A history of Leeds United in the Champions League

After many years of turmoil, it seems like things are going rather well for the club at the moment. Since Andrea Radrizzani completed a 100% buyout of the club in May 2017, we’ve seen the ladies team become an entity of the club, the purchase of Elland Road, and the appointment of experienced manager Marcelo Bielsa.

Under the guidance of Bielsa, the club are competing at the top of the league and are eyeing a place in the Premier League for the first time since the 2003-04 season. There’s obviously still a long way to go before the end of the season, but we could still find ourselves competing with England’s elite sides this time next year.

Even though there is a good chance that we’ll be in the Premier League in the near future, it isn’t likely that we’ll be competing in European football any time soon, let alone be on the Champions League odds market.

Although we might be far away from the Champions League at the moment, we still have a history in European football that we can be proud of.

Image Source: wikipedia.org

In total we’ve only been involved in the European Cup / UEFA Champions League four times during our history. However our first taste of European football came in the 1965-66 season in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The competition was only originally set up to promote international trade fairs, with teams from each of the cities playing friendlies against each other. Unsurprisingly, these matches meant that the competition became more competitive with some of the best teams from Europe taking part.

From 1965 to 1971, the club competed in five Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tournaments and had fairly successful campaigns in all of them. In total we won the competition twice (1968 and 1971), finished runners-up once (1967), and achieved a quarter final and semi-final finish in 1969 and 1965 respectively.

The success of the competition led to UEFA taking over the tournament and relaunching it as the UEFA Cup.

Our second place finish in the league in the 1970-71 season meant that we were part of the inaugural UEFA Cup tournament, but we failed to continue our success from the previous tournament and were knocked out in the first round by Belgian side Lierse. Our following few seasons in the competition were also unsuccessful as the club often failed to make it past the second round. The 1999-2000 campaign was our best campaign in the ‘new’ tournament as we reached the semi-finals.

We also had a one season spell in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1972-73 season. Although we made it all the way to the final, we were defeated 1-0 by AC Milan in controversial circumstances.

Video Source: youtube.com

Competing in competitions like the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the UEFA Cup, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup might technically still be European football, it doesn’t come close to the Champions League. It is the pinnacle of European club football and every club in the continent has aspirations of playing in it one day.

Fortunately for us, we are one of the very few clubs in the country which has had the privilege of competing in it a number of times. Our first appearance came in the 1969-70 season when the competition was known as the European Cup. It would be the first time that the club would be tested against the best teams from the continent, and they got off to a great start by beating Norwegian side Lyn 16-0 on aggregate. We made it all the way to the semi-final before losing to eventual runners-up Celtic.

Five years later we almost became the second ever English team to win the competition, but we suffered a 2-0 defeat despite dominating large spells of the match.

Our 1992-93 season was less than memorable as a 4-2 aggregate defeat by Rangers led to the team’s exit in the second round of the tournament. Despite this disappointment, our fourth (and last campaign so far) in the competition was much more successful. Although we only achieved a fourth place finish in the league, the team managed to make it all the way to the semi-finals of the Champions League, losing to Valencia in the semi-finals 3-0 on aggregate.

The club’s financial difficulties around this period means that we’ve not seen European football at Elland Road since 2003. However, as mentioned earlier, the future is looking bright after years of turmoil, and if things go really well we could potentially be dreaming of European away days in a few years’ time.