Daily Archives: 06/05/2014

Clarke … One-Nil!! Leeds United Win the Cup 42 Years Ago Today – by Rob Atkinson

Clarke ... One-Nil!

Clarke … One-Nil!

Leeds United usually seem to be around when some epochal achievement is recorded – or at least, they used to be. They won the last ever old-style Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1971, beating Juventus on the away goals rule. They won the last ever old-style Football League Championship in 1992, leaving Fergie’s hapless Man U team gasping four points in their wake. They were also perched proudly at the summit of English football as the millennium clicked over its four digits from 1999 to 2000 – a historical landmark that all of the tabloids had been eagerly talking up for the Pride of Devon.  And, forty-two years ago today, on the 6th May 1972, Leeds United won the Centenary FA Cup Final at Wembley, beating Arsenal 1-0 with a classic diving header from Allan “Sniffer” Clarke.

It was a triumph that pre-dated my active support for Leeds United by two or three years, so it’s one I’ve only been able to savour in retrospect.  But the images of that day are as clear to me as if I’d actually been there – a sneaky Leeds arm reaching around the back of a defensive wall to tug at Charlie George’s long hair, Paul Reaney stalwart on the line to block a fizzing shot from Alan Ball, the Leeds attack swarming around the Arsenal goal as they sought the vital breakthrough. And, of course, Mick Jones, hurdling McNab’s attempted challenge to get to the byline, pulling back a quality ball which dipped down around the penalty spot – and Clarke, stooping to conquer, arrowing his legendary header past ‘keeper Geoff Barnett, into the corner of the Arsenal net.

Leeds had known only heartbreak in FA Cup finals before this day – and they would know more the following year.  In addition, they were shamefully to be compelled by unsympathetic authorities to play a League Title decider at Wolverhampton only 48 hours after this Wembley battle against Bertie Mee’s uncompromising Arsenal troops.  Imagine that happening today. It was a task too much for Revie’s shattered warriors, bereft of the injured Mick Jones. Blatant penalties denied them, they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Wolves and, instead of celebrating their sole FA Cup triumph, the whole club tasted the bitter fruits of disappointment – yet again.

The game itself was typical of a meeting between the two sides who had dominated the start of the Seventies.  The year before, Arsenal had won the “Double” – becoming champions with a win at Spurs despite having lost an epic encounter at Elland Road shortly beforehand.  So it was the reigning Title and Cup holders Leeds were up against at Wembley that day, but in a less than classic Final, there was really no doubt as to which was the better team.

The fact that this 1972 triumph remains Leeds United’s solitary FA Cup success is somehow symptomatic of where they fell short in those trophy-hunting decades of the Sixties and Seventies.  The best team normally wins the League – that was the case anyway in those level playing field years before it became a case of who had the most money.  But to win a Cup requires that bit of luck, a few breaks here and there.  Leeds have only won one League Cup too, though even then it was a landmark one – the first at Wembley.  We were indisputably the best team around for many years in that Revie reign – but we were never the luckiest nor were we all that fairly treated and, even in the league, we were denied on a few occasions by teams we should have been looking down on from the top.

Still, the fact is that, today, the two domestic Cups offer themselves as the best chance for re-emergent clubs to break into the honours-winning clutch of successful teams.  Titles these days are the preserve of the mega-rich – those who argue that Leeds United are the last genuine Champions do rather have a point, as we were the last club to taste success on a reasonable budget as compared to the bulk of our rivals.  If Leeds were to get back into the big-time sooner rather than later, then a realistic aim would be to consolidate top-flight membership, and look for silverware to the League Cup or – preferably – the FA Cup.  That has been the path followed by Swansea City, an excellent example of a club climbing from the lower reaches of the league ladder, brilliantly managed to tangible success.  And, of course,  Hull City will shortly appear in their first FA Cup Final. Now if they can do it… 

I have been lucky enough to see my beloved Whites win the Football League Championship, and that’s something I’ll never forget – but realistically, I don’t think it’s a thing I’ll see again in my lifetime.  But I’m grateful for having witnessed it, it’s something I can add to the legacy and history of what was a magical Revie-fashioned squad, Super Leeds.  That era is the heritage of all of us, something we can all be massively proud of.  But it’s nice to see the odd honour added to the club’s record with your own eyes – so the ’92 title and even the Charity Shield that followed both mean a hell of a lot to me.

Maybe I will yet see the heroes in the white shirts add further to the list of honours won by my club.  It’s wonderful to think I might – and a repeat of the Wembley triumph of that day forty-two years ago at any point over the next few years would do very nicely indeed.  McCormack or Smith with a diving header to nick the Cup 1-0 for Leeds again?  You never know.

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Leeds Title Retrospective: Villa & Hammers Could Still Make Liverpool Champions – by Rob Atkinson

The Last Champions

The Last Champions

The more years that pass since Leeds United’s 1992 title success, making them the Last Champions – it’s 22 years now – the more the myth is perpetuated by the Man U-friendly media that it was the collapse under pressure of the Pride of Devon that year which denied them the ultimate accolade.  In short – and as echoed in Alex Ferguson’s bile-ridden summary of the season – Leeds United didn’t win the League – Man U lost it.

There had been a lot of talk throughout that last season of pre-Murdoch football about how “fitting” it would be for Man U to at last end up as top dogs after 25 years of hurt (or amusement, depending on your point of view).  There was nauseating speculation about the date that the title would finally “come home to OT”.  Somewhere in Greater Manchester, there is, in all likelihood, a warehouse which still contains souvenir candles, t-shirts and sundry other tawdry tat, prematurely commemorating the 1992 Championship success that never happened for Ferguson’s nearly men. There was a fair degree of confidence in the air, as you can see.

In the end, it wasn’t fitting – because Man U weren’t good enough and Leeds claimed a deserved honour.  The Whites finished top by four clear points, having won most games and lost fewest.  They scored the second-highest number of goals and conceded the second fewest to end up with the best goal difference overall.  Any way you care to look at it, Leeds were worthy champions – but that doesn’t stop the media and others from pushing the “unlucky Man U” myth. And the fact is, as well – the winning margin for the Champions could – and should – have been far greater.

Setting aside the well-remembered banana skins that Leeds contrived to skid wildly on away from home as the season got to its final act – those thrashings at Man City and QPR and a pallid defeat at Oldham – Leeds also managed to let slip four seemingly-vital points at fortress Elland Road, to mar an otherwise unstoppable progress in their home campaign.  In the last eight home games, Leeds won six and drew two.  The only teams to escape from LS11 with anything at all were Aston Villa and West Ham – coincidentally the two clubs Liverpool are now relying upon to upset the Manchester City apple-cart, and deliver a long-overdue title to Anfield.

Those two 0-0 draws at Elland Road served, at the time, to increase the conviction that we were destined to fall short at the end of the season. They were games of missed opportunities, including a rare missed penalty by the normally infallible Gordon Strachan – and those four dropped home points could well have been fatal in the final reckoning.  But as things turned out, the two agonising draws served only to limit the final margin of success, proving that then, as now, it was impossible to call correctly the twists and turns of a title head-to-head.

In the end, it was Man U that bottled it – as Liverpool appear to have done at home to Chelsea and at Crystal Palace – and it was Leeds United who finally held their nerve to close the season out with a series of coldly nerveless performances, culminating in that crazy, decisive match at Sheffield United.

Now, in the moment of Liverpool’s blackest despair, it is those two claret-and-blue clubs which hold the key to the Reds’ remaining shreds of hope. Manchester City have to face the challenge of obtaining four points from the two home games left to them, and thereby clinch a title that was Liverpool’s to lose until these last couple of weeks.

City may well be without their talisman Aguero, but of course they have a squad packed with quality even without the quicksilver Argentinian.  But in his absence, City always seem that bit more more ponderous in attack, that few percentage points less lethal than when he is in there and performing at his best.

Neither Villa nor West Ham have anything to play for other than pride; nor indeed do they have anything to fear.  They may well set out to frustrate the home team in these two Etihad encounters – and in both games, the longer it remains goalless, the more Manchester City would become nervous and doubtful.  The fans would sit there, getting edgy – thinking “typical City”. It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible.

Liverpool, ultimately, will have only themselves to blame if they do end up missing out on what was a golden chance to be Champions again – after so long a time without that once perennial accolade.  The defence has not been good enough and there has been, at times, an unforgivable naivety of approach made worse by shattering individual errors.  A draw was good enough at home to Chelsea, but it was thrown away.  A 3-0 win at Palace would have put the pressure on Man City – but a gung-ho quest for even more goals opened the back door, and the Pulis-inspired Palace nipped in three times to deny the Reds that victory.

It would take a heart of stone not to feel regret and sympathy for the sobbing, devastated double Player of the Year Suarez; he deserves far better from what has been a magical season for him.  And Gerrard, too, deserves more than he looks likely to get.  The list of mediocre players with Premier League medals is a long one, the list of greats who lack one is somewhat shorter.  The injustice of that will not be lost on Gerrard, a player whose fierce desire to be the best has been etched in every line of his being lately; but who is likely, in a vicious twist of fate, to be the man who carries the can for Liverpool pulling up short of the line.

All these players and their team-mates can do now, is wait – and hope.  If Aston Villa – notorious for blowing hot and cold this season – can turn it on at City and claim a highly unlikely win, then the Reds’ fate would be back in their own hands come Sunday.  They would be one home victory over Newcastle from recapturing the Holy Grail; given that vastly improbable last chance, you sense they would not squander it at any price.

Now that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has played his last card in the game of raising the pressure stakes, by publicly conceding the title, City will be as well aware as anyone that a banana skin awaits them on Wednesday, with another beyond that on Sunday.  They’re the same two home-ground banana skins that Leeds United so nearly slipped up on all those years ago in 1992. Can Villa and the Hammers throw a spanner in the works for real this time?