Bristol City flashback: When invincible Leeds United were 'knocked off their pedestal'
Richard Latham looks back on a memorable clash between the two teams at Elland Roadby Richard Latham
The only Bristol City goal ever to make the front pages of the national daily newspapers was scored against Leeds United at Elland Road 46 years ago next week.
Such shock waves did it send through English football that even people who didn’t consider themselves fans of the game read of it with interest and astonishment.
The scorer, Donnie Gillies, became one of the most famous faces in the land the following day when his picture adorned the front pages of The Times and the Daily Mirror, among others.
His 73rd-minute strike on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 19, 1974 helped Second Division no-hopers City achieve the impossible – sending a team regarded among the strongest in the world crashing out of the FA Cup on their own ground.
All-conquering Leeds had played 29 First Division games that season without losing a single one and were destined to win the title by a clear five points.
Under Don Revie’s shrewd leadership, they had also become a feared force in Europe. The team was packed with household names such as Cooper, Bremner, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke and Giles, all internationals.
Every one of them lined up against City in a fifth round replay few anticipated. A Keith Fear goal three days earlier in front of a 37,000 Ashton Gate crowd had seen Alan Dicks’ team earn an unexpected 1-1 draw after Bremner had netted for Leeds.
It was a time of industrial action by miners, which affected coal supplies to the power stations and, along with other contributing factors, put electricity in short supply.
Government regulations, aimed at restricting its use, demanded that all but ‘essential’ industries switched to a three-day week, while homes were regularly hit by power cuts.
Hence the 2pm kick-off time for a midweek football fixture, which normally would have been played under floodlights, and what was termed an ‘emergency issue’ of the match programme. It was priced at 7 pence and contained just 12 pages.
Revie still contributed a lengthy column in which he did his best to warn Leeds players and supporters about the FA Cup’s long-established reputation for producing upsets.
He wrote: “The underdogs will try to put you off your stride by rushing you and forcing you into making errors – and they always have the backing of furiously partisan crowds.
“It makes them feel like supermen and capable of achieving anything. We know that this afternoon Bristol City will feel anything but underdogs because they held us on Saturday.
“We regard this game as just as difficult as if we were facing Liverpool – away from home. That is how we feel about our opponents today who are from the Second Division in name only.”
Few Leeds fans in the 47,182 crowd packed into Elland Road would have registered much concern. Their team were nine points clear at the top of what is now the Premier League, while City lay just six places off the bottom of the division below.
Dicks’ men had acquitted themselves in the first game, which saw Fear denied by the crossbar and Gillies force a brilliant save from David Harvey.
Now, however, with home advantage, the Leeds steamroller would surely overpower them from the start and continue relentlessly to inevitable victory.
The sixth round draw had already been made, offering the prize of a home quarter-final against Liverpool. Their legendary boss Bill Shankly unwisely spoke of what a great game it would be against Leeds.
He reckoned without a City team, with an average age of 23, showing the tenacity and quality which two years later would see them join Leeds and Liverpool in the top tier of English football.
The promotion-winning defence were already in place, with Gerry Sweeney, Gary Collier, Geoff Merrick and Brian Drysdale playing in front of goalkeeper Ray Cashley.
Gerry Gow, then 21, showed he could bite into tackles every bit as hard as Scottish international Bremner, and saw his midfield work-rate matched by Trevor Tainton, Tom Ritchie and Ernie Hunt. Up front, Fear and Gillies ran themselves into the ground.
Leeds left-back Terry Cooper and substitute Joe Jordan would go on to manage City. Jordan had played in the game at Ashton Gate, but was replaced by Allan Clarke for the replay.
Three special trains, two dozen coaches and a convoy of cars had brought 3,000 Robins fans to Yorkshire for a day game of them would ever forget. The referee was Jack Taylor, destined to take charge of the World Cup final between West Germany and Holland a matter of months later.
Leeds dominated possession for much of the first half, but still took 40 minutes to register a shot on target, Cashley saving a 20-yard drive from Johnny Giles.
The first warning for the hosts came on 53 minutes when Harvey had to dive at full-stretch to grasp a low shot from Gillies.
Peter Lorimer hit the inside of a City post on the hour and Mick Jones bundled the ball into the net only to be penalised for a foul on Cashley.
Then came the decisive moment, described this way by Peter Godsiff in the three-star edition of that day’s Evening Post.
‘Gow started it off with a pass to Fear who, checked on the left, decided to curve a diagonal pass into a vacant space by the penalty spot and Gillies, running with tremendous determination, managed to squeeze the ball low past Harvey with a left-foot shot as he fell.’
Drysdale nodded a Jordan header off the line and Cashley tipped over a Clarke header, but City held out for what Revie admitted was a “a deserved victory”.
Of all the headlines the next day, the best was probably on the back page of the then broadsheet Daily Express. It read in huge type: ‘THEIR FINEST HOUR City Heroes Halt Leeds Machine
Gillies was given his own column in The Sun, which began: 'Donnie Gillies? I feel more like Donny Osmond.'
City, minus the injured Merrick, lost 1-0 to a John Toshack goal for Liverpool in the quarter-finals after another outstanding display.
Bristol City: Cashley; Sweeney, Collier, Merrick, Drysdale; Tainton, Gow, Ritchie (Rodgers 85), Hunt; Fear, Gillies.
Leeds United: Harvey; Cherry, Ellam, Hunter, Cooper; Lorimer, Bremner, Giles (Jordan 76), Madeley; Jones, Clarke.
Referee: Jack Taylor (Wolverhampton)