OzWhite's Leeds United F.C. History
Leeds United F.C. History : Foreword
1919-29 - The Twenties
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1939-46 - The War Years
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1949-57 - The Reign of King John
1957-63 - From Charles to Revie
1961-75 - The Revie Years
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1996-04 - The Rollercoaster Ride
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100 Greatest LUFC Players Ever
Greatest Leeds United Games
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Sprake: Gareth (Gary)

1962-1973 (Player Details)


Born: Winchwen, Nr Swansea: 03-04-1945

Debut v Southampton (a): 17-03-1962

6’0” 13st 3lb (1989)

#46 in 100 Greatest LUFC Players Ever

Sprake, who used to live near the great Welsh goalkeeper Jack Kelsey, won Swansea Boys and Welsh Schools honours before joining Leeds as an apprentice in June 1960, before turning professional in May 1962. He made his League debut when a sixteen-year-old apprentice in place of Tommy Younger, who had fallen ill. The call to Sprake (who was still in Leeds) was so late that the club paid for a charter aircraft to fly him to the match, and the kick-off was delayed to allow the sixteen-year-old chance to get to the ground, change and warm up. He played his second game for Leeds at Swansea Town on 8th September 1962, in a game famous for Don Revie giving debuts to teenagers Rod Johnson, and Sprake's long time defensive companions, Paul Reaney and Norman Hunter. All three became fixtures in the classic Leeds team which endured for the next decade. It did not take long for Sprake to come to the attention of the Welsh selectors as he excelled between the Leeds posts. On 13th November 1963, he gained his first Welsh Under-Twenty-Three cap in the high profile encounter with England at Ashton Gate, Bristol, against a team that contained Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who would star in England's World Cup victory less than three years later, in which Sprake repelled the English onslaught and enabled Wales to emerge with a creditable 1-1 draw. He was inspired by the promise of a full Welsh Cap should he perform well against the much-fancied England team. He became Wales’ youngest-ever goalkeeper, at eighteen years and seven months and seventeen days, when he played against Scotland at Hampden Park a week later. He was unable to stop the Scots from winning 1-2 but his record continues to this day. Leeds narrowly failed to get promotion, finishing fifth in the Second Division as Sprake missed few games after his debut and started thirty-three League, two League Cup and three F.A. Cup games. On 4th December 1963, he gained his second Under-Twenty-Three cap in a 3-1 win over Scotland at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, and quickly added a third in a 3-3 draw with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, on 5th February 1964. Although he had been outstanding on his debut in Glasgow, he was not up to par in his second full international game as Northern Ireland won 2-3 at the Vetch Field, Swansea on 5th April 1964. However, he was still selected for his third cap as the principality extracted revenge on the Scots in the Home Championship match at Ninian Park, Cardiff on 3rd October 1964, but they made a disastrous start in the World Cup qualifiers in Sprake's fourth game as they went down 0-1 to Denmark at Idraetsparken in Copenhagen on 21st October 1964. An acrobatic player, although prone to lapses in concentration, Sprake had become a regular as Leeds won the Second Division Championship in 1964, missing just one game all season as he clocked up forty-one League, and three games in each of the F.A. Cup and League Cup. He had played his fourth Under-Twenty-Three game on 4th November 1964, as Wales were beaten 2-3 by England at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham and after picking up his fifth full cap in a 0-2 defeat in the Group Seven World Cup qualifiers by Greece in Athens on 9th December 1964, he played his fifth and final Under-Twenty-Three game in a 2-2 draw with Northern Ireland at Ninian Park on 10th February 1965. In the 1964-65 season, Leeds had been challenging for the Football League Division One Championship title and FA Cup double and Sprake only missed one game in both competitions that season, but Leeds ended with nothing, missing the League title on goal difference to Manchester United, and losing the FA Cup final to Liverpool, after extra-time as Sprake played forty-one in the League and eight in the F.A. Cup. The pressure on Leeds and Sprake continue into 1965-66 as they now had the added burden of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup to contend with but Sprake only missed four games all season as he played forty of the forty-two League games one of the two games in both the F.A. Cup and League Cup games and all eleven of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, as Leeds finished second in the League, six points behind Liverpool, were beaten, after a replay, in the Fairs Cup Semi Finals by Real Zaragoza, and made early exits from the domestic Cups. Always under pressure from Don Revie to tell the Welsh F.A. he was injured Sprake missed the next four Internationals, but still added three caps which took him to eight by the end of that season, as he held England scoreless at Wembley with another outstanding performance in a 0-0 draw on 2nd October 1965 in a Home International, before helping Wales to beat a strong USSR 2-1 at Ninian Park on 27th October 1965, before the Welsh were disapointingly beaten 1-4 by Northern Ireland at Ninian Park on 30th March 1966 in another Home International. 1966-67 again saw Leeds seeking glory on three fronts and there were thirty-nine League starts, two League Cup and seven F.A. Cup and ten Inter-Cities Fairs Cup games for the hard pressed keeper, as Leeds slipped to fourth, just one point behind Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur in second and third spot an fove behind top-placed Manchester United, were beaten on aggregate by Dynamo Zagreb in the Final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, 0-1 Semi-Final losers to Chelsea at Villa Park in freak circumstances and reached the fourth round of the League Cup. The Revie sick-note was working overtime as understandably he could only add one cap to make his total nine as he played in the 1-1 draw with Scotland in a Group Eight UEFA European Championship game at Ninian Park on 22nd October 1966. The 1967-68 season saw Sprake start thirty-six League, seven League Cup, five F.A. Cup and eight Inter-Cities Fairs Cup games, as Leeds win their first top-flight honours as they won the League Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. They again finished fourth in the Leagueonly five points behind top-team Manchester City and they were beaten Semi-Finalists in the F.A. Cup as Everton scored the only goal of the game at Old Trafford. The first of Sprake's notorious errors came in 1967 when Leeds played Liverpool in a League game at Anfield on 9th December 1967. After picking up a loose ball, Sprake was set to throw it to the Leeds left back Terry Cooper, only to abort his throw when he spotted Liverpool winger Ian Callaghan closing him down. Unfortunately, his action backfired as the ball slipped out of his hands behind him and ended up in the net. At half-time, the Liverpool DJ played 'Careless Hands', a record by Des O’Connor, in reference to Sprake's mistake, and during the second half Liverpool supporters sang the song repeatedly to Sprake. The nickname 'Careless Hands' from then on, somewhat unfairly, appeared to stick to Sprake. However, in the same season Sprake kept a clean sheet as Leeds beat Arsenal in the League Cup Final, and he performed heroics behind an overworked defence as Leeds won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the club's first European honour, in Budapest in drawing 0-0 to win on aggregate against Ferencvaros. Although there was little doubt that Sprake was by far the best Welsh goalkeeper available, he only advanced his caps to eleven in the season as he played only two of the Group Eight UEFA games in quick succession as Wales were beaten 0-3 by England at Ninian Park on 21st October 1967 and 2-3 by Scotland at Hampden Park on 22nd November 1967. Leeds finally won the League Championship in 1968-69, after five years of trying, in which they never finished lower than fourth. Sprake was ever-present in all matches that season, with forty-two in the League, three in the League Cup, two in the F.A. Cup and eight in the Fairs Cup, and while there were early exits in the domestic cups they progressed all the way to the Quarter Finals of the Fairs Cup before being beaten on aggregate by Ujpest Dozsa. Leeds won the League championship by six points from Liverpool, clinching it in front of the Liverpool fans at Anfield, with Sprake giving an impeccable performance to keep a clean sheet. Apart from appearing in the 1-1 draw with a very strong West Germany team at the Waldstadion in Frankfurt on 26th March 1969, Sprake had not played any of the Welsh games that season but another four in the close season saw his total reach sixteen with all three games in the Home Championship as Wales went down 3-5 to Scotland on 3rd May 1969 at the Raceourse Ground, Wrexham, then 1-2 at Wembley to England four days later and then three days after that there was a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, before returning to Ninian Park for a special game for Wales against the Rest of the United Kingdom, which featured Terry Cooper, Jack Charlton and Billy Bremner in honour of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales on 28th July 1969. The 1969-70 season saw Leeds under the most intense pressure as they were in with a serious chance of success in the European Cup, the League and the F.A. Cup, something never achieved by any other team. He and they had already won the Charity Shield by defeating Manchester City 2-1 at Elland Road and, having played once in three League Cup ties before an early exit, Leeds and Sprake remained in with a chance of the treble until after he had played all eight of the European Cup games and the feat could not be achieved after being defeated in the second leg of the semi final at Hampden Park by Celtic. A game in which Sprake was carried from the field late in the second half with Leeds still very much in the game. Unfortunately for United David Harvey's first action was to retrieve the ball from the net as the game went beyond Leeds. It caused him to miss the final two League games and the F.A. Cup Final replay, as he finished with thirty-seven League and seven F.A. Cup games, as Leeds faded in the League and were beaten 2-3 in extra-time in the replay of the F.A. Cup Final at Old Trafford in the final game of a very long season. Sprake and Leeds had chased a treble of the League, the FA Cup and the European Cup, but ended up with nothing. The League title went to Everton by nine points, as an exhausted Leeds lost their last two games without Sprake and Leeds went out of the European Cup in the semi-finals to Celtic. The FA Cup Final provided the stage for the second of Sprake's most memorable errors. Leeds faced Chelsea at Wembley and took an early lead through Jack Charlton and quite noticeably two Chelsea defenders misjudged the bounce of the ball on the goal-line. Just before half-time with Chelsea chasing the game, Peter Houseman hit an innocuous left foot shot. Unfortunately, Sprake crouched down to catch the ball as it bounced, and somehow it slipped through his grasp and rolled into the net. There was no doubt that the Wembley surface was in poor condition, resulting from the pitch being torn up days earlier at the “Horse of the Year Show”, and divots were not properly replaced while excessive amounts of sand only added to the problem. A keeper of Sprake’s calibre should not have been troubled by the shot but to the dismay of his teammates and fans the ball slipped through his grasp and into the net. In the second half, Mick Jones put Leeds ahead with just six minutes to go, but Chelsea again managed to equalise. Leeds manager Don Revie dropped the injured Sprake for the replay, but his replacement, David Harvey, was powerless to prevent Chelsea winning 2-1. The two errors have been blown out of all proportion and in some minds seem to outweigh the seasons of loyal and effective service he gave the club. The Leeds workload and Sprake's late season injuries restricted his International involvement with Wales to just two more caps to bring his tally to eighteen as Wales were twice beaten in quick succession in Group Three of the World Cup qualifying round as East Germany won 1-3 at Ninian Park on 22nd October 1969 and on 4th November Italy inflicted a 1-4 defeat at the Olympic Stadium, Rome. The 1970-71 season saw the Leeds workload lighten somewhat as they were beaten into second place by one point by Arsenal in the League, with Sprake playing thirty-four of the forty-two games, while he played in United's only League Cup game, all four F.A. Cup ties, and made nine starts and came on once as a substitute in the dozen completed games it took them to win the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup for the second time, by beating Juventus on aggregate in the Final. He was able to make one appearance for Wales in Group One of the UEFA European Championships on 11th November 1970 in a 0-0 draw with Romania at Ninian Park and also could play in the three Home Championship games as they were held in May after the season had ended and he displayed outstanding form as Wales drew 0-0 with Scotland at Ninian Park on 15th May 1971, then 0-0 with England at Wembley four days later before just three days later they were beaten 0-1 by Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast as he gained his twenty-second cap. He was still the first choice keeper for Leeds in 1971-72, but was replaced by David Harvey towards the end of the season, including the 1972 FA Cup Final. Sprake watched from the sidelines as Leeds defeated Arsenal 1-0 in 1972 with a goal from Allan Clarke and a superb performance by David Harvey at the other end. In the same year, Sprake publicly criticised Revie for his treatment of him, and so his relationship with his Manager, team-mates and the Leeds supporters soured. In what was to be his final season as first choice Leeds keeper he made thirty-five League starts, two in the League Cup, five in the F.A. Cup and one start and one game from the bench in the UEFA Cup. He also played in the game at Barcelona, which was held on 22nd September 1971 to decide the team to keep the defunct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, which Leeds lost 1-2. It was again a season of final disappoint as after beating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley on 6th May 1972 they were forced to play at Molineu against Wolverhampton Wanderers, minus the injured Mick Jones just two days later, and needing just a draw to take the Championship and complete the double they went down 1-2 and the title went to Derby County, with Sprake watching on in both games. On the International front he had played in the Group One UEFA Championship game on 13th October 1971 in which Wales defeated Finland 3-0 at Ninian Park and as the season had finished and he was surplus to Leeds needs, but he sustained a knee injury and had to retire at half-time. He was replaced by Tony Millington of Crystal Palace, who also deputised in the next two internationals. However Sprake returned and he again played all three of the Home Championship games, but Wales were beaten 0-3 by England at Ninian Park, on 20th May 1971 and 0-1 by Scotland at Hampden Park four days later, and a further three days later they were held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham as he gained his twenty-sixth cap. With David Harvey now first choice, Sprakes only game in the first team was at Birmingham City in a meaningless fixture in the penultimate League match of the season, on 30th April 1973, in which Leeds fielded an almost reserve eleven. The beneficiaries of Sprake's demotion was Wales, as Revie now allowed him to play when he wanted and he took his caps to thirty one with three appearances in the World Cup Group Five Qualifiers and two Home Championship games. On 15th November 1972 England were fortunate to scrape a 0-1 win at Ninian Park, with Sprake in good form and in the reverse fixture as Wales came away from Wembley with a 1-1 draw on 24th January 1973, after Leeds teammate Norman Hunter had scored a rare goal for England that brought the equaliser. He was also in the vital game with Poland at Ninian Park on 28th March 1973 as Wales gained an impressive 2-0 victory, to keep them in the hunt. He was in goal for two of the Home Internationals, the first at Hampden Park, as Scotland inflicted a 0-2 defeat on 12th May 1973, in a game which featured Terry Yorath for Wales and David Harvey, Billy Bremner and Joe Jordan for Scotland, and a week later he gained his thirty-first cap as Wales went down 0-1 to Northern Ireland at Goodison Park. The Welsh dreams of World Cup glory came to a stuttering end as they had first to endure a nineteen hour, twice delayed, flight behind the Iron Curtain to Katowice in Silesia, Poland to play at the Slaski Stadium. It was little wonder they were not at their best and went down 0-3, with Trevor Hockey being sent off six minutes before half-time, by which time they were already two goals down. It was small comfort that the Poles held England to a draw at Wembley and so eliminated them too. It was not too long after that fateful flight to Poland that Sprake's career with Leeds came to an end. His final game for Leeds had been on 19th September 1973, when they visited Stromsgodset at the Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo, in the opening fixture of the UEFA Cup. Sprake had over ten years service at Elland Road in which time he had made over five hundred appearances for Leeds and had kept a clean sheet in almost half of them. He still to this day remains the tenth on the club's list of all time appearances and the most appearances by any Leeds United goalkeeper. Still only twenty-eight, he potentially had a good seven years of his playing career left. There was little wonder that Don Revie had received many enquiries about his services. Sprake had turned down Arsenal and Chelsea and Revie had said no to Manchester City, when they could not meet his required fee and, while Sprake was interested in joining Harry Gregg on loan in his home town of Swansea, Revie blocked the move. So it left just Freddie Goodwin, the Manager of Birmingham City, who had been at Leeds in Sprake's formative years, who could meet Revie's assessment and he offered Sprake a three year contract. So on 1st October 1973 he had left Elland Road for a world-record £100,000 fee for a goalkeeper and made his debut for them on 6th October 1973 in a 0-1 loss to Arsenal at Highbury. His Birmingham career did not get off to a good start as he had been brought in to replace the previous season's Birmingham "Player of the Year" in Dave Latchford, and, after being introduced to his new teammates, in his first training session he was confronted by Kenny Burns and told he was a waste of money. Sprake replied by inflicting a broken nose on the fiery Scotsman and a reminder that Sprake had been brought up to look after himself, while at Leeds. He went on to save a Peter Storey penalty in his debut game and kept Birmingham in the tie to allow them to get a 1-1 draw at Blackpool in the League Cup three days later. His first home game at St Andrews' came in the local derby with Wolves and he was the subject of the usual ferocity and it wasn't long before Frank Munro had clattered into him early into the first half, which resulted in a thigh injury which saw him stretchered off and take no further part in a 2-1 home win on 13th October. The injury caused him to miss the next game and he returned for the Home game with Everton on 27th October, which Birmingham lost 0-2, with the blame for the two goals being laid at the feet of Sprake. He had missed the 4-2 home win over Blackpool on 16th October in the League Cup, due to injury, but that win had earned his team a home tie with Newcastle United on 30th October. It was Sprake's chance to redeem himself and he did that with a scintillating performance. Faced with Malcolm MacDonald bearing down on goal, he stopped him the only way he could, at the expense of a penalty. Faced with the lethal marksman having a free shot from twelve yards, Sprake threw himself full-length to his left and pushed the ball past the post. It was one of a series of fine saves he made in that match and the Birmingham Post rightly acclaimed him "Man of the Match" despite Bob Latchford getting both their goals in a 2-2 draw. Birmingham seemed doomed to relegation and every point was precious. They almost produced their first away win of the season with a 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United on 3rd November 1973, but their defence was finally breached with two minutes left on the clock after another brilliant display by Sprake who had withstood wave after wave of attacks throughout the game before finally being beaten. Four days later they went to St James' Park for the Third Round replay of the League Cup tie with Newcastle United. Once more Sprake it was Sprake to the fore as a Trevor Francis penalty in extra-time gave them victory. But it was the defence that had got them through led by Sprake and Roger Hynd with the keeper keeping them in the game with a point-blank range save from Stewart Barrowclough. There was a 1-1 home draw with Southampton on 10th November and a 2-5 drubbing at Stoke City a week later, which prompted Sprake to question Goodwin's tactics. However, after eliminating Newcastle United, who were running second in the League, they were drawn at sixth placed Ipswich at Portman Road in the League Cup. The game was played on 21st November and Birmingham triumphed 3-1, and things kept on looking up as there were two clean sheets in a 3-0 home win over Leicester City on 24th November and a 1-0 home win over Coventry City on Boxing Day. On 29th December there was an impending encounter with Leeds who had not tasted defeat in the League that season and that game would be their twenty-third. It would be Sprake's thirteenth appearance for his new club and like Don Revie he was supersticious. He still had many friends in Leeds and amongst the club's players, but there would be no favours, as Sprake soon found out, when he needed attention from the trainer after Paul Madeley had caught him with a loose foot. Five players were booked in a physical game that saw Birmingham come within four minutes of ending the unbeaten run of his former club. Sprake had little to do apart from one long shot from Norman Hunter while at the other end David Harvey was constantly in action in the 1-1 draw. City had had a good run over the Christmas period having only been beaten once since the game at Stoke City and a 5-2 win over Cardiff in the Third Round of the F.A. Cup. The scoreline was misleading as with the home side already 2-0 to the good, Sprake made a series of saves as Hynd was saved the embarrassment of an own goal by a fine save by Sprake, and in what was his best game to date he then made three acrobatic saves to keep out the Cardiff winger Mark Farrington, so the visitors could quite easily have made a draw. This was followed by a trip to Anfield, where Liverpool were still hanging on to the dream of catching Leeds. A 2-3 defeat helped them to do so but pushed Birmingham deeper into the mire. A fine save by Sprake at the feet of Willie Donachie stopped Manchester City from taking the points as the power-packed forward line of Summerbee, Bell, Lee, Marsh and Law were held 1-1. Next up was a visit to Queens Park Rangers in the Fourth Round of the F.A. Cup on 26th January 1974 but a 0-2 defeat ended their interest. There was a 0-0 draw with fellow strugglers West Ham United at Upton Park, with several top class saves from Sprake and after he had conceded a penalty for fouling Pat Holland he would have been pleased when Billy Bonds shot wide. A trip to Wolverhampton on 16th February 1974 saw a 0-1 defeat in which Sprake again excelled with aspectacular reflex save to deny Steve Daley and then another from the same drawer to stop Derek Parkin and the Wolves goal only came when he was blatantly impeded by Frank Munro from a corner kick. After the game against Wolves there was a disagreement between Manager Goodwin and Sprake and he was "rested". He had played Fourteen League, two F.A. Cup ties and four League Cup ties in the 1973-74 season. He was called up by Wales to play in two of the home championship games. The first at Hampden Park on 14th May 1974 wich they lost 0-2 and his thirty-fourth cap came four days later in a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Goodwin "rested" him for over a year from League duties, but he had two substitute appearances in the Texaco Cup in that time, and it was not until 18th March 1975 that he finally recalled him for 1-1 home draw with West Ham United. He had, however, still been first choice for Wales and had taken his caps to thirty-seven with three more appearances in the UEFA European Championship Group Two games. On 4th September 1974 at the Praterstadion, Vienna, there was a 1-2 defeat, but his International career finish on a high point as Hungary were beaten 2-0 at Ninian Park on 30th October 1974 and on 20th November in his home town at the Vetch Field, Luxembourg were put to the sword with a 5-0 victory. However, in his second League appearance of the season, just four days after his first, he travelled to Queens Park Rangerswhere City were soundly defeated 1-4. In the game he sustained a back injury and had to be carried on to the club coach at the end of the game. The injury resulted in a long period of treatment and, when the injury was aggravated during the following January, he had to undergo surgery. It was discovered he had a blood clot and for a time it was life threatening. It was the end of his football career and he subsequently kept his profile low, returning to his native Wales. Sprake started sixteen League games, two FA Cup, four League Cup and two substitute appearances in Texaco Cup games for the St Andrews’ club. His comments to the Daily Mirror about Revie regarding match-fixing, was not well received by his Leeds team-mates, all of whom were fiercely protective of their manager and the team's reputation. Sprake has remained the only member of Revie's team who has been excluded completely by the club and those within it. However, Eddie Gray tried to build bridges after the publishing of Sprake’s biography. Sprake currently lives in Solihull and after a year as a sports representative for Dunlop, he became a training officer with the Solihull College, a position he held until 1998, when his heart condition forced early retirement.

League 3810
F.A. Cup 450
League Cup 220
Europe 57/20
Charity Shield 10