April Fools and the Battle of Britain – Leeds United 0-1 Celtic

Living down south has its advantages. I was married here, my son was born here, and we have actual summers. There are also far less supporters of ‘the’ Rangers than you have to put up with up the road. I rarely regret moving over the border if the truth be told, it’s worked out well in the main.

One thing that has never abated however is the complete disregard that’s shown to football north of the border. Tin Pot and Mickey Mouse are some of the more printable descriptions they use to describe Scottish football.

Normally these comments come from ignorance and it must be said are easily ignored, though a frustration remains. I don’t expect them to follow or watch Scottish football. I was regularly told Celtic’s march to nine-in-a-row meant nothing as the league is poor and of course ‘the’ Rangers aren’t what they were. You can point out they aren’t even Rangers anymore but they don’t really get it all if the truth be told.

I’ll be clear this is not true of every English football fan, some are very knowledgeable and respectful of the history of Celtic and Scottish football, sadly they are in the minority.

If you lose to Livingston, you soon hear about it. If you put six past Ross County, it’s a shrug of the shoulders. Though funnily enough if you ask which Scottish game they watched that week or that season even, chances they haven’t watched Scottish football since Gascoigne or Larsson played and even then, four times a year maximum for what was the ‘old firm’ games.

Many don’t even watch the Glasgow Derby now, but they still have an opinion on the standard of our game. Yet ask them to name two players outside of Celtic or ‘the’ Rangers and they are stumped.

When I read the sadly departed Bertie Auld had talked about Celtic European Cup Semi-final wins over English Champions Leeds United in 1970 it reminded me this attitude was nothing new.

My Grandfather was one of the lucky few fans who manged to attend both legs of that European Cup tie. It was describing that encounter that first introduced me to the arrogance and disregard the media and English supporters had for the Scottish game. He was delighted to get a ticket in his supporter’s club ballot and not just because Celtic’s allocation was tiny. No, he was supremely confident Celtic would beat Leeds United and put the English media back in their box. He just wanted to be there when they did it.

Don Revie’s side were of course the darlings of the English newspapers and strong favourites to win football’s Battle of Britain, crazy when you consider Celtic were the Scottish champions again and had won the tournament only three years previously.

Leeds had won the English top flight for the first time in their history in 1969, though they had been runners-up in 1965 and 1966. They had little or no European pedigree as a result. Yet my Grandfather used to laugh that they were favourites to win the European Cup like it was some sort of pre-ordained right as English League winners.

They did of course have good players – Very good in fact – and Revie was a fine manager. Leeds had a core of Scots including skipper Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer, as well as a World Cup winner in Jack Charlton and there was also the talent of Johnny Giles. A strike force of Mick Jones alongside the most expensive striker in English football in Alan Clarke was also worthy of respect.

And Celtic and my Grandfather did respect them. Celtic players and supporters simply had belief – borne of experience and success in European football – that we were far better than was generally being reported.

It’s easy to see why Leeds United were lauded but to disregard Celtic was arrogant in the extreme and they paid the price for it. Celtic, of course, had become the first British team to win the tournament in 1967, beating Inter Milan in the final in Lisbon, a small issue ignored by the English media as a lucky break.

Jock Stein’s Celtic side ruled Scottish football, a far higher standard than we have today. They had captured the domestic treble in 1967 and 1969 and were in the midst of winning nine league titles in a row.

The team that played that day contained the bulk of the Lisbon Lions, Evan Williams, Jim Brogan, Davie Hay were the changes and of course George Connelly.

Bertie who had had been speaking to the PA and quoted in 4-4-2 Magazine back in 2020 seemed to agree with my Grandfather:

“Everyone was boasting about Leeds United and how we would find it difficult against them. They had Bremner, a great player, and Johnny Giles, a magnificent player and they had Mick Jones, who was a good goalscorer.

“But we had Jimmy Johnstone and Lennox, Wallace and Davie Hay – I would never have liked to play against him.”

Whenever my grandfather talked about that game at Elland Road, he’d always start with laughing at the arrogance of the English media before adding ‘and it was over after a minute.’

George Connolly scored that first minute goal with a shot that deflected off Billy Bremner and skipped past Leeds ‘keeper Gary Sprake into the corner of the net. He could have had a second but had a goal ruled out for offside at the start of the second half.

Bertie Auld certainly wasn’t surprised at the early goal:

“That was the positive thing that Jock Stein gave us. We were capable of scoring in the first minute or last minute. That was something that we had in our system because we had players like Bobby Lennox, Willie Wallace and Stevie Chalmers.

“George was amazing for his age. He was a midfield player but he could also play at the back and he had tremendous confidence in himself. We had no fear but to be fair, there was tremendous respect between the teams”.

To underline Celtic’s class and ensure there could be no further aspersions cast, Celtic also won the second leg at Hampden and went onto their second European Cup final in three years. Leeds United may have been a good side, just not as good as Celtic.

Yet even before that second leg the English media assumed Leeds United had simply underestimated Celtic and they would right that wrong at Hampden. The previous Saturday, Leeds had drawn 2-2 in the FA Cup final against Chelsea while Celtic had surprisingly lost 3-1 by Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final.

Once again Leeds would only have to turn up. 136,505 watched Celtic come from behind to win on the night, 3-1 on aggregate with goals from John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch. England’s great myth were put in their place.

Bertie Auld summed it up pretty well indeed when he said:

“I think English football got carried away with itself at that time. I was very proud to play in that era with that squad of players and that support. We had a right good pool of players and it was a well-balanced squad and of course, big Jock never let you get too carried away.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Since I’ve been living down here Celtic have beaten Alex Ferguson’s legendary Manchester United team as well as AC Milan and of course Barcelona, yet still as a club we have little respect. Those wins are put down to our support rather than the team we have on the park, as if the support and players aren’t in it together. Even more recently Pep Guardiola’s fine Manchester City couldn’t defeat Celtic home or away, yet we received little respect for it from the press down here.

I’ll probably never see the day when Celtic win the European Cup but I’m certain we’ll play English teams again and put them in their place. Pride cometh before the fall after all and if the English media have one thing in spades it is vanity.

Yet to quote a favoured English saying I’ve had directed at me on more than one occasion.

‘You want salt with that chip?’

It may well be they have a point.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.


  1. David Potter on

    Not true to think that Leeds were 100% supported by all of England. They were a “robust” side, and Billy Bremner was particularly detested. London people in particular supported Celtic that night.

  2. Agree, disliked by many for their dirty play and able to dominate teams with thuggishness. Yes, fine players but Clough sussed them. Bremner, 5’8”” and ten stone of barbed wire.One of the few times( only time !) I was glad Chelsea won when they beat them in the replay.
    Jock incandescent at Davidson’s performance v Dons. He was seen to have done a Beaton a week later at his golf club. Milan a bitter pill.

  3. Great article Niall , brings back both very happy memories, but bitter sweet knowing what was to happen later in the final .

    I’d asked on various other websites about Celtic wearing an Orange top ( think Ivory Coast ) , and how this would infuriate the pond scum lowlife and new club across town .

    At the Elland Rd game , we did wear orange socks .. so a precedent has been set … perhaps us wearing orange long before the deadco did ? Maybe David P might know the answer to this .