Atop the EFL Championship, four points clear of West Bromwich Albion with five matches to play, Leeds United look poised for a return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
As serious a drought that’s been – including a three-year stretch adrift in League 1 – it’s been a vastly longer stint since the lads from Yorkshire tasted FA Cup glory. The 2020 edition of the classic event saw Leeds exit via a 1-0 third-round loss at Arsenal.
Leeds United has gone 17 years since reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals and a stunning 33 years since getting through to the semi-final stages of the tournament.
The last time Leeds United played in an FA Cup final was the side’s shocking 1-0 loss to second-division Sunderland in 1973. As devastating as that setback was on the day, it marked the end of an era which saw Leeds United exhibit more dominance and endure more heartbreak than perhaps any side in the history of the FA Cup.
The Gaffer Arrives
The fortunes of Leeds United forever changed for the better in March of 1961, when Don Revie replaced Jack Taylor as manager. Success wasn’t instant, though. In 1961-62, Second Division Leeds needed a win in the final match of the season to avoid relegation. United got the required result, dominating 3-0 at Newcastle, just the side’s third away win of the season.
Revie switched Leeds to its current all-white kit similar to Real Madrid, and in 1963-64, the club won promotion to the First Division.
The greatest era in Leeds United football was about to begin.
1965 FA Cup – Liverpool 1 Leeds United 0
The first taste of top-level action since 1959-60 saw Leeds United go 29-9-7 and finish second behind Manchester United. But it was in the FA Cup where Leeds would make club history.
Prior to that season, Leeds had advanced as far as the quarter-final stage of the FA Cup just once. That appearance came in 1949-50, when United were a Second Division side.
Led by captain and Scottish international Bobby Collins, Leeds moved into the semifinals for the first time ever. Facing Manchester United before 46,300 at Nottingham Forest, Leeds were awarded a free kick two minutes from time after an obstruction foul against the Reds’ Nobby Stiles. Johnny Giles launched the kick into the Manchester United goal area and Billy Bremner headed it past Pat Dunne for the lone goal of the match. Leeds were off to Wembley.
Leeds would face Liverpool in the Cup final. The match was scoreless after 90 minutes. In extra-time, Roger Hunt gave Liverpool the lead. After Billy Bremner equalized, Ian St. John won it for Liverpool in the 117th minute, finishing off the 2-1 final.
Over the next decade, there were two safe bets when it came to English football – that Leeds United would fare well in the FA Cup, and that the team’s supporters would have their hearts broken by the FA Cup final outcome.
1970 FA Cup Final – Chelsea 2 Leeds United 1
Leeds United bowed out of the FA Cup in the semifinal stage in both 1967 and 1968. Getting back to the Cup final in 1970, the Yorkshire lads and Chelsea battled to a 2-2 draw after extra time at Wembley.
Ian Hutchinson’s goal in the 86th minute forged a draw for Chelsea. The FA Cup final would require a replay for the first time since 1912.
It was held April 29, 1970 at Old Trafford, marking the last time the FA Cup final was played in the month of April. Leeds led 1-0 at the half on a 35th-minute Mick Jones goal.
Peter Osgood equalized in the 78th minute and the sides would again need extra time to decide the issue. David Webb scored in the 104th minute for a 2-1 Chelsea victory.
1972 FA Cup Final – Leeds United 1 Arsenal 0
Billy Bremner (4) captained Leeds United to the 1972 FA Cup. Photo by: Leeds United Memories (Twitter.com).
Following a stunning upset when fourth-division minnows Colchester United ousted Leeds United 3-2 in the fifth round of the 1971 FA Cup, Leeds found itself back in its accustomed spot as an FA Cup finalist in 1972.
This time, the result would finally go in favour of Revie’s boys.
Allan Clarke headed home a Jones cross in the 53rd minute for the only goal of the match as Leeds United defeated Cup holders Arsenal 1-0. David Harvey kept the clean between the posts.
Even in their moment of glory, heartbreak was just around the corner for Leeds. Needing only a draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers in their final match of the season to clinch the league, Leeds lost 2-1, handing the First Division title to Derby County.
1973 FA Cup Final – Sunderland 1 Leeds United 0
On paper, it seemed a mismatch and certain back-to-back FA Cup titles for Leeds. Second Division Sunderland, though, started the match bravely and in the 32nd minute, took a shock lead through Ian Porterfield.
Leeds United threw everything they had at the Sunderland goal for the remainder of the match but couldn’t solve Sunderland goalkeeper Jim Montgomery. His best save of the match came when he parried a point-blank shot from Peter Lorimer off the underside of the bar.
It remains Sunderland’s only post-war trophy, and the last time that either side played in the FA Cup final.