AS the coach carrying the Leeds United team to the 1972 FA Cup final inched its way through north London, Don Revie’s eye was caught by a sight that gladdened his heart.
Coming the other way along the traffic-choked road was a big car sporting wedding ribbons. Looking at his watch, the United manager reasoned the car must be carrying a bride to her big day and, sure enough, as the team bus pulled alongside there was the unmistakeable sight of a proud father and daughter dressed in their finery.
Revie was delighted, his superstitious streak immediately coming to the fore as he turned to the others sitting near the front of the bus with a smile on his face.
“You know how the press keep writing ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ about us,” said Revie about the tag that had been bestowed on Leeds for their tendency to be pipped often to the big prizes.
“Well, that bride means we are going to win today. It has to be an omen.”
Revie’s confidence was, just a few hours later, borne out as Leeds edged out the Gunners to triumph in the Centenary final courtesy of a diving header by Allan Clarke.
After losing the 1965 final to Liverpool and then being beaten by Chelsea in a replay five years later, the victory over Arsenal was especially sweet – as Norman Hunter remembers ahead of tomorrow’s 40th anniversary of United’s only FA Cup triumph.
“It was my boyhood dream to play in a final because I was brought up in Newcastle, who were a big Cup team,” says the 68-year-old to the Yorkshire Post.
“So to lift the Cup in 1972 was a dream for me, particularly after we had lost a couple of earlier finals.
“Cup final day itself was always a brilliant occasion.
“It was always quite nervy but because we had been there before and played in a lot of other big games, we were okay. We were used to it.”
With the 1972 final marking 100 years since the advent of the Cup, the FA invited the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh to present the trophy. A parade of past winners was also organised and the hope was that the game would prove to be a big improvement on the niggly affair that had been the 1968 League Cup final, when Leeds had claimed their first major trophy with a 1-0 win over Arsenal.
Sadly for the neutrals in the 100,000 crowd, the final was not the hoped for classic but it still proved to be an entertaining and dramatic affair.
“Games against Arsenal were always really, really tight and there weren’t a lot of chances created,” says Hunter. “But it was still a good game.
“I remember David Harvey making a couple of vital saves early on and Paul Reaney kicking a shot off the line (from Alan Ball). But, of course, the thing we all remember is the goal that won us the Cup.
“Mick Jones took the ball past (Arsenal left-back) Bob McNab, who I felt should have done better in defending the situation. Jones then whipped over a cross and, at first, I thought Clarkey was going to volley the ball.
“But, instead, he threw himself at the ball and headed it into the bottom corner. A classic Cup final goal.”
Thirty-seven minutes remained when Clarke netted the most famous goal in United’s history and Arsenal threatened just once, when Charlie George hit the crossbar and Peter Simpson stabbed the rebound wide.
The drama, though, was far from over as Jones dislocated an elbow in the final minute after colliding with Gunners goalkeeper Geoff Barnett. It meant, as the Leeds players celebrated, Jones was unable to join in, as was the case when the team later made their way up to shake hands with the Queen and collect the Cup.
Hunter, though, was determined his team-mate would be able to collect his medal by helping Jones, by now heavily strapped, up the steps to the Royal Box to create one of the Cup’s iconic moments.
Once the on-field celebrations were out of the way, the sting in the tale for Leeds was that their final game of the season at Wolverhampton Wanderers was just two days away due to the Football League refusing to put back the fixture.
As a result, Revie rationed his players to one plastic cup of champagne and a sip from the Cup before whisking the entire squad away to the Black Country.
Leeds needed just a point to clinch the League title but it was Wolves who prevailed 2-1, allowing Derby County to be crowned champions – something that still rankles with Hunter.
He said: “We had to leave the Cup with our wives and shoot straight off. On reflection, it would have been better to let us go and have a right good night and a few drinks in London. Everyone could have had a relaxing time and then headed to Wolverhampton on the Sunday.
“Once there, we could have had a steam and a sauna to prepare for Monday night’s game.
“But that wasn’t Don’s way of doing things so, instead, we got on the bus more or less as soon as the final was over.
“The big problem is we went to Wolves with half a team. Mick Jones was obviously out, while a lot of the lads were struggling with knocks.
“It was very, very bad of the League to make us play again so quickly. It wouldn’t happen today, not with a game of such massive importance.
“I honestly believe an extra 24 or, preferably, 48 hours would have made all the difference as the extra time would have meant a few more of the lads being fully fit.
“The problem was an international weekend, which the League said meant all our internationals would have to be released. But, in the end, I don’t think any of the lads ended up playing for England anyway so what difference would it have made?
“I know we won a couple of League titles but that was one of those that really got away. We missed out on goal difference a couple of times and by only a point or so in the others.
“But the Wolves game is one that sticks in the memory. In 10 years, we were never out of the top four and that is one of those we deserved to win as we’d been the best team.”
Once more, it was a case of Bridesmaid Revisited for Leeds United – though at least this time with the FA Cup as consolation.