Leeds United legends receive city’s highest honour

Stars of the greatest side in the history of Leeds United Football Club were awarded the city’s highest honour at a ceremony this afternoon.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 11:45 am

The management, players and back-room team associated with the whites’ “Revie-era” side of 1967-1974 were given freedom of the city following a ceremony at Leeds Civic Hall,

The accolade came following the club’s centenary celebrations last month, and recognises those who starred in the club’s most successful period, winning seven domestic and European trophies.

Reading like a who’s who of Leeds United greats, the roll-call of guests included Norman Hunter, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, Paul Reaney, Frank Gray, Terry Cooper, Peter Lorimer, Gordon McQueen and Eddie Gray.

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Legendary winger Eddie Gray addresses the council chamber on behalf of his former teammates.

The Revie family included his daughter Kim, and grandson Aiden, while members of Paul Madeley’s family also attended.

Accepting the accolade, former Leeds winger Eddie Gray OBE said: “It is a pleasure to stand up here in this special room to receive this award.

“I remember Don saying to me ‘work hard and have a good work ethnic to the game’ – have confidence in your ability and the confidence to carry it out on the football field.”

Paying tribute to former centre half Jack Charlton, who was unable to be at the event, he said: “Jack was a great stalwart for this club.

“Leeds United competed with the best teams in England and the best teams in Europe. It was all down to Don and his staff. I am so pleased to see family members of Don’s here today.

“When I first came here, the city of Leeds wasn’t what it is now. I have seen the city and the team grow in tandem. We were doing well and the city prospered. Leeds is now a great city.

“We were like a family, and the bond we had together was tremendous. For me to stand here today on behalf of my fellow players, it will live with us for the rest of our lives. I would like to say to my teammates that it was a pleasure and a privilege to play with you and to know you as people.

“If Don was here today, he might finish by saying ‘united we were and united we still are and, barring aches and pains, we will keep on marching on together.”

The accolade was announced during the club’s centenary celebrations back in October by council leader Judith Blake, who paid tribute to the team’s heroics today.

She said: “I am proud and emotional to stand before you today. As a proud supporter of Leeds United. If you told my nine or 10-year-old self I would be able to be here with my heroes in this space, I wouldn’t have believed you.

“What we have learned over many years is that the club’s success was dependent on it being a family, making success on the pitch possible.

“I have so many personal stories, and I have bored many of you with tales of my ability to survive the scratching shed. It was very character forming.

“It is the first time the council has bestowed this honour on a group of individuals.

“They brought honour and distinction to the city through their outstanding sporting achievements. The success and achievements of the club between 1967 and 1974 were unprecedented.

“The freedom of the city is the highest honour this city can bestow.

“Such people [to be awarded freedom of the city] include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandella, Alan Bennett, Jimi Heselden and Beryl Burton. That is the esteem with which we hold you.

“We remain eternally grateful for everything the club gave us during the Revie years. They instil an unbelievable amount of pride and honour in our city.”

She then moved the proposal for the team to become honorary freemen of the city.

Conservative councillor Dan Cohen seconded the motion, adding: “To many residents, and even those who have the mildest links to our city, Leeds United is an institution.

“Many thousands travel to Elland Road on matchdays. Across the world between August and May, Saturdays are about one thing: Leeds United.

“Because of their many achievements there are fan clubs throughout the world, and who can blame them – at the time Leeds United were irresistible.

“There are so many iconic moments from this brilliant team. I come from a family – and a community – of Leeds United supporters.

“The club would not be what it is without those golden years. This was truly a great time in the history of Leeds united with so much achieved with those great players gracing the pitch at Elland Road.”

Lib Dem councillor Ryk Downes paid his own tributes, adding: “Who would have thought we’d be here today to be able to do this.

“As a seven year old boy, my mother supported Spurs, my sister supported Chelsea and my best friend supported Arsenal.”

He then added that he would decide to support whoever won the 1972 FA Cup final.

“One of the best teams history has ever seen within this country. It was after that FA cup final that I bought a white shirt with a number 8 sewn in the back of it of my favourite player, Alan Clarke.”

Morley Borough Independent councillor Wyn Kidger said: “I can remember shaking the hand of Billy Bremner after he brought the Fairs Cup home.

“The legends will live on in our hearts for many years and to be part of this wonderful ceremony is awful.”

She joked that fellow councillor Robert Finnigan was especially “in awe” of the team due to his allegiance to Huddersfield Town.

Garforth independent councillor Mark Dobson said: “What is forgotten about that Leeds team is the incredible amount of skill. They sweat blood for 90 minutes but there was an enormous amount of skill.

“Eddie Gray was awesome with the ball at his feet. I have seen George Best playing in his prime, but this guy was better with a football – it might upset the red side of Manchester, so job done, really!”

Green party councillor David Blackburn said: “I didn’t go in the posh end like the leader did, I went in the kop end and got wet through!

“We went to the match at Anfield 51 years ago when we won the league. I never thought I would be stood in this chamber honouring the people as a young man I watched for many Saturdays.

“It allowed me to see European players live at Elland Road – and we were better than they were! Had it not been for unfortunate circumstances, I am certain we should have had more trophies than we did get because it really was Super Leeds.

Councillors voted unanimously to support the motion.