the start of the 1973/74
campaign, Leeds United manager
Don Revie challenged his players to go through the League
season unbeaten. By the end of February, what had once seemed
a fanciful pipe dream promised to become reality as the Whites
continued to resist all comers. It now looked a decent evens bet
that Leeds might convert Revie's grand aspiration into glorious
By the time they arrived for their fixture with Stoke City in
the Potteries on 23 February, United had played twenty-nine First
Division games without seeing their colours lowered. If they could
just avoid defeat at the Victoria Ground, a record established
by Burnley during the 1920/21 season would be equalled.
At the time Stoke were sixteen places below Revie's men in the
table, though a mere six points behind third-placed Derby County,
so tight was the running beneath Leeds in the table; City had
themselves gone nine matches unbeaten.
The Leeds rearguard was forced to take the field without both
Paul Reaney and Gordon McQueen, as had been the case a few days
earlier when Second Division Bristol City
put United out of the FA Cup in a fifth round replay at Elland
Road. Terry Yorath and Roy Ellam deputised against Stoke,
while Joe Jordan led the front line with Mick Jones also unavailable
through injury. Otherwise, United's first choice line up was on
duty with Johnny Giles making his third successive start after
returning from injuries sustained the previous October.
Terry Cooper, now also fully restored to fitness, was named substitute.
The England international had missed almost two years of first
team action after sustaining a broken leg at the same venue on
8 April 1972.
For the Potters, Alan Hudson, signed a few weeks earlier from
Chelsea for £240,000, was paired in midfield with the gifted Welshman,
John Mahoney, while former United striker Jimmy
Greenhoff partnered John Ritchie and World Cup winner Geoff
Hurst up front.
A packed 39,598 crowd, which included England manager Sir Alf
Ramsey among its number, looked on as United made the game's first
offensive foray. Paul Madeley sent Yorath away on the right, and
the Welsh international cut inside to get in a shot but his low
drive lacked pace and was easily gathered by Stoke keeper John
Most of the early exchanges were fought out in the middle third
of the field with both sides eager to contest possession and there
were a number of wholehearted challenges.
United were on the attack again when Peter Lorimer opened up
the City defence with a well-placed cross from the right. Billy
Bremner came running in to meet it but was an inch or so underneath
its flight and the ball sailed on harmlessly to safety.
Madeley had a shot blocked before Hurst drove over David Harvey's
bar down the other end after Jimmy Robertson's cross came in from
United gained material reward for their early dominance when
they broke the deadlock after fourteen minutes with a goal which
provoked fierce protest from the home side and their supporters.
City centre-back Denis Smith brought Bremner down just outside
the Stoke penalty area. As the home defence lazily readied themselves
to repel the free kick, the United captain seized the initiative.
He caught Stoke completely on the hop, spotting the ball quickly
and lobbing a shot directly into the unguarded net with goalkeeper
Farmer barely making a move.
Referee John Homewood was
content to award the goal despite the angry remonstrations of
the City players, who vigorously insisted that the kick had been
taken too quickly.
Their rage was doubled four minutes later when United increased
their advantage with a goal from Allan Clarke.
Johnny Giles manufactured the opening, lobbing the ball forward
to Clarke, in space with only the goalkeeper to beat. The striker
cushioned the pass with his thigh and swept the ball home, almost
in the same movement.
It was the final act of the Irish schemer's afternoon, for he
pulled his hamstring in the process and was forced to leave the
field before play restarted. Terry Cooper came off the bench to
take Giles' place in midfield.
United prided themselves on being able to hang onto a lead, and
their advantage was a commanding one, but they were found wanting
on the day as Stoke City launched themselves into a spirited revival.
After 27 minutes the Staffordshire outfit had halved the arrears.
Norman Hunter fouled John Mahoney just outside the United penalty
area on City's right and defender Mike Pejic stepped up to take
the free kick. He hammered in a fierce rising drive which appeared
to take a slight deflection off a Leeds defender as it flew past
the diving Harvey and inside the far post.
Alan Hudson: "I remember thinking how the stadium was buzzing
as I picked up the ball and had a look at the situation. Their
wall was being organised, with Hunter, Bremner, Giles, Lorimer
and Gray, I think it was. Not a bad line up here, I thought to
myself, and my mind flashed back to the wall Chelsea
set up in that 1967 semi-final at Villa Park, when Peter Lorimer
hit one of the hardest free kicks I've ever seen past Peter Bonetti,
only for it to be disallowed. That was in the final minute, and
if it had not been Leeds I could have felt sorry for them.
"As I was weighing this up, our left-back Micky Pejic came storming
up and grabbed my arm. 'Let me give it a go,' was his way of telling
me that he would not take no for an answer. How pleased I was
that he felt that way, for he truly lashed a left footed shot
out of the reach of the Scottish international keeper once again.
This really was now Game On!"
It was exactly what the home side required to get their teeth
into the game and they stormed into a full-blooded assault on
Harvey's area, with the United defence stretched to the limit
to keep them at bay.
Under fierce physical pressure from Smith, the United goalkeeper
did well to gather a high right wing cross from right-back John
When Leeds were able to break, Jordan worked himself a chance
on the left but he fired wide after coming under challenge from
the City rearguard.
But the momentum was almost exclusively with the Potters now
and by the 34th minute the game was back on level terms. Ritchie
headed the ball back from deep inside the United area to Hudson
who gave Harvey no chance with a shot low past his right hand
from around 12 yards. It was the cultured schemer's first goal
The Potters pressed hard for the remainder of the half, assuming
Harvey was forced to tip one close range header from Ritchie over
his bar to keep the sides on level terms at the interval.
When the sides came back on for the second period, Harvey's left
foot and ankle were heavily strapped. He was clearly struggling
for mobility as a confident looking home outfit subjected his
defence to the most telling of cross examinations in the early
minutes of the half. Ritchie headed powerfully against the bar,
though a free kick was awarded with the referee adjudging that
the United keeper had been unfairly blocked off.
Leeds did pose the occasional threat going forward with Cooper,
Clarke and Jordan showing up well. When the latter worked his
way past Smith on the left, he gave Cooper the opportunity for
a shot, though it never looked likely to trouble goalkeeper Farmer.
City continued to be the more aggressive and United's defensive
fortitude was sorely tested. They struggled to plant a foot in
the opposition half, let alone mounting a serious attack. A threatening
low drive from Stoke winger Robertson brought some anxiety as
it flew across the goalmouth until Ellam managed to clear his
John Farmer could have hired a deck chair to watch the game in
comfort from the City penalty area such was the lack of action
around his station. The only surprise when Stoke took the lead
was that it took until the 68th minute for the breakthrough to
The goal was the result of the pressure built up by a succession
of corners. Yorath's headed clearance to the third flag kick was
rushed and looped invitingly to the edge of the six-yard box.
Hurst nodded the ball back towards the far post and centre-back
Smith came hurtling through to head home powerfully.
The ecstatic home fans erupted gleefully, bating the opposition
with chants of "We want four, we want four."
United did their best to rally in the face of what looked a lost
cause. Hunter powered forward in a determined run down the left
flank but when his cross found Clarke, the subsequent shot flew
wide of its target.
Bremner and Madeley made ground on the right to give Lorimer
the opportunity for an angled shot, though Farmer saved without
difficulty. The Stoke goalkeeper was in action again moments later
when he gathered a close range header from Jordan, but in truth
Leeds never truly seemed to believe that they could get back on
They did, though, show plenty of fighting spirit. With six minutes
to go, over keen protests by Bremner and Clarke saw them both
booked for disputing the award of a goal kick to the home side.
They were also involved in unseemly scuffles with Stoke's Robertson
and had a furious row with referee Homewood after the game, with
the official threatening to report the incident along with the
All the passion failed to bring a single clear cut opportunity,
and Leeds were well beaten at the finish. Their proud record was
left in tatters by a 3-2 victory which was thoroughly merited
by a determined City team.
Paul Wilcox in the Guardian: "Stoke's win
was deserved but if Hudson, blending superbly with the tireless
Mahoney, was their inspiration, the downfall of a Leeds team already
missing Jones, McQueen and Reaney surely started with the recurrence
of Giles' groin injury which robbed United of their control in
midfield. Cooper may arguably have been the best left-back in
the world before suffering the broken leg which halted his career
for 21 months; but although as usual he gave his best, his midfield
duties went no way towards achieving what Giles' contributions
had done before his removal in the 19th minute.
"Depriving Leeds of such a lead a couple of months ago would
have been unthinkable, yet it was at this point that Stoke's plan
began to unfold. They used Ritchie and Hurst as twin prongs to
probe at the heart of Leeds' cover, consistently prepared to take
the game forward, and it quickly became apparent that Ellam, with
a rearranged defence around him, would have difficulty holding
them, particularly when the ball came at head height. Hudson,
Greenhoff and Mahoney swelled in confidence and style in the middle
of the field and suddenly the match was a magnificent contest.
"Before half time Stoke were level and deservedly so. A free
kick, just outside the Leeds penalty area, was rolled a foot or
so sideways and Pejic sent it hurtling past the defensive wall.
Then Robertson, a lively raider throughout the affair, beat his
man on the left, Ritchie headed back his centre and in a moment
of confusion in the Leeds ranks, Hudson coolly tucked away the
"So to a second half spilling with skill and excitement. Leeds
still managed some carefully moulded moves, mainly out of defensive
positions, and Bremner was magnificent, scuttling around to curb
Stoke's attacks and darting forward to try to restore that early
vitality to attack. Increasingly though, the portents were that
history, of the durable kind, would not be made this day. The
end came as Leeds strove to dispose of the last of three successive
corners; Robertson's kick was headed on by Hurst and Smith flung
himself forward to head in the winner."
It was a famous day for Stoke City, long spoken of in glowing
terms by their fans, and made Alan Hudson an instant hero with
the Boothen Enders. He recalled later: "It turned out to be an
afternoon to remember. A packed house had just settled in to their
seats when Leeds went one in front with a bizarre goal from their
brilliant skipper Billy Bremner, who cheekily put a free kick
down and chipped our keeper John Farmer before Paul Daniels could
have got his pack out of his pocket. Only a player of Bremner's
vision could have done such a thing. This caused pandemonium,
as the referee let the goal stand.
"Two-nil up, and the record safely in their hands - or so they
thought. Little did they know that we had our very own fighting
spirit in the Potteries, and it was time to use it. We were now
incensed, and they were trying to put on that great show of keep
ball and take the proverbial at the same time.
"The second half started like a real Cup-tie, with a little bit
more added to it. This was truly the best of English football,
with two teams fully committed to victory. The big boys who had
thought they had it won and now had to win it again, and the underdogs
who had come back from two down against the best team in the land
and were now sniffing the blood of victory.
"Our half time team talk was one of 'let's finish the job' and
get at them, while theirs must have been one of 'what the hell
went wrong?' Their plans were being torn apart by a team who,
up, could compete with any team, anywhere. They had their players
in Giles, Bremner and Lorimer; and we had ours: Greenhoff, Mahoney
and yours truly. They had their kickers in Hunter, Reaney and
Giles once more; and we had ours in the shape of Smith, Marsh
and Pejic. So this would never be a one sided affair, whichever
way they wanted to play it.
"That second half was nothing short of thunderous, with both
sides flat out at each other's throats. Like any other game against
Leeds, there was no love lost and no quarter given. We now had
the advantage for two reasons: we did not want them to extend
that record, and having come from behind we had the bit between
our teeth. They had tried it on in the first half, the way only
Leeds could do, but now it was our turn.
"The atmosphere at the Victoria Ground that day was electric,
and the whole country was by now getting the news that this game
was becoming a classic. They had seen the score go 0-1, 0-2, 1-2
and now 2-2. I knew deep down, leaving the tunnel for the second
half, that it was going to be us who would stop Revie's team.
For me, it was going to be a little like the
Cup final replay where they had led Chelsea on three occasions
but, once pegged back, did not like it.
"They were not liking this too much either, as Mahoney and Hudson
were now the masters in the middle of the field instead of Giles
and Bremner. We had taken the initiative, and it was soon to pay
dividends. A right wing corner was swung in… Geoff Hurst headed
it across the face of the Boothen End goalmouth where, diving
in between all those flying Leeds boots, was the figure of our
very own Captain Marvel, Denis Smith: 3-2. The whole ground erupted,
as the Leeds bench jumped up with fists flying everywhere.
"Jimmy Robertson was now showing the Leeds defenders a clean
pair of heels, and also his fiery Scottish temperament. He and
Wee Billy were about to have it out in the tunnel at the final
whistle. We had given the best team in the country a two-goal
start then a right pasting, a day that started as a nightmare
and finished jubilantly. Not only the victory but the way it was
achieved is what I always take great satisfaction in, and there
could be no greater satisfaction than when putting one over on
Don Revie and his not-so-merry men."
Revie had always feared that somewhere along the line United
would meet a team in sufficient form and with enough spirit to
compete with them. Stoke did precisely that. He was asked afterwards,
"Is it going to happen again, will Leeds falter when so near to
the big prize?"
"Who knows?" he said. "I think if we get everyone fit, we have
a chance to win the title. It is a tremendous run and would have
been a miracle if we had been able to go through the entire 42-match
programme without defeat."
He still maintained that United's record in 1968/69 of only two
League defeats in a season would never be beaten. "After our defeat
at Stoke, it is appropriate for me to congratulate all my players
on their magnificent run in the League. It is all the more remarkable
when you consider we have been hit so terribly hard by injuries
almost all season. I cannot speak too highly of my players."
Reacting to Alan Hudson labelling his side as "robots" and "spoilers",
Revie angrily retorted: "If that is the case, how is it we have
scored more goals in the division than any other side and keep
attracting big crowds wherever we play?"
He also denied that Bremner and Clarke had been involved in an
after match argument with the referee and that Bremner had been
in a scuffle with Jimmy Robertson. "It simply is not true," he
Publicly, Revie was magnanimous in defeat, but behind closed
doors he was beside himself with anger. He made a point
after the game of allowing the United players to overhear his
conversation with Les Cocker. "Time to get the chequebook out
and sign some new players." It was a customary tactic used by
the manager to gee up his men, but this time it was born out of
fury and rage.
Alan Hudson: "Everyone hated Leeds then, no matter what club
you were playing for at the time. So, whenever you beat them,
it was party time… They were the team everyone wanted to beat
that season, even more than usual… After the game, we were celebrating
in the dressing room when one of the apprentices came in and said,
'Leeds are smashing up their dressing room.' He would then keep
us updated with things like, 'The door is damaged now,' and, 'The
table's gone over.' But all we did was cheer that bit louder.
That day at Stoke proved Alex Ferguson and his tea cup smashing
had nothing on Leeds under Revie."
In his Evening Post column the following Saturday, Revie
wrote: "I am pleased Leeds United have lost their unbeaten League
record. Generally, the Leeds players and myself hate losing, even
a pre-season friendly match.
"On reflection, our 3-2 defeat at Stoke will help rather than
hinder our prospects of winning the championship. Leeds have long
been the team everyone has wanted to beat, yet in the last three
months this type of pressure has been more intense than ever.
This is the penalty unbeaten teams must expect, and another example
came with the midweek draw against Leicester. Every match has
been like an FA Cup final, with opponents showing more determination
against us than against other teams.
"I am inclined to believe another important factor has come from
the bookmakers offering special odds against Leeds being beaten
before every game.
"Before the clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, their defender
David Webb said on TV that members of his family, together with
close friends and business associates, had put a fair bit of money
on Chelsea to win. I am sure this has helped to motivate many
of our opponents.
"The problems which Leeds have faced were summed up by Liverpool
manager Bill Shankly after watching our FA Cup fifth round defeat
by Bristol City. He told me: 'These sides must have their feet
up for most of a season.'
"Let's face it - if sides like Bristol City and Stoke played
the way they did against Leeds consistently they would have the
Second and First Division championships sewn up by now!
"Without wishing to appear conceited, I feel the main reason
why Leeds have failed to maintain the form they produced during
the early part of the season is that a number of opposing teams
have not been prepared to try and match us for skill.
"Stoke's midfield star Alan Hudson, however, considers the reverse
is closer to the truth. 'It's impossible to play good football
against them because their game is built on strength and they
smother you,' he said after Saturday's match. 'They will go on
to win the League, but that shows up our game for what it's becoming
because, apart from Bremner, they're a team of robots. I'd rather
be lower down the League, trying to play the game than up at the
top the way they're playing it.'
"I was absolutely staggered by these comments. I don't want to
become involved in a slanging match with Hudson, but it's worth
noting that his summing up of United's approach to the game is
in sharp contrast to that of most players, coaches and managers
in this country.
"The fans, too, clearly consider we have something special to
offer as Leeds have taken over from Manchester United as England's
biggest crowd-pullers. Stoke became the 14th club this season
to have their highest attendance for the visit of Leeds. The only
exceptions are Arsenal (Manchester United) and Everton (Liverpool).
"Each week, a national newspaper publishes an Entertainment Table.
When I looked at it this week, Leeds were at the top and Stoke
were sixth from the bottom.
"As far as the defeat at Stoke was concerned, I cannot help thinking
that the result might have been different if Johnny Giles had
played the whole match.
"John, who recently returned to the team following a three-month
injury absence, played a big part in helping Leeds take a firm
grip on the game in the opening 20 minutes. Unfortunately, after
laying on the goal which gave us a 2-0 lead, he had to go off
with a pulled hamstring, and this affected our rhythm.
"Obviously, I am still confident that Leeds will win the championship,
although one cannot take anything for granted in view of Liverpool's
"It is typical of Liverpool that they have refused to admit defeat.
They show the same application in every match, no matter who they're
up against, and that's why we at Leeds always look upon them as
the team to beat."
On the back of the FA Cup shock at the hands of Second Division
Bristol City, the Stoke defeat came as a real blow to United's
confidence. It would be several weeks before they were able to
rid themselves of the psychological impact, losing three further
games in a matter of a few weeks. It came right in the end, of
course, but at the end of a momentous day in the Potteries, Leeds
were in a real trough of despair.
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