We are champions, champions of Europe.
The chant still echoes and reverberates around Elland Road, serving two purposes; it is a rallying cry to the fans, raising spirits in dark times and it is also a reminder of a dark time in Leeds’ history. May 28th 1975 is a date burned, not etched but burned, into the psyche of Leeds fans of my era; it is a date that signifies all that is dark about football. Bearing in mind the current rumblings regarding FIFA playing out at the moment, it is also quite apt, apt to say the very least. The occasion, the 1975 European Cup Final; the teams, Leeds United and Bayern Munich; the venue, Parc des Princes in Paris. What was expected to be a spectacle ended up as a debacle, the repercussions of which still reverberate 40 years later as clearly as they did that day four decades ago.
Bayern Munich, the giants of German football were appearing in what was the second of three consecutive European Cup finals, none of which they lost. The three victories the Germans achieved would cement their reputation as THE European team of the era, but the one in 1975 isn’t as much shrouded in controversy as it is entirely based on it. Bayern Munich contained such greats as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß, three players who were members of Germany’s victorious World Cup side from the previous year. Domestically, Bayern were shocking, finishing that season tenth in the German Bundesliga in what was them, a shockingly bad season.
For Leeds, it was different matter as they became only the second English club to reach the final and the first English team to reach the final of all three major European cup competitions that were present at the time with Spanish giants Barcelona being the only team to do so previously. The game was seen by many as the pinnacle of Don Revie and Leeds’ ‘Glory Years’, a team built by Revie and featuring players who would go on to become Leeds legends. The names of Bremner, Lorimer, Clark, both Gray brothers and Hunter amongst others playing that day are fondly remembered by Leeds fans. These players, managed by Jimmy Armfield who picked up the pieces of Brian Clough’s disastrous 44-day reign, had earned the right to appear in the massive occasion that was the European Cup final. However, the fondness stops there as the game itself is neither fond nor remembered for the right reasons. It is the game itself, and how it played out, that has given rise to three things: the acronym WACCOE, the associated chant and the linked 40 years of hurt.
Leeds dominated for most of the match, putting their illustrious German opponents to the sword and had a number of near misses. However, decisions weren’t just going against them in the way that make every fan grumble and ask for the referee to go to Specsavers. I’m not going to go into massive detail, that is available elsewhere to read, for example on Wikipedia, but a brief summary is all that is needed to get a flavour of why we, as Leeds fans, feel aggrieved at the events of Paris 1975 and rightly proclaim that “we were robbed”. To set the flavour a little, two years prior to the fateful 28 May 1975 final, Leeds were victims of a series of refeering decisions that bordered on the farcical, leading to a 1-0 loss to Italian giants AC Milan. In this game, the refereeing of Greek official Christos Michas was more than dubious with a harsh dismissal of Norman Hunter and the waving away of two Leeds United penalty appeals, the latter being echoed two years later in Paris. Michas was later found guilty of match fixing (not related to this final) and was banned from officiating by UEFA.
Fast-forward the two years and very little changed; ‘dodgy’ official, check; ‘dubious decisions’, double check and ‘cheated’ out of a result, yep that’s in the mix too. Incidents aplenty such as the legendary Beckenbauer handling the ball whilst laid in the penalty area, no penalty given. Beckenbauer also brought down Allan Clarke as ‘Sniffer’ rounded Bayern keeper Sepp Maier, again no penalty. The biggest injustice, in some people’s eyes, was the chalking off of a perfectly valid Peter Lorimer goal for offside. None of the officials showed any signs of it being offside, in fact the referee Frenchman Michel Kitabdjan ruled it valid. Cue Beckenbauer having a word with the referee and the decision was overturned. The scenes after the game, the rioting of the upset Leeds fans is also well-documented and led to a ban from European football for four seasons, reduced to two on appeal.
‘Cheated’ is a strong word that involves strong emotions. However, on May 28 1975, Leeds United were definitely cheated and the WACCOE chant bears a painful testimony to this. The pain of this injustice has lasted 40 years; 40 years of hurt that time hasn’t lessened nor becalmed.