When the Anfield Kop Saluted our Leeds United Champions – by Rob Atkinson


Leeds United's Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Leeds United’s Champions take the tributes of the Liverpool Kop

Each of Leeds United’s three Football League Championship titles was clinched at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC.  In 1992, the Reds were good enough to beat a demoralised Man U 2-0 which, added to our earlier triumph at Bramall Lane, saw us as Champions by 4 points in the last ever proper old-style league competition.  In 1974, Liverpool obliged at Anfield again, losing at home to Arsenal to ensure that they couldn’t overhaul us at the top.  I remember a TV programme going to an ad break and then an information board coming up which read “Football result: Liverpool 0, Arsenal 1 – LEEDS UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS”  That simple memory still sends a tingle down my spine, even forty years on.

And of course – probably best of all – Leeds United’s first ever title success at the top level of the game came after a showdown between the two deadly but mutually respectful rivals on April 28 1969 – almost exactly 45 years ago. Leeds had come to Anfield knowing that a point would clinch the league, and they set out their stall as only they could to obtain that point, in the toughest place possible.  They would go on to beat Nottingham Forest in the last game of that season to reach a record 67 points – a mark that wasn’t beaten until Liverpool themselves recorded 68 points, ironically with a 3-0 win at Elland Road, in their fabulous 1978/79 Championship year.

That legendary Leeds United squad of the sixties and seventies hung on Don Revie’s every word, they would follow him into the pit of Hell itself and they trusted him implicitly.  This was the cornerstone of the relationship between team and boss; the unit thus formed was formidable indeed and, on their day, there was no-one to touch them.  It was often said of that Leeds side that if you cut one, they all bled – and then you’d better watch out, because they’d be after you as one man to seek retribution. They would do anything for each other and anything for the legendary Don – but on that historic night at Anfield 45 years back, they must have come as near as they ever came to saying “You what, gaffer?  Are you bloody sure??”

On the final whistle, as the Leeds players cavorted with joy in front of their delirious fans at this first delightful taste of being The Best – and as the weary Liverpool troops, having given their all in vain, sportingly congratulated the new Champions – Revie came over to Billy Bremner and confirmed to him that he was to lead his team over to the Kop. This, remember, was at a time when crowd violence was becoming very fashionable.  A similar gesture at the Theatre of Hollow Myths down Trafford way, and sundry other less-than-welcoming grounds around the country, might very well have got you a crack on the head with a pool ball or a dart in the eye. It did rather seem to be pushing things a bit – but Revie was insistent, and he was very definitely The Boss.

So it happened that Billy Bremner, captain of champions Leeds United, gathered his players together and led them on a long, slow walk to the legendary Anfield Kop.  When it was realised what was happening, a hush fell on the ground.  In near-silence, the heroes in white walked on, nearer and nearer to the most iconic terrace of them all.

On the night, Bremner had won the toss for Leeds, and had elected to make the Reds attack the Kop in the first half; a tactical ploy that went against the home side’s preference for a second half onslaught on their favourite end. So the Leeds players had to walk nearly the length of the pitch to approach the massed Liverpool fans behind the Kop goal, and with every passing second, the silence became more loaded – almost a solid thing you might cut with a knife.  Leeds United were asking for it – what would they get?

What they did get is now the stuff of legend and has passed deservedly into United and Liverpool folklore.  As the triumphant yet apprehensive Leeds warriors finally neared the Kop, the long silence was finally broken as the first cry of “Champions!” went up, swiftly echoed by others on the still-packed terrace – until finally the whole 27,000 population of that mighty hill were acclaiming the title-winners with the same shout, over and over again: “Champions! Champions! Champions!!”

This was completely unprecedented; a moment unparalleled before or since, something to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, the ultimate acknowledgement of respect and admiration even out of defeat – and a massive credit to the football fans of Liverpool FC.  It was the epitome of true rivalry between two crack teams, forged out of one of the grisliest on-field battles any football ground had witnessed for many a long year.  No finer tribute could have been paid by any fans, anywhere – and the Leeds players stayed out there, in front of the Kop, for a good quarter of an hour or more, paying their respects to both sets of fans.

Later, in the dressing room, Leeds celebrated anew with champagne provided by Bill Shankly, whose quote was short and to the point: ‘Leeds United are worthy champions,’ he said. ‘They are a great side.’  Revie responded by praising Liverpool, the club, the fans and their fine team. ‘The reception given us by the sporting Liverpool crowd was truly magnificent,’ he acknowledged, ‘and so, for that matter, was our defence tonight. It was superb in everything.’  The conduct and bearing of both managers was a mark of the relationship between the two top clubs in the land – and a marked contrast to the ungraceful reaction of Alex Ferguson at the same venue 23 years later, after the Leeds of 1992 had pipped his charges to the Last Championship Title and he, characteristically, dripped bile and acid all over the occasion.

Looking back from today’s perspective, with managers bitching about each other, players diving, cheating and trying to get each other into disciplinary trouble – and the stench of filthy lucre all-pervading – it seems far longer ago than 45 years to that Anfield night when the competition was so unremittingly fierce; white-hot, with no quarter given or asked for.   And yet after the battle was done, all that remained was respect from the teams for each other, of the staff for their opposite numbers, and of both sets of fans for an epic battle well fought.

Sadly, those days are gone, never to return.  But for those of us lucky enough to be able to remember, those images will never fade, the sound of those tributes can still be heard ringing out across the years.  It was a night of triumph and disaster, as these decisive nights tend to be, depending on whether you were White or Red; but it was also, let us not forget, a night of dignity, respect and utter, unalloyed class – not least from those 27,000 Liverpool fans on the Anfield Kop.    

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33 responses to “When the Anfield Kop Saluted our Leeds United Champions – by Rob Atkinson

  1. Very well put rob , a mark of respect that should never be forgotten

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  2. sadleyRob, this was in a different life, thankfully,one I remember well.The feeling you used to feel in your body,probably never to be felt again! Certainly not in my lifetime.

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  3. I’ve had to spend the last few weeks explaining to fellow Leeds fans who ‘f**king hate Scousers’ about the events you mention above Rob. That is why we should be backing them to win the title and not hoping they slip up (sorry Stevie G!). Respect where respect is due

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    • Exactly. “If you know yer history”, as the song goes. Too many Leeds fans obviously don’t.

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    • I wanted them to win anyway, because it would wind up the manure. I’m quite happy for citeh to win it too for same reason.

      don’t want Chelsea anywhere near it though, not just because of Leeds / Chelsea animosity but also because they play bloody awful anti-football

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  4. I was there that night.
    Those things never happened. The ones who couldn’t get out of the exits stayed and applauded us, but as for chanting “champions”, never !

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    • Well I was there that night and I remember the chanting. Also the free pints I had in a local pub after the game! Hope Liverpool win the title this season

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  5. I agree totally with you Rob, that’s why I am hoping for a Liverpool title win. A proper northern team, with proper fans and the Hillsborough anniversary would make it all the more poignant. Great blog as ever Rob always worth a read.MOT.

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  6. I have a different take on that night at Anfield Rob.
    In those days of pay at the gate when the away turnstiles closed . People would be running around trying to find one still open as happened that night . I
    myself ended up in the paddock tunnel side nearest the kop .
    Looking into the kop it was obvious hundreds of leeds fans had ended up in there . I could see people I knew and we were waving to each other .
    At the end of the match the whole of the Anny road end which was packed with leeds were chanting ‘Champions’ as you would expect , this spread down the side to us and then into the leeds fans in the Kop .
    In those days there were as many fans standing on the barriers as there were standing on the terracing at a Anfield and when they saw the hand clapping to’ We are the Champions ‘ in their own Kop assumed it was their own ‘super duper sporting Liverpool fans ‘ and it spread like wildfire across the stand .
    I’m not saying it didn’t happen but the Anfield road held 14000 which was packed with leeds and some estimated there were upto 20,000 leeds in the crowd . We had just won the title for the first time and I don’t remember being quiet waiting for the Kop to ‘rise as one’
    When I left the ground I held out my hand to a Liverpool fan and he spat at it . It must have looked how Revie and the team remember , but it’s not the way I saw it .
    It would be interesting to know if anybody on the kop that night is still around to back me up .

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  7. At 67 years old its been a privilege to witness some of the greatest moments in history and this was one of my finest. I don’t think I will see many more in football. My life was full of legends, some I loved, some I hated. Sadly, they are getting less each year.

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  8. wetherby white

    having been to a stack of Leeds Liverpool games over the years-rivalry and hard fought matches always but always a mutal respect and never the naked hatred given and received against chelsea/man utd etc..
    Good example in the nineties classic game at ER when Liverpool won 5-4. Brilleant game, Barnes unstoppable and great reception given to both teams at the end by both sets of fans.
    Don’t screw up on saturday Liverpool like you did last weekend against the detestable blues- be champions!

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  9. scottywhites

    well writen again rob, one of my mates is a 59 year old liverpool fan and he goes on about said night not quite how you have put if but not far off im only a youngen to him i wish there was as much mutual respect about now as there was then,i know violence was on the up at the time, i realy hope liverpool win the title with a modest wealth not the billions of city or chelsea,i will be cheering them on,and obviosly come on LEEDS against derby 2 for mcc please ………………….MOT

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  10. I was backing Liverpool on Sunday and I was sad they kind of tossed away the chance of beating Chelsea and made Mourinio look even better than he really is. For me Chelski played way too deep after the first goal but Liverpool made a hash of punishing them.

    Anyway I respect Liverpool but I would throw in there that there have been a few Liverpool players over the years who have had a real problem with Leeds, Emlyn Hughes being one of them……

    Now Newcastle is a different story…..I have never met a bad Geodie fan and they are always respectful, in fact a Newcastle fan sometimes travels with my group to watch Leeds games

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  11. David Poole

    I was in the kop that night as it was the only part of the ground we could get in. We were spat at, kicked. We had bottles of urine thrown at us. The idea that the kop stayed back to aplaud Leeds as champions is a total myth. It was one of the most hostile nights I have ever seen.

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    • Hmmm, who to believe – Don Revie or David Poole? Difficult one that…

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      • Chareose

        The players also talk about it too……Giles reminisced about it on the BBC video about Revies team……so their version differs to yours David ?? Perhaps you left before it occurred ?

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  12. I don’t think Liverpool are any better or any worse than any other fans, wasn’t at that game but there were reports of Leeds coaches getting bricked , but what the hell, it was a long time ago . I don’t detect any simmering hatred between the fans, although to be fair there are so many plastic red fans, they are a bit of a joke .You ever listened to the put on accents when they sing walk on ? oh dear .

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    • I think both man u and Chelsea beat them in the plastic hangers on table.

      without abromvitch Chelsea would be just another millwall.

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  13. I was also there at Anfield that night and I remember Billy Bremner leaping through the air in joy as the final whistle sounded. I distinctly remember the Leeds team walking over to wave to the Kop and the whole ground applauded them. There were chants of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ from the Liverpool fans in a show of sportsmanship and mutual respect that, sadly, would never happen today.
    I did dislike Liverpool in recent years, because their fans were living on past glories ( who would do that? ). However, they have been transformed by Brendan Rogers, are playing some terrific football and would be popular & worthy Champions.
    I just hope we can find a young manager to get us playing with style & panache like them.

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  14. Hello Rob,
    Martin from NZ as I am sure you will guess. For once I want to put something up for debate / discussion. (I take issue with your third paargraph) When they unveiled the statue of “The Don” I flew from NZ back home to be there at quite an expense (I wouldn’t have been anywhere else that day). My pensioner father went to quite an expense to make sure we had tickets to the breakfast and the dinner. What disappointed me was the lack of his players who were there.

    I can understand Sprake and one or two others due to ill health but no sign of Terry Cooper, Trevor Cherry, David Harvey. To name but three, Am I the only one old enough the remember Alan Peacock in his pomp without his goals at Palace in 1965 we wouldn’t have been at Wembley for the first time? But he was there that day and looked great too. Man I hope I age that well.

    I had my 1972 centenary cup final programmed autographed by the players present and went home an otherwise happy man.

    As an aside my father and I shared tables with the YEP photographer and his family, the wife and son of the groundsman ( the one who had sadly just passed on), and another lady who had traveled back from Florida. The meal was great but we were treated to a foul mouthed after dinner speech from one of the Don’s failures one Nigel Hawkins, totally inappropriate for a mixed audience with many children

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  15. I hope my next trip coincides with the unveiling of a statue of John Charles, my middle name is John after him, and I would like to do it before Dad moves on. He is 86!

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  16. David Poole I agree with you . I’ve said from that day to this that it was a myth . There were lots of leeds fans in the Kop that night the daft scouses just joined in .
    I have applauded the opposition myself over the years but could never imagine chanting praise to them . Those were evil days on the terraces , think about it . Like I said earlier , it did happen just not for the reasons of the myth .

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  17. l also was there that night and yes the kop were brilliant we are champions but so are the liverpool supporters i can remember that i was asked at least 3 times by liverpool supporters to swap scarfs after the match and i did so i have total respect for liverpool and the famous bill shankly i would love them to win the premiere league this season total respect up the whites

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  18. My Dad speaks of this quite often, and while he says there was applause, he also says not a single supporters coach crossed the Pennines back to Leeds with a window left in it!

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  19. Lynne Nicholls

    I was there that night and on the Kop. By the way I’m a Leeds supporter of more than 50 years and it was the only place we could get in. It was an amazing night and at the end of the game the Liverpool fans lifted me onto their shoulders so I could see the Leeds team celebrating. This is my greatest ever football memory..

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  20. Thank you, Rob. Here’s to my dad, believe it or not, a man who encouraged me to watch what little we could find on US tv of Leeds and other top flight English clubs. Here is a Yank who says I admire and respect both Liverpool and Leeds. What a sport, what a set of memories.

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