Leeds United’s European Cup semi-final clash in Barcelona dominated thoughts but two Welsh teenagers, making debuts, ensured a home win over high-flying Ipswich in 1975.
THE Bay City Rollers’ smash hit Bye Bye Baby may have been top of the charts back in April 1975, but it was a couple of other Celt teeny-boopers who broke the hearts of a team of number one wanabees at Elland Road.
Leeds United’s hopes of retaining the Division One title they won at a canter the previous season may have been long gone by the tail end of the 1974-75 campaign but their sights were set very much abroad rather than on home glory.
Yet Welsh boys Carl Harris and Glan Letheran – then in digs together – still managed to play a fateful role in the most fluctuating championship race for years on the afternoon of April 19.
Both were the unlikely heroes at either end of the pitch for United in their final home league clash of the season against Bobby Robson’s title-chasing Ipswich Town, when the injury-hit hosts triumphed 2-1.
Handed his league bow after entering the fray with just 10 minutes on the clock due to a rib injury to Johnny Giles in his last Elland Road appearance, Neath-born Harris, just 18, netted a 62nd-minute winner from an acute angle in front of a crowd of 30,174.
Sharing in the bouquets – in what proved to be his only ever start for the Whites – was rookie keeper Letheran, born just 20 miles away from Harris in Llanelli.
Letheran, in as a replacement for groin-injury victim Dave Stewart, made a couple of stunning late saves to deny Town’s best player, Kevin Beattie, and help United claim a spot of revenge after failing to beat the East Anglians in five previous fixtures that season, including an FA Cup sixth-round tie that went to three replays.
Letheran’s exemplary display was such that boss Jimmy Armfield revealed he would have no qualms starting with a player, then just shy of his 19th birthday, if Scottish international Stewart wasn’t fit in time for United’s date with destiny against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the second leg of European Cup the following Wednesday.
That never transpired and proved pretty much it as far as Letheran’s United career was concerned, but on that spring Saturday, he and Harris were the toast of Elland Road – and Derby as well.
On a day which saw the top five all fail to pick up victories, the big winners were Dave Mackay’s Rams, despite having to settle for a draw at East Midlands rivals Leicester City.
Billy Bingham’s Everton fluffed their lines along with Bob Paisley’s Liverpool – 1-0 losers at Middlesbrough – and Ipswich, while Tony Waddington’s Stoke City, another title contender, played out a goalless home draw with Newcastle United.
But given the fact that Leeds’ line-up was devoid of a host of leading lights with Eddie Gray, Joe Jordan, Allan Clarke, Frank Gray, Duncan McKenzie and Stewart all sidelined – and Giles leaving the fray early in the piece – it was Ipswich who had most to rue after failing to get within two points of Derby and with a game in hand.
While the champagne corks were popping among United fans after they booked their place in the European Cup final in Catalonia four days later, there were similar scenes at the Baseball Ground after Ipswich’s draw at Maine Road handed County their second championship in four years. And this despite Derby winning two fewer games than their Suffolk rivals and losing two more than Everton.
Back in the YEP’s Green Post on April 19, “New Boy Hits Storybook Winner” was the headline to Don Warters’ match report as fresh-faced Harris and his United team-mates turned around a 1-0 deficit to pocket the points.
Town, who fielded key forward David Johnson after he passed a fitness test, took the lead when a fine run by Mick Mills ended in him supplying talented young midfielder Brian Talbot, who gave Letheran no chance with a fiercely struck 26th-minute effort.
Undeterred, and keen to sign off at home with a bang, United hit back with the strong running of pacy youngster Harris earning a 40th-minute corner which ended in Peter Lorimer’s right-wing cross being fired home, via a deflection, from Trevor Cherry with the visitors appealing in vain for offside.
The decisive moment arrived just after the hour mark when Laurie Sivell palmed out Billy Bremner’s shot, seemingly for a flagkick, before Harris stole in and netted from the tightest of angles.
On a dream day, Harris, who made his Whites’ debut as a late replacement in the second leg of their European Cup round two home clash with Ujpest Dosza at Elland Road in November, recalls: “With it being my first league game and being so young, the game always sticks out in my mind. I’ve still got a few photos and scrapbooks and things.
“They used to normally put the teamsheet up on Friday mornings after training – the first team and the reserve team on the board. It was basically a case of looking at that and I couldn’t believe it when I was in.
“I’d done well in the reserves, but to get your league debut at a club like Leeds was a bit of a surprise, definitely. None of my family even managed to get up as it was so sudden.
“But when you are young, you don’t really think about things and tend to take it in your stride.
“When I was in school I supported Leeds, so to go to a club where there were the likes of Bremner and Paul Madeley – a top team at the time – was a dream. I could have gone to Chelsea and Burnley as well at the time, but Leeds was always my choice – being my favourite team. Nearly everyone of my age back home was a Leeds fan.
“But after going to Leeds I came back to Wales at 15 as I was a bit homesick. I then played in the Welsh League with men really and I think that benefited me for that year when I made my debut, to be honest.
“It was quite a good standard and tough and rather than be with the apprentices, it brought me on really.
“I remember the Ipswich game as they were a top team at the time and going for the league along with a few other sides and it was a really big game for them.
“You only had one sub in those days and thankfully I was named sub for that game and remember Johnny getting injured, so it was through him really I got my chance.
“I was a bit nervous when I went on, but quickly got into the game and then it wasn’t so bad and I just enjoyed it.
“With my goal, I recall someone hit a shot and the Ipswich keeper pushed it towards his right. It was going to the byline really, but I managed to just get in a left-footed shot back on target at the near post and he (Sivell) kind of parried it and it went in. It was a fantastic feeling, right in front of the Kop.
“It was a great moment but, looking back, I wasn’t really one for celebrating and can’t really remember doing much that night. I wasn’t driving then and it was just a case of getting the bus home!
“With me and Glan both being Welsh lads, it was great for everyone back home. I was in digs with Glan. He joined the year before me, along with Byron Stevenson, who has passed away.
“I was good mates was Glan; I was player-manager for a team in the Welsh League called Briton Ferry and Glan helped me for a spell.”
Harris was part of the United squad which jetted out to Barcelona a few days later, as cover for Duncan McKenzie, struggling with a shoulder injury.
But the Nou Camp cauldron proved no place for a teenager, with the stage left to the senior men, including goal-hero Lorimer, whose presence on the right of midfield ensured Harris’ opportunities were limited in his first few seasons as a fully-fledged professional.
Patience did eventually prove a virtue with Harris going onto be crowned top-scorer, albeit with just 11 goals, in 1980-81, while establishing himself on the international scene.
But with United in a mess, on and off the pitch, following the relegation season of 1981-82, the club cashed in and sold Harris to Charlton that summer for £100,000.
Harris, after conquering an early bout of homesickness to become a success at Elland Road admits, in an ideal world, he wouldn’t have left.
“I didn’t have to leave. To be honest, I could have gone to Man United. The chief scout, Tony Collins, rang me up to tell me to wait and hang on and I think Leeds were in trouble money-wise.
“They could have got me cheaper, but I ended up going to Charlton. I was friendly with Leighton Phillips from my time in the Welsh team and he had just taken over as coach there. I just plumped for them, rather than hanging about.”
“Looking back, I’m proud of my time at Leeds, although it was hard to break into the team with Peter Lorimer in my position. If I’d been in a lesser team, I most probably would have played more.”