Eyes Wide Shutt: Leeds, Stuttgart, and an Unlikely Hero at Camp Nou

Posted: October 9, 2022 in Champions' League, English Football, European Football, Uncategorized
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Have you dreamed of scoring a late European Cup winner at the Nou Camp? Were you wearing the colours of the Blaugrana, a packed-to-the-rafters cauldron chanting your name? Perhaps it was a Clasico and you were breaking their hearts in pristine white. Maybe you were simply turning out for your hometown club, your goal all but tying their ribbons to the trophy?

Presumably, your reverie didn’t play out in front of a crowd smaller than the average gate at Sincil Bank, only coming about as the result of a basic admin error. That was how the hero of our story’s big moment came, but it was no less glorious. Less than a decade earlier, Carl Shutt had been playing up front for Spalding United in the Northern Counties East League. After 9th October 1992, however – the day before his 31st birthday – Shutt would be forever associated with one word. Barcelona…

The European Cup, like the Premier League, received its own Rover Metro-style rebadging in 1992-93, suddenly all glitzy group stages and Handel-riffing anthems. Vying to be England and Germany’s respective first entrants to the all-new ‘Champions League‘, Leeds United and VFB Stuttgart had plenty in common.

Both had been unlikely champions. Howard Wilkinson’s men had only returned to the top flight two years previously, but Wilkinson, ahead of schedule, had built a side with few discernible weaknesses. There was experience in goal and at the back in the form of players like John Lukic, Chris Fairclough and Tony Dorigo; an underrated big man/little man strike combination in Lee Chapman and Rod Wallace; and a superlative midfield quartet of Speed, McAllister, Batty and Strachan. They had gone toe-to-toe all season with a Manchester United side chasing a first league title of their own in 26 years, and held their nerve, losing just four games all season. Eric Cantona’s arrival in February added a welcome edge of unpredictability – though he only started six games and scored three goals in the run-in, he provided a shot of adrenaline at just the right time. Alex Ferguson’s side took just four points from their last five games. Leeds took 13. They were worthy wearers of the crown.

Stuttgart, meanwhile, carpet-bagged the title in the final minutes of perhaps the wildest Bundesliga season ever, one that saw teams from the East German Oberliga admitted for the first time, Bayern Munich implode to finish 11th, and a three-way slugfest for the championship. Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Dortmund started the final day level on points. Stuttgart, who’d only led the table twice all season, were third in the table and down to 10 men in Leverkusen until an 86th minute goal from World Cup winner Guido Buchwald away at Leverkusen allowed them to leapfrog their rivals to claim the Salatschüssel.

It felt like the start of something glittering for the Swabians. Christoph Daum had long been seen as a managerial wunderkind, and his team possessed a fearsome spine of Buchwald, Matthias Sammer and the other Fritz Walter, the league’s top scorer, who married nerveless, pitiless finishing to the moustachioed swagger of a young Swiss Toni.

Sitting on a cannon holding a football is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman

Though Sammer departed in the close season for Serie A, the signing of Germany star Thomas Strunz as a replacement and the retention of the rest of the side’s key men spurred optimism that Die Roten could have a genuine tilt at Europe’s top prize.

Their excitement was matched in Yorkshire, with Leeds (only the competition’s second English entrant since the end of the Heysel ban), making their first appearance in the European Cup since the 1975 final. Stuttgart were marginal favourites, but Leeds had beaten them at Elland Road in the pre-season Makita Tournament (better remembered for David Batty’s crime spree against Sampdoria). The expectation was that this could be a thriller, though few could have possibly anticipated the melodrama that unfurled, spewing out not just jets of goals but a last stand worthy of Butch and Sundance and a clerical error that was pure David Brent…

Wrecked by the Neckar

The first leg in Stuttgart would prove a catastrophe for Leeds, providing further evidence of the frailties that would sink their title defence. They’d won just two of their first eight league games, a 4-1 shellacking at newly promoted Middlesbrough being a harbinger of the wretched away form that would see them fail to win on their travels all season. They were also struggling to adapt to the new backpass rule, another innovation of this seismic season, from the opening seconds of the Charity Shield when a panicky Lukic clattered the first one that came his way high into the Wembley stands.

Wilkinson’s relationship with Cantona was another bubbling sub-plot. After starting the season ablaze with two hat tricks before the end of August, the Frenchman was beginning to chafe against the leash upon which the disciplinarian manager kept his charges. When attempts to placate him with a less direct style didn’t work, the suspicion began to arise in Wilkinson’s mind that Leeds were better without Cantona than with him.

Taking to the field at the Neckarstadion in their ill-starred blue away kit, Leeds held their own for an hour before a spectacular collapse saw them concede three times in 20 second-half minutes. It started when Cantona lost possession, to his manager’s apoplexy, with an attempted crossfield pass, resulting ultimately in an impudent dink from Walter that flummoxed Lukic. Five minutes later the hirsute marksman had his second, burying the rebound after the goalkeeper had palmed away Icelandic defender Eyjolfur Sverrison’s piledriver. Livewire young winger Andreas Buck was then allowed to compound the misery late on, effortlessly outstripping Fairclough before angling a low shot into the corner. Leeds’ European return looked over before it had begun.

Yorkshire Thudding

The omens didn’t augur well for a fightback. No British side had overturned a margin of that size for 28 years in European competition. Never underestimate Yorkshire stubbornness however – 20, 457 at Elland Road still believed and made the noise of double that number, and Leeds responded with their best performance of the season, blowing VFB away.

Gary Speed got things moving around the 20-minute mark, galloping into the box to finish the move he started by clipping a fine volley into the roof of the net. Chapman, quiet in the first leg, was much busier, and Buchwald (who two years prior had marked Diego Maradona out of a World Cup final) had an unhappier experience against the big striker’s more…angular challenges. A clumsy waistlock takedown by the Germany defender conceded a penalty, which McAllister thumped home. The onslaught continued after the break, Cantona winning a battle with his marker to waft a shot over Eike Immel for number three, before Chapman finally got the goal his performance deserved with a near post header from a corner. At the heart of everything was the magnificent Gordon Strachan, in his 36th year, involved in all four goals.

There was one small problem. Speed’s opener had been cancelled out soon afterwards, Buck briefly levelling with a slightly tame, bobbling shot from another jinking run. It was the crucial away goal, and for all the sizzle of Leeds’ football, it was the Swabians who retained the advantage. As they held on for dear life with eight minutes to go, Daum looked desperately at his bench for any defensive reinforcements he could find, and threw on Jovo Simanić, a big Serbian centre back, for his debut.

Things went to plan – Stuttgart somehow managed to see out the game. A devastated Leeds had given absolutely everything (Joe Lovejoy’s claim in The Independent that they’d almost ‘consigned Lazarus to history’s inside page‘ might have been overstating things a touch), but it hadn’t quite been enough.

It would transpire, however, that the Simanić substitution wasn’t as sensible as it had appeared…

Rule of Three

In the hours after the game, The Yorkshire Post’s Don Warters received a phone call from someone purporting to be a supporter of one of Stuttgart’s Bundesliga rivals. Warters was told that Simanić’s entrance in the 82nd minute made him the fourth ‘foreign’ VFB player on the pitch, after Sverisson, another Serbian, Slobodan Dubajic, and Swiss striker Adrian Knup – one more than was permitted.

In 1991 UEFA’s cabal of Canutes had tried to fight the tides with the introduction of a rule allowing clubs in European competition to field just three foreign players, plus a further two who’d played in that country for five uninterrupted years. The substitution at Elland Road contravened this ‘3+2’ rule.

Warters ended the call. Then he picked the phone back up and called Leeds United.

Around the same time, the penny was dropping on the party plane back to Stuttgart, jubilation replaced by hushed conversations up and down the aircraft. Buck, in his autobiography, Turbo, recalls the assistant manager hoping the mistake could be swept under the carpet, imploring the players to “pretend to be stupid“. It quickly became clear, however, this wouldn’t be an option. A host of journalists were waiting at the airport with only one question. How could this have been allowed to happen?

The Sun christened the Stuttgart manager ‘Christoph Dumb’, but the German media went in even harder on Daum and Dieter Hoeness, the club’s General Manager. ‘There were amateurs at work,’ thundered the Stuttgarter Zeitung. ‘If you want to compete the Real Madrid, you shouldn’t act like SV Hinterupfingen’. Club President Gerhard Mayer-Vordfeld was equally scathing, stating that while he wouldn’t be sacking the duo, ‘if a mistake like that had happened in a commercial organisation the board would have to be fired right away’.

“And ‘upfingen’ to you too”

Leeds lodged a formal appeal the next day. VFB, for their part, owned up to the mistake and pleaded for clemency from the governing body. Needle crept into relations as each club made their case ahead of an extraordinary UEFA meeting that week. Leeds called for Stuttgart to be thrown out of the competition. Stuttgart tried to claim that Gary Speed was also an ineligible player, given that UEFA rules classed England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as separate nations and thus he (along with McAllister and Strachan) were considered ‘foreigners’ in the Leeds side. Speed, however, had been at Leeds long enough to fall within the rules, and the Swabians were fined for a frivolous appeal.

The meeting lasted five-and-a-half hours, after which UEFA meted out their standard punishment, ruling the second leg a default 3-0 victory for Leeds. This locked the teams at 3-3 on aggregate, meaning a play-off on neutral soil was required. Bern, Basel and Rotterdam were rejected by one, the other or both clubs, before Barcelona was agreed on. The game would take place on a Friday night, nine days after the second leg.

Homage to Catalonia

Stuttgart seemed buoyed by the decision to hold the replay in Catalonia, almost to the point of overconfidence. Buck recalls looking out at the vast expanses of the Camp Nou turf and being convinced it would suit his speedy wing play. “I knew this would be my game.” He and the other players relaxed in the days before the game: ‘a trip to the sea, a round of golf, a flamenco evening with a few ice-cold cervezas and a dance performance on the open stage’.

Leeds, meanwhile, had received a wake-up call the previous weekend, hit for four again by a promoted club, this time the Ipswich of Johns Lyall and Wark. That prompted a reshuffle for the play-off – Batty, to his relief, returned to midfield after a miserable spell at right back, Fairclough moved across to take his place, and Jon Newsome came into the centre of defence. Leeds took the field in a third different kit of the tie, all yellow after humiliation in blue in the first leg and dazzling in their usual white for the second.

Nine days hadn’t allowed much in the way of planning for either set of supporters, which impacted severely on the attendance. Though 2,000 managed to scramble from Leeds, most of the remaining tickets were given to local schoolchildren. The result was an eerie atmosphere, with just 7,400 spectators in the cavernous stadium. “It was like a reserve game,” recalled David Batty, in cunningly titled autobiography David Batty: The Autobiography.

Perhaps that contributed to the nervy start made by both sides. Dorigo’s first notable contribution was to almost spanner one into his own net. Strunz did likewise, then nearly conceded a penalty before hobbling off with just 23 minutes gone. It was his three-year Stuttgart career in microcosm. “The only good thing about Stuttgart is the Autobahn to Munich,” he’d later say.

Leeds’ jitters were settled, inevitably, by Strachan, who scorched in a 25-yard opener. Stuttgart hit back quickly, Strehmel’s cross headed in by Golke, twisting expertly in mid-air to guide his header past Lukic. The teams then largely cancelled each other out. Cantona struggled again, mithered by a hamstring complaint. With a quarter of an hour left and Leeds defending a corner, it was no surprise when the Frenchman’s number came up.

Replacing him was Shutt, a striker who was more or less the embodiment of Wilkinson’s ethos – a no frills grafter whose endeavour endeared him to teammates and supporters alike. It was Wilkinson who’d sprung him from non-league as Sheffield Wednesday manager, then spent £50,000 to sign him for Leeds from Bristol City. He settled into a dependable supersub role, coming off the bench to score a couple of crucial goals in the title run-in. Now he was tasked with doing the same on a stage he’d never imagined he’d see – but like Buck, he felt destiny in the air. Turning to fellow sub David Rocastle before he went on, he declared: “I’m going to fucking score here, Rocky.”

All Buck saw was a ‘pale man with a crewcut and an odd walk’. He’d soon get a much closer look. The corner was cleared and Leeds broke with Dorigo, who raked a long pass for the newcomer. Shutt’s touch was heavy and Buck, deep in his own half, should have been able to clear the danger. Instead Shutt nicked it back from him and hared through on goal, ignoring the Dunedinian howls to his right as Strachan screamed for the square pass, and going it alone to slide the ball past Immel. “Since the moment I lost the ball, I knew he was going to score,” lamented Buck. “It’s over and I blew it.”

It was over. Three weeks before a notorious BBC Halloween special somehow managed to convince the British public that ghosts existed, Leeds had spent the night in a graveyard and come back from the dead.

Hangovers All Round

There was no sympathy for Stuttgart back home. “VFB is the laughing stock of the nation,” raged the Stuttgarter Zeitung. It was a defeat that wouldn’t be shaken off easily. They’d finish the season a disappointing seventh, missing out on Europe entirely. Simanić’s fateful eight minutes in Leeds were the only ones he ever played for Stuttgart. Daum never regained the respect of his players: “Daum no longer gets us with his flaming speeches and psycho tricks,” wrote Buck. The manager was gone midway through the following season, exiled to Turkey with Besiktas. It wouldn’t be the last time He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory

For Leeds, Barcelona was as good as the season got. The win set-up a tantalising ‘Battle of Britain’ with Rangers with a place in the Champions League proper at stake, but the Scottish giants beat them home and away. Cantona’s consolation goal in the second leg of that tie would be his last for Leeds – two weeks earlier, he’d stormed off back to France and faxed in a transfer request after learning he’d been dropped ahead of a game at Loftus Road. By the end of November, he’d be sitting next to Alex Ferguson in a red shirt.

The backpass rule continued to be a problem, reducing the fearsome all-Chris central defenisve pairing of Whyte and Fairclough to rubble. “The change was a disaster in Chrissie (Fairclough)’s case,” Wilkinson told Dave Simpson in The Last Champions. The squad was beginning to creak, with Lukic, Strachan, Chapman and White all in their thirties, but the signings designed to freshen things up didn’t work out. Rocastle rarely resembled the player who’d thrilled in his early years at Arsenal. Scott Sellars arrived from Blackburn but played just seven times. Norway striker Frank Strandli arrived in the new year to replace Cantona but only scored twice for the club. “I should have rebuilt sooner,” Wilkinson admitted. Leeds finished 17th, two points outside the relegation places.

The 3+2 ruling that got Leeds out of jail proved far more bothersome for other British clubs in the years that followed, mainly because of UEFA’s classification of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish players. It would amusingly muck up some of Manchester United’s nascent Champions League quests, with Peter Schmeichel memorably sidelined in favour of Gary Walsh for a 4-0 tonking by Barcelona and a petrified teenage Gary Neville being ‘Welcomed to Hell’ in Galatasaray. The rule was killed off, to general relief, by the Bosman ruling just over three years later.

Back on 9th October 1992, the man of the hour couldn’t be found amid the celebrations in the Leeds dressing room. He was discovered in the showers, sobbing, overcome with the enormity of the moment. Surveying this moving scene, watching a friend attempt to process the kaleidoscope of emotions that come with the high point of one’s career, the ever-sensitive Batty had some advice for his fellow Yorkshireman:

“Pull yourself together, you soft sod.”

They strolled out into a beautiful Barcelona autumn evening. And went to the pub.


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