Whites legend Eddie Gray reflects on the night Leeds United were the REAL champions of Europe
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Except Leeds United are not, and never were.
Yet Whites legend Eddie Gray knows one viewing of the European Cup final from 45 years ago today would suggest otherwise and fully justify the chant on the terraces still heard today.
By their own exemplary standards set under Don Revie, Leeds United’s 1974-75 campaign was not exactly proving one to savour aside from the club’s adventures in Europe.
Two months after guiding Leeds to their second First Division title in six years, Revie left the Whites to take the England job, succeeding Alf Ramsey and caretaker-manager Joe Mercer at the helm of the Three Lions with United looking to Brian Clough as Revie’s successor.
Clough, recruited to Leeds from Brighton, had steered former club Derby County to the 1972 First Division title, pipping Revie’s runners-up Leeds by a point.
Yet two years on, Clough’s ill-fated reign at Elland Road began with defeat on penalties to Liverpool in the Charity Shield and after just eight games in charge and only one victory Clough was sacked and replaced by Bolton Wanderers boss Jimmy Armfield.
Armfield steadied the ship but a Leeds side who had finished in the top four for every season in the past ten years were only set for a ninth-placed finish in Armfield’s first season in charge.
United’s bid for glory in the FA Cup ended in the quarter finals with Leeds dumped out of the League Cup in round four.
Yet the season still ended with the prospect of Leeds being one game away from being crowned champions of Europe for the first time in their history via a European Cup final against holders Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
Victories over two legs against FC Zurich, Ujpesti Dozsa, Anderlecht and Barcelona in the previous rounds had booked United’s place in the final - the outcome of which still rankles to this day.
After two penalty claims were ignored and Peter Lorimer saw a rasping strike disallowed for offside by French referee Michel Kitabdjian, goals from Franz Roth and Gerd Muller gave Bayern a 2-0 victory.
Gray admits there was then no excuse for the trouble that followed in Paris afterwards but the legendary Whites winger also knows that Leeds United were the real champions of Europe of 1975, irrespective of what the record books say.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we were the better side,” Gray tells the YEP.
“I think everybody knows that and the Bayern Munich players knew that, for all the top players they had. I think they knew that too.
“But it just wasn’t to be and that was the disappointing thing and I think that’s why the fans still sing what they do.
“I think that they look back on that game and think ‘okay, we were cheated out of the game but we will just take it as if we won the European Cup.”
Reflecting on the game itself, Gray recalled: “Funnily enough, from a personal point of view, it wasn’t a good time for me.
“I only played 12 league games that season.
“I played in a few of the big games. Jimmy played me at home when we played against Anderlecht.
“I never played away against Anderlecht.
“I played against Barcelona at home, he never played me away and he left me out of the European Cup final team which I can understand because I was struggling with my thigh injury at that particular time but it was disappointing for me.
“But for the football club in general it was a bit of a disastrous night.
“We talk about Peter’s goal being disallowed, we had a couple of really top claims for a penalty kick and (Franz) Beckenbauer’s foul on Allan Clarke was a stone waller.
“There’s no doubt about that, if you watch it again, I don’t know how he got away with it.
“The offside decision was disappointing and the French referee who had a funny name to pronounce disallowed the goal, never gave us a penalty kick and obviously Roth and Muller scored for them quite quickly.
“I went on as a sub with ten minutes to go but the game had slipped away and was slipping away from us then.
“It was disappointing but not only on the field of play was it disappointing for the football club that night with the troubles off the field night.
“I think it was the combination of the disappointment of losing a European Cup final which Don had always dreamed of winning and Jimmy Armfield did well to get the club to a European Cup final and the referee’s decisions.
“But there’s still no excuse for the trouble that went on inside and outside of the ground.
“It was a huge disappointment for all of the players.”
In beating Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals, United had already gone one step further than in their maiden European Cup campaign as 1969 First Division champions in 1970.
Back then, United were denied a place in the final by a 3-1 loss on aggregate to Jock Stein’s Celtic in the Battle of Britain as a record 136,505 filled the second leg at Hampden Park.
United then won their second Inter-Cities Fairs Cup the following season but United’s 1974 First Division triumph presented a second crack at the real big one and United had other obstacles to overcome in the final.
Gray explained: “When you look at the team there were a few players not playing and we were a little bit unlucky in a way from the point of view of that Gordon McQueen was suspended for the game and Paul Reaney could not play so you were missing a few players.
“But when you actually look at the side that played, there were a few players that were coming to the end of their careers at Leeds and probably people say too quickly.
“A few of the players moved on after that and that was the start of the club not slipping away but not being right at the very top of the game in England.
“When you actually look at how the club did in the leagues, after the European Cup final, slowly but surely, it just slipped away a bit.
“The year of the European Cup final we finished ninth in the league and fifth the next year but then it started to slip a little bit - tenth, ninth.
“We were always used to being up there right at the top and then eventually the club got relegated so that was disappointing.
“But that night will be a night that will remain in all of the memories of all of the players that were involved in it and for me even though I never started the game.”
Explaining how the final also prevented a double dose of misery for the Gray’s, Eddie added: “My brother Frank played in that game.
"Frank had made his breakthrough then, early 70s and he became a regular in the side.
“Funnily enough, at one point Frank was the only player to have represented two clubs in a European Cup final - two different clubs - Leeds and Forest.
"Frank won the European Cup with Forest so that was great for him.
"But it was disappointing for our players for a long time, the likes of Paul Reaney and Billy (Bremner) and Paul Madeley and Norman (Hunter) and obviously Peter and Allan Clarke and Johnny Giles.
"They had played a long time for the football club and so that was very disappointing.”