Everton, ‘Dirty Leeds’ and the infamous 1964 battle of Goodison Park
The two clubs meet this weekend 56 years on from the game which gave Leeds a nickname which stuck
They were once just Leeds. Then they went to Goodison. After that they were ‘Dirty Leeds’.
One of the most fractious games in English football history took place 56 years ago this month when the Yorkshire club, newly promoted to the top flight, played away to Everton. For the first time in a league match the referee was forced to stop the game and send both teams to the dressing rooms to calm down. The legacy of the match has contributed more than any other to the nickname that haunts Elland Road.
There is little chance of a repeat of the episode when Marcelo Bielsa’s side go to Merseyside tomorrow evening. This incarnation of Leeds is a very different beast to Don Revie’s 1964 team. Everton, too, were a very different club. They were the reigning champions and the dominant power in the city of Liverpool. As title-holders they were the side everyone wanted to beat.
Things turned ugly quickly in front of more than 43,000 fans. Billy Bremner fouled Fred Pickering, the Everton forward, in the opening seconds. Jack Charlton was hacked down in revenge moments later. Ken Stokes, the referee, had his hands full.
Despite being in different divisions the previous season there was bad feeling between the teams. They had been drawn together in the FA Cup earlier in the year and the tie went to a replay, with Everton proceeding to the fifth round after a 2-0 victory. Memories were fresh in the Goodison dressing room about the robust approach of their opponents. Bobby Collins in particular infuriated Harry Catterick’s players. The tough little Scot had moved from Everton to Leeds two years previously and his former team-mates knew about the winger’s capacity for brutality. He had a score to settle with Catterick, who had decided that the Glaswegian was past his best at the age of 30. After a game against Fulham in which Collins had scored twice, the Everton manager accused him of not pulling his weight. “Nobody criticises my work rate, winning is all to me,” the player told the press and soon he was off to Leeds. Collins was legendary for getting his revenge in first against defenders and was the driving force behind Revie’s new era at Elland Road.
It was Johnny Giles, another superbly creative player with an outrageous mean streak, who lit the blue touchpaper. The Irishman leapt into a challenge with Sandy Brown and left a set of stud marks on the full back’s chest. Brown swung a punch at Giles and was sent off. After four minutes. The crowd were in uproar. Sendings off were a rarity in the 1960s and Brown was the only Everton player ejected in the entire season. The mood was explosive.
The atmosphere deteriorated after a quarter of an hour when Leeds scored. Collins pinged a cross into the area and Willie Bell, the full back, came piling into the box and headed into the net.
Volleys of coins and missiles came onto the pitch. Any Leeds player brave enough to stray near the touchline was pelted. Gary Sprake, the goalkeeper, was an easy target. Then, after 36 minutes, things escalated. Bell and Derek Temple collided when running at pace. For once there was no foul play – both men were fixated on the ball – but the clash was sickening and the home crowd inferred vicious intent. “[Bell] was coming up to tackle, you could see it in his face, and he didn’t half flatten Temple,” Percy Harwood, an Everton fan recalled. “We all thought he was dead.”
As the trainers worked on the stricken players they came under a barrage of objects. The referee was hit by a coin. At that point the official made a decision unprecedented in English football: he halted the game. Bell was carried off by team-mates and Temple exited on a stretcher. Initially it did not restore calm. Bremner was confronted by a fan as he left the pitch and uproar consumed Goodison. In the unscheduled break, there were repeated calls for calm over the public address system and referee Stokes visited each dressing room and warned the teams to start playing football or he would report them to the FA.
The temperature was still at boiling point when the match restarted - Bell and Temple rejoined the action after making seemingly miraculous revivals – but the 90 minutes were completed. Afterwards angry supporters were dispersed by mounted police outside the stadium. “It really got a bit nasty and brutal,” Collins said. “But you can’t turn the other cheek or they’ll kick you.”
The reaction was predictably sanctimonious. “For the first time in the history of the Football League both sides in a match on Saturday were ordered off the field for a space of five minutes to allow the tempers of both the crowd and the players to cool,” The Times fulminated, throwing in a little post-imperial piety. “Such an event has occurred frequently enough abroad… But for supposedly civilised senior British players now to follow suit against each other is something new and menacing.”
The president of the Football League, Joe Richards, claimed wages were at the root of the problem. “It could be because players are getting so much money for points,” he said.
The game cost Everton £250 in fines for failing to control their supporters. Brown was suspended for two weeks. Leeds escaped unsanctioned. Except for their reputation.
The fallout confirmed the growing notoriety of Revie’s side. Before the season started, the Football League’s official journal had already put Leeds top of a disciplinary table from the previous campaign. The article was blunt: “This is the dirtiest team in the country,” it said.
The negative publicity did not change Revie’s approach, even after the battle of Goodison. “We made a lot of enemies in that 1964-65 season,” Charlton recalled in his autobiography.
Bielsa’s team are different. They have made friends across the country in their first campaign back in the Premier League, but the legend of Dirty Leeds is so entrenched in football’s collective memory that it may never go away.