Part 2 - On the march at last -
When Don Revie was appointed
Leeds United team manager in March 1961,
he suggested it would take five years to turn the club around.
Two years in, by the spring of 1963,
though, the young manager had already developed a side that was
good enough to compete with the best that the Second Division
had to offer. A bold policy of giving youth its head had reaped
exciting rewards as the Whites briefly challenged for promotion
before three consecutive defeats in May saw them finish fifth.
Billy Bremner, Paul Reaney, Gary Sprake and Norman Hunter were
all first team regulars at 20-years-old or less, teenagers Rod
Johnson, Peter Lorimer, Barrie
Wright and Jimmy Greenhoff
had been blooded and Terry Cooper and Paul Madeley would soon
get their chances. Bobby Collins
was the old man of the side at 32, and by a long stretch Jim
Storrie, Jack Charlton,
Don Weston, Tommy Henderson,
Willie Bell and Albert
Johanneson were the right side of 30.
These willing and energetic young men had benefited from the
stringent training routines of Les Cocker, who drove them to the
peak of fitness during the mid-winter lay off when football had
been rendered impossible by the wintry conditions. After the thaw
they swept aside all comers.
back to top
Billy Bremner lost his place during that end of season run and
asked to go on the transfer list. The Elland Road fans had given
him the bird for his faltering contribution during the spring,
but Revie still considered the young Scot his outstanding talent.
He took steps to stymie the moves of any prospective buyers.
Homesickness had often threatened to cut short Bremner's association
with Leeds - Tommy Henderson had originally come down to join
Leeds with his fellow countryman before returning north of the
border due to a lack of opportunities. They had both agreed that
their future lay back home, but Bremner's
chance in the first team delayed his departure. Henderson returned
to Elland Road in November 1962 but even his presence failed to
The young right-winger continually pestered Don Revie to use
him at the heart of things in midfield, but the manager steadfastly
resisted his pleas, arguing that he was not ready for such a role.
However, the experienced Eric Smith broke his leg against Chelsea
in September 1962, sorely weakening the Leeds midfield, and Revie
reconsidered his stance. In the run-in to the 1963-64 season,
Bremner finally got his wish. Revie deployed him at right-half
in a friendly against Roma, arranged as part of the deal which
had seen John Charles
return, albeit briefly, to Italy.
The little Scot took to the role like a duck to water, and so
impressed Revie that he started the season proper with the Bremner-Charlton-Hunter
half-back line that was to become so celebrated in the years to
come. The manager felt that a Bremner-Collins axis would provide
a sound base for success.
Of course, it meant that there was a hole to fill on the right
flank, but a long-term solution to that thorny issue would emerge
a few days into the new season. In the meantime, Revie used Don
Weston in the No 7 shirt. The other change saw half-back Willie
Bell in at left-back, a role he had filled for a while in 1961-62.
Bell succeeded Grenville Hair, who now moved to the periphery
of the first team before taking over as player-manager of Wellington
Town in May 1964 after almost 500 games for United.
Leeds' season began four days after the rest of the country;
their fixture at Northampton Town had to be switched from the
opening Saturday due to a clash with a cricket match. Northampton
CCC shared the County Ground with the football club and had first
refusal that weekend, so United were left kicking their heels
until the following Wednesday, when they commenced operations
with the visit of Yorkshire rivals Rotherham United to Elland
Middlesbrough, under the direction of former Leeds manager Raich
Carter, had already given notice of their designs on promotion
by registering a 5-0 win over Plymouth and a 3-0 thumping of Newcastle
United before the Peacocks had even taken the field, and promotion
would be no cakewalk. As Eric Stanger wrote in the Yorkshire Post,
"Leeds United's supporters are a good deal more certain about
promotion than the officials at Elland Road. Mr Don Revie, the
team manager, is realist enough to know that despite the progress
made last season, especially by his young players, there are still
obvious weaknesses in the side."
back to top
Winning promotion from the second tier of the English League
has always been an enormous challenge, more so than with any other
division, and only the right approach will bring success.
Jason Tomas: "Liverpool's manager Bill Shankly once said: 'You
can't play your way out of the Second Division; you've got to
claw your way out.' What Shankly meant was that the physical commitment
to the game at
this level is so fierce that teams are given little chance to
express their skill. More often than not promotion is achieved
by those with the greatest determination and stamina, rather than
Those words could have been chosen with the Leeds United team
of 1963 specifically in mind … rarely has a more determined and
dogged set of players been assembled.
Revie began the season with a forward line comprising Weston,
Lawson, Storrie and Johanneson, while Bremner and Collins formed
a new midfield combination in front of a rearguard which read
Sprake, Reaney, Charlton, Hunter and Bell.
Many of those names were to be stalwarts of the team for the
next few years and they certainly acquitted themselves admirably
against Rotherham. Bill Mallinson claimed in the Yorkshire Evening
Post: "With any luck at all, and against a less competent goalkeeper
than Ironside, the Leeds men would have built up a three-goal
lead by half-time. True, Rotherham might have had a couple of
goals in that period but they were distinctly fortunate to turn
round level. Bremner, at right-half, was the star turn. He was
occasionally in difficulty, it is true, when the ball was in the
air, but he and acting captain Collins showed amassed array when
their educated feet had their say. Bremner's brilliant constructive
efforts and his usual gritty work in defence fully justified Mr
Don Revie's decision to play him at right-half. There can be little
criticism of United's middle line - the bulwark of any side -
on this form."
In the end, a single goal after 51 minutes by Don Weston was
enough to settle the contest. The lively Mansfield-born forward
was in the right place at the right time, profiting when Albert
Johanneson's effort came back off the post after the South African
had done wonders to keep the ball in play.
While Collins and Bremner took the plaudits, Mallinson revealed
that the younger man was still unsure of where his future lay:
"Despite his display at right-half, which held the promise of
a fine new career, Billy Bremner still wants to leave Elland Road.
Bremner told me today that the transfer request he put in last
February, and which was granted, still holds good. 'I still want
to be released - and I am not fussy about whether I go back to
Scotland,' he said. United put a £25,000 plus valuation on Bremner,
who said at the time that it was too high and would prevent him
moving from the club. Last night's display must have increased
his value as a utility player and certainly justified United's
valuation in present conditions."
back to top
However, the very next day Don Revie gave Bremner some food for
thought by posting material notice of his ambition. He completed
a surprise transfer deal to secure the services of a man who was
enhance the fortunes of Leeds United for the next decade.
John Giles, Manchester United's 23-year-old Irish international
right-winger, had been transfer listed at his own request, along
with Albert Quixall, who had been signed from Sheffield Wednesday
in a record £45,000 transfer deal in 1958. The pair had featured
in the Old Trafford club's FA Cup final victory over Leicester
City in May, but manager Matt Busby had left them both out for
the season's opener against Sheffield Wednesday.
Giles was born in Cabra, Dublin, on 6 November 1940, the son
of a well-known Irish footballer. He enjoyed local fame and celebrity
with St Columbus, Dublin City, The Leprechauns, Stella Maris and
Home Farm, before following the path of many of his countrymen
by joining Manchester United in November 1957, just three months
before the Busby Babes were wiped out at a stroke on a frozen
runway in Munich.
Giles was an outstanding young footballer, able to operate as
either winger or inside-forward, and he became the youngest player
to win a full cap for Eire just four days short of his 19th birthday,
playing inside-right against Sweden. It took him a mere 16 minutes
to make an impact, slamming home a 30-yard screamer in front of
a 40,000 crowd at Dalymount Park as Ireland pulled off a shock
3-2 win, just days after the Swedes had beaten England at Wembley.
Giles had made his United debut a couple of months earlier in
September 1959, and spent most of his Old Trafford days as a right-winger.
A rebellious soul by nature, Giles was often at odds with Matt
Busby, and his omission from the team finally persuaded him that
his face simply did not fit with the Old Trafford hierarchy.
Don Revie was a great admirer of the Irishman and wasted no time
in making contact with Busby. A deal was done at a cost of £33,000,
a fee second only to that paid by Leeds for John Charles the previous
year. It was an extraordinary coup for Revie, who persuaded a
classy and promising performer to take an enormous gamble.
Giles said at the time: "I do not mind going into Second Division
football and, who knows, I may be playing in the First Division
again soon." He was excited at the potential of his new club,
yet demoralised by his treatment at Old Trafford, later saying:
"I played in 38 games and all the Cup matches. But I'd been there
as a young boy and maybe was not appreciated as much as I should
have been. And Leeds had had a good run the previous year. When
you are in the game, you notice these things. There was a feeling
about them. But Don was a big factor … he was a great football
man. I would have much preferred to join an up and coming Second
Division team than a poor First Division one. They had also signed
Bobby Collins a year or two back. That was a big factor too. From
the time I joined, Leeds were successful.
Don had learned from his playing days all the faults of managers.
He knew what he wanted to do … he was a very ambitious man, a
very driven man."
back to top
Giles was thrust straight into the Whites team a couple of days
later, replacing Ian Lawson
for the home game against Bury, with Don Weston switching to inside-right.
Leeds pulled off an impressive 3-0 win with goals from Collins,
Storrie and Johanneson, while Collins and Weston had further efforts
ruled out for offside. Giles had an unspectacular debut, and the
honours once again went to Bobby Collins. The Yorkshire Post's
Eric Stanger gave tribute, then offered a prophecy: "But for Collins,
Leeds might have been held. Collins not only scored the first
goal after half an hour, surprising a retreating defence by going
on and on up the middle and surprising it even more by beating
Harker with a dipping shot from 25 yards, but he was here, there
and everywhere, steadying, coaxing and prodding in turn. 'Stop
Collins and you stop Leeds,' they say in the Second Division.
But how? He gets in such out of the way places that he must be
just about the hardest forward in the game to mark. The man who
may one day succeed him as guide and mentor, Giles, had a steady,
if not startling, debut on the right wing. He did many good things,
few bad ones, quickly attuned himself to Collins' moves and will
be all the better when he has got a better hang of United's style."
Collins suffered an injury in the next game, an exciting 2-2
draw at Rotherham, with all four goals coming in the final ten
minutes, and the little Scot missed the trip to Manchester
City. Jim Storrie fluffed a penalty as Leeds lost 3-2, and it
seemed promotion hopes were built on shaky foundations.
However, with Collins restored to fitness, United went on a remarkable
run, putting together twenty straight League games without a reverse,
even though they had to manage for lengthy periods without Storrie
and Jack Charlton.
An ankle injury was the initial cause of Storrie's absence, but
he later needed a cartilage operation on his knee after being
stretchered off at Sunderland in December. It was a disappointing
yet eventful season for Storrie. In between injuries, he had to
pull on the goalkeeper's jersey at Plymouth when Gary Sprake went
off injured for a while.
back to top
Just as serious was the loss of Jack Charlton, who was enjoying
the form of his life. He was now very much the senior defender
and persuaded Don Revie to try a new system.
Bagchi and Rogerson: "This was the season when Jack Charlton
matured as a footballer. He had been attending courses at Lilleshall
for a number of years and now, with his new role as mentor to
a juvenile defence, was allowed by Revie to co-ordinate his own
defensive system. The delegation of duty seemed to inspire Big
Jack. His method involved a great deal of moaning and shouting,
but his ability to explain his zonal design and teach his team
mates the positional awareness to cover for each other, not to
mention his own impeccable form, ensured Leeds' best defensive
record to date. With Collins and Bremner buzzing about in front
as a protective shield and Giles always ready to help out, Sprake's
goal was breached on only thirty four occasions in the whole season."
It proved a remarkably effective system, but Charlton was laid
low for a while with a bout of tonsillitis and then suffered a
rather more serious knee injury.
The absence of two such key men offered fresh opportunities for
club captain Freddie Goodwin and the out of favour Ian Lawson.
Both made decent contributions in an impressive run, which saw
Leeds assume leadership of the division on 12 October, although
the position was rotated for several weeks with a powerful Sunderland
A win at Huddersfield brought United to the top of the table.
Jason Tomas: "It was a typical local derby, fast, furious,
but enveloped by an atmosphere of tension which made it difficult
for either side to strike its normal rhythm. Defences were well
on top during the first hour - but twenty minutes from the end,
Giles broke the deadlock by scoring his first goal for the club."
Johnny Giles: "Before the kick off, the Boss told us: 'Huddersfield's
goalkeeper Ray Wood is not very reliable in the air, so if anyone
challenges him for a high ball, make sure there's someone following
up in case it breaks loose.' Well, Don Weston ran in to challenge
Wood for a cross from Albert Johanneson and I positioned myself
four or five yards behind him. Wood was unable to get the ball
away cleanly, and it dropped just in front of me!"
Nine minutes later Weston scored the second goal in a 2-0 win.
Giles had settled down in a three-man midfield with Bremner and
Collins, but the loss of Storrie blunted Leeds' cutting edge.
It forced them to adopt an aggressive, ugly approach, all functional
containment rather than flamboyant attack. They now had Don Weston
playing at breakneck speed on the right, alongside the limited
Lawson, while fleet footed Albert Johanneson was enjoying a remarkable
season on the left wing. Control and composure was little in evidence
up front, despite the deftness of much of Johanneson's work, and
United settled into a hard working, pressing game in midfield,
supervised and co-ordinated by the remarkable Collins.
back to top
A mean-spirited and uncharitable approach was evolving, spiced
up with huge helpings of gamesmanship, and Revie's men were encouraged
by how successful it proved. Concentration, confidence and composure
grew at the back and, as often as not, a goal by Leeds would mean
the opposition might as well depart to the dressing room to remove
their boots. On only eight occasions in a wonderful season did
opponents manage more than a single goal in a game against United,
and there were 17 clean sheets.
There were far too many draws (15) along the way for Leeds to
distance themselves from the pack, but the Whites proved to be
the most durable and difficult of teams. They also demonstrated
how far they were prepared to push the rules and the referees.
Many of their players fell foul of the man in black during the
season, with Billy Bremner receiving a suspension,
a punishment rarely meted out in those days.
He had already received a written warning from the FA because
of the number of bookings he had been given. Revie suggested he
was "more sinned against than sinning," adding, "I have not asked
him to change his style. I think this lad is singled out for punishment,
like one or two other players in the Second Division. People forget
that Albert Johanneson, Bobby Collins and Johnny Giles come in
for rough treatment. And none more than Billy who, time and again,
goes for a ball only to have his legs kicked from under him. It
is very difficult for any player to keep his temper and not retaliate
in these circumstances. I have had a quiet chat with Billy and
told him to go hard for the ball in the tackle, which he does."
Happily for Revie, Bremner withdrew his transfer request at the
end of September, seven months after tabling it. The manager had
employed all manner of tricks and ploys to keep other clubs at
bay and had finally managed to persuade the player that his future
lay at Elland Road.
Andrew Mourant: "Bremner did not realise it at the time but Hibernian
were desperately keen to secure his services. 'Later, I got to
know they came in for me at £30,000 ... it was a colossal amount
of money then. Little did the Hibs manager know the gaffer had
made up his mind I wasn't going. Don would want £35,000, then
£40,000. Then I gradually settled down and started playing well,
although I was on and off the transfer list.' Revie was quite
desperate not to lose Bremner. He had already fended off a bid
from Everton, who were prepared to pay £25,000. The offer had
been a considerable temptation to the Leeds United directors,
ever mindful of the club's crippling debts."
back to top
Bremner's suspension came after a succession of bookings, mainly
for over eagerness and dissent, rather than particularly dirty
play, although his team were certainly guilty on many occasions
of taking things too far. Many games degenerated into unsavoury
battles with performance less important than result.
The local papers were full of it in their match reports, acknowledging
United's part in provoking confrontation.
Phil Brown (Yorkshire Evening Post): "There was bite in the tackle
from the start … The mutual zest of the tackling helped to spoil
the game's football and bring a stream of free kicks … Fouls,
accidental and deliberate, ruined the game, and left a very bad
taste … Tackling and challenging, which far too often went over
the mark, strangled many attempts at constructive play, and injured
several on each side … This stormy game went on without much football,
but with all the physical challenge you could want."
Eric Stanger (Yorkshire Post): "The tenseness of the atmosphere
kept the excitement blazing but it had a detrimental effect on
football skill … in a game which needed strong handling because
of the intensity of some of the tackling … it was mainly a grim
defensive battle that Leeds had to wage … Leeds, in the end, coasted
home, tapping the ball about to each other in the Continental
manner in the last few minutes to rub in their superiority."
Richard Ulyatt (Yorkshire Post): "There were 40 fouls and a similar
number of toilet rolls thrown on to the field at Huddersfield
on Saturday. The fouls were almost evenly divided: it only seemed
that Leeds United were the greater offenders. Morally they were
much more to blame. They started the roughness. The first three
fouls in the first half and five of the first six in the second
were committed by them. Huddersfield Town, weaker in direction,
in spirit and in the will to win were lured to their own destruction
by retaliating … the game had a needlessly bad tempered spell
in the second half … For some time now over-zealous methods have
been creeping into Leeds United's play to the detriment of both
the quality of their football and their reputation. I can understand
the strain on the players but unless some of them can learn more
self-discipline Leeds in the end will miss promotion and, even
more important, the club will lose many of the new friends they
have made through their commendable enterprise."
Don Revie had drilled into his men the importance of promotion,
and exposure to the cynical tactics of Italian opponents in a
series of 'friendly' games had shown the efficacy of gamesmanship
and time wasting. As promotion became more than just a distant
Leeds pulled away at the head of the division with Sunderland,
Preston North End and Charlton Athletic, Revie's caution rose
to the surface, becoming an all-consuming feature.
There is an often-told anecdote of the game at home to Derby
County on October 19. The United players chose to adopt a more
expansive approach than was their custom and found themselves
badly outplayed by prosaic opponents, trailing by two goals inside
25 minutes. Revie tore a strip off his men at the interval, demanding
to know what the hell they were playing at. He ordered them to
revert to type.
back to top
Chairman Harry Reynolds was more positive, according to the website
Twelve At The Top: "Mr. Reynolds would often speak to the Elland
Road supporters over the loudspeaker system at half-time, and
on one such occasion United were two goals down to Derby County
and not playing well when the chairman took the microphone to
tell everyone that Leeds United were going to win promotion, and
having done that would attempt to win the First Division championship,
not to mention the FA Cup as well. He said that the club was very
ambitious and its intention was to be in the major European competitions
where he also expected them to win trophies, and - as if that
wasn't enough - the money that would be made from all this great
success would be put back into the club, in order to build Elland
Road into a super stadium!"
It seemed an unlikely forecast, but certainly United fought their
way back into the contest with a hard working second half display
and goals from Charlton and Weston forced a draw which seemed
more like a point gained than one lost after the poor start.
Jim Storrie recalls events this way:
"We reached the top of the table through literally running our
opponents off their feet, but became a bit cocky after a while
and started trying to play clever-clever stuff. It just didn't
"In one home match, against Derby County in October, we took
a real panning during the first half and were lucky to be only
2-0 down at the interval. Don was hopping mad. He slammed the
dressing room door behind him and shouted: 'What's all this namby
pamby football? That's not the way we taught you to play; I want
it the Leeds United way.'
"Well, we reverted back to our normal style of play in the second
half, turned on the physical pressure, and Derby crumbled. We
eventually forced a 2-2 draw, and it really brought us to our
Never again that season would United disobey Don Revie's diktat
so flagrantly. He had passionately reminded them of the value
of a pragmatic approach where points were what mattered, not the
manner of their capture.
Leeds' economic style relied on making the most of the few goals
that came their way and then simply smothering the life out of
the game. Their defence was by no means infallible, however: Gary
Sprake showed flashes
of inconsistency and propensity for error at key moments, mainly
through lack of concentration. In addition, the Whites struggled
to finish off teams at home, although their astonishing form away
from Elland Road kept them at the top of the table. A swift counter
attacking game made the most of United's assets.
back to top
The goals coming from midfield were down on the year before:
Collins, Giles and Bremner contributed fewer goals (15 between
them), whereas the two Scots alone had managed 18 previously.
Most of the attacking play involved use of the long ball or individual
breaks at speed by Weston, Lawson or Johanneson, rather than any
concerted passing movements.
The Yorkshiremen remained unbeaten at home but Swindon Town,
Derby County, Charlton, Preston and Northampton Town all left
Elland Road with a point in the first half of the season. However,
wins at Northampton, Scunthorpe, Huddersfield, Southampton, Grimsby,
Leyton Orient, Plymouth and Bury in the same period more than
compensated. When Christmas brought a decisive double header with
Sunderland, Leeds were three points clear of their Roker rivals
at the top of table, having played a game less. It seemed as if
Don Revie might earn his first managerial success, although it
was Sunderland who were enjoying considerably more favourable
newspaper coverage, to the intense resentment of the manager.
He had joined the Whites from the Roker Park club at the end of
his playing days and bitterly objected to what he saw as the favouritism
of the press.
However, his men were branded the dirtiest team in the country
for good cause. Leeds were involved in too many ill-tempered scraps
for Revie's protestations of innocence to gain any credence. The
home draw with Preston on 16 November saw referee Eric Jennings
halt the game on the hour mark, call the players together and
sternly lecture them as to their behaviour. There had been an
endless stream of niggling, disruptive fouls and events threatened
to get badly out of hand. Things improved after the intervention,
but only marginally, and Don Revie commented afterwards: "While
we are at the top, and playing teams with a promotion chance,
we have to play extra hard - for the opposition do. And then mistakes
of judgement happen on both sides. The essence of it was, that
they are better players than they are allowing themselves to be
- that they are stopping their good football
But that controversy was as nothing next to that generated by
the two battles with Sunderland.
The Wearsiders were fighting tooth and nail with United for leadership
of the division and it had been nip and tuck for weeks. Consequently
immense attention was given to the two games between the sides
over the Christmas period, intensifying the pressure on players
who were prone to bad temper and pushing things as far as they
legitimately (or often illegitimately) could.
back to top
Leeds' game was based on a confrontational, combative style,
with hard and early challenges on opponents to deny them time
and space. Scottish centre-forward Jim Storrie was out with an
ankle injury, and his replacement, Ian Lawson, could not match
Storrie's guile or control. He was a robust target man, but something
of a journeyman with limited ability to hold the ball up and bring
oncoming midfielders into goalmouth action. Jack Charlton was
also missing at the back, though Freddie Goodwin was proving a
capable enough deputy.
The rest of the United team for the home game with the Black
Cats on Boxing Day were automatic choices: 18-year-old Sprake,
fresh from Welsh honours, was in goal; the experience of Goodwin
and Bell, now settled down at left-back, made for a good defensive
combination with the youthful Reaney and Hunter; Giles, Bremner
and Collins were blending into one of the most gifted midfield
combinations in the country; and Lawson and Weston gave opposing
defences plenty of hard afternoons, while the South African left-winger
Johanneson was having a wonderful season, and was at that point
joint top scorer with Weston on nine goals.
Sunderland, though, also had their stars, despite the loss of
England striker Brian Clough to the terrible injury that eventually
brought his playing career to a premature conclusion. Jimmy Montgomery
was a gifted young goalkeeper, Charlie Hurley was one of the most
admired centre-halves in the game and George Herd was a useful
inside-forward. Johnny Crossan and George Mulhall presented constant
the left flank and the Wearsiders' all round team play made them
They enjoyed more favourable publicity than United and were generally
acknowledged as the better and more exciting of the two sides.
Paradoxically, however, they had managed only one goal more than
Leeds before an Elland Road showdown on Boxing Day. There was
little doubt which defence was the more effective - Leeds had
conceded just 16 goals in 23 games to Sunderland's 27 in 24.
United also went into the match in the better form. While they
were enjoying their eighth successive away win at Bury on Saturday
December 21, Sunderland crashed 5-1 to their heaviest defeat of
the season at Northampton. That, coupled with Preston North End's
defeat at Swansea on the Friday evening, left the Whites with
a lead of three points over Sunderland and four over Preston.
Sunderland had played a game more than the other two.
back to top
The match was all ticket and, mindful of the money spinning potential
of the clash, the powers that be laid plans for straw to be spread
on the pitch over the weekend to protect it from any chance of
a postponement for frost. The fixture did indeed go ahead, but
despite all the precautions the conditions were still difficult
in the extreme as Eric Stanger reported in the Yorkshire Post:
"But for the 40 ton blanket of straw spread over the ground since
last Saturday the match, which crackled with more excitement than
really clever football, would not have been played. Conditions
were treacherous. Pools dotted both penalty areas and part of
the midfield; peat blackened the goal areas and underneath the
slimy top the ground was hard from the frost. Coherent, planned
football in its strict sense was out of the question; so much
had to be improvised according to the whim of the impishly bouncing
ball and a surface which gave no player a second chance once he
had committed himself in a tackle."
Stanger went on: "Leeds must have had 80 per cent or more of
the play, yet Hurley and Co cut down actual shooting chances to
a minimum. Bremner (of whom more later) had three cracks in the
first half hour; Irwin and Ashurst each stopped the ball on the
line with Montgomery beaten, but generally neither goalkeeper
could put in a claim for overtime.
"It was 20 minutes before Sunderland got their first corner,
33 minutes before Sprake had a direct ball to handle. Sunderland
did more later, of course, but generally their inside-forwards,
Herd and Crossan, were under the thumbs of Bremner and Hunter.
"Now about Bremner. I have been as critical as other writers
about his showing too much 'bite' and his too easily lost temper
which has led him into trouble with referees. His self-control
in this game, despite the utmost provocation, was magnificent.
He took far more than his fair share of 'stick', as they say,
even allowing for the importance of the game.
"Sunderland never played as if they had real conviction that
they could win. Even when they scored after 55 minutes it seemed
to take them seconds before they and
their big following realised that they were in fact ahead. It
was a surprise score in that it came directly against the way
the game had been going to that point but the chance was well
enough made by Usher, the outside-right, who bore through three
tackles to square a ball across the penalty area. Mulhall had
drifted inside and his shot with his right foot crept inside the
far post with Sprake glued to his line. Sprake, I thought, expected
the ball to pass outside; afterwards he said he was unsighted.
"United, prompted by Collins, Bremner and Hunter, hammered away
afterwards in desperate frontal assault. They might, it is true,
have tried more to find a side door by utilising Johanneson's
speed more but it made for magnificent, full-blooded cut and thrust.
back to top
"Sunderland looked as if they would hold out and United would
fall for the first time at home this season and end their unbeaten
run, which now stretches to 20 Second Division games, when Weston
chased his own through pass. Montgomery got there first but appeared
to me to fumble the ball as Weston stuck out a foot and put it
into the path of Lawson, who had throughout worked like a beaver
chasing the half chance. This time he had merely to tap the ball
home. Sunderland protested vehemently. If there was anything wrong
with the score it was not in my line of sight, nor the referee's,
nor in the linesman's, being almost square to the incident.
"On the game as a whole Sunderland could not grumble. They played
primarily, or gave that impression, for a draw. In that, thanks
to almost flawless covering in defence, they succeeded. Leeds
rescued a point as their great, unflagging efforts fully entitled
them to do."
It was a disappointing outcome, yet left both sides looking forward
eagerly to the rematch at Roker Park two days later. The draw
at Elland Road extended United's unbeaten run to a club record
20 games, while eight away wins on the bounce made them confident
of gaining at least a point.
Don Revie chose to spring a surprise by dropping Albert Johanneson
to make way for Jim Storrie. The manager was concerned that the
physical approach the Sunderland defenders had used on the South
African would be even sterner on their own pitch. At times the
left-winger could be intimidated into anonymity by wily and aggressive
opponents and Revie chose to go for a more conservative approach.
He recalled Storrie, switched Johnny Giles to the left wing and
moved Don Weston to the right.
All the manager's best laid plans, however, were torn apart inside
the first two minutes.
Only sixty seconds into the game, Hunter committed the first
foul of an ugly and rancorous match on Herd. Hurley took the free
kick from just inside the United half and lofted the ball into
the middle of the penalty area. Sprake came rushing out to catch
the ball but dropped it, allowing Herd to slam it home through
a ruck of players.
After 25 minutes, another foul by Leeds led to a messy second
goal for Sunderland, almost a carbon copy of the opener. This
time Ashurst lobbed a 35-yard free kick from the touchline into
the goal area. Sharkey, the tallest Sunderland forward, had time
and space to get in a back header from which the ball rolled gently
into the net off the far post.
The goals, if truth be known, were mere distractions, for the
game consisted mainly of a violent running
battle and harsh verbal sparring between the two sets of players,
with the early foul by Hunter setting an unpleasant precedent.
Eric Stanger's match report in the Yorkshire Post contained detail
of the mayhem which ensued: "I hope there are no more games like
that at Roker Park on Saturday. It was so full of spite and malice
that it did no credit to the 22 players, the referee or the huge
crowd of 56,046. Where the tackling at Elland Road on Boxing Day
was vigorous in the extreme here it overstepped the bounds. Thirty-nine
free kicks for fouls were given by Mr J A Cattlin of Rochdale
- 11 against Sunderland in the first half, 10 against Leeds; five
against Sunderland in the second half, 13 against Leeds. I am
loath to criticise referees whose job is difficult enough at the
best of times but so many today fail to realise that control does
not begin and end with the use of a whistle and notebook. A Howcroft,
a Pinckston or an Ellis would not have tolerated this nonsense.
Two Sunderland players threw punches and got off scot-free: so
did a Leeds player who deliberately kicked at an opponent. As
for the crowd it sickened me to hear them cheer when a stretcher
was called for Storrie, the Leeds inside-right - cheers which
increased in volume as he was carried off 20 minutes from the
end with damaged knee ligaments."
back to top
Storrie needed an operation on his knee after the match and only
featured twice more all season.
It was a bruising encounter, with United's temper not helped
by the referee disallowing a 'goal' by Giles six minutes from
time for offside against another player. They had been second
best on the day, distracted by the verbal abuse of the Wearsiders,
and allowed themselves to be drawn into an ugly bloodbath.
Giles: "We were no angels, far from it. But I honestly believe
we were more sinned against than sinning. We were young and inexperienced,
and Sunderland knew full well that we could be vulnerable to physical
and verbal provocation. They intimidated the Leeds players with
such jibes as: 'You're a bunch of scrubbers,' 'That was a rubbish
tackle,' and we eventually lost our heads. I am not condemning
Sunderland because I have done this sort of thing myself. Let's
face it, most professional footballers have. Unfortunately it
took Leeds a long time to learn not to let such tactics put them
off their game."
Their recent history meant that they received most of the blame
for the debacle, but Don Revie felt the criticism was one sided:
"It has become a positive gimmick with some newspapers and some
people to call our side dirty. Our lads can't tackle or challenge
at all now without somebody calling them foul. It is positive
rubbish to call us a dirty team. We have not had one player sent
off, and only one, Bremner, given an FA caution this season. Poor
Bremner. He has toned his game up, and yet he was repeatedly scythed
down in the two Sunderland games. I have seen plenty of
far worse games than Saturday's, let alone Boxing Day. I have
played in quite a few worse. But even if this was a big occasion
game I can't see any reason for giving us all the blame. There
were two occasions when Sunderland men went for our players with
fists - yet the referee did nothing about it. If our men had gone
at Sunderland's like that I wonder what would have happened.
"I see no reason at all to lecture my players. I was proud of
the way they stood all they did on Saturday, especially after
Jim Storrie was lamed. My lads are under orders to play hard,
to tackle hard for the ball, and to fight for everything. How
on earth else does anyone expect me to instruct them in this season's
hot Second Division?
"We have been given rugged opposition in nearly every game we
have played, home or away, since we got to the top. Just because
we have overcome it, it doesn't mean we are a dirty side but we
are having to stand a lot of cheap sneering just the same. And
I am afraid that referees are being affected by this sneering.
We have had many a fair if hard tackle punished recently.
"Anyway we shall just carry on doing our best, as the boys have
been doing. This gimmick - that is all it is - of calling us dirty
will not affect us. We can only soldier on under these blows,
and that we will do to the utmost."
back to top
All the classic stirrings of a siege mentality could not hide
the grim facts: United's three point lead over Sunderland had
been whittled down to just one, although they still had a game
in hand over their rivals. Preston, 4-0 winners over Cardiff,
were level on points with Sunderland, with Charlton three points
further away. The promotion battle was already down to just these
four clubs, for a gap to the rest had opened up, and was never
to completely disappear. It seemed that Leeds United were on a
slippery slope as far as their form was concerned, and an inability
to beat their closest rivals looked like scuppering Don Revie's
cherished dreams of promotion in the New Year.
Part 2 - On the march at last -