1972/73 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final

Matchday programme cover

Wednesday 16 May 1973

Leeds United v AC Milan

In a humongous footballing travesty, Leeds United were cheated out of the trophy by a referee who was later banned for life due to match fixing. So, first, the bare facts and then all the gory details. As for the Leeds fans who had to follow it at all at home, we were not amused.

The facts:

Venue – Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki

Referee – Christos Michas (Greece)

Official score – 1-0 to AC Milan, goal-scorer Luciano Chiarugi. 5 minutes.

AC Milan: Villiam Vecchi, Giuseppe Sabadini, Giulio Zignoli, Angelo Anquilletti, Maurizio Turone, Roberto Rosato (Dario Dolci 59’), Riccardo Sogliano, Romeo Benetti, Alberto Bigon, Gianni Rivera (c), Luciano Chiarugi

Leeds United: David Harvey, Paul Reaney (c), Trevor Cherry, Mick Bates, Paul Madeley, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan, Mick Jones, Frank Gray (Gordon McQueen 54’), Terry Yorath

Coming after Leeds had lost the FA Cup Final to Sunderland on 05 May and finished third in the League, it was yet another season which ended in bitter disappointment.

According to my team of researchers, ‘In spite of an English club making it to the final, highlights could not be shown on the night of the match because ITV were showing highlights of Scotland v Northern Ireland. BBC1 showed highlights of the ECWC final the following night (Thursday 17 May) at 10.40 – 11.30pm in black and white (Greek TV were responsible for the pictures). ‘

Floodlit robbery!

Pre-match parade

It was just as well it wasn’t shown live, it was bad enough listening to it on the radio. There had been so many disappointments for Leeds United, falling at the final hurdle, that I already feared the worst before kick-off. And the worst happened.  But the context needs setting about why Leeds fans had come to expect things to go wrong at the end of a season;

Previous Disappointment 1 – Wembley allowed the Horse of the Year Show to precede, by just a week, the 1970 FA Cup Final between Leeds and Chelsea. You might say that the horrendously pitted and sanded surface ‘levelled the playing field’ as an inferior Chelsea somehow sneaked a replay. Chelsea won that replay after Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris had taken Eddie Gray out of the game early on, giving him a thigh injury so serious that he never fully recovered from it. Even more sadly, it stopped Gray from ever becoming truly world class, as his talent had suggested. One thing you must check out about that match was how Eddie McCreadie kung-fu kicked Billy Bremner in the head when challenging for the ball in the penalty area. It was a little bit frightening. Penalty and sending off? No, just play on!!

Previous Disappointment 2 – There was the ‘Ray Tinkler’ affair when, ignoring a clear offside, referee Tinkler waved play to continue in a Leeds match against West Brom in 1971. The resultant West Brom goal arguably cost Leeds not just one but two championship titles since a pitch invasion by angry fans led to the club having to play the first 4 matches of the following season away from Elland Road.

Previous Disappointment 3 – Leeds won the FA Cup in 1972 (I went there to make sure they did, it never seemed to work on telly.) Great but then they were made to play a mere 2 days later away at Wolves, needing just a draw to do the prestigious double. Expectant Leeds fans provided two thirds of the crowd of 50,000 plus. As with the Bayern match (see below) 2 penalties – later admitted to – were denied and Leeds lost 2-1.

Future Disappointment – All of this sob story is necessary to understand the mentality of Leeds fans as the horror unfolded in Thessaloniki in 1973 and goes some way to explaining what happened at the Parc des Princes in 1975 after Leeds were cheated out of the European Cup by Bayern Munich. You question ‘cheated’? Two clear penalties were denied by the ref (admitted to later by Bayern) and a Lorimer goal disallowed, not by the referee or linesman but by Franz Beckenbauer!

Current Disappointment – So, after Leeds had underperformed a fortnight earlier against Sunderland in the FA Cup Final – dispiriting but no complaints at least about officialdom – we all had to make do with radio commentary. Jack Charlton and John Giles were out injured, Billy Bremner and Allan Clarke were suspended. Even so, the team that did play deserved so much better than what befell them.

And so the scene of the crime…

The referee at the centre of the scandal – Christos Michas

As I listened, I grew increasingly appalled as it all unfolded before my ears. But the diligent reader can become a watcher, too, and check out for themselves how the match went with highlights of around 48 minutes on YouTube.

You will see; a sequence of early free kicks given against Leeds, especially for fouls committed by Paul Madeley. He never needed to foul as he was virtually immaculate in his tackling technique; he was booked only twice in a 724-match club career. But here he was, seen by referee ‘Bendy’ Michas as the hatchet man. (He’d yet to see Hunter or Yorath showing how it was really done.)

The referee’s persecution of Madeley allowed an early Milan free kick on the edge of the box which they scored from. After that, it was a 12-man job to hold on.

There was a clear penalty for a series of fouls on Mick Jones (actually about 4 penalties in a bunch, take your pick). As it was turned down, loud booing can clearly be heard from the spectators. It is worth remembering there were only a few hundred Leeds fans in a crowd of over 40,000 and the response of the Greeks became more and more significant. They could tell something about the referee’s performance was very dodgy. A crude 2-footed tackle by Terry Yorath, let Michas know Terry was not best pleased.

Early in the second half Joe Jordan (pronounced in Leeds as George Auden) was booked for the serious ‘offence’ of jumping to head the ball at a corner.

A second claim for a penalty for handball by a Milan defender was waved away. The ball definitely struck his hand, which was in a raised position. By this time, the penny had dropped for the AC Milan team as everyone began to realise what was going on. They knew Michas had developed a pathological hatred for pointing to the spot.

A third penalty claim was turned down after Jones was flattened again.

Another handball just outside the box was not given.

As the game drew towards its inevitable conclusion, appeals for a fourth penalty were ignored. This time Jones was held back and pulled to the ground. But Milan’s sleights of hand here were subtle. Jones was a very fair player who never dived and he did not in this instance.

Norman Hunter tries to escape an AC Milan ‘tackle’

Hunter was sent off near the end. He didn’t appreciate the way he’d been fouled and simply wanted to murder the perpetrator. As Michas knew he was never going to visit Horsforth, he felt safe in sending Hunter off but made sure he also sent off the Milan player, too.

Not quite done, there was a fifth penalty at the very end. Yes, Lorimer’s fall was a bit theatrical but it was still a penalty. Peter probably felt the ref needed a bit of a hint by this time.

Other than that, the ref had a decent game, according to the ‘highlights’. The mind boggles, though, at what he got up to in the ‘lowlights’ that we never saw.

An incensed crowd at the end reacted to his bias in favour of Milan by booing the winners as they went to collect the trophy and by throwing missiles at them during the victors’ attempted lap of ‘honour’. Milan soon packed that in. The biggest boos were reserved for their fellow Greek, Christos Michas, as he went up to collect his medal. Leeds were treated like conquering heroes and the team were given a rapturous reception as they did their lap of honour. Justice had not been done but the crowd had made their own judgement.

Despite all the protests, the result was not overturned and even though UEFA later gave Michas his life ban due to match fixing, his role in this one was not investigated. Leeds petitioned to have a replay, a request denied by UEFA. The governing body presumably didn’t want to open a can of worms and the game not being shown live and in full probably suited them well. By the time it was seen the next evening, even though Leeds fans were enraged and plenty of neutrals were disgusted, too, it was already ‘a past event’.

But, there is always a counter-view. Four months ago, some pundit on YouTube called Felice Marco (who?) said, “So happy, Leeds was merely unable to score after a sterile domination…go home, whites, all blating and no upshot.” The critics who suggest that Felice must be the love child of referee Michas are very unfair.


Graeme Garvey