Liverpool, Leeds United and the deeper texture of the 1974 Charity Shield

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor Illustration by Philippe Fenner
June 29, 2018

For now, all is well. The memory of the domestic season is fresh and the World Cup is within touching distance. In six weeks’ time though, the game will have fallen quiet and its public will be marooned within pre-season. Out of that summer fog will eventually arise the Community Shield and its sweet relief. Nobody looks forward to the game itself, because years of impotent football has informed a sort of attentive disinterest, but it will at least dam the flow of transfer gibberish.

Forty years ago, the attitude was likely the same. The transfer-market wasn’t yet the beast that it would ultimately become, but nobody has ever mistaken a friendly for competitive football. That year, though, The FA tried their best to dress it up: the 1974 Charity Shield was moved to Wembley and it was also the first to be televised.

Leeds against Liverpool. The league champions against the FA Cup holders and the two best teams in the country. Two sides who were also under new management. This was to be Bob Paisley’s first competitive game in charge of Liverpool, while Leeds were beginning their awkward and doomed marriage to Brian Clough.

That game’s legacy lies in the images it left us with. The most famous, of course, is the petulant misery of the Leeds United players who followed Clough onto the field. Billy Bremner, sulker in chief, was caught dragging the league trophy along by its ear and nobody behind seemed particularly enthused about Clough leading them out of the Don Revie era either.

Before Wembley, Clough had actually offered Revie the opportunity to lead his team out one more time. Superficially magnanimous, it was really self-interest. As Bremner and friends scowl in the background, Clough glances into the lens with an almost self-parodying look, as if he and the viewer are in on the same joke. The olive branch was nothing of the sort; he was as eager to avoid the awkwardness of the moment as Revie (presumably) was to condemn him to it.

Liverpool, of course, were in their own awkward situation. Exhausted by the game, Bill Shankly had decided to retire after the Newcastle final. This was his swan song. Paisley’s ascension from the Boot Room had been formalised and in less than a decade he would lift the European Cup three times, but this was Shankly’s day and unquestionably still his team.

But though intended as his moment, an afternoon on which he could glow with carefree pride, it doesn’t show. He looks lost in his own world, a million miles away. Years later, Clough would tell of an exchange between the two in the old Wembley tunnel with its high ceiling and bleak concrete. Shankly, he was convinced, already regretted his decision. His wife had wanted him to retire for at least a year and, perhaps worn down by a three-pronged season at the end of which Liverpool had been dumped out of the European Cup in the second round (by Red Star Belgrade) and were narrowly bested by Leeds in the league, he had been too quick to agree.

Clough didn’t respect anyone more than Shankly. They shared political ground and both were avowed socialists, but there was overlap in their personalities, too. Neither had any time for the perceived wisdom of football chairmen, both were marvellous orators who drew uncommon faith, and each was adept at weaponising that popularity to their own ends.

It’s possible that August ’74 had a profound effect on Clough. Among the neuroses of that day, he had looked the spectre of premature retirement in the face. Shankly looked lost, he recalled, less of a force than he remembered, and it’s hard to resist the conclusion that Clough’s delayed exit owed much to those minutes. Part of Shankly’s aura lay in his invulnerability and yet here he was, barely two months gone from a game which had worn him out, looking lost and fragile.

It’s a neat and convenient explanation, but probably also reductive. Clough’s fears were likely watered and sustained by what he and his peers knew: that decorated managers weren’t always bestowed with the honour they deserved in retirement. Shankly, famously, was never invited to join the Liverpool board and Jock Stein, in spite of all he achieved, was rather ungraciously offered the chance to run the pools at Celtic Park.

In Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, one of the many, he recalls a conversation with Stein which frames the relationship between even the greatest managers and their employers.

“Remember Alex, we are not them. They run their club. We are the workers.”

Clough was difficult and antagonistic. Most accounts of his career make him seem so to his own detriment. Nevertheless, the reason for that distrust was real enough: football afforded these men a status which wasn’t guaranteed beyond their sporting lives. Clough certainly chased his own legend, naturally worried by how history would remember him after his separation from Peter Taylor, but different circumstances might well have spared him that galling end at Nottingham Forest.

Duncan Hamilton tells an interesting anecdote in Provided You Don’t Kiss Me. Hamilton was closer to Clough than any other journalist and remembered a call from him following retirement. Having feathered his nest with ghostwritten newspaper columns throughout his career, Clough was infuriated by the refusal of Hamilton’s editor to meet his quote. He may have liked money more than most socialists, or typically so depending on your political leanings, but that incident would likely have confirmed some of his worst fears. He was out of sight and now out of mind; he put the phone down and never spoke to Hamilton again.

Clough was difficult and antagonistic. Most accounts of his career make him seem so to his own detriment. Nevertheless, the reason for that distrust was real enough: football afforded these men a status which wasn’t guaranteed beyond their sporting lives.

The match itself remains notorious. Watched back in full, it peaks and lulls with the tone of the occasion, but its spikeyness endures to this day. It needs context; British football was tougher at the time. It would be another fifteen years before Vinnie Jones cut Steve McMahon in half in the opening minutes of the 1988 Cup final and this was very much an era of boys-will-be-boys, shake hands, and get on with it.

But even so. Even so. The headline image of the afternoon was, of course, Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner leaving the pitch topless, sent off by Bob Matthewson for their undetermined roles in the 60th minute melee. Really, though, that was just the apex of an afternoon which had promised violence since kick-off. Within the opening minutes, Allan Clarke had fouled Phil Thompson, drawing a series of menacing tackles in retaliation. Most notably from Tommy Smith, who thundered through the back of Clarke on the near touchline and who could barely even muster feigned incredulity when Matthewson cautioned him.

The second-half was far nastier,  its pitch set by the flush hook Johnny Giles landed on Kevin Keegan. To this day, it remains one of the finest punches Wembley – or even Wembley Arena – has ever seen. Keegan was a wonderful player, probably not remembered in the way that he should be, but he looked a buzzing little nuisance without the ball. Giles rejected his counter-press entirely, cracking him around the jaw with reflexive rage.

It’s an interesting few seconds, not least because Giles somehow stayed on the pitch. There was no ambiguity about the incident, even those players who didn’t see the punch would have known what had happened, and yet there’s no sense of the game policing itself. Brian Hall and Steve Heighway looked vaguely interested in administering some justice but, perhaps restrained by where they are, stop short of any sort of confrontation.

To modern audiences, Giles is the character in David Peace’s The Damned United. He was the slithering, sly Irishman who, having been jilted by Manny Cussins, would appear from the shadows of Clough’s own mind to taunt him. Giles may have successfully sued over the description, but it likely became his identity to anyone under the age of forty. Not one of the finest passers of his era, just an outright bastard. This game’s infamy and his actions within it helped that, too, because the shoe certainly seems to fit within those few seconds.

“And this is just what English football did not want to see.”

The audible chant of “you’re going to get your f———- heads kicked in” begged to differ, but Barry Davies was right. Watch the game back in full and it’s infused by little glimmers of skill – from Steve Heighway, naturally from Keegan, and also the forgotten Phil Boersma – but they’re crowded out by the violence. Davies was frustrated. The FA were probably more so, with their intended spectacle descending into rough-house farce.

Leeds’ behaviour that day seems like a clear emblem of the animus between Clough and his new players. His “medals in the bin” speech is now part of his legend and the way his side played that day – old Leeds, Revie’s Leeds, not “doing it better” Leeds – was early evidence of their rejection. It’s a great irony. He presented himself as an agent of change at Elland Road, as the cure to that team’s perceived ailments, and this was the face they chose to show in the only game under him that anyone remembers.

It was coming, too. The most famous photograph captures the side walking onto the pitch, but perhaps the most revealing was taken just before the anthem. Clough, the veteran television performer who had never met a spotlight he didn’t enjoy, is shifting awkwardly, fidgeting with his hands and gazing nervously up into the stand. Bremner, yards away from him, is straight-backed and defiant. Rarely, if ever, has there been more figurative and literal distance between two men on the same side at Wembley.

Today, the Charity – or Community – Shield is a bridging fixture. It’s a means of escaping the duldrums before the season begins for real. It was then, too, you suppose, but beyond this game’s rugged exterior lies so much detail. There was a descriptive value in the way it was played and some novelty in how it finished (goalkeeper David Harvey hopelessly missing in the penalty shootout), but it was also riddled with sub-plots and consequences.

Bremner and Keegan were each banned for eleven games, a draconian sentence passed by an embarrassed and vengeful FA. Shankly would spend the following months mourning for his past life. The stories of him floating sadly around Melwood over the following season are tough to bear even now. The post-game photographs from that day should show a man savouring his own curtain call. Instead, they intrude on his realisation of what life without football and Liverpool will actually be like.

Clough, of course, was wounded too. Thirty-two days later, his squad would mutiny and he would be ushered through the door. The pay-off he received may have made him secure for life and his sacking might have produced that thrilling theatre with Don Revie and Austin Mitchell, but the experience – of Leeds as a whole, and that afternoon in August – likely informed the end of his career. The twin European Cups with Nottingham Forest are his legacy, phenomenal achievements which aren’t recalled often enough, but his self-defeating limp into the 1990s was an unnecessary blemish instructed by a fear of what lay beyond.

Now, these games run into each other. They are a mess of bluster and rhetoric, played in experimental formations and by managers and players who just want to survive another week without becoming a news story. Then – and really only then – it was contested by two teams consumed by what was happening around and above them. There was no filter, no PR, just an afternoon of bitterness, anger and loss which, to this day, remains an oddly complete account of the way things were.

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