The third round FA Cup tie City played at Elland Road, Leeds in January 1978 was not only a classic of its kind but represents a microcosm of all that was seventies football - two star-studded sides, flowing football, flowing hair, heaving terraces, ill-discipline amongst the players and, sadly, considerable crowd disturbance.
Bill Elliot, writing in the Express, was moved to say, “It takes a rare kind of match to overcome pitch invasions, 16 minutes of stoppage and some of the worst crowd behaviour in the history of our football. The fact that there was as much talk about the game on the park as the sickness on the terraces highlights just how special was Manchester City’s defeat of Leeds United...”
City were riding on the crest of a wave midway through the 1977/78 campaign
Tony Book’s side had finished runners-up to Liverpool by a single point the season before but were looking good to perhaps go one better this time and there was the huge boost of having Colin Bell return from an injury nightmare that had lasted – on and off – for the best part of three years.
Bell’s return against Newcastle United on Boxing Day 1977 couldn’t have been better timed and though the legendary midfielder clearly wasn’t the player he’d once been, his mere presence gave a side already flying a shot in the arm.
“Seeing Colin back gave us an immense lift. He was such an important player for us on the pitch and a pivotal influence in the dressing room, just having him back around gave us all a massive lift,” recalled Peter Barnes.
City beat Newcastle United 4-0 on Bell’s return and followed it up with 2-0 wins over Middlesbrough and Aston Villa to end 1977 and then began 1978 with a 1-0 victory away to Leicester City. Book had guided his side to the quarter-finals of the League Cup and the FA Cup was another trophy the Club had its eye on.
Winning the league was very much a possibility, though Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest were setting a fearful pace that even defending champions Liverpool were struggling to keep up with. A domestic cup was realistically the best City fans could hope for, but two incredibly tough draws gave Book’s men a mountain to climb.
In the League Cup, City had been paired with Arsenal at Maine Road and the FA Cup third round pitted City with Leeds United at Elland Road.
The Yorkshire side had already completed a league double over the Blues that season and the hostile atmosphere of a packed Elland Road was a daunting prospect for an in-form City to travel to.
“There was always something special when City played Leeds United – maybe it was the War of the Roses sort of thing, but the games were always special and had a terrific atmosphere and there was a definite rivalry,” said Barnes. “The noise our fans made that day was incredible – it felt like a home game at times.”
Crowd favourite Dennis Tueart had been transfer-listed at his own request the previous November and was looking for a new challenge. He remembers going to Elland Road wondering if it might be the last time he played for City, but also determined to win the game in case it was.
“I was on the transfer list at the time and I’d already turned down Manchester United and Nottingham Forest,” recalled Tueart. “I’d been in negotiations with New York Cosmos prior to playing Leeds so I wasn’t sure if this would have been my last game for City or not. I’d sort of made my mind up to go to America as it looked an exciting opportunity for me to go in a league where Pele, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer were playing.
“But we thought we could beat Leeds because of the quality we had in that team – Colin Bell had just come back and we had Asa Hartford, Joe Corrigan, Willie Donachie, Dave Watson… the list went on and we always backed ourselves and were confident going into the game.
We walked out at Elland Road and we must have had 10,000 fans on the side terracing opposite us – fantastic support, but we always took thousands wherever we went.
"We started well and I remember Peter Barnes skipping past Gordon McQueen in the box and being brought down as he did so – it was a definite penalty, but the referee didn’t give it. Had been at the end our fans were at, I think he’d have pointed to the spot.”
It was turning into an explosive cup tie on and off the pitch. There atmosphere crackled with electricity and City’s huge following were more than a vocal match for the Leeds fans who bellowed out ‘Marching All Together’ as a tense first half finally sparked into the first major talking point.
Tueart recalls how a bizarre fight broke out between two Leeds players as City prepared to take a corner.
“It was always an intimidating place to go and there was a tinderbox atmosphere with almost 40,000 fans jammed in the ground and you could feel the tension,£ he said.
“I nearly put us ahead with a header from point blank range when Gary Owen put a terrific chip into the middle but their keeper, David Harvey, somehow tipped it over. I think it was while we were readying to take the corner that I caught sight of Harvey and McQueen exchanging punches in the six-yard box – not something you see every day! There was obviously something wrong in the Leeds dressing room at the time, but we went in at the break 0-0 and on top.”
City keeper Joe Corrigan added: “Knowing Harvey and McQueen as I do, there would have only been one winner had the fight gone on. Gordon wasn’t the most patient man on the pitch so I wasn’t too surprised to see him involved!”
City walked back to the dressing room knowing their dominance should have been reflected in the scoreline with a penalty that should have been awarded and Tueart’s header that nine times out of ten would have been a goal, but for a superb save. Book’s team were more than edging it, but another massive effort would be needed with Leeds attacking the Kop in the second-half.
However, City’s pressure didn’t let up after the interval and, after McQueen had fouled Brian Kidd on 62 minutes, Book’s men got their richly deserved breakthrough. With the City fans packing the terraces behind the goal and to the halfway line down one side of the ground, there was a crescendo of noise as Dave Watson lofted the ball forward, Bell bravely looped the ball on with his head and Tueart flung himself through the bodies to head high past Harvey.
As the net bulged, Tueart was treated to a mouthful of turf as Paul Reaney arrived too late and squashed him into the penalty area mud.
“We came back and were attacking the end most of our fans were behind and I manged to get ahead of Reaney and nod it home to make it 1-0,” recalled Tueart. “The noise was incredible as our fans celebrated.”
Leeds, committed now to chasing the equaliser, were leaving gaps at the back, as the game ebbed and flowed furiously. City’s killer second goal came with 18 minutes to go, as Donachie crossed from the left wing, Bell got up above Frank Gray to head powerfully forward, Harvey –mistiming his jump slightly- pushed the ball up onto the bar and, as players rushed in on the loose ball, Barnes got a toe end to it and it was in the back of the net, doubling City’s lead.
“I scrambled home the second to give us a bit of breathing space. Both Dennis and I were waiting for a knockdown so when Colin’s header bounced down off the bar, I just got a toe to it first,” said Barnes.
Five minutes later, all hell broke loose.
Clarke’s rugged challenge on Corrigan earned him a talking-to from the referee, as the atmosphere began to change palpably for the worse. Sure enough, with 13 minutes left on the clock, a massive surge of Leeds fans carried those at the front onto the pitch at the Kop end. Big Joe admits he probably could have timed a message to the Kop a little better…
“I think when we went 2-0 up, I turned around to the Leeds Kop and gave a victory gesture that maybe didn’t go down too well,” recalls Corrigan.
“I just raised my arms towards them and turned back around and next thing I knew there were Leeds fans running on the pitch and one guy ran up behind me in the net – stupidly – and tried to have a go so I just defended myself, hit him and the stewards dragged him away.
“It was a frightening experience because I’d already been involved in a similar situation at Old Trafford in 1974 when the United fans swarmed on after Denis Law had scored for us. It wasn’t as violent as that day, but it was of concern. That said, the police quickly got things under control with their horses and cleared them off the pitch as quickly as they could.
“I remember one Leeds fan ran out from the corner and ran past the 10,000 City fans, goaded them and then an arm came out and he disappeared into a packed City terrace. We thought we had seen the end of those days, but clearly it hadn’t stopped.”
Barnes added: “I saw on or two climbing over the wall and few of the Leeds lads were trying to get them to go back. I didn’t feel too intimidated because it was a sign of the times and there was still a lot of hooliganism around, so in that respect, it was nothing new. I don’t know how long the delay was but we just needed to focus and see the time out and get the job done.”
Tueart was at the opposite end when he noticed something wasn’t right.
“The first thing I knew about it all had been when Willie Donachie kicked the ball into touch and was looking back towards our goal and you could see some fans from the Kop had spilled onto the big and we were concerned for Joe,” he said.
“The referee handled it brilliantly and stopped play. He went to have a word with the Leeds manager Jimmy Armfield as more fans ran on to the pitch and then the police came on to control the situation on horseback.
“The ref then arranged to get a microphone and addressed the end where the trouble had broken out, saying ‘This game will not be abandoned!’ He was basically telling the troublemakers that their efforts were in vain and he wouldn’t stop the match. It was extraordinary. “
The players finally reappeared some 15 minutes later, but with 13 minutes of the game still to play, it was vital City kept their cool to see time out.
“It disrupted us more than it did them, but we just had to hold on for the win because any result at Elland Road was a real achievement in those days,” said Corrigan.
“It was all a bit surreal and hard to take in,” added Tueart. “But when we eventually restarted, the disturbances had definitely affected us. I had a great chance to make it 3-0, but sliced it wide and should have done better. After that, they pressed us for a goal and I think Asa cleared one off the line before Tony Currie won a penalty in the last minute of normal time. Gray scored and were wondering how long the ref was going to add on, even though we thought we could see it out. As soon as the ref blew for time, we legged it off the pitch!”
Frank Gray’s 89th-minute spot-kick was all Leeds could muster and City did successfully see out the remaining minutes to earn a 2-1 victory and progress to the fourth round. Bell had two assists to his name, Book had guided his team past a great rival and the FA Cup dream was still alive.
“I don’t remember much after the game, but when we found out we had drawn Nottingham Forest away in the next round, we didn’t feel we’d been rewarded for that win at Leeds because now we had to take on the best team in the country!” said Tueart.
Indeed, City’s hopes of silverware quickly diminished in the space of a week at the end of January with a 1-0 League Cup quarter-final replay away to Arsenal and a 2-1 FA Cup loss to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
A poor run of league form followed and all the promise and hope that City had going into the New Year quickly evaporated, though a fourth place in Division One was secured. Tueart moved to New York Cosmos and Bell’s brave comeback only lasted a year or so before he left the Club and was forced to retire not long after.
Big Joe remembers there was a letter waiting for him a few days after the victory in Yorkshire….
“I was bit perturbed because I was sent a letter from the FA claiming I’d incited the Leeds fans!” he said. “I had to go to appear in front of a panel and eventually the charge was thrown out. It was all nonsense and people trying to apportion blame.”
And as for this weekend’s trip to Elland Road, Peter Barnes believes the lack of home support is something City can exploit.
“Going into this clash with Leeds, I think not having any fans in the ground has to be a big advantage for us because you could just imagine a full Elland Road and the noise they’d make,” he said. “We remember how intimidating and hostile Elland Road could be, so we need to show good mental strength and character this weekend and we just need to go there and play our game.”
Whatever the outcome, it’s doubtful there will be another clash that could match that dramatic and incident-packed winter afternoon in Leeds, or the resilience the City players showed in such a tinderbox atmosphere at a venue that has never been a particularly happy hunting ground before or since.