Back to the 70s: A ‘Bridge of Troubled Water’ for Don Revie – 1970 part one

Don Revie 1970

A misty landscape, eerie music, a howling wind…then, just visible over the horizon, it all becomes a little more explicit. Images start to sharpen, voices become more distinct, and clarity once more ensues.

Senses now cleared, society braces itself once again. It’s here. It’s finally here.

The end of the ‘sixties and the onset of the legend that would become the ‘seventies.

It’s January 1, 1970 – and, more importantly than that, it’s time for our latest delve back into history. So, buckle up, settle down, and let’s see what was ‘a-go’ more than fifty-odd years ago.

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Well, not ageing well at all is a brief – very brief – look at the music scene in January 1970 as the number one single as the decade dawned was wibbled by the disgraced-and-best-forgotten Rolf Harris with, erm, ‘Two Little Boys’, and on January 4th, The Who drummer, the legendary Keith Moon, fatally ran over his own chauffeur while trying to escape a mob of fans outside a pub.

Well, if that somewhat contrived and spooky intro has not seen you tutting, sighing and deciding to spend the next few minutes elsewhere, let’s swiftly move onto the footy, shall we?

The year ahead looked like it was going to be an exciting one for Leeds United and their ever-popular gang of assassins in football boots, erm, I mean, their ‘tough-but-fair-working-class-heroes’, as they set about defending the league title won the previous spring whilst having a decent crack at adding the FA and European Cups at the same time.

Also buzzing along with high hopes were Dave Sexton’s King Road starlets, the Chelsea side of supposed class and style that attracted both movie starlets and bovver boys in denim jackets and DM boots to the crumbling edifice that was Stamford Bridge.

On Merseyside, Liverpool had come relatively close to taking the title in 1969 and were still challenging, but despite starting the year in third place, the Anfield side were off the pace in terms of points. Time was running out for the old guard who had won so much for the club since Bill Shankly’s arrival at the club exactly a decade earlier and a major playing rehaul was on the cards. Meanwhile, city rivals, Everton, under the astute leadership of Harry Catterick, were on the charge and opened the year at the top of the table, three points clear of Leeds United, having played a game fewer.

Manchester United were undergoing a transformation with the retirement as manager of the legendary Sir Matt Busby, who had been replaced as manager by Wilf McGuiness who had been a player at the club before injury curtailed his career and had most recently been managing the reserve team. At the halfway point in the 1969-70 season. McGuinness had United sitting exactly halfway up the table in eleventh place. Across the city, the blue persuasion were doing a little better with the Joe Mercer – Malcolm Allison-led Manchester City bubbling along in seventh spot with 29 points from 25 games.

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In politics, the Harold Wilson-led Labour government were hanging on but with an election widely tipped for later in the year, Ted Heath and his merry men and women in the Conservative Party were metaphorically licking their lips in anticipation. January was an interesting month for Britain in as much as the legal age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18 in most cases; the first Boeing 747 jet landed at Heathrow Airport, and youngish Mick Jagger was fined £200 for cannabis possession.

Cup trials and tribulations

The FA Cup started in January and it soon turned into a battle for the ages. In the quarter-finals, Liverpool travelled to Watford for what was expected to be a battle in the Vicarage Road mud. Watford were at the time struggling at the wrong end of the second division and despite having home advantage were not expected to be the perpetrators of a cup upset.

Well, upset the odds the Hornets certainly did courtesy of a single-goal victory and with it nailed the career coffins tightly shut of several Liverpool players. It was the end of the line for players such as Ian St John, Tommy Lawrence and Ron Yeats, and the great rebuild of the Liverpool side that would go on to dominate the mid and late 1970s was set underway.

Joining Watford in the FA Cup semi-finals were Chelsea, who would defeat the Hornets 5-1 at White Hart Lane, and Leeds United and Manchester United who squared off in a three-game trilogy that took in trips to Hillsborough (0-0), Villa Park (0-0), and Burnden Park, Bolton, before a solitary Billy Bremner goal saw Leeds through to Wembley.

The extended semi-final efforts were the last thing Leeds United needed in their efforts to land an unprecedented treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup. When the original match against Manchester United took place on 14 March 1970, Leeds were in the middle of a European Cup quarter-final clash with Standard Liege and tucked in behind Everton at the top of the table, just a point behind with both sides still to play seven matches. There was still everything to play for but when Leeds were drawn against Celtic in the last four of the European Cup, hopes of an all-British final were dashed.

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The first leg between the English and Scottish champions took place at Elland Road on April Fool’s Day 1970, and it constituted the eighth game in nineteen days for Revie’s men. Straight after the successful conclusion of Leeds’ FA Cup trilogy with Manchester United, the club had played two league games in three days and lost them both – 3-1 at home to Southampton, and 4-1 away to Derby County. With Everton continuing to press on, these defeats were pretty much the death knell for Leeds’ title aspirations, as further defeats against Manchester City and Ipswich Town would only confirm.

To the first leg of the titanic European Cup clash and a single-goal defeat inflicted by the hands (and feet, presumably) of George Connolly left Leeds with a proverbial mountain to climb in the second leg a fortnight later. Played at Hampden Park rather than Celtic Park, the second leg started with Leeds taking the game to the Scots and their pressure was rewarded when Billy Bremner equalled the aggregate scores after just 14 minutes. Unfortunately for Leeds, though, two goals after halftime saw Celtic prevail 2-1 on the night and 3-1 in total.

So, Leeds’ trophy hunt was now down to just one and it would all boil down to a Wembley clash with Dave Sexton’s Chelsea side. Sexton had taken over Tommy Docherty’s so-called ‘Diamonds’ at Stamford Bridge and despite Stamford Bridge being a bit of a wreck, Chelsea was becoming a bit of an ‘in’ place to be. The match was seen as a clash between the swashbuckling, stylish side from the capital and the uncouth, basically primitive tactics of the northern marauders from Leeds.

If Leeds were feeling the pressure going into the final, they needed only to turn on the radio to be soothed by the dulcet tones of Simon and Garfunkel and their seminal hit for the ages, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’, and surely all would be well in their world again.


Well, maybe not. The Wembley pitch on that long-ago afternoon was in an atrocious condition due partly at least to the Horse of the Year Show being staged there just a couple of weeks previously and the football, while invigorating at times, certainly suffered as a result. The match has gone down in infamy as being one of the worst advertisements for the English game possible due to the level of aggression and fouling shown by both teams in both the 2-2 draw at Wembley and the subsequent replay at Old Trafford.

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Dirty Leeds?

Looking at the highlights – if one could call them such – on social media now one is left shuddering at the sheer brutality of some of the challenges. These accusations of aggression levelled against Leeds were nothing new for Revie and his men, and the stock response over the years by Leeds apologists has always been, ‘Well, everyone played it like that then. Every side had their fair share of ‘hard men’. It was accepted and expected, even.’

However, that is simply not true. Leeds United under Revie were brutal and – at times – downright thugs. Sure, most sides did contain players who were no shrinking violets and would give as good as they got, but with Leeds it was endemic. It was all the way through the side from the defence to the forwards, and it got to the point when it was easier to single out the Leeds players who were not assassins in boots rather than list the ones who were. It was for this reason mainly that not many people had (or have to this day) much sympathy for Leeds when it came to complaints about fixture pile-ups or dodgy refereeing decisions in later European finals.

At Wembley, Gary Sprake had a game to forget, gifting Chelsea at least one of the two goals, and by the time the replay came around, he had been injured and was replaced between the sticks by David Harvey. A 2-1 victory for Sexton’s men at Old Trafford meant that a promising season for Leeds had seen the club finish the campaign empty-handed.

With Everton finishing the season a good nine points clear at the top, and Celtic ultimately falling 2-1 at the final hurdle to Feyenoord in the final of the European Cup, the domestic season came to a close.

The World Cup in Mexico was looming fast on the horizon, and as holders England had direct entry to the competition without needing to go through the qualification process. They would be the only British side making an appearance as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had all failed to progress, but at least these countries could console themselves with listening to Sir Alf Ramsey and the boys’ World Cup ‘special’ single, ‘Back Home’ that sat proudly atop the charts as England set off for South America.

It would prove to be quite a campaign, as we shall see next time out.