Date: Wednesday, 11th September 1968.
Venue: Nep Stadium, Budapest.
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final Second Leg.
Score: Ferencvaros 0 Leeds United 0
Scorers: Ferencvaros: Nil. Leeds United: Nil.
Novak, Pancsics; Havasi, Juhasz, Szucs; Szoke (Kraba), Varga, Albert, Rakosi, Katona.
Leeds United: Sprake;
Reaney, Cooper; Bremner,
Charlton, Hunter; O’Grady, Lorimer, Jones, Madeley, Hibbitt (Bates).
Referee: Gerhard Schulenberg (West Germany).
On a night of immense tension, United were subjected to their most rigorous
European examination in the white-hot atmosphere of the Nep
Stadium, before emerging heroically to become the first British winners of the
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. United were without the injured Johnny Giles and Eddie
Gray, but had Mike O’Grady back after a long lay off, with Paul Madeley taking a more defensive role in midfield, while
Terry Hibbitt was given the left wing role, but the
accent was certainly on defence with Mick Jones, recovered from injury, a lone
attacker. Ferencvaros showed only one change from
their team from the first leg with Sandor Katona replacing Mate Fenyvesi.
A human barrier of white shirts was strung around the penalty area to keep
the Magyars at bay for virtually the entire ninety minutes. Ferencvaros
hopes of quickly wiping out United’s slender
advantage soon evaporated as the Leeds defence gave one
of its greatest displays by throttling every promising attack the Hungarians
could mount. It took twenty minutes for the first clear-cut chance to arrive.
With Leeds packing their penalty area, it called for a
piece of brilliance to create a chance, and after a jinking
run had culminated in shot, it looked as though Gyula
Rakosi had scored, but Terry Cooper produced an
acrobatic overhead clearance on the line to keep United’s
advantage. A few minutes later he came to the rescue once more as a blocked a
fierce shot from Florian Albert. When the Hungarians did find a way through United’s ten-man defence, Gary Sprake
stood up extremely well to a barrage of testing shots and centres, pulling off
one world-class save from Istvan Szoke
which helped sap the home team’s spirit, as he stood tall, proud and on the
night totally unbeatable. United’s attacks were rare,
but they almost snatched a goal in the thirty-third minute when winger Mike
O’Grady chipped in a free-kick which Mick Jones headed powerfully against the
crossbar. This lone attack gave United encouragement,
and twice soon afterwards they went close but were denied at the last gasp by
goalkeeper Istvan Geczi.
It might not have been entrancing to watch, as a defensive exhibition,
especially for the Hungarian supporters, but it was a fascinating display of
how to contain your opponents who were determined to score against you. There
were excellent performances from Terry Cooper, Paul Madeley
and Norman Hunter. They were unbeatable. Ferencvaros
persisted in trying to force their way down the centre of the park, playing
right into United’s strength of Norman Hunter, Paul Madeley and Terry Cooper and if it wasn’t one of the three
doing the stopping there was Jack Charlton winning everything in the air and
behind them they found Gary Sprake in brilliant form.
There was always the constant threat posed by the Hungarian forwards
particularly Florian Albert and Zoltan
Varga, but the capacity 75,000 crowd packed into the
mighty Nep Stadium quickly sensed that the pattern of the game was going to be,
all out attack by Ferencvaros, against a stubborn
rearguard action by Leeds.
As the watch ticked down and the final fifteen minutes started to tick away Ferencvaros had taken off Szoke
and replaced him with Kraba and Leeds brought on Mick
Bates for Terry Hibbitt, but the Doncaster-born
midfielder put away thoughts of attack and joined United’s
massed all-out defence. Ferencvaros created two more
opportunities as Varga tried an overhead kick but the
bounce evaded his team-mates and the Leeds defence, and,
fortunately, the goal. Florian Albert hared for goal
in a breakaway move as Sprake came out to meet the
threat. Courageously, Sprake dived at Albert’s feet
to smother the ball. Leeds did not need that extra goal but it would have gone
a long way to soothing manager Don Revie’s nerves as
he disclosed at the end of the game: “ When we got into those final few minutes
my heart nearly stopped beating. As the final whistle drew nearer every minute
seemed like an hour.”
Almost on the final whistle Gary Sprake, saved the
game for Leeds as he topped all his previous heroics
when he produced a save from outside this world from a Novak free-kick. Phil
Brown of the Yorkshire Post described it: “His lithe leap and powerful punch
sent the ball whirling away high around the post in what will be one of the
saves of a lifetime however long he plays”, while Geoffrey Green of the Times
was equally amazed; “ How Sprake even saw it, the ball,
at that moment was miraculous, since there was a solid wall of ten white shirts
in front of him” and it must have been a purely instinctive reaction from the
Welshman as he would not have seen it until the very last few seconds.
Just as Dinamo Zagreb had frustrated Leeds
the previous season, so United, learning quickly, had suffocated Ferencvaros into submission to earn their first tangible
reward in Europe. United had become the first British
team to capture the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and joined the ranks of Manchester
United Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United as the only British European
Trophy winners. By general consent, the final in Budapest
had been one of the most exciting scoreless draws ever seen and Billy Bremner proudly received the trophy from Sir Stanley Rous
and the Trophy joined the English League Cup Trophy on display at Elland Road, their second
major trophy won in the season after such a succession of near-misses.
Billy Bremner later described his feelings as he
received the trophy, “It was a moment to savour. For ten years one British team
after another had been vainly trying to win this competition. It had always
been looked upon as the toughest competition of them all in many ways, because
the tournament seemed to spark off trouble and strife of one kind or another
nearly every season. British clubs had travelled all over Europe
in their efforts to lift this trophy and now, at last, it was Leeds United who
had done it. If there was a particular hero in that team full of heroes it was
probably Gary Sprake. He saved us from a certain goal
when he dived to a tremendous free-kick, taken by Novak, from twenty yards out.
Flying through the air, Gary had
punched the ball clear with one hand while still in the air. The ball spun high
and wide, round a post.” Apart from
praising United’s defensive achievements over the two
legs, he was quick to compliment the Hungarian team, singling out Varga for particular praise, “The man who stood out in the Ferencvaros team was Varga. He
twisted and turned like an eel as he tried to penetrate our defensive shield or
tried to set up a scoring chance. When it came to shooting, though, he couldn’t
finish off. We kept Albert contained and he was unable to produce too many
threats. I also think our players kept their cool remarkably well, despite
quite a bit of rough handling at times, in a game that was tense, to say the
least, from the starting whistle onwards.”
Exactly a week later United started the defence of their new
trophy as they travelled to Belgium
to face Standard Liege!
Gary Sprake saves bravely Billy
Bremner with the Fairs Trophy Paul Madeley, Jack Charlton
and Gary Sprake
from Florian Albert
celebrate with Billy Bremner
Billy Bremner, with the Cup, Paul Reaney,
Peter Lorimer, Jack Charlton, Gary Sprake, Mick Jones and Mick Bates celebrate
The Leeds team with the trophy at the Nep Stadium:
Back Row: Norman
Hunter, Mick Bates (on as substitute for Terry Hibbitt),
Paul Madeley, Gary Sprake,
Jack Charlton, Mike O’Grady.
Front Row: Terry
Cooper, Billy Bremner, Paul Reaney,
Mick Jones, Peter Lorimer.
celebrations at the Nep Stadium:
Back Row: Don Revie (Manager), Les Cocker (Trainer), Jack Charlton, Mick
Bates, Terry Yorath, Paul Reaney,
David Harvey, Terry
Cooper, Rod Belfitt.
Front Row: Peter Lorimer, Paul Madeley, Gary Sprake, Billy Bremner, Mick
Jones, Norman Hunter, Mike O’Grady.
Terry Hibbitt, Gary Sprake, Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner show
off the trophy outside Elland Road.
Gary Sprake: Leeds United’s ‘Man of
Florian Albert: Ferencvaros danger man