The Community Shield isn’t always the most instructive of football matches, but every now and then ‘the traditional curtain raiser to the season’ serves as a prophetic teaser for the main event. Look at Chelsea’s not-so-surprising-in-hindsight defeat to Arsenal in the summer of 2015, for example. But when it comes to fittingly ominous showpiece events, that had nothing on the 1974 clash between Liverpool and Leeds. No-one knew it at the time, but that one game was the coming season in a nutshell. It was violent, it was ugly and, like the third season of Game of Thrones, it ended with significantly fewer key characters than anyone expected.
A number of characters had, of course, already left. Legendary Leeds manager Don Revie bade farewell to Elland Road to take over from Sir Alf Ramsey as England manager and, after nearly 15 years at Anfield, Bill Shankly decided to step down as Liverpool manager. He would later be asked to stay away from the training ground where his presence was apparently unsettling the players as they adjusted to life under Bob Paisley. The two teams met at Wembley on August 10 for what was then known as the Charity Shield.
It all started so well. This was a new era for both clubs, but one side would do significantly better than the other in the long run. New Leeds boss Brian Clough, more on him later, walked out at Wembley applauding Shankly with every step. And that was arguably as good as it got for Clough at Leeds because after that, it all went awry.
The fireworks started when Kevin Keegan swung wildly through Billy Bremner to retrieve a loose ball and sent the Scotsman flying. Bremner picked himself up, growled and looked around, but Keegan was off already, chasing down Johnny Giles. Keegan was being a pest, and you can understand why Giles was so keen to shake him off, but you would have to say that a full blooded punch in the face was something of an over-reaction. The assault was in full view of the referee, but it was the 1970s and so a yellow card was considered sufficient punishment. Bremner, in the meantime, has a few words to say to Keegan. There follows (at 06.09) what might be one of the worst free kicks in Wembley’s history, the camera pans away and the crowd roars. When the camera returns we can ascertain from the way that Keegan is shouting and Bremner is rubbing his face that Mighty Mouse has got his own back.
“This is just what English football did not want to see,” says Barry Davies, perhaps misjudging the mood of the nation. Both Keegan and Bremner are sent off and, for reasons we cannot ever know, both men immediately strip to the waist. Keegan looks every inch the popstar footballer, rippling with righteous fury. Bremner looks like some sort of condemned meat. Over at the Times, Geoffrey Green shared Davies’ view that this was all very, very bad.
“Football itself has been dragged shamefully through the mud, leaving all thoughtful people to fear for its future,” he wrote. “The final responsibility and remedy rests with all the directors and managers and they should share the penalty. The harder they are hit where it hurts most, the better – either through their pockets with heavy fines or by deducting points from a club’s league total. That might make everybody think twice.”
If all this seems a little heavy-handed, it wasn’t nearly heavy-handed enough for one Tony Barlow, a newsagent from Epsom. He actually applied for summonses to be taken out on Bremner and Keegan under the public order act for behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace. Sensibly, magistrates refused his application, though Barlow himself was still angry. “I shall have to take advice on this,” he told the Times. “I am most surprised at the decision.”
Bremner and Keegan were eventually fined £500 each and banned until the end of September. For Clough, this bad-tempered, nasty affair was an omen, not that he should have needed one.
As manager of Derby County, Clough had made no secret of his contempt for Revie’s Leeds and their use of what he considered the dark arts of gamesmanship, intimidation and violence. At the Baseball Ground, his forceful personality and authoritarian rule had helped (though were by no means his only tools) forge unlikely champions. At Elland Road, the players were already champions and Clough’s gossamer slim hopes of winning them over were dashed the moment he walked into the dressing room and told them to throw their medals in the bin because they’d won them all by cheating. Clough wrote in his autobiography years later that he could have done with Peter Taylor’s help at Leeds. But Taylor wasn’t daft. He stayed at Brighton.
Revie didn’t want Clough. Revie didn’t like Clough. Revie had wanted Giles to replace him. He’d told Leeds as much and Leeds really should have listened. You all know what happened next. Frankly, it was astonishing that Clough lasted as long as he did. What was even more astonishing was that Clough turned up THAT VERY DAY in a TV studio to discuss his acrimonious departure WITH REVIE SAT RIGHT NEXT TO HIM! This website will not be offended if you click that link, and the next two links, and watch the whole extraordinary exchange in full.
Welcome back. No, Clough didn’t last at Leeds and you can read more about that elsewhere. But Revie, Shankly and Clough weren’t the only big name managers to leave Division One. Ron Greenwood stepped down at West Ham, handing team affairs to John Lyall, remaining at the club to, “search for new players,” as a sort of proto-director of football. One week later, Bill Nicholson, mastermind of the Tottenham double winners of 1961 and confirmed purist, threw his hands up at the state of modern football and walked away.
“Players have become impossible,” he said “They talk all the time about security, but they are not prepared to work for it. I am abused by players when they come to see me. There is no longer respect.”
Like Revie, Nicholson wanted Giles to replace him, but the Irishman’s luck really wasn’t in that year. The Tottenham board didn’t want Giles and they didn’t want club icon Danny Blanchflower either. With the same logic that led their successors to appoint Arsenal great George Graham in 1998, they hired former Gunners’ captain Terry Neill. Tottenham are very nearly relegated, saving themselves with a last day win over Leeds. And so, it was all change at the top of English football. But not perhaps the sort of change that English football required.
Violence in football was endemic at this time. There were fights in the stands and on the streets, on the trains and occasionally on the pitch. In September, referee Clive Thomas took out a summons alleging common assault against a supporter who ran onto the pitch and shoved him. A month later, Alan Turvey was officiating in Cardiff when he was punched by one supporter and had tea thrown over him by another. Rocks were thrown at the Newcastle team bus, giving John Tudor a head wound that required 12 stitches. Pitch invasions were frequent. Arrests piled up all over the country.
There was a growing sense that Something Must Be Done, but nobody was entirely sure what. Revie selected 81 players for his first England get-together and told them that they were responsible for the image of the game. He would later suggest the birch as a way of combating football hooliganism. Stoke City, with admirable invention, opt to build a moat between the pitch and the terraces. The Football Association, however, have other battles to fight. FA Secretary Ted Croker is enraged when the BBC re-screen the Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight on a Saturday afternoon. “The BBC pay lip service to having the best interests of football at heart,” he raged, “but when they make decisions like this, one can only wonder about their sincerity.”
Stoke had ambitions beyond medieval fortifications to the Victoria Ground. In November, they paid a world record fee for a goalkeeper, an eye-watering £325,000 for Peter Shilton from Leicester. He kept three clean sheets in his first four games and the Potters topped the table by the end of the month. But in this mixed-up season of widespread transition and rancour, that was not as exclusive a position as it usually was. When Everton, now managed by Billy Bingham, beat Dave Mackay’s Derby on December 14, they became the sixth team to take first place. And they didn’t keep it either.
Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town looked to be running away with the title in September, winning eight of the first nine games, but they couldn’t sustain their form. A similarly good start, five wins from their first six games, put Paisley’s Liverpool top in August, but the Reds won just two games throughout November and December then drew six successive games through February and March. They eventually claimed second place, but Paisley was quietly tinkering with the team, recruiting men like Phil Neal and Terry McDermott. He was a very different character to Shankly, but he had plans. Big plans.
Instead, it was Derby who finished up as champions. Clough’s former club, left confused and broken by their leader’s departure, were slowly repaired by Mackay, one of the key figures in their 1972 success and a man who had little time for lingering troublemakers. It’s a spectacular turnaround, not least because they weren’t doing much better than Clough’s Leeds in the early weeks of the season and were still languishing in midtable on Boxing Day. Goals from Kevin Hector and Bruce Rioch propelled them up into the title race in the spring and they eventually crossed the line on April 23, while sat in a nightclub for their player of the year awards. Ipswich, their last obstacle, had failed to beat Manchester City.
There was, at long last, some good news for Manchester United. Relegated in 1974, they bounced back at the first attempt, winning the second division by three points and going up alongside Aston Villa and Norwich. Tommy Docherty’s side looked more than capable of holding their own in the top flight and after so much upheaval at the club, there was a feeling that only something really, really surprising and possibly unrelated to football could unseat the outspoken Glaswegian.
Back at Leeds, Jimmy Armfield had steadied the ship, slowing lifting the club back to the safety of midtable and eventually to a ninth place finish. But it was the European Cup, the trophy that Revie had wanted but had never won, the trophy that Clough had wanted but had never won, that lay tantalisingly within range. After Clough’s dismissal, assistant manager Maurice Lindley, coach Syd Owen and Bremner picked the team for the game against Burnley. All three of Clough’s signings, Duncan McKenzie, John McGovern and John O’Hare were left out. Leeds lost 2-1, but they didn’t lose against Zurich four days later and they didn’t lose to Ujpest Dozsa after Armfield’s arrival either. Anderlecht were dealt with in the next round and even Barcelona couldn’t prevent Leeds from reaching the final against a Bayern Munich side that had really struggled in the Bundesliga. It was on. Except it wasn’t.
Referee Michel Kitabdjian ignored two clear penalty appeals and then disallowed a Peter Lorimer goal. That said, he also opted not to dismiss Terry Yorath for what was apparently a horrific foul in the fourth minute. Two second half Bayern Munich goals put the game beyond reach, but the Leeds supporters had seen enough. They clashed with French riot police and ripped out seats, hurling them onto the pitch. There was more violence that night in Paris. “All they left was the Eiffel Tower,” said Duncan McKenzie ruefully, years later. UEFA were furious and Leeds were banned from European competition for four years, later reduced to two. Not that it mattered. This was the beginning of the end for the Yorkshire club’s supremacy. They would make one brief appearance in the UEFA Cup in 1979 and would then slip out of the top flight in 1982.
Mackay proved a capable replacement for Clough at Derby, Paisley would eventually surpass Shankly’s achievements at Liverpool, but Leeds didn’t recover from Revie’s departure. At least not until the arrival of one Howard Wilkinson in 1988. But that’s another story…
1, Derby County – 53pts
2, Liverpool – 51pts
3, Ipswich Town – 51pts
4, Everton – 50pts
5, Stoke City – 49pts
Carlisle United, Chelsea, Luton Town
Winners: West Ham
Winners: Aston Villa
Winners: Bayern Munich
Runners-up: Leeds United
EUROPEAN CUP WINNERS’ CUP
Winners: Dynamo Kiev
Winners: Borussia Monchengladbach
FWA FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR
Alan Mullery (Fulham)
How will Bob Paisley fare in his second season in charge of Liverpool? Are Manchester United ready to reclaim their place at the summit of English football? Where’s Brian Clough gone? And has anyone heard anything from Arsenal? Find out next week in 1975/76