Some football matches, as history proves, are more than just a game - they become dates for intense rivalry sometimes steeped in enmity; often life and death scenarios for fans. Put those epic Liverpool-Leeds United clashes of the Sixties and early Seventies in that category as the standard soared to unbelievable heights.
Last night’s Carling Cup meeting of the clubs was a reminder of those yesteryear encounters now part of football folklore. So, too, are the battle of wits by their two high-profile managers — Liverpool’s Bill Shankly, a granite-hard Scot, and Leeds’ Don Revie. Fergie and Rafael Benitez had nothing on this pair.
There are a thousand and one stories about Shankly embellished in the telling by ex-Liverpool stars who have made a fortune on the after-dinner circuit, but as his friend and my journalist colleague Hugh McIlvanney puts it: “The Shankly legend is the living genuine article and the smallest fragment of it can spread laughter in any group of football people.”
His crew-cut hairstyle, staccato delivery and his passion for football made him something special. Isn’t it ironic that his successor Bob Paisley was such a retiring man, entirely without self-projection almost to the point of anonymity, yet his success was phenomenal.
Revie was a different kettle of fish. Born in Middlesbrough, he could be dour and secretive like the time he quit the England job without informing his close allies to take up a lucrative post with the United Arab Emirates. As a deep-lying centre-forward he revolutionised that position first brought to light in the United Kingdom by the great Hungarian Nandor Hidegkuti. It became known as “The Revie Plan”.
Nobody could deny his record at Elland Road in what is known the glory era (1964-74) while those tactical tussles with Shanks were something else. Revie, a controversial figure, was often criticised for his violent play and gamesmanship, but to this day is idolised by Elland Road fans and his former players. The Kop at Elland Road is named after him. He was inducted into the English Football Hall Of Fame in 2004.
Shankly had basic theories on methods of play — pass and move, keep it simple, a creed taken from those matches played by his East Ayrshire miner’s team Glenbuck Cherrypickers. He kept his players free from injury by correct training techniques, dietary control and healthy living and, as a result, he used only 14 players in the 1965-66 season when they finished as champions, six points ahead of Leeds.
Most of the Liverpool-Leeds matches were epics, always high octane and fought to the bitter end. Nobody possessed greater knowledge of the game than Revie; he held Shankly in the utmost respect although they both came from different schools.
John Keith, Liverpool historian and former Daily Express sports correspondent in Northern Ireland, recalls that era: “During the 1971/72 season Shanks burst into the Anfield media centre and announced there was a problem on the motorway and Leeds would be delayed. They arrived at 2.40pm and, as Revie walked down the corridor to the dressing rooms, Shanks commented: “I thought you were too frightened to come!” Shankly that day wound up little Billy Bremner. “That pitch is nae good for wee players,” he joked. Few escaped Shanks’ banter . . .
The 1965 FA Cup Final went to extra-time, Liverpool winning 2-1.
Defensively Leeds were excellent throughout but lacked penetration with the Bobby Collins-Bremner midfield, normally the dynamo, not functioning properly. Liverpool with Roger Hunt and Ian St John in an inspirational mood, kept bursting forward, every attack filled with menace but it all ended scoreless.
Three minutes into extra-time, however, the deadlock was broken when Liverpool scored; left back Gerry Byrne placed a perfect cross into the box for Hunt to score with a header.
That was only the start of the drama, with Leeds equalising two minutes later, centre-back Jack Charlton heading the ball down for Bremner’s half-volley to beat keeper Tommy Lawrence. But the hero of the day was unquestionably The Saint himself when he met Ian Callaghan’s low centre from the right to give Liverpool the trophy.
Leeds lived to fight another day. Shanks went on to many more triumphs. Both have passed on and each left a legacy in football — and many memories, too.
Yes, those were the golden days of the game.
FA Cup Final: May 1, 1965 Wembley: Liverpool 2 Leeds United 1 (aet; 90 mins |0-0)
Liverpool: Lawrence, Lawler, Byrne, Strong, Yeats (c), Stevenson, Callaghan Hunt, St John, Smith, Thompson.
Leeds United: Sprake, Reaney, Bell, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Giles, Storrie, Peacock, Collins, Johanneson.