A Yorkshire MEP is campaigning for an investigation into the 1973 Cup-Winners Cup final. Matthew Barker wonders why

The 1973 European Cup-Winners Cup final wasn’t, by all accounts, a great game. Leeds United and Milan kicked chunks out of each other in a typically brutal early-Seventies footballing culture-clash, played in a torrential downpour in Salonika. Luciano Chiarugi scored the only goal from a third-minute free-kick ­(indirect, claim Leeds), with the Italians happy to defend deep in a catenaccio master class under the tutelage of Nereo Rocco. Don R­evie’s team had three penalty claims waved away by Greek referee ­Christos Michas, while Norman Hunter was sent off. It was, as Italian newspaper Il ­Manifesto recently put it, “a disaster from beginning to end ... a night of rain and rage”, with a disgruntled local crowd pelting Milan’s players with missiles as they attempted to celebrate their win.

Claims that the match official had been bribed by Milan have circulated ever since. Leeds’ requests for a replay were denied, though Michas was banned from refereeing in any further European competitions by UEFA (and has never spoken publicly on the subject). Among the 40,000 crowd was an 18-year-old Richard Corbett, now MEP for Yorkshire and Humber (and a member of the 2006 Independent Review of European Football Board). Evidently still feeling a strong sense of injustice more than three decades later, Corbett has organised an online petition, via his own parliamentary website and a Facebook page, claiming that the Yorkshire club were “cheated” out of victory and asking for an official investigation into the events surrounding the game. The petition, now 10,000 signatures strong, is to be presented to UEFA on May 16, 36 years to the day since the final.

What exactly does Corbett hope to gain? After all, under UEFA rules a game’s result cannot be changed once ten years have lapsed since it was played. “It is precisely this ten years statute of limitations that I hope to overturn,” he explains. “Its existence sends a message: ‘if you keep it quiet long enough, you can get away with it.’ Ending this would send a powerful message that it is never too late to rectify an ­injustice.”

The final has been all but forgotten in Italy. However, milanisti of a certain age still hold the game directly responsible for their side’s infamous capitulation only four days later when, on the final afternoon of the Serie A season, they lost 5-3 to Verona, duly handing the scudetto to Juventus. Press ­reaction to Corbett’s lobbying has generally been one of bemusement (“Surely the 1966 World Cup final merits a closer look as well?” asked La Repubblica), with plenty pointing out that the MEP faces re-election in June. Corbett denies it is all a publicity stunt, insisting that a new enquiry would underline the European football authorities’ commitment to rooting out corruption: “UEFA has just embarked on a crackdown on betting syndicates, match fixing, and suchlike. I think it would send a powerful message that UEFA takes this seriously if they were to look again at the high-profile 1973 match. I believe this is the only case where the referee was subsequently suspended but the result allowed to stand. It is not about Leeds United, but about the integrity of football.”

Milan themselves would surely balk at the idea of a European win being taken from their roll of honour (and in a trophy-less season for the rossoneri to boot), with a messy legal tussle the probable outcome. Corbett readily admits that if successful his campaign would set a huge precedent, but it all remains a very big “if”. He cites Marseille being stripped of their 1993 European Cup win and Liverpool being allowed to take part in the competition as holders in 2006, despite their failing to finish in the top four of the Premier League, as examples of UEFA’s willingness to reverse previous decisions. Fine, but he surely knows Michel Platini and co are unlikely do little more than let the petition gather dust at the bottom of a file marked “Pending”.

Which is pretty much the whole point here, of course. Putting together an online petition isn’t the most demanding of tasks and, by using football (and a cause guaranteed to stir regional interest, yet distant enough in time to avoid too many ripples elsewhere), Corbett scores some useful man-of-the-people kudos ahead of that ­­re-­election campaign. Meanwhile Leeds fans will just have to console themselves by watching some black-and-white YouTube footage of old Bites-Yer-Legs Hunter clattering into the back of Gianni Rivera.

From WSC 268 June 2009

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