Looking for Kitabdjian – Part 1

EXACTLY 30 years after the 1975 European Cup Final against Bayern Munich in Paris, I issued 75 limited edition T-shirts to mark the most notorious night in Leeds United’s history. The design featured an image of the referee flanked by French riot police – his whistle on pursed lips, baton beginning to bow under downward pressure. I’d never seen a photograph of referee Michel Kitabdjian’s face so I made it up. It bore a title – The Beaten Generation – that I nicked from a track by the band The The which seemed to sum up much about the night the Revie era ended for real.

The Don was there, in the commentary box speaking to a national TV audience of more than 24 million people. I wasn’t there because I was yet to be born, but this game means a lot to me because, like everyone else, as soon as I became infatuated with Leeds United I wanted to know everything there was to know and my dad told me it. He’d followed Leeds all over the place in the 60s and 70s and had two tickets for the game but didn’t go. Despite my thirst for knowledge I’ve never asked him why, but I know he’s glad he didn’t.

There was a time I would tell anyone who’d listen that as far as I was concerned this was the definitive moment in Leeds United’s history; that the stories surrounding it had to be heard to be believed and that I would tell them. Wednesday 28th May 1975 was my dad’s 35th birthday, and I said I would write a book before mine. I’m 34 now so this article will have to do.

Folklorically speaking, this Leeds game is like no other. By the time they arrived at French ports, several cross-channel ferries – like most of their passengers – were worse for wear. Paris quickly became the scene of a white, blue and yellow invasion where spirits were as high as the exchange rate, so supermarket booze aisles were relieved of their stocks with inevitable consequences.

Encounters with those who did make the trek to the Parc des Princes would see me wring them dry of anecdotes (like the one about the pair who hitch-hiked to Dover with a tent and enough food for a fortnight, were turned back by customs at Calais but on their return to Leeds embarked on a second, successful, trip to Paris by coach), but it wasn’t until I found myself in British Library, sitting in the dark, poring over microfilm of the dailies from that week in the mid 1970s that I finally asked myself: what was I looking for?

I was looking for Kitabdjian. Beckenbauer, Maier and Muller we know and loathe but little’s heard about the Nice-born referee, so inconspicuous when in charge of the first of our two 1970 European Cup clashes with Celtic. So what the hell happened in Paris five years later? Did he blink when Beckenbauer first handled the ball, then tripped Clarke in the box? What sort of offside chat is there to be had with a linesman who’s standing on the half-way line awaiting the restart?

This article concludes here on TBG tomorrow and appears in issue 6 of The Square Ball magazine. Buy it online now for just £1.

5 Responses to “Looking for Kitabdjian – Part 1”

  1. I was there, aged 19. I’ll read the rest tomorrow, and maybe contribute then, but just to be going on with: it was the night that the Revie era ended for real, but you have to consider the whole year between the Don’s resignation and this night. Liverpool thrived after Shankly, Leeds just let their head’s drop after Revie. It didn’t have to happen.

  2. Impressed by your knowledge of the Paris trip in view of the fact that you weren’t there. I’m sure you don’t need telling not to believe all you read in the media. We did the “Lowfields to Paris in 3 days with no sleep” return trip for £20. Great team, great days, great memories, gut-wrenching result!!

  3. As ever, great stuff – He would be in his 80’s – assuming the fella is still alive – still time to track him down for an interview & unleash 36 years of hurt on behalf of the Beaten Generation (and all of us who were not around at the time!!)…

  4. Kitabdjian is indeed alive, by all accounts. It had crossed my mind to try to make contact, but my interest in all this doesn’t extend to doorstepping an old man in Nice. I heard that Gary Edwards was on the case so who knows, we may yet hear from him.

    Anyway, thanks for all your comments. A change of direction tomorrow as we visit Kitabdjian’s desert ding-dong in the land of fish stew…

  5. Even after that dis-allowed goal -for 80 minutes Europe once again belonged to Leeds that night – So majestic was our play it should have been the rightful conclusion to an era of our unparalleled domestic domination of the English game up to that point – The WACCOE chant that evolved was not based on this result alone however … It was the commulation of a decade of despise,resentment and hatred in which the football world held Leeds in contempt….. The big game outcomes were always a chance for their revenge….

    It’s what’s made a certain breed of Leeds Fan ,over a certain age ,the bitter & twisted bastards we are……… A Great site mate you’ve got here…
    Regards Steak

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