Mick Jones and Peter Lorimer take a candid look back at United’s ill-fated 1973 FA Cup final date with destiny at Wembley.
Leeds United were 8-1 on to win the FA Cup final in 1973. People thought it was a foregone conclusion. I knew a guy who put eight grand on us, even though he stood to win only one.
Confidence was high and the players felt it. Nobody could see us coming unstuck. But that day at Wembley is one of the few games I can remember where all 11 of us from front to back had a bad, bad day.
I can’t explain why that happened, even now. We’d reached the final for the second time in two years and we finished high up the first division without winning it. The days before the FA Cup final felt the same as any others. But none of us played well at Wembley – not Johnny Giles, not Billy Bremner, not Norman Hunter and certainly not me.
That’s how it has to go if the cup’s going to produce an upset. When you get a game where a top-flight team are playing a lower-league side, it’s highly unlikely that the underdogs will cause a shock if the big-hitters they’re up against perform to their full potential.
In the circumstances Don Revie must have been so disappointed with the way we played. We as players were very frustrated. It wasn’t an occasion where we could moan about luck, the referee or anything else. Take nothing away from Sunderland. They were better than us. They deserved to win.
For what it’s worth, that Sunderland team had plenty about them. They weren’t on the level of a side like Arsenal, who we’d beaten in the centenary cup final a year earlier, but they had lots of energy and no lack of ability for a second division team. I honestly don’t think we underestimated them. We just didn’t click.
They got the only goal quite early on and that set the tone for the whole afternoon but we’d all agree that it wasn’t the vital moment. That came later in the second half when Jim Montgomery produced an unbelievable stop and kept out Peter Lorimer’s chance.
I had a perfect view of it. Allan Clarke and me were right there, standing in the box as it fell to Peter. We knew Lorimer – chances like that he finished in his sleep. He was deadly from a long way out and that chance was at very close-range. To be totally honest, he should have scored. At the time all of us told him that. It was one of those where it seemed harder to miss.
Peter will tell you that he hit it perfectly and he’s probably right. I’m still not entirely sure how their keeper managed to keep it out. The situation was pretty desperate and all he could do was chuck himself in the right direction and hope for the best. It’s the sort of save a keeper makes on a day which is going to belong to his team.
If that had gone in then I’m sure we’d had gone on to win the game. We were struggling with our performance and we needed a shot in the arm. Sunderland had held out for quite a while by then and I’m sure an equaliser would have come as a big blow.
Needless to say, you have regrets about finals you lost. That was a chance to put a second FA Cup winners’ medal in our pockets – and don’t forget that Leeds haven’t won the trophy since. We went on to win the league the following season and because we were a top side, people probably reckoned another FA Cup final would come around before long. It just goes to show, doesn’t it? But as far as 1973 is concerned, one thing I’m not is bitter. That was the FA Cup and that’s what we all loved about it – the fact that a second division side could not only get to the final but beat a team who’d won the trophy a year earlier and would win England’s top division a year later.
If you want the FA Cup to have magic and an aura about it then it has to have upsets. And if it has to have upsets, it’s only right to expect that one day you’ll be the victims. The competition’s shown time and again that no-one’s immune.
We’re 40 years on now and people still hark back to 1973. They still remember that save from Lorimer and the shock Sunderland caused. As a Leeds player that day, I can take it on the chin.
I can look at the result and say ‘isn’t that why we all love the game?’ Football can’t always follow the odds. And it would be very dull if it did.
The biggest disappointment in my Leeds United career was the European Cup final in 1975. But second behind that, without any contest, is the FA Cup final two years earlier.
If you’re going to be involved in a major upset then trust me, it’s best to be causing it. In the 1973 final – Leeds versus Sunderland – we were the shortest-priced favourites there’d ever been. And in our heads I think we all thought we deserved that favouritism 10 times over.
We were the FA Cup holders and we were the team. Sunderland were a second division side, albeit a good up-and-coming squad. They had some young talent in there – Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Dave Watson, a future England centre-half – but we expected to win at Wembley. That Leeds team expected to win every week.
In the first 25 minutes we created two or three decent chances, all of which we should have taken. So early on, we were guilty of trying to be too posh and too big-time, of trying to walk the ball into the net. Complacent? I guess we probably were. I knew our lads and at the back of my mind I assumed those chances would come again.
Then, with about half-an-hour played, a corner comes into our box, nobody deals with it and Ian Porterfield volleys it into the net. Straight away you get that horrible feeling in your stomach – we’re hot favourites here, we’re supposed to be playing these off the park. The pressure’s on.
That goal did the trick for them. Unusually, everything we tried became a bit desperate. Time ticked on and it began to look ominously like their day, especially when Jim Montgomery pulled off his famous save from me towards the end of normal time.
The thing about that chance is that given the opportunity again, I wouldn’t do anything different. Jim was on the ground after parrying Trevor Cherry’s header and I did everything right. I didn’t leather the ball or risk sending it over the bar. I got a good clean contact, hit the target and played the percentages. In my head I thought ‘one-all’. Somehow Jim got a touch to it, knocked it onto the crossbar and saved the day for them.
The ball came down and hit the goalline and a few of our lads appealed for a goal but I knew it wasn’t in. I’ve spoken to Jim a few times since and we only disagree on one thing. He says he pushed the ball onto the bar. I’m convinced that it hit his elbow and he got lucky. But he was the hero of the hour and I’m not going to steal his thunder. One way or the other, he did what he was there to do.
I get reminded of that chance over and over again. Everywhere I go, there’s always a bloody Sunderland fan waiting to ask me about it. Whenever I speak at after-dinner events, I try to get it out of the way early doors. “Any Sunderland supporters in here?” There’s usually one!
At full-time we were in a state of shock. The disappointment, though – that sank in much later. As a player you feel frustration when you lose big matches but equally, you’re out there doing a job. You want to win trophies but you accept that you can’t win everything.
The agony of 1973 really struck home for me when I went to the 1996 League Cup final between Leeds and Villa. It was the first time I’d been among our fans for a major final and Leeds were dismal that day. Seeing people on the terraces in tears made me realise how much it really hurts and how much it must have hurt in 1973.
As for Sunderland, you’ll remember them celebrating their cup win by carrying a white coffin through the streets with the words ‘Leeds died 1973’ painted on one side of it. Some people might call that disrespectful but I didn’t have a problem with it.
It was Sunderland’s day and their moment. Given the way English football is now, it’s nice to know that the FA Cup used to mean so much to people.
Much as I hate looking back at that final, it was a huge deal to all of us.
The clubs are meeting again this weekend, for the first time in cup since ’73. The players on both sides are far too young to feel any of the old rivalry but I know for a fact that there’ll be Leeds fans in the crowd who are desperate for a bit of revenge, even 40 years on.
Sunderland will take the tie seriously. They’re in that group of Premier League clubs who see the FA Cup as a major target – not the afterthought it’s become for sides at the top of the table.
I’d like to look back now and say that in 1973 we had much bigger fish to fry. I’d love to be able to claim that and save a bit of face. But who would I be kidding?