For all the rival claims of the FA Cup and (don’t laugh) the variously-sponsored League Cup, there’s little doubt about the Wembley occasion it’s hardest to reach, the honour it’s toughest to compete for. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the FA Community Shield, or the Charity Shield as it used to be known in less politically-correct times. This is not an event you get to be part of merely by winning a few games at home against the likes of Orient and Norwich, with maybe a semi-final against Aston Villa to spice it up. It’s not a trophy you can win simply by the luck of the draw. This is an event for winners, although League runners-up sometimes get a look-in if one club has been greedy enough to win the “Double”. The Charity Shield is billed as the clash between reigning Champions and FA Cup-holders and as such it has the stardust of success and glory sprinkled all over it.
Some will demur, saying it’s just a pre-season friendly. Well, it does take place pre-season – but a friendly? Before we look at this 1992 meeting of old foes Leeds and Liverpool, let’s cast our minds back to 1974 when the two sides met in the very first Wembley Charity Shield. Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner sent off, Giles displaying the art of the left hook on the ref’s blind side to dislodge Keegan’s perm – and all manner of malicious goings-on besides as Cup-holders Liverpool edged out Champions Leeds on penalties after a 1-1 draw for which “combative” is a hopelessly inadequate description. Ray Clemence conning David Harvey over the ‘keepers taking the last two penalties, then grinning broadly as he reneged on the deal. The violence and then the discarded shirts of the guilty as they walked off, dismissed by the schoolmasterly Bob Matthewson, a ref who towered over the pocket battleships in the opposing midfields. The fuss and bother afterward as the FA decided examples should be made, long bans handed out. A “friendly” it most definitely was not.
This 1992 match though was played out in a much lighter and more entertaining vein. There was an air of conspiratorial glee around the old ground; Liverpool had administered the fatal blow to Man U’s title challenge at the end of the previous season with a 2-0 victory, the faithful of the Anfield Kop taunting their misery-stricken rivals with chants of “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” as the last hopes of Man U and media alike drained away. The real Reds then went on to Wembley and routinely won the Cup against Leeds’ old Nemesis Sunderland, so that this “Traditional Curtain Raiser to the Season” had about it a faintly gloating atmosphere – mutual congratulation was in the breeze as we all celebrated the discomfiture of the Mancunian and Mackem scum.
The game itself was a crazy mixture of potent attacking and Keystone Kops defending which foreshadowed the season both clubs were to experience, but which was avidly lapped up by both Kops at either end of Wembley. Leeds opened the scoring when Rodney Wallace scampered into acres of space on the left before squaring for one Eric Cantona to finish confidently past Grobbelaar in the Liverpool goal. That was on 25 minutes, but only ten more were to elapse before Liverpool were level. A deep cross from Ronnie Rosenthal found Ian Rush with enough far-post space to plant a header past John Lukic. This was at the Leeds fans’ end, and I remember at the time thinking that Liverpool would now go on to win, but what a cracking day we were having anyway. But shortly before half-time, Leeds were ahead again, Tony Dorigo sending a deflected free kick beyond Brucie into the left hand corner of the net.
The second half saw the game continuing to see-saw as both sides went for it. Liverpool contrived a second equaliser when Dean Saunders fastened on to a loose ball and powered it past Lukic in the blink of an eye. Again that feeling of slight resignation and again Leeds blew it away, regaining the lead after 75 minutes when Cantona headed a cross ball down for Wallace to tap back to him. Cantona looked up and calmly directed the ball wide of Grobbelaar for 3-2. The joy among the Leeds fans at this cherry on the icing of last year’s title triumph raised itself to a still higher level when the match seemed to have been decided 4 minutes from the end. Wallace chased a ball out wide which, instead of trickling out of play, bounced off the corner flag and gave the live-wire Rodney an ideal chance to put in a telling cross. And there was Cantona again, lurking at the far post as Grobbelaar flapped ineffectively for the ball, watching it all the way and planting a header into the empty net. 4-2 up against Liverpool at Wembley! Eleven months before the birth of my daughter, this was probably just about up there with the Title decider at Bramall Lane for the most joyous events of my life to that point, and for a few delirious moments I didn’t rightly know where or who I was.
Sanity had barely returned when, way down at the other end, Gordon Strachan scored what must be the comedy own-goal of all time, executing a singularly ungraceful backward stagger as he tried to clear from the goal-line but succeeded only in trickling the ball over it. Some cheered, some laughed; nobody was downcast except perhaps wee Gordon himself who looked distinctly pissed-off. Leeds had won though, the occasion had lived up to and beyond expectations for me and my happy band and we waited joyously to watch the lifting of silverware at Wembley.
Before that happened, another display of respect and gratitude as the defeated Liverpool players trooped off into the tunnel at the United end of the ground. The jubilant Leeds fans as a body stood to applaud their old enemies, the chants of “Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool” drawing reciprocal if shattered applause from the bemused players in red, honour satisfied, tributes paid. Then the Leeds players going up the thirty-nine steps to hoist the Shield high, and cheers echoing anew from our throat-sore and ecstatic hordes. Leeds United: Champions of England – the Last Champions – Charity Shield winners and the only team ever to score four against Liverpool in all of the Anfield giants’ numerous Wembley appearances. Vivid memories of a truly wonderful day.