Date: Wednesday, 27th November 1968.
Venue: Stadio San Paulo, Naples, Italy.
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Second Round, Second Leg.
Score: SSC Napoli 2 Leeds United 0
Scorers: SSC Napoli: Sala, Juliano (pen). Leeds United: Nil.
SSC Napoli: Zoff; Nardin, Pogliana (Michelli); Zurlini, Panzanato, Bianchi; Salvi, Juliano, Sala, Sivori (Montefuso), Barlson.
Leeds United: Sprake
(Harvey); Reaney, Cooper; Bremner,
Charlton, Hunter; O’Grady, Madeley (Belfitt), Jones, Giles, Gray.
Referee: Rudi Glockner (East Germany).
It may seem unbelievable in modern day football when Europe
offers so many rich financial rewards for top clubs, to think of any of them
pulling out of one of UEFA’s top competitions. But Leeds United thought
seriously at management and boardroom level following a particularly unsavoury
clash with Italian side Napoli
in a second round Fairs Cup game in November 1968. Don Revie’s
men won the first leg 2-0 but some of the tactics employed by a certain few Napoli players left a sour taste and led to Revie making a public condemnation
of them. All of which left the United manager more
than a little uneasy about facing the second leg of the tie in Naples.
“Knowing their crowd’s reputation for causing scenes what happened in the first
leg at Elland Road
leads me to wonder just what sort of reception and match are ahead of us when
we go over to Naples,” he said.
Naples had been struggling in
the Italian First Division that season and there were only 15,000, a fifth of
their average league gate, there to see the tough physical slog which the
second leg turned into. Napoli’s fans were
notoriously fickle and a 3-0 defeat at Vincenza the
weekend before the return clash with United did not help the attendance, as it
left Napoli languishing near the foot of the Serie A with only one win to their name.. The fans, who
were displeased at the club’s poor form, had boycotted the game and only two
hundred tickets had been pre-sold for the game. The diehard supporters were
rewarded by a thrilling fight back by their favourites.
Mick Jones and Eddie Gray both missed chances before Claudio Sala gave Napoli
the lead after just fourteen minutes and United had to call on all their
defensive skills to stop Napoli
from equalising on aggregate. The home side laced their considerable skills
with the same nastiness that was evident in the Elland Road leg. Several players
complained of being poked in the eyes and Billy Bremner
appeared to be hit in the face as he got up from a tackle. As the match drew to
a close the crowd became more hostile and a broken bottle which had been thrown
over a wide moat behind the goal into the goalmouth gashed Gary Sprake’s hand. Les Cocker did not travel, and the United medical officer, who attended the stricken Welshman,
deemed it too risky for him to continue and he was replaced by David Harvey
with eight minutes left on the clock. One of the first things he had to do was
pick the ball out of the back of the net. Finally, with six minutes to go, the
home team were awarded a disputed penalty, after Claudio Sala
had been brought down by Jack Charlton, from which Antonio Juliano
scored and the tie was level and the game went into extra-time.
In the additional half-hour United stood firm with Jack Charlton and Norman
Hunter rocks at the heart of their defence. In the end United were battered and
bruised and beaten, losing 2-0 to leave the scores level on aggregate 2-2. But United
felt fortune favoured the brave when Bremner won the
toss of the disc to decide the tie. However, Revie
was still simmering at the way in which Napoli
had met his side and he revealed that at one stage he had come near to bringing
his team off the field. “I hope that we never have to play there again, if that
is the way they treat their guests” he said.
Following the unsavoury incidents in the first leg, he thought long and hard
about the violent game that followed in Naples
as he and his team flew back to Leeds and he began to
wonder as to the wisdom of his side being in Europe at
all. “There is a serious injury risk to players in such games” said Revie, who discussed with the club chairman Alderman Percy
Woodward the possibility of withdrawing from the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. In the
end, though, United decided to carry on and reached the quarter finals where
they lost to Hungarian side Ujpest Dozsa.
Don Revie, Gary Sprake, Billy Bremner and Mick Jones celebrate winning the deciding toss