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Leeds Beaten In Hard-Fought 1966 FA Cup Clash (can we hope for the same again?)

On Wednesday night Chelsea meet Leeds United in an eagerly anticipated FA Cup tie, the first time the sides have met at Stamford Bridge in the competition for 58 years. That epic encounter is recalled here.

It was February 1966 and Chelsea were on a roll. Sixth in Division One, but with games in hand on the sides above them. Narrowly defeated 2-1 at AC Milan in a Fairs Cup first-leg tie. And, after a superb 2-1 win at holders Liverpool in the FA Cup, facing a Fourth Round home tie against Leeds United, just three days after the game at the San Siro.

In the build-up to the cup-tie, Leeds manager Don Revie optimistically asked Chelsea fans to ‘be fair’ and not prejudge them on their reputation as to the way they played. However, the selection of Bell, Bremner, Hunter, Charlton, Giles and their colleagues made prejudgement about their physicality and tough tackling almost inevitable for anyone who had seen them play before.

Peter Osgood was described by the Daily Mail, under an ‘Operation Osgood’ headline as ‘the man Jack Charlton fears.’ The Mail saw Osgood, who could play in midfield or up front, as having the biggest impact on English football as an eighteen year-old since Tommy Lawton as his mercurial ascent in top-flight football continued. BBC commentator Ken Wolstenholme described Osgood as ‘the man of the moment.’

Bryon Butler in the Daily Telegraph felt that Chelsea ‘feel just now the equal of almost any 11 players in the world’. High praise indeed from a wise and respected journalist and broadcaster. The general feeling was that it would be a tight, competitive and physical encounter, the winners likely to be favourites for the trophy. The likes of Ron Harris, Eddie McCreadie and John Boyle were capable of more than matching Leeds’ physicality, so a feisty encounter was widely anticipated.

A decision was made by Chelsea not to make the game all-ticket, despite huge interest. This may have made the ticket office staff’s lives easier but almost guaranteed match day chaos. It was pretty clear the game would be a sell-out, despite it being the first of four home games in ten days. The Kensington Post advised supporters to get there early. They were right. In the event, an enormous mass of humanity descended on Stamford Bridge, and thousands were locked out, as a large and dangerously tight crush developed. The Leeds team coach was held up at the entrance to the ground, unable to move. Many ticket holders in the newly completed West Stand could not get to their gate because of the hordes trying in vain to get through the locked terrace turnstiles.

Bizarrely, some supporters did not make it to Stamford Bridge at all, as London Transport erroneously displayed signs at many tube stations that the game was postponed, a staff member apparently confusing the words ‘on’ and ‘off’ in a telephone conversation with a Chelsea official. Worse still, only 25 of 120 gate men turned up on time because the others saw the ‘game off’ signs, which increased the chaos and the frustration of those trying to get in. On ‘Grandstand’ on BBC1, David Coleman appealed for any ground staff watching to ignore the tube notices and report for work. Club staff including secretary John Battersby and his assistant Alan Bennett had to help man the turnstiles.

Match programmes sold out, the 44,000 print run (75% of the predicted gate) not nearly enough to satisfy demand. An apology for lack of availability was printed in the following week’s programme.

Manager Tommy Docherty put out an unchanged team on a very heavy pitch, lining up :- Bonetti; Harris, Hinton, Boyle, McCreadie; Hollins, Osgood, Venables; Bridges, Graham, Tambling. There were no substitutes in FA Cup ties that season, the first season they were allowed in English league games.

The 57,847 who did squeeze in, paying £15,776, saw the home side take the lead after eight minutes. George Graham hit the post after a Boyle free-kick was flicked on by Osgood and Bobby Tambling joyously fired home the rebound.

Tambling gives Chelsea an early lead

Tambling celebrates as Madeley, Reaney and Charlton look stunned

After that, it was largely backs to the wall. Chelsea were forced to defend for much of the remainder of the game as their opponents jettisoned their defensive plan and moved onto the front foot. The Yorkshire side hit the post twice but one key reason they could not equalise was the superb performance by goalkeeper Peter Bonetti who pulled out a string of magnificent saves. Terry Venables nearly added a second, but it was almost all Leeds and Jack Charlton should have equalised late on, but he shot straight at a grateful Bonetti. In the end, Docherty’s side, and the vast majority of the crowd, were delighted when Chelsea managed to hold on 1-0 for an epic, hard-fought victory. The Guardian felt Chelsea were too negative once they had gone ahead, though praised their ability to counter-attack, a tactic Docherty regularly employed against classy opponents.

Osgood’s burgeoning reputation drew England manager Alf Ramsey to the game, though if he was expecting to watch him playing up front he would have been disappointed. In a slightly bizarre twist, Osgood and Paul Madeley both wore No.9 shirts, but Ossie played in midfield and was marked by Madeley. Indeed, as Leeds stoked up the pressure, Osgood occasionally operated, very effectively, as a third centre-back.

Boyle and Bremner clashed, the latter punching the back of Boyle’s neck after being the recipient of two hard tackles, and were both duly booked, and The Guardian felt that the visitors were generally restrained in the face of ‘provocative tackling.’

Boyle is booked as Bremner awaits his turn

However, the game (a ‘man’s match’ according to the Sunday Express) never really boiled over as a few Leeds games had in the past couple of seasons, with referee Ken Dagnall widely praised for the way he kept the game under control. Rival chants of ‘Bremner’ and ‘sh*t’ can clearly be heard on the MOTD footage. The fiery Leeds midfielder’s booking was his fifth of the season, meaning a suspension was highly likely. Interestingly, given Revie’s later ramblings about ‘enemies in the press box,’ many journalists thought that Bremner was especially unlucky to be booked for retaliation.

In a tight, tough but entertaining game Chelsea might have been slightly lucky to win but their courage and defensive resilience was widely applauded, the Sunday Mirror describing full-backs Harris and McCreadie as ‘flawless.’ Marvin Hinton, Venables and Graham also drew praise. The Sunday Express ‘Chelsea Triumph In Battle Of Courage With Leeds’ headline spoke volumes. Revie thought Leeds had ‘never played better’ which speaks volumes about how well Chelsea defended.

The game was shown on Match Of the Day and first-half highlights can be found here . The opening credits, and Wolstenholme’s introduction, show a packed The Shed singing, swaying and scarf-waving, though this was seven months before Clifford Webb’s famous programme letter named that end as such. I think is the first time The Shed had been shown on TV. Leeds supporters can be clearly heard on the TV coverage, though the Kensington Post reported that ‘the tightly-grouped Leeds fans quietly rolled their banners and shuffled out’ at the end.

Chelsea had knocked out both of the previous season’s finalists and were, unsurprisingly, joint favourites for the tournament. They eventually went out of the competition against Sheffield Wednesday at the semi-final stage, an unexpected defeat that was a key catalyst in Docherty’s decision to break up the side. Four years later the sides met in two epic FA Cup Final ties, Chelsea winning a brutal replay with a team containing five members of that 1966 side.

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