Heartache and a sense of injustice still taint the 1975 European Cup final, but fans and players alike know in their heart of hearts that Leeds United were the real champions of Europe that year. Phil Hay reports.
It was 15 years after the 1975 European Cup final when the injustice of it all truly dawned on Allan Clarke. He flicked on the television and caught an interview with Franz Beckenbauer, reliving the night in Paris when Bayern Munich mugged Leeds United and Leeds smashed the Parc de Princes up.
The discussion with Beckenbauer turned eventually to his tackle on Clarke 34 minutes into the game; a penalty which should have been given but wasn’t. “He admitted straight up that it was a blatant foul,” Clarke says. “It was the first time I’d heard him talk about it and the jist of what he said was: ‘I brought him down, I took him out.’ I sat there thinking ‘what an absolute disgrace.’”
Football’s a small world but Clarke has never seen or spoken to any of the Bayern players who featured that night, or to the referee, Michel Kitabdjian.
“To be perfectly honest, I hope I never do,” he says.
It’s a recurring attitude among a squad of players who were denied the perfect end to a glorious era and have never been able to forget.
It said much that even Jimmy Armfield, United’s mild-mannered manager, found it difficult to be philosophical about a 2-0 defeat which was scandalous in more ways than one.
“I always felt we were robbed,” Armfield told the YEP in 2008.
“What should have been a great night wasn’t.”
The squad at Leeds belonged to Armfield but it had been built in the main by Don Revie before him.
The European Cup was one of the few trophies missing from the record at Elland Road but 1975 was set up as the club’s year, particularly after an epic semi-final defeat of Barcelona.
“That trophy was the pinnacle of club football,” Clarke says. “Representing your country was the biggest honour for a player but at club level, you wanted the European Cup. Obviously I’m aggrieved about what went on. We wanted the trophy and we wanted the medal. We were all of us winners.
“To lift the European Cup back then you had to win your league first. There was none of this finish-fourth-and-qualify nonsense.
“There was no room for error in the early stages either. From round one if you lost over two legs you were out. Good Night Vienna.
“But that final against Bayern Munich must go down as the most one-sided in the history of the European Cup. How a team who played like we did could end up as the losing side I’ll never know. Well, I do know. We were cheated out of it.”
The catalogue of controversial incidents was long, beginning early with a raking, third-minute challenge by Terry Yorath on Bayern’s Swedish defender, Bjorn Andersson.
Andersson was substituted and one of Munich’s other players, forward Uli Hoeness, described it as the “most brutal tackle I’d seen.”
Kitabdjian let it go but began to even the score as the first half wore on and Munich backpedalled.
The French official – now in his 80s and living in Nice – ignored one questionable incident when Beckenbauer, Bayern’s captain and German international, appeared to handle the ball as he lay on the ground inside his box. Clarke’s memory of that decision is less clear than the tackle on him, which Kitabdjian refused to penalise on 34 minutes.
“Everyone in the stadium thought it was a penalty,” Clarke says. “I looked at the Bayern fans behind the goal and some of them had their hands on their head. If you’d been watching on TV at home you’d have had no doubt.
“I’d cut in from the wing and I was about to bend the ball around their keeper into the far corner.
“I’d have scored, I’m certain about that. Then Beckenbauer dived in and wrapped his legs around mine. A more blatant penalty you won’t ever see.
“I was annoyed at the time but even so, it was quite early in the game and we were totally dominant, totally outplaying them. Gerd Muller was lucky if he’d been in our half twice. I could only see us winning. It’s when I think about it now that (the decision) annoys me.”
At the end of half-time, with the final still goalless, Clarke saw Beckenbauer and Muller walking out of Munich’s dressing room together. “They took an age to appear,” Clarke says.
“The bell goes and you all get ready for the second half but they stayed in their changing room a while longer.
“When they came out, the look on Beckenbauer’s face and the look on Muller’s face told me they couldn’t believe it was still nil-nil.
“They’d been done a massive favour and they knew it. I should have realised then that it would be their night.”
The signs for Leeds continued to look promising but ominous. Sepp Maier, the long-serving goalkeeper who Bayern nicknamed ‘the cat from Anzing’, pulled off a brilliant save in the 65th minute to deny Billy Bremner from five yards out.
A minute later, Maier was beaten with equal skill by a trademark Peter Lorimer volley, driven home from inside the box.
What happened next can only be judged on what television footage shows. Kitabdjian appears to point towards the centre circle, awarding a goal. Beckenbauer then confronts him to argue the toss about Bremner straying into an off-side position as Lorimer scored.
Kitabdjian consults with a linesman before disallowing the strike. Television commentator David Coleman can be heard remarking: “I don’t know what Beckenbauer’s claiming but it’s clearly a goal.”
“The ref gave it,” Clarke says. “We were celebrating and thinking ‘at last’. We’d earned that goal the hard way. Then Beckenbauer had a word and you can draw your own conclusion from what happened after he got involved. He had a word and the goal was disallowed.
“I thought then that it was a perfectly legitimate goal and I still do.”
Painter and Leeds fan Gary Edwards – a published author on the subject of United – tracked down Kitabdjian via email for a book called ‘No Glossing Over It’ published in 2011.
In broken English, Kitabdjian defended the decision to disallow Lorimer’s strike, saying Bremner had indeed been offside. Asked about the foul on Clarke and other incidents, he claimed he could not remember them.
“Leeds United were a fine team and very unfortunate,” he told Edwards during one of their exchanges.
Beckenbauer would later admit that Bayern were “very, very lucky.” The Germans finally made the most of Kitabdjian’s help in the 71st minute when Franz Roth finished off a move involving Muller and Conny Torstensson. Muller killed the game by converting Jupp Kapellmann’s cross on 81 minutes, 60 seconds after Armfield sent on Eddie Gray in the hope of salvation.
Riots inside the stadium were in full swing by then with seats and other missiles thrown towards Maier’s net and short-lived pitch invasions.
United were subsequently banned from European football for four years by UEFA, reduced to two years on appeal.
Kitabdjian needed a police escort from the pitch at full-time, though Armfield’s players made no attempt to confront him.
“I was over near our supporters when he went off,” Clarke says.
“There was nothing we could do about it after the final whistle, just as there’s nothing we can do about it now.
“But in my mind we were champions of Europe that night. I love that our fans sing about us being champions of Europe because it reminds everyone of what really went on and how shocking that final was.
“It was brushed over afterwards, no apologies or anything. It could only happen to Leeds United.
“If that had been Manchester United or Liverpool it would all have been different.
“But Leeds – well, if it can happen it does happen.”
Fan’s View: By Phil Beeton
Our coach trip to Paris in 1975 included an overnight stay and cost us £25 a head. That was a bargain even back then and I guess it goes down as one of the positives of the final, writes Phil Beeton (Leeds United Supporters’ Club treasurer).
The European Cup was the Holy Grail. And the way we played right through the tournament made me think we’d go all the way.
What I remember best about that night in ’75 are the contentious decisions. From where we were standing, Beckenbauer’s foul on Allan Clarke was a penalty which 999 out of 1,000 referees would have given. It couldn’t have been more obvious.
I suspected we might be on to a loser, even though we were the better team and we had more than enough on the pitch to see off Bayern. Peter Lorimer’s off-side ‘goal’ was just as bad and that was the final straw for some of the crowd.
The trouble on the terraces was bad. There’s no denying that. People began jumping on seats to break them and use them as missiles. The French police created a bit of a cordon around the perimeter of the pitch. Before long they were in the stands and fighting with some of our fans.
None of the trouble was planned. It wasn’t as if groups of troublemakers went to Paris looking to fight with the police. It was down to total frustration about the decisions that had gone against us. A lot of us were able to look on in anger and disgust without doing anything. Others lost their heads completely.
There was a sense amongst Leeds fans of these things happening again and again. It was that feeling of ‘here we go again’ as things conspired to stop us winning a trophy. Not that I’m trying to excuse what went on. You can’t excuse the violence. At the end of it all there were always going to be sanctions against the club. We had a bit of previous history and Elland Road had been shut during the 1971-72 season because of crowd trouble.
No doubt the authorities reckoned the bad behaviour was an insult to their showpiece event. And it was. You could easily say the same of the refereeing but if it gets out of hand the way it did in Paris then you have to expect that some punishment will follow.
On the night we should have won that final and everyone knows why we didn’t. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to control external forces or stop injustice. As a Leeds fan, it was and is a huge disappointment.