Leeds United have twice seen Camp Nou in all its glory: packed to the highest row, deafeningly loud and on one occasion completely overwhelming.
The club’s unscheduled appearance there in 1992, 25 years ago tonight, was the equivalent of visiting a ghost town. “The first round of the European Cup and it felt like a reserve fixture,” recalls Tony Dorigo. “The memories of it, they’re brilliant, but it’s probably the weirdest game I ever played in.”
The third leg of Leeds’ tie against Stuttgart, an administrative shambles on UEFA’s part, was an evening which Dorigo and others have never forgotten. From the feeling of injustice that a match on neutral ground was necessary at all to the surge of euphoria when Carl Shutt came off the bench to beat the Germans, the experience was like few others.
At most, 10,000 were there to watch United’s 2-1 win, many of them local children who were admitted by Barcelona for free. On Leeds’ last outing at Camp Nou, for a European Cup semi-final in 1975, the crowd exceeded 100,000.
The do-or-die meeting between Leeds and Stuttgart owed everything to UEFA fudging its own disciplinary proceedings. Stuttgart had beaten United over two legs on away goals, winning 3-0 in Germany before losing 4-1 on an epic evening at Elland Road, but subsequently confessed to breaking UEFA’s rules on the use of foreign players by fielding a four in England.
Five hours of deliberation by UEFA on October 2, following demands from Leeds that Stuttgart be disqualified, led to a dubious compromise: Leeds would be awarded a 3-0 win in the second leg and a third match at a neutral stadium would decide the outcome. “It was mixed emotions for us,” Dorigo says. “On the one hand you’re relieved to have another chance but on the other there’s a strong feeling that Stuttgart should be disqualified.
“It developed into a big hoo-hah and certainly in England there was a belief that the wrong decision had been taken. The players left all that to the club but we were left thinking ‘what the heck’s going on?’ And by the time the game in Barcelona came round, I guess there was a point to be made. When UEFA first made the announcement we didn’t even know where we’d be playing. A week later you’re lining up at Camp Nou and it’s virtually empty.”
The notice given to both clubs was unavoidably short but, on Friday evening, around 2,000 Leeds fans made it to Spain. Leeds had much to play for – a place in the second round and a ‘Battle of Britain’ against Rangers – but the mass of empty seats around them created a surreal atmosphere.
“It was a strange mental battle for the players, reminding ourselves that it was a big night,” Dorigo says. “When we played Rangers in the next round, the atmosphere at both grounds was crazy. It made those games feel like the most important you’d ever played in but Stuttgart was like being behind closed doors. When Carl scored the winner, it was hard to avoid celebrating with an empty stand.”
Shutt’s 77th-minute goal was the defining moment of his career with Leeds and perhaps the most memorable of his career in its entirety. A bit-part player in Howard Wilkinson’s first division team, the striker was in his final season at Elland Road but succeeded in stamping his name on United’s first campaign in the European Cup for almost 20 years.
“Of the all the places and all the nights to score a goal like that, he timed it perfectly,” Dorigo says. Dorigo led the move which created Shutt’s goal, counter-attacking from a Stuttgart corner after Shutt headed a clearance out of United’s box. Shutt covered the length of the pitch and ran onto a pass from the left-back, gliding around Stuttgart defender Gunther Schafer and slotting the ball into the net.
Until that point, the football had been nip and tuck. Gordon Strachan opened the scoring with a 25-yard strike on 34 minutes which flew in off a post but Stuttgart quickly levelled through Andrei Golke.
With 14 minutes to play and the game at a tense stalemate, Wilkinson threw on Shutt in place of an ineffective Eric Cantona and Shutt struck with one of his first touches, shooting under goalkeeper Eike Immel from 12 yards.
“A magnificent night, a magnificent result and a terrific performance,” said Wilkinson when the final whistle ended the most peculiar of ties.
“The celebrations afterwards were huge,” Dorigo says. “Even though it was early in the competition it felt like we’d gone through so much to get to the second round.
“I distinctly remember Carl in the dressing room afterwards, with his back against a wall and an arm over his face. The rest of us were going crazy and he stood there silently. Someone said to him ‘what’s the matter?’ and he said ‘I’m just emotional’. We all fell about laughing but I could see what he meant. It was all a bit too much – the realisation of what he’d done and how big the goal was.”
Rangers were waiting and the Independent’s Joe Lovejoy casually wrote: “(Leeds’) sense of anticipation will be heightened by the prospect of further progress: Scotland’s champions are not as good as Stuttgart.” The reality would be sadly different.