Opinion

The night Leeds United saw Paris and got mugged

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Leeds United were one of the world's most feared sides from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, but a set of controversial circumstances denied the men from Elland Road the glory they richly deserved.

English Championship side Leeds will play old rivals Manchester United in Perth on Wednesday and new acquaintances Western Sydney Wanderers in Sydney on Saturday as part of their pre-season campaign designed to take the club where it belongs: the Premier League.

The Wanderers' clash at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta that is expected to draw a near capacity crowd of about 30,000 will create history because it will be the first football match played at the brand new $360 million venue.

Leeds are now a shadow of the wonderful team that very often were just about unbeatable from 1968 to 1975.

It was certainly the west Yorkshire club's golden era that yielded two English first division championships in 1969 and 1974 and an FA Cup in 1972. They also finished second in the league in 1970, 1971 and 1972.

Yet the Leeds power was not limited to British shores and the exploits of guys like Paul Madeley, Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles, Allan Clarke, Joe Jordan and Peter Lorimer against the cream of Europe became the stuff of legend.

Leeds at their peak were so ruthless that they were seen in some quarters - rather generously perhaps - as a reincarnation of the fabled Real Madrid side of the 1950s and 1960s ... and that was not because they wore the same all-white kit.

Leeds had won two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups in 1968 and 1971 before they met AC Milan in a bruising 1973 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final in Salonica.

Leeds were the better team and were unlucky to lose 1-0 when winger Luciano Chiarugi found the net directly from a free-kick.

What incensed Leeds was the performance of Greek referee Christos Michas, who allowed Chiarugi's goal to stand when it was supposed to be an indirect free-kick and waved away at least one clear penalty claim.

The Greek Football Association later suspended Michas amid suspicions he had been bribed.

Leeds felt hard done by in Salonica but much worse was to come two years later.

After beating Johan Cruyff's Barcelona in the European Cup semi-final, Leeds faced holders Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

Leeds had a poor season - finishing ninth in the league and losing to Ipswich in the FA Cup sixth round - and the only way they would play continental football the following season was by winning the European Cup.

The Paris showdown became one of the most controversial finals in European club history and Franz Beckenbauer, one of football's all-time greats, was at the centre of it all.

In the midst of intense pressure from Leeds in the first half, the Bayern captain appeared to handle the ball in the penalty area, but French referee Michel Kitabdjian waved play on to the consternation of the Leeds players and travelling supporters.

Worse was to come when Beckenbauer smashed into Clarke in the box in what looked like a blatant foul - but again, the referee saw nothing wrong.

The anger and frustration of 9,000 Leeds fans reached fever pitch in the second half when Lorimer got first to a loose ball and beat Sepp Maier with a stinging shot.

The referee awarded a goal but he changed his mind and disallowed it for a dubious offside after a protest from Beckenbauer, a man of immense stature and influence who was known to get into refs' ears.

"I caught the ball on the volley and smashed it into the corner of the net. The referee pointed to the centre circle and there was no reaction from the linesman. Then Beckenbauer started having words with Kitabdjian and to our total disbelief, the goal was ruled out," Lorimer would say later.

At that point the agitated Leeds fans could not contain their anger any more and started throwing objects onto the pitch. Their mood darkened even more when Bayern scored twice from counter-attacks late in the game to add injury to insult.

Bayern won 2-0 but the Leeds fans felt their team had been robbed and decided to take out their frustration on whatever or whoever they could find. The mayhem continued after the match with brawls in the city that lasted long into the night. Private property was damaged.

The level of violence and vandalism was such that Leeds were subsequently banned from UEFA's top competition for four years.

Leeds were relegated in 1982 and the European Cup had morphed into the UEFA Champions League by the time they returned to the continental competition in 1992.

It took them nine more years to reach the semi-finals again. Australian stars Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell played key roles in taking them to that stage before they ran into a superb Valencia side and crashed 3-0 at the Mestalla.

Leeds as a club went into free fall soon after that campaign. They ran into serious financial difficulties and their stars could not wait to get out of the place. Other players were let go at giveaway prices.

Leeds were again relegated in 2004 and soon learned that the way back to the top would be long, hard and full of pitfalls.

The club’s plight worsened when they went into administration in 2007 and ended up in League One, where they spent three seasons. 

Yet things are looking up after many years of mediocrity in the relative backwater of the Championship and League One, and when Marcelo Bielsa's team take on United and the Wanderers, fans will be able to see for themselves where this famous club is at on the road to redemption.