MENTION MARCH 31, 1965 to more seasoned Leeds United supporters and the chances are that you will receive the warmest of smiles and recollections.
Fifty years ago today, United achieved what many fans thought was a flight of wild fantasy and a pipe dream. For the uninitiated, Leeds booked their first-ever appearance at Wembley, the home of football.
It was a spring evening when Don Revie walked on water by the River Trent after his side triumphed 1-0 in a tense FA Cup semi-final replay against Matt Busby’s Manchester United.
To add to the sense of rapture, the milestone arrived at the expense of the side that Leeds were growing to love to hate on one of the most famous nights ever in the history of the club.
An oh-so-sweet 89th-minute goal from the late, great Billy Bremner decimated the league and cup double dreams of the Red Devils and maintained Leeds’ own bid in the process.
That night proved a watershed one in United history.
To many observers, it was a night when Leeds announced themselves to a national audience and they subsequently remained at the forefront of English football for the next decade.
The shrill of Dick Windle’s whistle to signify full time not long after was the cue for ecstatic scenes among the Whites’ contingent at the City Ground as Leeds booked a final date with Liverpool on May 1.
Revie could also not contain himself amid wild scenes of celebration, which famously prompted legendary commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme to remark: “Don Revie’s gone mad!”
United’s Manchester counterparts in the crowd were not so joyous, with many swarming onto the pitch at the end to confront Windle to display their anger at his refereeing performance.
One took things too far and struck Windle, who fell to the ground and required medical attention and police protection before leaving the stage.
Sadly, given two highly-charged and at times thoroughly rancourous matches between both Roses combatants, it was not an entirely surprising development.
A bitter contest ensued four days earlier in front of 65,000 at Hillsborough, who witnessed a fiery tie on a gluepot pitch.
The most significant event in an unsavoury contest saw Nobby Stiles bring down Albert Johanneson, who was forced out of the replay with damaged knee ligaments, which added to the tinder-box atmosphere.
While fouls ravaged that first contest, the repeat was a little more edifying with The Times reporting: ‘This may sound like Dante’s Inferno, but by comparison with last Saturday, both sides trod a primrose path.’
Equally, it was still no tea party either as the Times concurred, with the key development arriving right at the death in Nottingham when Bremner, astutely moved up front by Revie with Jim Storrie switching to the right wing, struck.
Revie’s decision proved a masterstroke with Bremner’s back header following Johnny Giles’s free-kick floating past Pat Dunne and breaking hearts on the red side of Manchester.
Revie promptly declared the result as the ‘proudest moment of my career’ and few could have argued or denied him or Leeds’ their day at Wembley.
What Leeds achieved that night in Nottingham needed to be placed in the context of what had preceded it.
Prior to that intoxicating run to the final, Leeds’s history in domestic football’s most captivating domestic cup competition, was akin to a music-hall joke.
Leeds had only previously reached the quarter-finals once in their history, in 1950 when they bowed out to winners Arsenal.
Their cup statistics between 1953 and 1962 were consistent, but unfortunately consistent in their appalling nature with the club bowing out at the third-round stage on 10 successive occasions.
That sorry tale included three consecutive Elland Road exits at the hands of Cardiff City, who clinched 2-1 wins in 1956, 1957 and 1958.
Given all that, few outside of one half of Manchester could have begrudged Leeds their belated rewards, made all the more laudable by defeating a Manchester side that had rebuilt impressively since the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
It was most definitely a good time to be a Leeds supporter, with that monumental night at the City Ground providing considerable gloss to a 22-match unbeaten run which stretched back to November 21.
Not that Leeds had it all their own way, with Revie’s side having to withstand intense pressure from Manchester, particularly early in the second half.
It was a night when the likes of Bremner, Jack Charlton, Paul Reaney, Terry Cooper and seven others stood up tall with Charlton stepping out of the shadows of his famous younger brother Bobby.
Another to secure the bragging rights was former Old Trafford player Johnny Stiles, who lined up against his old club in direct midfield competition against his brother-in-law, Stiles.
For big Jack, there was the added joy of receiving the news of an England call-up straight after the game, which he quickly shared with his kid brother in the deflated Manchester dressing room.
In his autobiography, Charlton said: “I was so excited I didn’t think. I just had to tell our kid.
“I went straight round to the Man United dressing room and said: ‘Hey, I’ve been selected to play for England!”
“I’m smiling all over my face and there’s all the Manchester United team sitting around looking miserable. There was a bit of a pause and then Bobby went: ‘Ah yeah, well, congratulations, great.’
“‘Now **** off out of here’ said someone else.”
LEEDS UNITED played seven games en route to booking their first-ever trip to Wembley during their glorious FA Cup run in the 1964-65 season.
United’s previous best performance in the FA Cup came in 1949-50, when they reached the quarter-finals for the first time before bowing out to winners Arsenal. Here’s the list in full.
FA Cup round three, January 9 1965: Southport (H) W 3-0 (Johnson, Greenhoff, Johanneson) 31,297.
Round four, January 30: Everton (H) D 1-1 (Storrie) 50,051.
Round four replay, February 2: Everton (A) W 2-1 (Weston, Charlton) 65,940.
Round five, February 20: Shrewsbury Town (H) W 2-0 (Giles, Johanneson) 47,740.
Quarter-final, March 10: Crystal Palace (A) W 3-0 (Peacock 2, Storrie) 45,384.
Semi-final, March 27: Manchester United (at Hillsborough) D 0-0, 65,000.
Semi-final replay, March 31: Manchester United (at City Ground) W 1-0 (Bremner) 46,300.