When I heard that Brian McDermott was “optimistic” over Rudy Austin’s red card appeal this week, I had a little smile to myself and thought, “You’ve not been at Leeds long enough to know, mate.” It could be of course that a wily McDermott was doing his best to sway the appeal panel by opining the Austin incident was a “complete accident”. Whatever the case, the appeal was turned down, as most Leeds fans would have expected. We don’t really get the breaks where the football authorities are concerned. Sour grapes? Judge for yourselves.
Prompted to cast my mind back over history, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green. The focus is mainly on referees, and I’ve had no compunction about naming and shaming. In reverse order of spectacular bentness, the candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century” are:
No. 5: Wolves 2, Leeds 1 – 8th May 1972 (Ref: Bill Gow)
I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”. It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat. Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.” My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes. It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.
No. 4: Leeds United 1, West Brom 2 – 17 April 1971 (Ref: Ray Tinkler)
No doubts about the culprit here. Ray Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was walking out of a storm and into a typhoon. The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them. Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard. A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal. Then Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward. The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett is loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick. Tony Brown continues his run when Tinkler fails to blow in response to the flag, passes the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scores. A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, is undone in a few mad moments. Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad. And they’ve every right to go mad..” Strong stuff from a sober professional. In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well. So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns. Cheers, Ray.
No. 3: Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0 – FA Cup Semi Final at Villa Park 29 April 1967 (Ref: Ken Burns)
The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers. Or so the Press would have it. Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hately being the difference. Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position. Then, a free kick 25 yards out. The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken. Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net. Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds. The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.
No. 2: Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)
38 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans. 38 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest. Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer. First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either. Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest. Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area. Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up. Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman. More confusion, then the goal is disallowed. Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious of circumstances.
No. 1: Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)
This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan. Justice, as they say, is a gag. Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…” Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”. His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win. Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy. A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on. From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”
There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds. UEFA did nothing. I’ve opened another petition – since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died. It seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter. That petition can be supported here.
Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years. They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really? Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?
These are the 5 most blatant examples I could find of occasions when Leeds have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular. I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tend to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run. I think any Leeds fan would have a wry grin at that one.