The 2018-19 season saw the completion of the first-ever domestic treble in the English game when Manchester City collected all three pots of Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup.
It was a triumph that while heralded wasn’t exactly lauded to the heavens. A feeling of inevitability married with ‘trophy-fatigue’ concerning City’s domestic achievements in the last two seasons probably had something to do with this relative apathy.
Things weren’t always this way, though. Time was when the winning of any two domestic trophies, let alone three, would have been the cause of widespread adulation and acclaim.
Those of us of a certain vintage grew up in a time when winning ‘The Double’ of league and FA Cup was such a rare event that it was pretty much considered the Holy Grail of football. The fact that until the mid-1980s this particular feat had only been achieved four times, and only twice in the twentieth century, is indicative of just how difficult it was to pull off.
Not that it stopped teams from trying, however. In the 1970s alone practically no season progressed without at least one team having a ‘serious shot’ at the Double, and yet despite this, it was only achieved once during this decade.
Let us now have a closer look at some of those seasons.
1969-70 – Leeds United
Almost thirty years before Manchester United became the first and as yet the only team to achieve it, the spring of 1970 saw Leeds United chasing not just the Double, but the Treble of the league, FA Cup and European Cup.
That they ultimately ended up empty-handed was no doubt amusing to those of an ‘ABL’, or Anyone But Leeds persuasion. A community of which there was no shortage of members at the time, by the way.
Leeds under Don Revie were not universally loved outside of Elland Road, it is fair to say, and their ultimate triple-whammy disappointment resulted in a fair deal of schadenfreude up and down the country. And yet for a long time, it looked as if Leeds would at least partially succeed in their quest for honours.
Starting the season as defending champions on the back of a record-breaking 1968-69 season of only two league defeats and a then-best points total of 67, Leeds were naturally expected to challenge again.
On March 7 1970, Liverpool hosted Leeds United in a league game at Anfield. The resulting scoreless draw left Leeds sitting atop of the First Division table a point clear of Everton with seven games remaining. Although Everton had a game in hand, Leeds were still highly fancied.
The season then turned on its head in the next week. First Everton won their game in hand to climb to the top of the table, and then the Toffees stretched their lead at the top courtesy of another victory over the same opponents, Spurs.
The second of these matches took place on the same day Leeds were doing battle with Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. A goalless draw and a replay were not welcomed at this point in the season as it meant a fixture pile-up.
The following midweek Leeds won the second-leg of their European Cup quarter-final against Standard Liege to set up an all-British clash with Celtic in the semi-final.
The games kept coming quick and fast for Leeds and another draw with Manchester United in the FA Cup didn’t help matters. Although the Old Trafford team were defeated at the third attempt, the effort spent in getting past United proved to be Leeds’ undoing.
Just one point was taken in the next three games, and with Everton taking maximum points from their matches, Leeds’ hopes of taking the league title were pretty much shot to pieces.
Defeats to Celtic home and away in the European Cup and to Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, also after a replay, meant that Leeds ended the season with nothing to show for their efforts.
1970-71 – Arsenal
The Gunners famously became only the second side of the twentieth century to achieve the Double courtesy of Charlie George’s extra-time winner in the cup final and a last-match 2-1 victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Although not known for flowing football, that particular Arsenal side, like so many to come in future years, was extremely resilient and difficult to score against. Coached by Don Howe, a functional yet effective team proved too strong for Leeds over the 42-game season and Liverpool at Wembley.
1971-72 – Leeds United (again)
Having won the league in 1969 and been runners-up in 1970 and 1971, the 1971-72 season was Leeds’ fourth straight shot at the title. This time the race for the title was more convoluted than a straight shoot-out between two teams with as many as five sides still being in the shake-up going into the home straight and three of these five involved until quite literally the last kick of the season.
Leeds, Derby County, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United had all enjoyed spells at the top of the table with the title looking like it was on its way first to Old Trafford, then Maine Road, and then Anfield in advance of the final round of games.
With just two matches to play the First Division table looked thus:
Derby were top but had finished their matches while Liverpool had a final game away to Arsenal to play on the same night that Leeds United were away to Wolverhampton Wanderers. These two games were due to take place on Monday 8 May 1972.
Just 48 hours earlier, however, Leeds had another rather important game to play.
Beating Birmingham City in the semi-final of the FA Cup had set Leeds up with a Wembley date with Arsenal in what they hoped would be the first leg of the Double.
A dour match on a rain-sodden pitch was settled by Allan Clarke’s diving header in the 53rd minute and Leeds barely had time to celebrate before jumping back on the train to take them to Wolverhampton to prepare for the vital league clash.
Despite needing only a draw at Molineux to take the title, Leeds and Revie were feeling the pressure. Quite why the FA insisted on Leeds – and, indeed, Arsenal – playing just two days after their Wembley exertions has never been explained, but it came to pass that Leeds ran out looking to secure the point they needed while Liverpool knew a victory at Highbury would open the door for them should Leeds lose to Wolves.
On a night that has gone down in folklore, and some would say, infamy, Leeds were defeated 2-1 while Liverpool could only manage a goalless draw.
What is not widely known is that Liverpool appeared to have a perfectly good John Toshack goal disallowed in injury time that would have brought the title home to Anfield.
1972-73 – Leeds United (again!!) and Arsenal
In 1972-73, once again Leeds had a good crack at the title while reaching the FA Cup Final. In contesting both honours they found themselves once again coming up against Arsenal and Liverpool as major rivals.
The league title was a three-way scrap between the sides for most of the season with Liverpool and Arsenal the favourites but unable to shake off the dogged persistence of Revie’s particular brand of charmers.
On 7 April 1973 with five matches remaining, Liverpool were a point clear at the top with Arsenal in second. Leeds were five points behind but had two games in hand and a trip to Anfield to come.
While Liverpool were surprisingly being beaten 2-1 by Birmingham City at St. Andrews, Arsenal and Leeds were attempting to make history by becoming the first two sides to meet in successive Wembley FA Cup Finals as they did semi-final battle with Sunderland and Wolves respectively.
Leeds were able to overcome Wolves at Maine Road thanks to a Billy Bremner goal in the 70th minute, but Arsenal’s attempts to become the first side to reach three successive Wembley FA Cup Finals was foiled by Second Division Sunderland at Hillsborough.
Sunderland would, of course, go onto beat Leeds in the final and a 2-0 win for Liverpool in the decisive title shoot-out at Anfield meant that, once again, Leeds failed to take the title.
Just to compound their misery, Leeds also amusingly contrived to lose the European Cup Winner’s Cup Final to Milan.
1973- 74 – Liverpool (kind of…)
After several years of trying and failing to win the Double, Leeds decided to have a season off from that particular heartbreak in 1974 and thus did themselves a favour by getting knocked out of the FA Cup relatively early doors to Bristol City in the fifth round.
This enabled Revie to concentrate on the league and a 29-match unbeaten run at the start of the season had them well clear of the chasing pack going into the spring.
A 3-2 defeat by Stoke City in the thirtieth match of the season was followed by a further three defeats and two draws in the next six matches, and what had once looked to be an unassailable lead was now being steadily chipped away by Liverpool who were still in the FA Cup.
Liverpool managed to close the gap at the top to just four points with eight games to play with three games in hand on Leeds in April. Just as the Anfield men were perhaps beginning to get a bit excited, their form deserted them at the worst possible moment and only seven points were secured in those final eight matches.
A resounding 3-0 FA Cup Final victory over Newcastle was perhaps consolation enough for Bill Shankly in his last season in charge.
In the next instalment of this two-part series, we will look at the remaining seasons of the 1970s and examine the ‘double-chasing’ exploits of sides such as Ipswich, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool again.