Remember when Leeds United beat Liverpool and Manchester United - and still didn’t win the title
In 1972 Don Revie’s team were fighting for the same trophy, and the goals were flying in – especially at Elland Road.
It was at this point in the 1971-72 season that Leeds hit the purple patch of a prolific season. On this day 48 years ago, fresh from a 2-0 win at home to Liverpool, they swept Manchester United aside 5-1.
“I think if we had really gone at them in the last 15 minutes, it could have been more,” said their hat-trick hero, Mick Jones.
Their next home match was a 7-0 win over Southampton.
Ultimately the season did not completely fulfil its promise, Leeds denied the double in extremely tight and – perhaps inevitably given their history – controversial circumstances. Revie’s men finished second in a top four separated by one point.
It was a thrilling ride, and winning the centenary FA Cup final, beating Arsenal 1-0, was more than the consolation prize it would be viewed as today, but one with a bitter ending.
This time around, Leeds will take a few less thrills and spills to get the job done. With the famous Football League trophy now awarded to the winners of the second tier, not the top division, promotion rather than prizes are all-important. If the Whites finish second as they did in 1972, that will be job done. It is just about getting to the Premier League, now, not how they do it.
The demolition of the Red Devils in front of more than 45,000 fans was a sign of how far Revie’s side had come, however, and how the cross-Pennine balance of power had shifted from one United to the other.
“Before things started to happen in a big way for Leeds United, their inexperienced manager Don Revie went to Manchester United and Matt Busby for guidance,” noted Barry Foster in The Yorkshire Post.
Even though Leeds had won the title three years earlier, Foster still saw the 5-1 victory as “the day the former pupils really became the teachers.”
If the Fairs Cup holders were on an upward curve – reaching the Cup Winners’ Cup final the following season and the European Cup final in 1975, back when in it actually was a competition for champions only – their visitors were in decline, two years away from relegation. But they still had all three goalscorers from the team which won the European Cup final four years earlier in Bobby Charlton, George Best and Brian Kidd. This was still a big scalp, belonging to a team which had been top of the table in January.
It was claimed with what Foster called “a golden second-half display that glittered with goals”.
The first half ended scoreless, though only because Alex Stepney kept out Jack Charlton and Tony Dunne twice denied Jones.
The next 45 minutes were a different story and the visitors’ “defence was no match for the irresistible Leeds attackers”. Jones, who had recently recovered from ’flu, claimed a 17-minute hat-trick. Perhaps with parallels to the modern-day No 9, Patrick Bamford, Foster wrote of him: “So often he is so near to a big goal return and so often he gets nothing.”
Eddie Gray was also praised, and Foster called it one of Billy Bremner’s best performances of the season.
Allan Clarke scored the second goal and Peter Lorimer the fifth, made by Jones.
Even better was to come as Southampton were swept away by what The Yorkshire Post’s Richard Ulyatt called “football (which) sometimes reached the point of cold arrogance”.
Again, it had not looked on the cards early on.
“For 40 minutes Leeds United, without extending themselves, controlled the match but their final passes were so bad that it looked as though the match might possibly be drawn,” Ulyatt wrote, only for Clarke and Lorimer to score late in the half. This time it was Lorimer claiming the matchball, Jones only scoring the seventh. Clarke finished with two and Jack Charlton one, with Ulyatt noting that “for a time in his 599th match (he) fancied himself as a centre-forward”.
There was little to occupy the World Cup winner at the other end, where goalkeeper Gary Sprake was “the coldest man on the field”.
“There was not one position in which Southampton were nearly Leeds’s equals,” concluded the report, “and the match was so one-sided it became almost embarrassing to watch”.
Leeds finished the season unbeaten at Elland Road, winning 17 of their 21 games and scoring 54 goals in the process, but nine defeats on their travels cost them the title.
They finished above Liverpool and Manchester City on goal average but a point behind a Derby County side beaten twice at Elland Road that season and managed by a 37-year-old by the name of Brian Clough.
Clough and his squad were famously in Majorca when the title was won, their season having finished a week earlier, when Leeds’s fate was decided at Molineux.
They had been forced to play just two days after winning the FA Cup at Wembley, and the ask proved too big for them.
Jones missed the game having dislocated his elbow in the Cup final, and Clarke and Johnny Giles needed painkilling injections to face a Wolverhampton Wanderers side who would meet Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of the inaugural Uefa Cup final nine days later.
Frank Munro and Derek Dougan put Wolves 2-0 up, and when Leeds were twice denied penalties for apparent handballs, the writing was on the wall. Bremner’s goal gave them hope but they could not score the second which would have brought the title back to Elland Road.
For all the entertainment they provided, they had come up just short.