Sutton v Leeds in 1970: Full-strength teams and Don Revie’s obsessiveness

With the two teams set to meet again in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend, we looks back at their previous match at Gander Green Lane

27 January ~ Sutton United’s FA Cup draws this season could scarcely have produced more evocative ties if the club themselves had chosen them. After disposing of Dartford and Cheltenham in the first and second rounds, the National League team came out of the hat with Wimbledon, near neighbours and friendly rivals, whose shared history includes the 1963 Amateur Cup final (won 4-2 by Wimbledon) as well as Sutton’s early support for the reborn AFC Wimbledon.

Sutton’s shock 3-1 replay victory set up Sunday’s fourth-round tie against Leeds, a huge event in its own right for the club on south-west London’s suburban fringe, but also a potent reminder of their match against the same opponents at the same stage of the competition in 1970. In that memorable year Sutton had had the odd misfortune of drawing another non-League side, Hillingdon Borough, in the third round, but pulled out the plum after winning that one 4-1 in a replay.

Don Revie’s Leeds were then almost at the height of their power, League champions and in the last eight of the European Cup. Revie took the game incredibly seriously, having the U’s watched three times and even arranging a practice match at a small ground in Leeds to get his players used to “the amount of sky behind the goals”.

He failed to endear himself to the hosts, making all kinds of complaints about Sutton’s Borough Sports Ground on Gander Green Lane, whose capacity had been increased from 8,000 to 14,000 by borrowing bench seats from the Oval – it will hold considerably less for this year’s rematch. “I don’t like the arrangements because the seats give instant access to the pitch and so to the players,” Revie said. “It wants only one mug with a bottle or a brick and a player worth a quarter of a million is out injured, possibly at the worst for life. I don’t like the set up, and I told the police I didn’t.”

There was no question of fielding a weakened team – Revie put out his classic 1970 XI, other than goalkeeper Gary Sprake, who withdrew after his mother died: David Harvey; Paul Reaney, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper; Billy Bremner, John Giles, Paul Madeley, Peter Lorimer; Allan Clarke, Mick Jones. Sub: Mick Bates. Sutton’s team boasted one still-familiar name, Dario Gradi, as well as captain Ted Powell, who won 51 England amateur caps, and legendary midfielder Larry Pritchard, who made a record 786 appearance for the U’s.

In classic FA Cup style media attention focused on Terry Howard, who had to work his dawn shift at Billingsgate fish market before the game – luckily he had a “delightful broad Cockney humour” to see him through, as the Guardian reported. Howard was still working at the markets in 2010, when Sutton organised a 40-year reunion.

The game itself was mostly a formality, Leeds winning 6-0 with four goals from Clarke. Despite Pritchard hitting the bar early in the second half there was no way back for the amateurs after an agonising error from goalkeeper Dave Roffey, letting Lorimer’s shot slip between his legs, which gave Leeds a 2-0 lead before half-time. The colour footage from Match of the Day, with David Coleman at the mic, reveals a magnificent version of Sutton’s traditional amber-and-chocolate strip – largely because it included very little chocolate.

Extraordinarily, the game was also covered by Pathé News, one of the last football events featured by the cinema newsreel company. It closed its doors only weeks later, thanks to the inevitable dominance of TV. The Pathé footage reveals that there was indeed some minor crowd disturbance, though none of Revie’s fears for his players was realised.

Sutton’s best performer on the day was centre-back John Faulkner, who was subsequently snapped up by Revie as cover for Charlton, but his Leeds career was short and ill-fated, comprising only two end-of-season appearances. On Faulkner’s debut against Burnley he scored an own goal, then fractured a kneecap against Manchester City. But he went on to play more than 200 games for Luton, before finishing his career in the NASL.

The season ended in disappointment for both clubs. Sutton finished third in the Isthmian League behind Enfield and Wycombe, while Leeds succumbed to exhaustion, finishing second to Everton in the league, losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea and going out of the European Cup to Celtic in the semi-final.

Maybe if Revie had allowed himself to rest a few stars on that January afternoon at Gander Green Lane it might have helped. Instead the game stands as a beacon of his obsessiveness, as well as a landmark day in Sutton’s colourful FA Cup history. Mike Ticher

With thanks to the incredibly detailed Leeds history on the Mighty Mighty Whites site