I was born in the 1960s and from a young age had a passionate interest in football. In 1972, my father decided to take me to a live football game for the first time and gave me the choice of either going to Elland Road, Leeds, to see United (recent F.A. cup winners, several double decker buses leaving from Barnsley Bus Station) or Oakwell (home of local team, Barnsley, within walking distance from the same bus station and struggling in the fourth division).
Not a difficult choice.
That day Leeds beat newly promoted Norwich City and gave a text book account of their great ball skills, solid defensive game and creative attacking flair.
For the next three years, I saw Revie’s Leeds as often as possible, either at their home ground or on TV. In their 29 game unbeaten run from the start of the season in 1973-74, they seemed to my young mind to be the best footballing team I was ever likely to see.
At the end of that period, Don Revie left to manage England (not a wise decision) and there was the debacle of the Brian Clough arrival and departure which ended very quickly as Leeds hit the basement of the division that they had been clear champions of in the previous season. The only good thing to come out of the Clough period was the arrival of mercurial attacker Duncan McKenzie, from Nottingham Forest.
After that there was the steady hand of Jimmy Armfield at the helm – a European Cup Final and a little further down the road the arrival of Tony Currie, Brian Flynn, Arthur Graham, Carl Harris, Paul Hart, John Hawley and Ray Hankin. Most of these players were already established names brought in from other clubs and so they didn’t have the longevity of the Revie team, they didn’t stay together as long and relying on the transfer system meant that the youth policy of the club was wilting on the vine.
It did, however, result in a team that for a few years, whilst not being the equal of the Revie boys, was fun to watch and full of flair and finished in some good league positions under Mr Armfield and his successor, the hard-to-like Jimmy Adamson.
I moved south to London in the early 90s which severely limited my opportunities to visit Elland Road but to be honest I was not a huge fan of much of the football produced by Howard Wilkinson’s championship winning team and didn’t think I was missing that much — and there was always away games.
More surprisingly (to me), I encountered a totally different attitude to my Revie-era heroes of the Seventies and (in retrospect) of the Sixties. Talking to London football fans, who were old enough to remember and some who weren’t, the phrase “Dirty Leeds” was tossed around routinely – an epithet I had to confess that in my sheltered Yorkshire years I had never heard but which now became routine.
This seemed particularly prevalent amongst a few deeply dislikeable Chelsea fans who could in the same breath revere Ron Harris and recall the way that Eddie Gray was taken out of the cup final in 1970 by some really savage tackling.
I guess we all have our own biases.
Recently I have been re-reading the autobiography of Duncan McKenzie (co-written with David Saffer), “The Last Fancy Dan” which is an enjoyable, light-hearted read, published by Vertical Editions in 2009. Amongst other great features, it opens with a poem by my good friend, Paul Cookson (a passionate Everton fan) celebrating McKenzie’s talent.
Now to set the book in context, you need to understand that McKenzie didn’t arrive at Leeds until the Revie era had folded and is a huge fan of the managerial skills of Mr Clough, who is still seen as something of a black sheep in LS11.
Also Duncan was signed by Cloughie and consequently was not initially welcomed with open arms by the aging squad that Revie had left behind and which Clough was so callous about in public.
Mr McKenzie played against the Revie Leeds for Nottingham Forest and developed into a gifted ballplayer during the era when Leeds ruled the roost. Perhaps he will have an even-handed opinion then for us on this team which seems to so divide North and South amateur and professional football historians of a certain age.
“Leeds United were the most feared club side in England. After gaining promotion in 1964, the team had gained an wanted reputation that saw them labelled “Dirty Leeds” by the media. I played against the great side when Bremner, Charlton, Giles, Hunter and co. were in their pomp. They were hard, but never dirty and there is a difference. Leeds were the ultimate professional outfit and for me, the best club team English football has produced and ranked alongside the legendary Real Madrid team that included Di Stefano and Puskas…. Jimmy Greaves used to say that if you played Leeds at football, they’d murder you and if you fought them, they’d still murder you. Revie’s Leeds had everything”.
Duncan McKenzie, “The Last Fancy Dan”, pg. 82
He is also kind enough to comment on the individual players, including this lovely pen-picture of one of my favourite somewhat neglected heroes of the era:
“But for injuries, Eddie (Gray) would have been one of the greats of all time and he would have won many more Scottish caps than he achieved. Eddie had incredible ball control, balance and timing… An old clip of his goal against Burnley in 1970 when he beat defender after defender in the penalty box before shooting the ball home is a classic and shows him at his magical best. Eddie was undoubtedly the next best thing to George Best”.
Duncan McKenzie “The Last Fancy Dan”, pg. 96.
So in this era when Leeds United have been humbled and are no longer the mightiest in the land or even amongst them, can we all give that great, great team credit for the strengths that it had? It was not the only team in the country who could stop their opponents firmly – stand up Tommy Smith at Liverpool and Ron Harris at Chelsea but it may have been the only one with the outrageous flair that Bremner, Giles and Gray could bring. The only one with the Lorimer thunderbolt. The only one with the great centre forward partnership of “Sniffer” Clarke and Mick Jones and the overlapping fullbacks of Reaney and Cooper. The only team with the graceful, utility play of Paul Madeley.
I could go on – and have been known to. A few years on we stood on the Gelderd Road end and sang “We all agree Duncan McKenzie is magic”. I would settle also for a greater degree of appreciation for the marvellous squad that Mr Revie put together and to hear that notion expressed outside Yorkshire and even in my adopted home of London.