Sunday 21 January 2018

A view from the dug-out as Leeds became the FA Cup's fallen giants

James Lawton

James Lawton

Malcolm Allison didn't say a word in the Crystal Palace dressing room at half-time.

He just stood in the corner with a small, slightly beatific smile on his face as Terry Venables, the man he had handpicked as his coaching protege, delivered a series of one-on-one brainstorming sessions with each player.

Venables, who had swallowed hard a year or so earlier when Allison called him into his office at Selhurst Park and told him he could no longer do it as a player and it was time for him to re-cast his ambitions to coaching.

Allison softened the pain somewhat when he added, "You're the brightest young football man I've ever encountered and I don't think there's anything you can't achieve."

Many of Venables' warmest admirers feared then, as they would through so much of his career, that if he had a weakness, it was that for all his wit and vision, he might not be quite single-minded enough to make one of the great football careers. He had, after all, variously seen himself as an entrepreneur, a novelist, and even a crooner.

But then anyone who was around him that day at Elland Road when his third division Palace beat a Leeds United, who less than a year earlier had lost -- unjustly, many will always swear -- to Bayern Munich in the 1975 European Cup final in Paris, could vouch easily enough for the assessment of Allison.

It was a day when each of Venables' players responded perfectly to his promptings. If they had any illusions that there was an easy route to their great triumph when they came in at half-time leading 1-0 they were stripped down in a 10-minute blitzkrieg of both analysis and exhortation.


The Venables tour-de-force was impossible to cast aside at the weekend when a trick of football history saw Leeds, an aspiring Leeds now attempting to fight their way out of the third tier of English football, as Palace were back on a biting cold day in west Yorkshire, ultimately outplay Manchester United in another FA Cup tie.

This was so because it is not often you see a young manager get hold of his team so brilliantly and draw from them all their strengths, all their hopes and all their self-belief. Simon Grayson did at Old Trafford on Sunday. Terry Venables did it at Elland Road in '76.

I had a pretty good vantage point, sitting in the dug-out alongside Venables and noting that as the pressure seemed to be building impossibly on his young players, as Billy Bremner ransacked his memory for all those moves that for a decade had been demoralising rival teams, before being replaced by Norman Hunter, the young Palace coach was becoming progressively relaxed.

Before the game he had told his players, "Take this day for yourselves, make it something you can have always. Don't leave that field thinking you could have done anything more."

It was, we know now, the command of Grayson at Old Trafford, and we also know, certainly, it is the directive Barcelona's Pep Guardiola regularly delivers to his all-winning, virtuoso team.

On the train up from King's Cross on the eve of the game, Allison and Venables had moved among their players with the calm demeanour of men who knew that the vital work had been done and the right level of confidence, and anticipation, had been established.

It was an outrageous belief when you considered quite what Palace would face. Young players like Jim Cannon and David Swindlehurst had already caught the eye and Peter Taylor was a winger of pace and trickery whose upward mobility was already assured, but this didn't make the challenge at Elland Road any less awesome.

John Giles had left at the end of the previous season, but Leeds still had Bremner and Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray and Allan Clarke, Paul Reaney and the Rolls-Royce of utility play, Paul Madeley, a team that had stretched Franz Beckenbauer's Bayern to their limits at the Parc des Princes.

Allison's main contribution, as it was so often beneath the panache of his fedora, was tactical. From his Manchester City days duelling with Don Revie, he knew the Leeds mentality of thorough preparation, how Jimmy Armfield and his assistant Don Howe had absorbed such thinking in their own regime and that the dossier on the young Palace team would be wide and deep.


So Allison threw everything up in the air, sending out a formation of 5-2-3, with then revolutionary wing-backs, Peter Wall and Cannon, and Stuart Jump, a pro old beyond his years, sweeping.

It also helped hugely that Taylor refused to be separated from the ball, however ferocious the attention he received from Reaney, whose greatest honour in the game was that he was reputed to play George Best better than anyone alive.

Venables merely smiled and murmured "nice one" when Taylor picked himself up from one collision, in the 24th minute, sent in a perfect cross for the formidably strong Swindlehurst to head home. There was pandemonium in the neighbouring dug-out. Armfield gnawed on his pipe and Howe came to the touchline, bellowing revised instructions.

Leeds cranked up the pressure, but Palace were equal to it. "Enjoy it boys," yelled Venables, "you've got 'em."

In the last minutes, the eerily composed Jump looked over to the dug-out and pointed a finger to his wrist. He wanted to know how much time was left. Venables outstretched both hands, signalling 10 minutes. There was scarcely two but he didn't want premature celebration. Jump sent back instant re-assurance. Nonchalantly, he mimed the smoking of one of Allison's Havana cigars.

There was plenty of the real thing rolling back to King's Cross, but of course the Palace revolution didn't happen. They lost in the semi-final to Southampton, critically losing Taylor in a cynical tackle.

Venables made his fortune and his reputation in other places and Allison, the genius coach, the big football man who never hurt anyone so much as himself, next appeared in the dug-out of Turkish club Galatasaray. There would be other dramas, other surges of hope and excitement, but that, essentially, was a day which would be required to stand on its own -- a diamond that would never lose its lustre. Whatever else football brings him, Simon Grayson will also always own such a day.

Irish Independent

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