Why Leeds United regard themselves as 1975 European Cup champions

A European Cup final should be a joyous occasion. Even 45 years on, bitterness is still the over-riding emotion from Yorkshire’s only appearance in continental club football’s showpiece.

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He might have been on the commentary gantry rather than in the Parc des Princes dugout, but May 28, 1975, was meant to be the last hurrah for Don Revie’s Leeds United.

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“We’ll be back here with the trophy on Thursday teatime,” Billy Bremner promised before his team left for Paris.

To listen to the Elland Road crowd now, you would think they were. “We are the champions, champions of Europe” they still sing from time to time. It is not out of an ignorance of history, but a knowledge of it. They see their club as moral winners of the 1975 European Cup.

Leeds fans are not averse to a conspiracy theory or the siege mentality Revie nurtured in his sometimes unloved side. When it comes to their two one-off European finals, it looks less like paranoia, more a justified grievance.

Christos Michas was banned from refereeing after the 1973 Cup Winners’ Cup final following an investigation into allegations he took bribes from victors AC Milan. Two years later Leeds’s chance to put that to bed only made it worse.

“We haven’t travelled this far to lose,” said Terry Yorath and despite including five winners of the last two major international tournaments, Bayern Munich held no fears for a team who knocked the legendary Barcelona side of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens out in the semi-finals.


It would be their second of three consecutive European Cups for the Bavarians, but their league form had been dismal and no team had lifted “Old Big Ears” after finishing 10th in the league. Their Bundesliga goal difference was negative.

Leeds’s season started with the divisive appointment of Brian Clough and despite sacking him after just 44 days, they only recovered to ninth. But from the moment he won the 1974 title Revie was talking about trying to win the European Cup.

Revie instead replaced Sir Alf Ramsey as England manager but all 11 starters and substitute Eddie Gray were his signings. Of Clough’s three buys, John O’Hare and John McGovern had already followed him to Nottingham Forest and Duncan McKenzie was on the bench. He scored 13 goals in 1974-75 to Joe Jordan’s six, but the Scot’s aerial prowess made him the focal point of Leeds’s tactics in France.

Bayern’s were very negative, dropping all 11 men deep.

Allan Clarke, left, is scythed down by Franz Beckenbauer. Picture: Varleys.

Bjorn Andersson was substituted after four minutes following what Uli Hoeness called the “most brutal foul I think I have ever seen” by Yorath.

French referee Michel Kitabdjian did not take the Welshman’s name but it might have been the last time Leeds had cause to thank him. Hoeness did not make it to half-time either, suffering a knee injury.

By then, though, Leeds were already feeling pained.

After 23 minutes Peter Lorimer went around Franz Beckenbauer in the penalty area and the ball hit the sweeper’s left arm. Eleven minutes later Beckenbauer scissor-tackled Allan Clarke.

CRUCIAL MOMENT: Peter Lorimer’s ‘goal’ was ruled out, six minutes later Bayern went ahead. Picture: Varleys.

“I dropped my shoulder and went past him and was about to bend the ball round (goalkeeper Sepp) Maier, when he wrapped his legs round me,” recalled Clarke. “It was a blatant penalty.”

Again Kitabdjian disagreed, even though Beckenbauer admitted afterwards he did not.

“I saw him 15 years later when he admitted we were far and away the better side and, yes, it was a penalty,” said a rueful Clarke. “Fifteen years later you can say that.”

What Beckenbauer did in the 66th minute most enraged Leeds.

Before the game he warned: “Lorimer’s shooting is so devastating that he can make a team pay for one mistake” and a minute after Maier denied Bremner, the Scot volleyed in from a Johnny Giles free-kick.

“The first thing I did was look at the referee,” recalled Lorimer. “He pointed clearly to the centre circle. There was no reaction from the linesman. Then Beckenbauer started having words with Kitabdjian and to our total disbelief, the goal was ruled out. Beckenbauer was well known for getting in the ears of referees.”

Peter Lorimer (sixth left) sees his goal disallowed for Leeds in the 62nd minute, when Billy Bremner was adjudged to be offside as Franz Beckenbauer and goalkeeper Sepp Maier look on at Parc de Princes on May 28, 1975. Picture: Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images

Ruled offside, Bremner was neither interfering with play nor nudged into the goalkeeper’s eyeline by Jordan.

With Bayern so defensive, the first goal was crucial and it fell to Franz Roth, scorer in the 1967 Cup Winners’ Cup final, six minutes later. The game was held up as objects were thrown from the 8,000 enraged Leeds fans.

“Once the game got going again we couldn’t recapture the same rhythm,” said Bremner.

As Leeds pushed for an equaliser, Gerd Muller – “quick as a cobra,” wrote The Times’s Geoffrey Green – put the result beyond doubt at the near post.

“Bayern only had two shots, but they were enough to give them the trophy,” said Bremner.

England won every European Cup bar one between 1977 and 1984 but sadly, another trend was already entrenched.

“We have come to expect it from English people,” the stadium director said of fans local newspapers called “Les Animaux Anglais”.

Leeds’s four-year European ban was halved on appeal but became academic. It was 1980 before they next qualified. Relegated in 1982 their next major final was not until 1996.

If the behaviour was unacceptable, the upset was understandable. Hoeness called the final a “travesty”.

Characteristically diplomatic at full-time, even Leeds manager Jimmy Armfield later said his team were robbed.

“That final against Bayern Munich must go down as the most one-sided in the history of the European Cup,” raged Clarke.

“How a team who played like we did could end up as the losing side I’ll never know. Well, I do. We were cheated out of it.

“In my mind we were champions of Europe that night.

“I love that our fans sing about us being champions of Europe because it reminds everyone of what really went on.”

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