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Leeds United legend Allan Clarke fears club could go down 50 years after FA Cup triumph

By Mike Walters

Half a century ago, Allan Clarke picked up an FA Cup winner's medal from the Queen after his diving header proved the winner against Arsenal.

On the same day, this earnest scribbler won a runners-up bronze medal for playing the violin at the Watford Music Festival, returning home just in time to see Leeds United legend Clarke stooping to conquer from Mick Jones' cross.

Show us your medals? If the eight-year-old violinist's screeching was a tribute to scalded cats, Clarke was top cat at Wembley in the Centenary FA Cup final.

This weekend, Leeds play Arsenal again – with the stakes arguably even higher. While the Gunners are chasing a return to Champions League orbit, Leeds suddenly look most vulnerable to join Norwich and Watford back in the foothills. “I'm worried for the supporters,” said Clarke, now 75 and still a fiercely loyal torchbearer for the empire Don Revie built at Elland Road – to the extent that he still insists on calling Leeds' greatest manager 'Gaffer' 33 years after his death.

The former England striker known as 'Sniffer' – once Britain's most expensive transfer signing at £165,000 in 1969 - is also righteously sniffy about the lop-sided landscape of a league where money talks loudest. He said: “Staying in the Premier League is a big achievement in itself now because it's not a level playing field any more.

"You can go out and spend £1billion to buy success when you are owned by a foreign government and money is no object. But even if Leeds United went out and spent hundreds of millions now, they would never, ever replicate what the Gaffer built. These fans deserve to watch a team in the top league because they stayed loyal when the club was going through hard times not so long ago.

"But I would say Leeds have the smallest squad, in terms of depth, of the teams around them and they have had to cope with a lot of injuries to key players through the spine of the team – (Kalvin) Phillips, (Patrick) Bamford, (Liam) Cooper and (Luke) Ayling have all missed big chunks of the season. I hope they stay up, but they have suffered a lot for those injuries and it's going to be close.”

Kalvin Phillips has been frustrated by injuries (Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Clarke is a venerable reference point on all things Leeds because he played in a golden era where they were the de facto champions of Europe. The cowardice of a French referee who failed to award a blatant penalty when Clarke was scythed down by Franz Beckenbauer at 0-0 in the 1975 European Cup final against Bayern Munich in Paris still rankles in Yorkshire to this day, as does Peter Lorimer's disallowed goal.

But this weekend is a happier anniversary, and the great 'Sniffer' was amused to learn he shares it with the only 'triumph' in a violinist's screeching-brakes solo. “So you played well on the big stage that day, too,” he chortled.

“I played in four FA Cup finals in five years, and 1972 was only one where I was on the winning side, but we won the big one – the centenary final, where the Queen presented the Cup to our captain Billy Bremner. At least she saw what a fantastic team the Gaffer had built, and we deserved to win the Double that season, just as Arsenal had done the year before.

“But we had to go to Wolverhampton on the Monday night for our final League game of the season needing a point for the title and we lost 2-1. It was the only occasion we lost to Wolves in my time at Leeds, and Derby were champions that year, but it makes me laugh now when you hear managers complaining about fixture schedules. When was the last time a team won the FA Cup at Wembley and then had to play a title decider 48 hours later? In those days, we didn't play on bowling greens all year round. We had to negotiate ploughed fields.

“If you wanted to win silverware 50 years ago, you had to beat Leeds United. We had world-class players from all over the British Isles. We were the best of British. I was so proud to be part of that side. It was one of the greatest football teams this country has ever seen.”

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Dive Deeper:
Premier League news as Pep Guardiola vows Manchester City 'will rise' while Watford will be Roy Hodgson's last
All the latest Premier League headlines as Manchester City look to bounce back from their Champions League defeat
Man City refocus on Premier League title push as Leeds sweat
London (AFP) - Manchester City must pick themselves off the floor for the visit of Newcastle in the Premier League…
Chelsea's next three Premier League fixtures compared to Arsenal and Tottenham in top-four race
Chelsea's next three Premier League games could be vital in the Blues' hunt for Champions League football next season
We simulated Arsenal v Leeds United to get a score prediction amid Tottenham top-four race
Arsenal host Leeds at the Emirates on Sunday as Mikel Arteta's side look to stay ahead of Tottenham in the…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Leeds United, Everton and Burnley's Premier League run-in compared
With Norwich already down and Watford's relegation all but confirmed, the final spot in the bottom three will come down…
Leeds handed crystal clear Kalvin Phillips transfer warning amid relegation dogfight
EXCLUSIVE: Kalvin Phillips is the prized asset at Elland Road but with the Whites in a relegation dogfight, ex-striker Jermaine…
Get all your news in one place