Once in a while, a match comes along that achieves
legendary status, either for an emphatic win, or as an example
of a famous team at the peak of its powers or for some other reason
representing a key occasion.
One such game took place at the beginning of March
1972, when Don Revie's Leeds
United side gave a performance that would be cited forever as
their coup de grace. It provided the cornerstone of possibly the
most memorable edition of BBC's long running Match of the Day
The fixture was also categorically the lowest point
in the career of Southampton's Scottish goalkeeper, Eric Martin;
the television coverage made it even more disastrous for him than
the 8-0 defeat the Saints suffered the previous November at Everton's
When the Beeb decided to cover Southampton's visit
to Elland Road on 4 March, they were taking no significant risk.
Two weeks earlier, the cameras had been present at the same ground
when Leeds annihilated Manchester United
5-1. The Yorkshiremen's form that day had been phenomenal,
easily enough to sweep the Reds aside; the Whites' style and finesse
delighted the watching television audience.
Ted Bates' Saints team were struggling badly at
the time of their visit to the West Riding and were generally
considered to be little more than cannon fodder for Revie's Leeds,
who had been beaten only once since losing 2-1 to the same Southampton
side at the Dell on 13 November. The Saints had managed a mere
seven points from their twelve games since then. In the same period,
United had dropped six points, scoring 20 goals and conceding
That afternoon the Yorkshiremen were even better
than those statistics suggested.
With Terry Cooper unavailable because of an injury
to his knee, Don Revie gave Paul Reaney his first start in three
weeks. In fact, it was only the sixth time Reaney had been in
Leeds' starting eleven in seventeen games. Otherwise, United were
at full strength, with every member of the team a full international.
Southampton, desperate for points to ease their
relegation worries, welcomed back midfield man Brian O'Neil after
fourteen weeks' absence through suspension and injury; also recalled
was £60,000 winger Tom Jenkins, who had missed the previous three
games. They had their favoured strike pairing of Ron Davies and
Mike Channon on show, together with veteran winger Terry Paine,
a member of England's 1966 World Cup squad.
It was Channon who got in the first shot of the
game, a speculative effort from 20 yards that was easily fielded
by Gary Sprake, and from that moment on Leeds dominated the proceedings.
Allan Clarke and Paul Madeley combined to put Eddie
Gray free on the left flank and the Scottish winger showed Southampton
full-back Bob McCarthy a clean pair of heels. Having found space,
Gray floated the ball across the area, but Mick Jones' header
soared over the bar. Shortly afterwards, centre-back Jim Steele
was called on to head away a dangerous centre
from Peter Lorimer and then Jones was close with another good
header after smart build up play by Billy Bremner.
Former Dundee defender Steele had been the subject
of interest from Don Revie before Christmas with strong rumours
of a forthcoming bid, but nothing ever came of the speculation.
Steele had been thought of as a potential successor to the veteran
It was the same Charlton, playing his 599th League
game for Leeds, who ended a promising run by Channon; he then
delighted the Elland Road fans by embarking on a forward run before
being felled by a tough challenge from O'Neil, who received a
lecture from referee Dennis Corbett for the foul.
back to top
With 17 minutes gone, Leeds came close to an opening
goal. Bremner took a free kick and fed midfield partner Johnny
Giles; the Irishman hammered a shot narrowly wide from the edge
of the box with Saints goalkeeper Martin hopelessly beaten.
The two diminutive schemers took firm control of
the middle of the park, keeping Southampton penned in their own
half. Their statement of intent was underlined by Sprake having
only one shot to save in the first half hour, and a harmless one
at that. The only element missing from United's performance was
goals and they were not much longer in arriving.
With eight minutes of the first period remaining,
United achieved the breakthrough their dominance merited. Skipper
Bremner had the ball in the centre circle and, with Eddie Gray
haring past him at pace down the centre, Bremner laid it perfectly
into his path. Gray prodded it forward to Mick Jones, stood on
the edge of the area with his back to goal. Jones laid the return
pass back to Gray, who hurdled a despairing tackle before finding
Allan Clarke on the left hand corner of the area with a slide
rule pass. The England striker flew into the space created by
the killer ball, took it on one step into an acute angle and slammed
his shot left-footed into the opposite corner.
A slickly fashioned and brilliantly finished move
gave Leeds a merited lead and their advantage was doubled within
Coming forward again in yards of space down the
middle, Gray fed Lorimer as the Scot was breaking through the
right channel. He was already clear inside defender Roger Fry
and took the ball in his stride to hammer a low shot past goalkeeper
Martin and into the far corner.
Don Revie's half time team talk could easily have
been limited to "Steady as you go, and the goals will come," so
absolute was United's dominance. Southampton were starting to
look dispirited and desperate for the final whistle.
There was no respite for them after the resumption
with Leeds instantly onto the offensive. Both Gray and Bremner
tested Martin in the first few minutes, and then the keeper just
beat Jones to Madeley's through ball.
Gray, Lorimer and Clarke were constant thorns in
Southampton flesh, refusing to give them a moment's peace. Lorimer
headed wide from a Giles cross and then Gray cleared the bar from
inside the six-yard box with the goalkeeper helpless.
It could hardly be termed the calm before the storm,
but certainly a tempest blew Southampton away in the eighteen
minutes following the hour mark.
In the 60th minute, Giles had possession inside
the centre circle and passed short to Bremner to his right. The
Scot held it up long enough for Giles to make his break beyond
him into space and then fed him with pinpoint accuracy. The Irishman
took it on a couple of strides and then coolly slipped the ball
through the Southampton defence for Clarke's cleverly timed run.
The striker picked the ball up, cut across a defender, shifted
the ball out from under his feet and passed it home left-footed
Reaney's 25-yard shot brought Martin to his knees
before Leeds increased their lead to four goals after 64 minutes.
United were awarded a free kick out wide on the
right, but instead of lofting it across the box, Bremner slipped
it short to Lorimer, who powered in a shot from the corner of
the penalty area. The ball was blocked by a Saints defender deep
inside the goal area and then cleared out to the left by O'Neil.
As Jenkins sought to come away with it, Bremner was too quick
and determined for him, and from behind lunged across the winger
to win the ball for Giles. The playmaker was fouled by Stokes
as he looked to make ground. Advantage was given and the ball
ran on for Lorimer to pick up, dance past his marker and fire
home from 20 yards. It flew into the net despite McCarthy's efforts
to clear it.
Four minutes later it was the Scot again with a
carbon copy strike. Fry tried to clear the ball, but Lorimer intercepted
and burst through the defence to complete his hat trick.
The sixth goal, after 73 minutes, was the most remarkable
score of the afternoon. United's centre-backs had grown bored
with confinement in their own half and both men moved forward.
Norman Hunter danced out wide to the left byline and, like a natural
winger, stood an inviting lobbed cross up to the back post. Hunter's
partner, Jack Charlton,
had drifted up into the area and rose above everyone to nod the
ball home. The goal got a special cheer from the Elland Road faithful
as Big Jack loped back into
his defensive position sporting a grin as wide as the Yorkshire
back to top
12 minutes from time and it was 7-0. Gray hurdled
a tackle on the left and sent over a cross, Lorimer nodded it
back into the goal area and Jones pounced to sweep the ball over
In truth, the goals were only a prelude to further
humiliation for Southampton. United, seemingly bored with the
multitude of scores, set about playing keep ball with an astonishing
succession of flicks, twists and tricks: a back heel from Bremner
here, a crossfield lob from Giles there, deft touches and turns
everywhere, as the outclassed visitors were picked apart and made
to look like Sunday League amateurs.
It was later claimed that the antics were designed
not to humiliate Southampton but simply to keep United's players
clear of injury. It did not look that way at the time, however,
as Leeds took on the role of adroit matadors, teasing and tormenting
a wounded bull; delighted home supporters joined in with massed
Ole's as each perfect pass unerringly found its intended target.
The players seemed to be intent on outdoing each other with every
Allan Clarke: "We thrashed Southampton! Any boy
who plays or watches football should see a video of that match,
because that is how football should be played. From a manager's
point of view, you always wanted your team to perform well, but
you knew you would never get perfection. I believe our performance
that afternoon was as near perfection from eleven players as you
could get. Everything that is good about football you saw that
day. There were great goals, tremendous saves, wonderful pieces
of individual skill; you name it, it was in that ninety minutes
"What summed up our performance was our sixth goal
by Jack, because it was made by brilliant left wing play from
Norman Hunter, whose cross Jack headed in at the far post. Our
two centre halves combining to score, that tells anyone how much
on top we were.
"When we were keeping possession in the last five
minutes we were 7 0 up at the time - commentators said we were
taking the mick ... we weren't. Our instructions were to keep
out of trouble because we had an important game coming
up, and it would have been ridiculous to get a late injury. Of
course we played well that day, ask the Leeds players whether
the game flew; they'll tell you it did. Ask a Southampton player
and they'll tell you it was like an eternity and they wanted the
game to end. What a performance though."
Even when a pass seemed to have gone astray, a United
man moved through the gears to recover the ball and feed it onto
a colleague. Rarely has there been such a one-sided, arrogant
display of possession football. This was ruthless, pitiless artistry
as the rapier was plunged in and in again as hapless Southampton
players tried in vain to get even the slightest touch over that
final, astonishing five minutes of football.
Barry Davies' commentary for Match of the Day is
classic stuff: "To say that Leeds are playing with Southampton
is the understatement of the season. Poor old Southampton just
don't know what day it is. Every man jack of this Leeds side is
now turning it on - oh, look at that! (as Giles flicks the ball
onto Clarke's chest, his left foot arced behind his right ankle).
It's almost cruel. The Elland Road crowd are lapping this up.
For the second home match running, Leeds United are turning on
a brilliant show and the other team are just not on the park.
One has to feel sympathy for Southampton, but the gap between
their position and Leeds is an almighty chasm."
"We were flying at the time, and in our pomp," said
Peter Lorimer in later years. "They were charging around trying
to get a kick. When we'd put about twelve passes together the
crowd started chanting 'Ole', so the lads thought they'd give
them a bit of entertainment. They'd seen us putting the ball into
the net, so we thought we'd keep it for a change. Don Revie loved
that. He felt it was a great way of answering the public who in
the past had accused us of being negative."
Of the slaying of the Saints, Michael Worth of the
Sunday Express wrote "Leeds United unveiled a treasure trove of
memorable football riches... if it all seemed too easy, it was
only because superb Leeds made it look that way... Southampton
belonged to another league. Leeds to another world."
The Yorkshire Post's Richard Ulyatt had watched
United for twenty-five years, but he was sufficiently impressed
to conclude, "Never in their 50 years' history have Leeds United
won a Football League match more easily than this one on Saturday...
Sprake, predictably the coldest man on the field, had time had
he wished to compose a poem for the Eisteddfod and provide an
Southampton's experienced Scottish international
Jimmy Gabriel said after the game, "Leeds have just about reached
perfection… They are the nearest thing to footballing utopia.
They used to be hard, niggling and unpopular, but they've come
through all the phases and developed into a truly wonderful side.
They're telepathic. You don't hear their players shout, they seem
to know just where their mates are… Leeds have now reached the
stage where they could destroy any side."
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