“I have played in nine finals of one kind or another, and I’ve never been on the losing side.” Those were the words of Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sepp Maier on the eve of the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris. He then went on to predict an extension of that remarkable sequence, believing his side would beat Jimmy Armfield’s Leeds United "2-0 or 2-1".
But as Leeds tore the German side to shreds in the opening minutes of the match at the Parc des Princes, it looked highly likely that Yorkshire pluck rather than German luck was going to hold sway. By the end of the night, however, with Maier doubtless wearing a smug ‘told you so’ grin, it was Leeds, rather than Bayern, who were left to face not just gut-wrenching disappointment but also the full fury of UEFA’s ire.
Had Leeds won that final, it would have been the crowning glory of an era dominated by the omnipresent figure of Don Revie. He had left Elland Road to answer his country’s call the previous July but was in Paris for a match which would, in the words of Geoffrey Green, football correspondent for The Times, represent the club’s “Everest”. “This is the big one,” he wrote. And he wasn’t wrong. After a gruelling campaign in Europe and disappointing one on the home front – Leeds finished ninth after a dismal start to the season under the soon-to-depart Brian Clough – the match in Paris offered this ageing side one final shot at writing their name into folklore.
Revie may have gone but the spine of the greatest Leeds United side in history was still very much in place. Billy Bremner, Jonny Giles, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer and Allan Clarke were all in Armfield’s starting line-up – staring the likes of Gerd Muller, Uli Hoeness and Franz Beckenbauer unflinchingly in the eyes.
Bayern had suffered a shocking league season, despite winning the European Cup the previous year by defeating Atletico Madrid. Twelve months on and languishing in mid-table, they needed to beat Leeds to ensure qualification for the tournament again. Armfield's side were out to ensure that didn’t happen.
“That team was determined to win that cup for Revie; they could have lost every match in the league but still made it to the final, that’s how much it meant to them,” says Phil Beeton, secretary of the Leeds United Supporters' Club, and one of the thousands who poured across the Channel in anticipation of a famous success 40 years ago. “Once that team put their mind to something, it was inevitable they would achieve it. It was certainly good enough to beat Bayern – if you can beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals to get there in the first place then you’re not doing bad.”
It took just four minutes for the blue touch paper to be lit, with Terry Yorath’s brutal challenge on Bjorn Andersson leading to the Swede being stretchered off ("It was the most brutal foul I think I have ever seen," said Bayern's Hoeness later). Yorath – mercifully, for the army of Leeds fans packed into the stands – was spared a red card. That may have been a stroke of luck, but it would be the final break afforded to Armfield’s men. A first-half handball inside the box by Beckenbauer went unnoticed by the referee, before the German great clattered Clarke just minutes later.
“We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Beeton says. “It was a horrendous foul in the box and the only guy who didn’t realise it was a stonewall penalty was the referee.”
If that decision by Frenchman Michel Kitabdjian ensured that he would never be welcome in Yorkshire, worse was to follow 20 minutes into the second half after a long period of Leeds domination.
“Giles floated over a free-kick, and as the ball bobbed around in a crowded goalmouth, Lorimer volleyed high into the net,” Geoffrey Green wrote in The Times. “Leeds went wild with excitement, only to be dashed in the next moment when the referee disallowed the goal.”
Replays showed that Bremner had strayed marginally offside, although only fractionally, but another perceived injustice only served to darken the mood. “The crowd was right behind the team, they were vociferous, there were so many colours in the stands that night,” Beeton says.
“But the mood started to change when one or two decisions went against them, because people realised that they were really being cheated. Some people can take it on the chin but a lot of other people can’t and that resulted in the violence in the stands.”
I predict a riot
With 20 minutes remaining, and the French referee shifting nervously, things went from bad to worse as a cross-shot from Franz Roth, following some neat work from Muller and Conny Torstensson, nestled inside David Stewart’s far post. With just nine minutes left, the final insult was applied by Muller himself. “[Jupp] Kapellmann broke to the right and there was Muller, quick as a cobra on the half turn, to slip in the cross like lightning,” wrote Green. As the clock ran down, Bayern’s jubilant fans celebrated. Their Leeds counterparts, however, had other things on their mind.
“I was in the corner away from it all but it didn’t look nice,” Beeton says. “There were seats being smashed up and riot police moving in. You don’t condone violence and a reaction like that but you can understand how people felt. We had been cheated, no doubt about it. It was hard to take and if it was bad for the fans then imagine how the players felt - it was the pinnacle of their careers for a lot of them.” In the post-match press conference, Armfield adopted a rather more prosaic attitude to defeat. “I did not agree with his decisions, but that’s football,” he told reporters when quizzed on the performance of Kitabdjian. “I thought the decisions hurt our team. If anything we had too much of the ball. We did all the running and tired ourselves out. The lads played well. They played their hearts out and I think that makes it worse.”
The bill, please
The match may have been over but Leeds supporters were far from finished. “The diary and cost of the aftermath [which carried far into the night, with shattered windows and more] made grim reading – a lost eye for a German TV operator, a broken arm for a photographer, the smashing of a £50,000 television camera. All of this was caused by seats ripped from their moorings and launched like flying saucers - that is to say nothing of skirmishes in the city and damage to private property,” Green wrote.
Such was the impact of the violence that UEFA were even thought to be considering the possibility of abandoning European competition altogether. “It cannot go on like this,” said one senior figure. While a minority of Leeds fans ran amok on the streets of the French capital, Beeton and his travelling pals took themselves off to the Eiffel Tower for some sightseeing. The club itself would never scale such heights again.
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