It all started nearly 60 years ago, my undying love of Leeds Utd. I am 70 years old next birthday and before I leave to play for Eternity Utd. in Div.1 of Heaven League, I hope and believe I shall see us back where we belong. I am talking Europe here, not just Premiership.
Living in the Wakefield area, in our village the only two people with a motor car were the Undertaker and the ‘poor’ Farmer. So it was easier for my father to take me by bus to Huddersfield, rather than by train & bus to Elland Rd (so he told me and I believed him). Town had a good centre forward in Jimmy Glazzard and I also watched Stanley Matthews when Blackpool visited. I remember the half-time ritual of going down to the front, to buy a hot pie from the tray bearers, who came around the pitch during the interval. We used to applaud the visiting players if they showed exceptional skill, not scream obscenities like today. Leeds were of course in a lower league at that time.
For some reason, which time has erased from my memory, one Saturday dad had to visit Leeds, so he took me to Elland Rd. We stood on the kop, which was open to the elements, the grandstand coming much later. John Charles scored a hat-trick and I was hooked. In the United team that day, I remember Harold Brook, Granville Hair, Albert Nightingale and little Georgie Meek. The only times I ever visited Leeds Rd. again was as an away fan. Our world fell apart, life would never be the same again when ‘Big John’ was sold to Juventus. Although he eventually came back, he was never the same player, Italy had the best of him. I remember his first match back was away at Stoke, I went to hail the kings return.
One proud moment came in 1958 when our skipper and right-half (midfielder to the young ones) Wilbur Cush went to the World Cup finals in Sweden, representing Ireland. By 1963/4 promotion season I was a learner driver and after working all week, would get my practice by driving to most away matches. My friends and I would arrive early to find a decent pub. We would spend a wonderful couple of hours, talking to the other teams supporters and more often than not be invited back to the pub after the game. This was of course 3 years before the minister of transport (Barbara Castle) in her wisdom, brought in the breathalyser. Although I was supposed to be driving under instruction, many is the time I would drive the 2 or 3 hours home, with my 3 passengers fast asleep. The 1964/5 season saw us going to Wembley, only to lose after extra-time. This bitter blow came after losing the league title on goal difference. That could not happen now (unless some new owners have Billions to spare). We set off at midnight to drive to Wembley. Before anyone says “we used to have a car like that” let me remind you that this was before the days of motorways. I recall finding a pub at lunchtime, no Tetley pump, so we ordered the local horrible flat ‘Fullers London Pride’, at the bar for the second round, the guy next to me knocked over his pint and I quipped “you lucky sod, I’ve got to drink mine” He did not seem to understand the Northern humour.
So came the ‘Revie years’ and Europe, when we were robbed in Athens by a referee who was later found guilty and never officiated again. Also robbed in Paris with the disallowed goal. There was also of course some great victories that are well documented. A question for you readers, about our first competitive European game, which was against Torino at home. The question is, who was our No.9? The answer is at the end (no cheating now) I cannot let this European passage go without saying R.I.P. Kevin & Chris. A word about our Goalkeeper at that time. Gary Sprake is mostly remembered for a few mistakes, especially at Liverpool where he was labelled ‘Careless Hands’ by the witty scousers. I have always said in his defence that Gary was one of the most talented goalkeepers I have ever seen. (236 clean sheets for Leeds Utd.) People forgot the times when nearly all the 90 mins took place in or around our penalty box and we escaped with a 0-1 away victory. Also at that time, he was keeper for Wales, who were about as good then as they are now and he saved them from defeat on many occasions. Peter Ridsdale, probably rightly so, took a lot of stick for our subsequent demise, but lets not forget that the Finance Director was one Alan Leighton who later moved on to run the Post Office, they have been leaking money and closing down branches ever since, and David O’leary wasn’t entirely blameless.
Running out of space, I will leave alone memories of recent years and can only hope our younger readers will also have some wonderful times to think about, when they are in god’s waiting room. Oh yes! the answer to the question, Revie thought that Torino would have sent a scout who would note our style of play, especially our centre forward Alan Peacock, who was a brilliant header of the ball. So when the teams came out, all our players had different numbers on their backs, to try and confuse the updated opposition. So our no. 9 that night was full back Terry Cooper.