer on
the right and he whipped over a hard, low cross. Galvin, balanced
on one leg, clipped the ball home with the other.
"Thirty minutes later, Lorimer challenged for a
cross from Belfitt, waited for the ball to drop and flung himself
to volley it waist high past the luckless Lierse defence. There
can be no better way of underlining the basic gulf in inventive
ability which separated the sides.
"Leeds' time tested formula for European competition
away from home is containment for 20 minutes, studied adventure
after that. The formula gave way to experiment only partly successful."
The Belgians had come a long way since their drubbing
by Manchester City two years earlier. In fact, despite the first
leg score, they had given United a number of problems. Brindle:
"Lierse's reaction counselled caution. They broke quickly from
defence into attack, keen in the tackle and eager - sometimes
over eager - to punish Leeds' every mistake.
"Ressel, a fast, powerful winger, whipped in a shot
which Sprake was relieved to save and then sped clear to force
Sprake to a fine fingertip save even if the referee did not think
so. He awarded a goal kick to Leeds, much to the chagrin of the
noisy locals. I doubt if 18,000 voices could make any more noise
"Lierse could not be trifled with even if their
ground, bumpy and difficult, had a modest air around
the standard of English Third Division and their quaint local
band played with more gusto than discipline. The same could not
be said of the team. Effective in defence and determined on attack,
where Janssens and Denul provided a weighty and adroit foil for
Ressel's speed, Lierse often had Leeds at full stretch. Leeds
were sometimes woefully thin on the ground, especially when Janssens
chipped over a cross and Ressel, in space, brought a clawing save
out of Sprake.
"Even after Leeds' first goal - reward for dangerous
probing but no real indication of sweeping superiority - Lierse
stuck manfully at their task and forged several dangerous openings
before half time. Ressel (again) shot wide when clear and held
his head in anguish; Janssens (again) almost surprised Sprake
and Hunter and turned a leisurely clearance into a punched and
"Obviously, Leeds were happy to let Lierse expend
their energy on attack but the dividing line between safety and
peril is a narrow one and Leeds sometimes walked the tightrope.
If Leeds held an obvious advantage it was in their composure under
pressure, their eye for the right path and their ability to switch
defence and attack with admirable speed.
"Their performance - if not as polished and precise
as it might have been - was nevertheless hallmarked with the stamp
of experience and deep fundamental quality. It was this awesome
quality which finally wore Lierse down. Leeds' second goal put
the result quite beyond doubt because Leeds would no more surrender
a two-goal lead in Europe than I would attempt a continental telephone
call unless I had ten minutes to idle away."
Lierse manager Frank De Munck had a simple ambition
for the second leg at Elland Road: to avoid disgrace. He told
the Yorkshire Post, "Leeds are such a talented side, even with
so many players injured that I do not think we can expect to beat
them. As a coach, it is my job to be realistic as well as optimistic.
We will do our very best, but I think we will have to be satisfied
if we can avoid a very heavy defeat. The match will be a very
valuable one for our players; it will be a great experience. We
will try to win, of course, but we must be honest and say that
we will be happy if we do not lose by more than, say, 2-1."
The ever-cautious Don Revie took a gamble with his
selection, calling up a number of his reserves: Scottish 17-year-old
goalkeeper John Shaw was given his first team debut, while 18-year-old
forward Jimmy Mann had his first start in the No 8 shirt. Terry
Yorath deputised for Billy Bremner, John Faulkner for Jack
Charlton and Paul Madeley played in Norman Hunter's stead.
Rod Belfitt, Mick Bates and
Chris Galvin were also in a side that had an unusual look to it,
with Reaney, Cooper and Lorimer the only first teamers playing
in their accustomed position.
Revie was confident that even a shadow side would
have enough about it to preserve United's first leg advantage.
However, he opted for some insurance by naming Gary Sprake and
Hunter among the substitutes.
Before the first leg, Revie had said: "Lierse are
a fit and well organised side with two capable front runners and
they have obviously improved in the past couple of seasons. It
will be difficult, especially in view of our injury problems.
But the side usually rises to the occasion." His caveats about
the Belgians' attack were proven horribly accurate in the Elland
United began the second leg looking calm and assured
and clearly expected to win the game easily. Michael Carey in
the Guardian: "Shaw's handling was understandably shaky early
on - it was his first appearance - yet for 20 minutes
or so Leeds seemed to be in no apparent trouble. Lierse looked
oddly unambitious in attack, often having only two men up front
and it seemed only a matter of time before Leeds struck a telling
blow, although it was obvious they could have done with Giles'
store of ideas."
Things took a dramatic turn in the thirty-second
minute. Frans Vermeyen's shot was blocked but centre-forward Frans
Janssens came racing in to smash a shot through the United defence
and into the net via a deflection off Paul Reaney.
If that was a shock to the system, within six minutes
there was a seismic wave of anxiety sweeping across the West Riding.
Four minutes after the first goal, Lierse were level
on aggregate. Paul Madeley lost possession in midfield, and United
stopped in anticipation of being awarded a free kick for obstruction.
They were waiting for a whistle that never came and the Belgians
pressed on, Janssens laying the ball on a plate for Peter Ressel
Lierse were back on the offensive straight from
the restart, regaining possession and striking at the heart of
United's defence. The nervy Shaw made a cardinal error to grant
the Belgians the softest of goals. Carey: "Shaw allowed Ressel's
centre to go through his hands or legs, or both, and Janssens
scored the third.
"Leeds had all their substitutes warming up at half
time and it was no surprise that Sprake replaced Shaw and that
Hunter took over from Mann and began a one-man marauding act against
the Belgians. Certainly, some form of piracy was needed to save
the game and Hunter was the one man who might have provided it.
"In spite of his rampaging in all parts of the field,
however, Leeds looked to be an anxious
side and suffered accordingly. Lorimer hit the crossbar and Cooper
and Madeley both went close but not all the Belgians' defending
was desperate, even though Denul and Davidovic were both booked
"Engelen, the goalkeeper, like many continentals,
chose to punch rather than to catch everything, but he punched
cleanly, and Lierse not only played the ball intelligently out
of defence but at times they also had men in attack who could
hold it and create space and therefore trouble."
With ten minutes of the game remaining United were
verging on desperation. They needed two goals; if they scored
once, they would still be behind on the away goals rule. It was
unclear from where any goal was going to come, never mind two.
Astonishingly, it was the visitors who grabbed the next goal,
their fourth, to complete an amazing rout.
With Leeds over committed in attack, they were caught
on the break by a sucker punch. Just after Belfitt had seen a
header scrambled clear and Yorath's shot had been saved, Ressel
showed clinical precision, snatching his second goal to put United
out of their misery.
Lierse coach De Munck crowed afterwards, "It was
sensational ... Miracles do happen."
Don Revie: "We did not underestimate them and we
were not complacent. They could have scored two goals early on
in Belgium, so we were well aware of their capabilities. Naturally
I am disappointed for our supporters and now we have to pick ourselves
up off the floor.
"We have no excuses, Shaw is very upset but he will
learn from this experience and show what we all know. That he
is a very good goalkeeper."
Never before had Leeds suffered anything like this
in European football. It was a grim night for everyone connected
with the Elland Road club and would last long in the memory.
Billy Bremner devoted his Saturday column in the
Yorkshire Evening Post to the debacle.
"My wife Vicky is not exactly football mad but I
had a tough job convincing her that the scoreline was correct
and that we had lost. From what I gather there were a few others
who simply refused to believe it when they heard. And even now
I must admit I cannot really grasp the fact that we were hit for
four goals at Elland Road and that we are out of Europe.
"I don't go along with those who say we have too
much on our plate and that we may well be better off not having
to fulfil a large number of extra matches. And it goes without
saying that I disagree with anyone who says we wanted to lose
"As I said last season, which was my worst as far
as injury was concerned, I hate watching from the sidelines. The
injury I received against Derby on Monday made me a non starter
for the game against Lierse - the wound on the shin of my left
leg cutting to the bone and requiring five stitches - and you
can imagine how I felt watching the side go down to its biggest
defeat. Sitting there and not being able to do a thing about it
"It was a blow to all of us at Elland Road and I
know it disappointed those of our fans who were there to see it,
but I felt sorry for the players who had done such a fine job
over in Belgium in the first leg when we earned that two-goal
"Lierse were a good side. Our assistant manager
Maurice Lindley warned us of their forward power after one of
his spying missions, and even though we came away from Lierse
with those two goals we had our sticky moments.
"Defeat is always difficult to accept. You should
have seen our dressing room at the end of Saturday's League match
against Huddersfield Town. It was like a morgue. But that is not
a bad thing. If defeat leaves you with that empty feeling in your
stomach you try all the harder next time."
Those who were able to look on the bright side could
hope that the shock would spur United on to greater things in
their battle for domestic honours, but that seemed a hollow consolation
at the time. As the dust settled on the events of a desperate
night, United could only pray that they would never experience
anything similar ever again.
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