By Rob Atkinson
The legendary Don Revie always longed for his mighty Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition. Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced –indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud. As it turned out, the match was a dead rubber- both teams had already qualified for the knockout stages of the competition, and pride was all that was really at stake. Real were a fantastic side, and had already handed out something of a football lesson in the fixture at Elland Road, winning 2-0 with really no bother at all. Whether it was because the pressure was off this time, or because Leeds were growing into European competition at such a rarefied level, the game in Madrid was destined to be a much closer contest.
We landed in Madrid to the sight of a carpet unfurled to the bottom of the steps down from the plane. No, it wasn't a royal welcome - Britain was in the middle of the Foot & Mouth crisis, and the carpet we were required to walk along was impregnated with disinfectant. So it was with a chilly feeling of being unwelcome lepers that we passed through the formalities of entry into Spain. The atmosphere beyond the airport was somewhat warmer, to match the balmy weather of early spring in these latitudes. We had the time and liberty to walk at leisure around a very pleasant city centre before we were due to rendezvous with coaches for the journey to the home of the celebrated European masters Real.
Exciting as the prospect of the match was, we also enjoyed looking around the place, memories of previous trips to Barcelona and Milan still sharp in the memory. We sampled the delights of a late-lunchtime fish restaurant, where the sight of a weather forecast on the television prompted then-topical calls of "Scorchio!!" from the less mature members of our party. Having negotiated fish soup, followed by a sort of fish stew, followed by what may well have been fish ice cream, we sauntered out into the warm sunshine where I passed the remaining time before we were due to embark on the coaches by trying and failing to find a present for my long-suffering wife. It looked as though she might have to settle for a Madrid away shirt from the traders outside the ground.
The bus trip to the Estadio Santiago Bernebeu started in pleasant twilight and ended in a sharp downpour. At first sight, I was underwhelmed - the stadium looked OK but not as massively impressive as I had thought it might be - I had imagined a cathedral-like structure, possibly with some sort of Holy Grail symbol floating over the top of it. When we got inside, though, it took our breath away. The stadium extends several floors downwards from street level outside to pitch level inside, giving it an almost Tardis-like feel of being bigger within than without. The time before the teams lined up was spent, jaws agape, marvelling at such splendour. It really did have the feel of the home of European football, and I whispered a silent apology to my old favourite Nou Camp for such heresy.
The match had been underway for some 6 minutes before we were transported into the glorious realms of ecstasy. Alan Smith was sent clear and, despite looking possibly - marginally - offside, he finished smartly to put Leeds ahead on the night. Pinch me, I was in the Bernebeu, and I'd just seen Leeds score. And take the lead. Against Real Madrid, away. It was the stuff of dreams. Such dreams are made to be dashed though, and within a very short space of time - and assisted by an outrageously obvious handball- Raul had equalised for Madrid. At this point we were reminding ourselves that we were watching a no-pressure match -but such an obvious transgression missed by the ref did rankle. He apparently said sorry to the Leeds party later, which hardly helped, and of course we were to have more trouble of a similar nature later in the competition at the hands of Valencia.
If Real's equaliser had seemed illegal, then the goal that gave them a half-time lead was just plain jammy. Luis Figo, in a good position on the right of the Leeds area, struck a hopeful low cross which took the most outrageous bobble and beat Nigel Martyn all ends up to fly into the net. 2-1 down at half-time, and we were still slightly in awe of the surroundings, but very proud of our team for a display which had been at least the equal of Madrid's.
And then, nine minutes into the second half we were in dreamland again, as Mark Viduka rose unmarked at our end of the stadium to head home powerfully from an Ian Harte cross. Cue delighted cavortings high up in the Gods at the Bernebeu as the Yorkshire choir bellowed its appreciation of parity - surely no less than United deserved. Yet again though, the joy was short-lived. The defence had functioned well all evening, and the two goals conceded so far were unfortunate to say the least. But the third goal - Real's winner - was well-crafted and unstoppable as Raul lost his marker to head past Martyn from point-blank range.
There was still time for Leeds to demonstrate that they were not finished, and they proceeded to pile the pressure onto the home defence, Viduka being particularly unlucky to see a powerful drive strike the upright. But that was it for the evening's goal action, and the match wound itself down to full time with just bookings for Harry Kewell of Leeds and Claude Makalele of Madrid to show for the remaining exchanges. Leeds had finally appeared on the Bernebeu stage though, and as they made their exit they deserved the plaudits handed down by the faithful from back home, for a combative and unabashed display of confident football in the face of Europe's finest.
Some rare away defeats are positive pleasures, for the surroundings and the occasion, especially when, as here, nothing of real note was hanging on the result. So it was a happy band of Leeds fans that boarded a coach back to the airport, for more queuing (the Spanish police dumbfounded as the fans went through barriers packed in like sheep and baa-ing away in mocking acknowledgement of this), and finally - at last - a late, late flight home. There was still glory to be enjoyed later in the Champions League as Deportivo were put to the sword at Elland Road - but this trip to Madrid was a real high point, and the only regret any of us might possibly have had was that the late, great Don Revie was not around to witness it. For those of us that did, it will live long in our memories; such fixtures are just pipe-dreams now, but something, surely, to aspire to when we eventually return to the top of the game.
Next: Memory Match No. 13: Leeds United 4, Liverpool 3 (Wembley)
FA Charity Shield 1992.
The only time Liverpool ever conceded four goals at Wembley, it was our own beloved United that did the deed. This was a celebratory match, both sets of fans joining in the mutual appreciation as the Champions and the FA Cup holders united to take the mickey out of poor old Man U, beaten at Anfield at the end of the previous season to confirm the last ever proper Title for Leeds.
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