THE most expensively-assembled gathering of footballing talent to assemble on British soil strode out at Elland Road on the night of April 9, 1975 when Leeds United locked horns with Barcelona in a game which yielded record receipts of £90,000.
That famous European Cup semi-final first leg in West Yorkshire ended with Leeds being fairly well off, if not exactly wholly quids in after a 2-1 success over the Catalans with a second instalment at the Camp Nou a fortnight later.
A well-heeled cast, worth an estimated £5m, took to the stage, including the sport’s chief poster boy, three-times European Footballer of the Year Johan Cruyff, signed by Barca for a world record £922,000 almost two years earlier.
Pitted against Cruyff was another great in Billy Bremner and while both claimed victories after that first leg at Elland Road in front of a huge attendance of 50,393 – Leeds’ last 50,000 home crowd – it was the Scot’s unshakeable belief and conviction which was the more forceful in front of the press afterwards.
Bremner gave Leeds a dream start with an opener after nine minutes and while Barca levelled midway through the second half thanks to Juan Manuel Asensi’s controversial free-kick, the hosts deservedly had the final word, courtesy of Allan Clarke’s winner 12 minutes from time.
The result provided Leeds with a positive advantage ahead of the second leg in Catalonia, with Barca also having reason to be satisfied after grabbing a potentially vital away goal.
Not that Bremner was having any of that. He said: “A one-goal lead is enough because we expect to win over there.
“I was not impressed by Barcelona at all. We tend to build up these continental teams too much and when the game is played, they don’t turn out the way we feared.”
The line-ups unveiled ahead of kick-off certainly raised eyebrows among Leeds fans, with Norman Hunter omitted along with Peter Lorimer.
Jimmy Armfield opted for the extra pace of Paul Madeley to combat Cruyff, while Terry Yorath started in midfield to provide extra defensive cover.
In addition, Armfield left out Trevor Cherry in favour of Frank Gray, with Duncan McKenzie also not lining up.
Armfield’s changes were largely vindicated, with Cruyff and his decorated Dutch compatriot Johann Neeskens subjugated in the nerve room of midfield by Bremner and Johnny Giles. The pair were involved in the hosts’ opener when Giles found Joe Jordan, whose header was latched onto by Bremner, whose angled shot beat Salvador Sadurni, with the Scot becoming the first player to score in that season’s competition against Rinus Michel’s side.
With Madeley keeping Cruyff under lock and key, Barca were somewhat muted, only to burst into belated life on 66 minutes.
Cruyff temporarily escaped from the shackles of Madeley to slip in Juan Carlos Heredia who was judged to have been checked on the edge of the box by Paul Madeley – with Belgian referee Vital Loraux incurring the wrath of the vast majority of the partisan crowd by awarding a free-kick. The sense of incredulity increased manifestly when Cruyff rolled the ball to Asensi, who fired a precision shot past David Stewart.
But on 78 minutes Madeley’s pass released Reaney, he found Jordan who fed Clarke, and he lashed the ball home from close range for his 21st goal of the season.
Leeds United 2
(Bremner 9, Clarke 78)
Barcelona 1 (Asensi 66)
European Cup, semi-final April 9, 1975
Leeds United: Stewart, Reaney, F Gray, McQueen, Madeley, Yorath, Bremner, Giles, E Gray, Jordan, Clarke.
Barcelona: Sadurn, de la Cruz, Gallego, Peres, Migueli, Alvarez Costas, Cruyff, Asensi, Neeskens, Heredia, Rexach.
Referee: Vital Loraux (Belgium).