Like many clubs in the English game, Leeds United has a long history. Founded in 1912, the Whites have experienced wildly mixed fortunes down the years. The Yorkshire outfit has won the English top-flight crown on three occasions. However, there have been many more other occasions down the years where Leeds have won other silverware or came close to trophies.
Although Leeds have not been regulars in European competition in recent seasons, they have come close to European glory in the past.
Seconds for Leeds
In 1975 Leeds United became only the second English team after Manchester United to reach the European Cup final. They were also only the second-ever team in the history of European football behind Barcelona to reach the final of all of UEFA’s three European competitions.
Close yet so far away in 1975
The closest that Leeds has ever come to becoming European champions was in 1975 when the Whites made it to the final of the European Cup (now Champions League). The problem for the Yorkshire outfit was that they were facing Bayern Munich, who had a team full of experienced international stars.
Jimmy Armfield’s team had seen off Zurich, Ujpesti Dozsa, Anderlecht and Barcelona to book their place in the final. However, Bayern Munich were a team on a completely different level from their opponents in the previous rounds. The Bavarians were big favourites to lift the trophy as reigning champions from the previous season.
The final certainly didn’t lack controversy, mainly due to several questionable refereeing decisions by French referee Michael Kitabdjian. Leeds had a good claim to have had the better of the game and missed some good opportunities. The referee’s display earned all the headlines after the game, though.
Leeds were denied a penalty kick on 23 minutes, as the ball hit Bayern captain and legend Franz Beckenbauer on his left arm in his own penalty box. However, referee Kitabdjian waved play on.
There was yet more controversy on 34 minutes, as Beckenbauer tripped Leeds striker Allan Clarke, who was set to round Bayern’s ‘keeper Sepp Maier. Once again, the French referee was unmoved, and the game continued.
The game then settled slightly. Maier denied Leeds legend Billy Bremner, at close-range just after the hour mark. The Whites looked to have taken the lead a minute later through Peter Lorimer. The effort was disallowed, though, due to Bremner being in an offside position, despite not interfering with play.
The referee looked set to give the goal, but Beckenbauer asked the referee to confer with his assistant, and the goal was disallowed, despite the assistant not raising his flag. The decision caused riots on the terraces, as Leeds fans believed that their team had been cheated out of a legitimate goal.
Things got even worse for Leeds on 71 minutes, as Frank Roth finished off a superb counter-attack from Bayern to put the Bavarians a goal up. With nine minutes to go, the men from Munich doubled their lead, once again on the counter-attack as Gerd Muller finished after a cross from the right by Jupp Kapellmann. The goal ended Leeds’s hopes, and Bayern lifted the trophy for the second straight season. They would go on two win their third consecutive European Cup the following season.
The riots on the terraces saw Leeds receive an initial ban of four years from European competition. The ban was appealed down to just two years. The ban didn’t matter, though, as Leeds struggled for form in the late 1970s and thus didn’t qualify for European competition anyway.
Experiences in other European competitions
Leeds’ biggest achievement in the European Cup may have been finishing second in 1976. However, they have experience reaching the latter stages of other European competitions. In 1973, Don Revie’s team made it to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
The Whites faced Italian giants AC Milan in the final held in Thessaloniki in Greece. Unfortunately for the Yorkshire outfit, they suffered a 1-0 defeat courtesy of a solitary goal from forward Luciano Chiarugi. Like in the European Cup final a few years later, some of the refereeing decisions were questionable.
The fans threw missiles onto the pitch during Milan’s lap of honour. Leeds appealed to have the match replayed, but UEFA refused the appeal. Referee Christos Michas was later banned from refereeing for life after being found guilty of match-fixing. His performance in the final match was never looked at, however.
Leeds’s only successes in European competition have been in the now-defunct Inter City Fair’s Cup, which they won in both 1968 and 1971. The first victory in ’68 was courtesy of a 1-0 aggregate win over Ferencvaros of Hungary. The win came on the back of losing in the final the previous season when they suffered a defeat against Dinamo Zagreb.
The Whites’ second triumph in the Inter City Fairs Cup was in 1971 and produced a far different tie, as Leeds recorded an away goals victory over Juventus after the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate. The first leg in Turin ended 2-2 before a 1-1 draw in the second leg at Elland Road.
A colourful few decades for Leeds
While many consider Leeds a big club, courtesy of their history and fanbase, the Whites have experienced decades of rollercoaster fortunes. They won the English league title in 1992 and also experienced the semi-finals of both the UEFA Cup (Now the Europa League) and the Champions League in the early noughties.
However, by 2004, Leeds suffered relegation to the Championship amid a financial crisis. Three years later, they were relegated to League One, the third tier of the English game. In 2010 they returned to the Championship before sealing their return to the Premier League in 2020 after a 16-year absence from the top flight.
Like so many clubs with big histories, Leeds has not quite been able to relive the club’s glory years in the last few decades. However, the Whites are now at least back in the English top-flight, and maybe someday, the Yorkshire outfit will once again get a chance to become champions of Europe.