Leeds United Flashback: Nation left in a state of shock after England’s Cup defeat in Mexico

Terry Cooper.
Terry Cooper.
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FORTY-FIVE years ago today, this country was in a state of shock at the dethroning of a world champion.

The team being England, with Alf Ramsey’s World Cup holders heartbreakingly losing an epic quarter-final against the West Germans in the Mexican city of Leon, with Terry Cooper and his Leeds United colleague Norman Hunter feeling the pain acutely.

England let a 2-0 lead at the Guanajuato Stadium slip against Helmut Schon’s side, who claimed a spot of revenge for the World Cup final loss at Wembley just under four years earlier – with Gerd Muller’s extra-time winner landing the final blow.

For the Leeds contingent in the 23-man squad, it was further bitter disappointment after an ‘if only’ campaign on the domestic front, with United losing in an FA Cup final replay to Chelsea at Old Trafford and being knocked out in the semi-finals of the European Cup to losing finalists Glasgow Celtic.

Along with champions Everton, Leeds’ representation in the World Cup party was four players, with Cooper and Hunter joined by Jack Charlton and Allan Clarke. A late-season broken leg suffered by Paul Reaney scuppered his chance of involvement, while Mick Jones was on a 12-man ‘reserve list’ ahead of Ramsey’s final squad being picked. After being surprisingly overlooked on the 40-man list, Reaney’s unfortunate injury handed the chance of a reprieve for Paul Madeley, but having made his own family commitments after not being named in the party, the Leeds utility man turned down the chance.

England reached the quarter-final stage after victories over Romania and Czechoslovakia, sandwiched in between a narrow loss to eventual winners Brazil in a pulsating contest. The only goal of the game against the Czechs was scored from the penalty spot on his debut by Clarke, with the match also a milestone for club-mate Charlton, who made his 35th and final appearance for England. The West Germans beckoned in the quarter-finals on June 14, 1970 and a brilliant first hour saw England lead 2-0. Alan Mullery put Ramsey’s side ahead on 31 minutes with his first international goal for over 30 matches, with the Spurs midfielder ending a delightful move when he coolly fired home following a slide-rule pass from Keith Newton.

The Everton defender was heavily involved in the second four minutes after the interval when his cross was turned in at the far post by Martin Peters.

At the midway point of the second half, England were cruising, with Schon admitting in later years: ‘When it got to 20 minutes from the end of normal time, I felt that our chance had gone.”

The Germans had thrown on the fresh legs of dangerous substitute Jurgen Grabowski, to try and test Cooper in the sweltering conditions, but the Leeds defender – who started all of England’s World Cup games along with Bobby Charlton, Mullery and Peters – remained resolute. Germany did eventually pull one back when Franz Beckenbauer escaped the shackles of Mullery before firing home a low shot under the body of Peter Bonetti, drafted in late on for the ill Gordon Banks, who had originally been named in England’s line-up on the morning of the game.

Bonetti seemed to atone for his error as Germany piled on the pressure with a fine save to deny Gerd Muller, prompting commentator David Coleman to state: ‘Banks got the OBE – Bonetti will be knighted’. Famous last words.

England, who had earlier brought on Colin Bell for Bobby Charlton when they were leading 2-0 – in a perceived move to protect Charlton for the semi-finals – continued to be forced back and they were finally breached again on 76 minutes.

A high ball from Karl-Heinz Schnellinger was not dealt with and captain Uwe Seeler’s back header looped over the stranded Bonetti, out of position, to level proceedings, with England, as Coleman succinctly put it, starting to toil in a game which ‘they never looked like losing.’

Nine minutes from time, Hunter was brought on to provide some defensive ballast and help out the tiring Cooper and while the game ended level at the end of normal time, Germany had the momentum with Beckenbauer, freed of his detail to shadow Charlton, starting to control the game.

The final act arrived on 108 minutes when Muller nipped in front of England’s laboured defence to net the winner.

Four days later, the Conservatives surprisingly won the general election and many senior Labour figures even highlighted England’s shock loss as one of the main reasons for their defeat on polling day.

Minister Tony Crosland famously said the defeat was down to a “mixture of party complacency and disgruntled Match of the Day millions.”

None more disgruntled than Ramsey, who cited the loss of Banks – widely regarded as the best keeper in the world – as the catalyst to the defeat.

“It had to be him. Of all the players to lose, it had to be him,” Ramsey bitterly remarked.


West Germany 3

(Beckenbauer 68, Seeler 82, Müller 108)

England 2
(Mullery 31, Peters 49)

(After extra-time) 
World Cup quarter-final, june 14, 1970

West Germany: Sepp, Vogts, Fichtel, Schnellinger, Höttges, Overath, Beckenbauer, Löhr, Seeler, Müller, Libuda. Subs: Schulz, Grabowski.

England: Bonetti, Newton, Labone, Moore, Cooper, Mullery, Ball, B Charlton, Peters, Lee, Hurst, Subs: Hunter, Bell.

Referee: Ángel Norberto Coerezza (Argentina).

Attendance: 23,357.