Despite currently competing in only the second flight of the English footballing pyramid, Leeds United are one of Europe’s most storied and iconic clubs. As the winners of three first division titles, three second division titles, the FA Cup, the Football League Cup and the FA Community Shield, Leeds United are no strangers to domestic success. However, the club were never able to replicate their form during European footballing competitions. Other than the club’s successful campaigns for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup during the 1967/68 and 1970/71 seasons, as well as their runners up finish of said competition in 1966/67, Leeds United’s European record prior to 1973 was no match for those of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Things looked to change on the eve of the 16th of May 1973, as Leeds United faced one the most dominant clubs in European football in the form of A.C. Milan for the European Cup Winners’ Cup. The match ended in a 1-0 victory for the Rossoneri, but controversy surrounded the result. It was perceived that the match referee, Christos Michas, was in favour of a Milan victory and had played a major part in the Italian giants emerging as victors. The Greek spectators at the final held in at the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki reacted to the apparent biased of A.C. Milan by Michas by throwing missiles towards the victors’ as they completed a lap of honour. Following what seemed to be a blatant act of corruption by Michas, Leeds United appealed to UEFA that the match be replayed, but their efforts to have justice were futile as the appeal was denied.
A mere twelve days after the two-year anniversary of the infamous final in Greece, Leeds were once again on the brink of European triumph, however this time on a much greater stage: The European Cup final. This time, the opponent was FC Bayern Munich, a club steeped in success, both on the domestic and European fronts. Some of history’s most iconic players now stood between Leeds and European greatness; the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and one of the world’s most prolific goal scorers of all time, Gerd Müller. This was an opportunity for Leeds United to stake their claim to be one of Europe’s top clubs by defeating one of the giants of the footballing world.
The match was rife with controversy from the start. A clear handball from captain Franz Beckenbauer in the Bayern Munich box in the 23rd minute of the match was met with several Leeds United players appealing to French referee Michel Kitabdjian for a penalty, which was rejected. Only eleven minutes later, Beckenbauer was once again in the centre of controversy as he tripped striker Allan Clarke, again in the box. What was surely going to be a penalty this time was once again denied by Kitabdjian to the horror of both the players and fans of Leeds United.
An effort by captain and club legend Billy Bremner was denied by a brilliant reflex save from German international Sepp Maier in the 62nd minute of play. Less than a minute later, a goal from Peter Lorimer which would have meant a 1-0 lead for Leeds was denied. The strike proved to be a tremendous goal which had surely broken the deadlock. However, despite Kitabdjian initially declaring that the goal would stand, Franz Beckenbauer managed to convince the referee to consult with the linesman regarding the legitimacy of the goal. This resulted in the goal being disallowed as it was decided that Bremner was in an offside position, a passive offside position however. Even though Bremner had not been in contact with the ball, nor had he attempted to make contact with the ball, the officials had decided that the goal would not stand. This caused riots among the Leeds United fans as it became more and more apparent that the match was never in their favour.
The 71st minute of play saw Bayern midfielder Franz Roth make the score 1-0 shortly after a match interruption. This sent Leeds into a downward spiral, and after an 81st-minute goal by the ever-deadly Gerd Müller, it was evident that the Bavarians would emerge as European victors. The outrage of the Leeds United supporters was met with a four-year ban – which was eventually reduced to two-years after appeal – from European football by UEFA. However, said the ban was never to be enforced as a decline in the performance of Leeds United saw them avoid qualification for European football until the 1979/80 season.
Following the match, FC Bayern Munich has remained one of Europe’s most dominant and successful clubs, even completing a hat-trick of European Cup victories as they once again triumphed in the 1976 final, this time against French outfit Saint-Étienne. Unfortunately, the evident conspiracy which allowed Bayern to achieve their second European Cup victory resulted in a period of decline for Leeds United in European football. The club would not even get close to replicating their campaign in Paris until the 2000/01 season where they reached the semi-final of the European Cup – now going by the name of the UEFA Champions League at the time – before being defeated by Spanish club Valencia. Leeds had also reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup the season prior but were knocked out by Turkish outfit Galatasaray, losing 4-2 on aggregate.