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Redemption And Promotion As Leeds Thrashed 5-0

Late April 1984. Heady times indeed for Chelsea supporters. After the club had spent four seasons in the Division Two doldrums, manager John Neal had created an exciting charismatic side who, backed by fervent support, had not lost for nearly four months and were seemingly on an unstoppable journey to promotion. Chairman Bates had gambled in Summer 1983, after the club had nearly gone down to Division Three, and rather than sack Neal he backed the manager, cleared out a host of players and brought in a phalanx of promising youngsters.

So many games that season were memorable but without doubt one of the most iconic was the home clash with old rivals Leeds United on April 28th. Four days earlier Chelsea could have clinched promotion, subject to a mathematical catastrophe, by winning at Portsmouth in front of 8,000+ travelling supporters. 2-0 up through Mickey Thomas and Pat Nevin, they conceded twice and had to make do with a 2-2 draw.

This meant the table looked as follows :- Sheff Wed p36, 78 pts; Chelsea p38 76 pts; Newcastle p38 73 pts; Man City p38 66 pts; Grimsby p38 66 pts.

Sheffield Wednesday, already up subject to Man City or Grimsby going goal crazy, needed eleven points from five games to ensure the title. The following night they surprisingly lost at Middlesbrough, making the title race a bit more open, though it was still theirs to lose.

So Chelsea could ensure promotion by beating their bitter rivals of nearly 20 years, Leeds United, on the Saturday. The hostility between the teams dating back to the late 1960s had been mirrored by open hostility between the supporters, and it was a lively trip to Elland Road made by thousands of Chelsea supporters the previous October in a 1-1 draw.

When they travelled to Stamford Bridge, Leeds were languishing in midtable, twenty points off a promotion place, and were a shadow on the side that had reached the European Cup Final less than a decade earlier. And, unlike, Chelsea, they were hardly on the up.

Neal was hugely frustrated at dropping two points at Fratton Park, commenting ‘We had promotion in our grasp and threw it away. Now I want us to go for the kill this time…I want us to go flat out for victory, to end the waiting game as quickly as possible’. The game was the main back page story in the Daily Mirror, the ‘Bridge Party – Chelsea All Set To Go Surging Up’ headline speaking volumes about the sense of anticipation at the club and among the support.

Chelsea were able to pick an unchanged side for the fifth match in a row :- Niedzwiecki; Lee, Pates, McLaughlin, Jones; Bumstead ,Spackman, Thomas; Nevin, Dixon, Speedie.

Leeds lined up :- Harvey; Irwin, Hamson, Watson, Aspin; Dickinson, Wright, Sellars; Lorimer, Ritchie, Galvin. David Harvey and Peter Lorimer had been in the Leeds side that lost the brutal 1970 FA Cup Final; replay to Chelsea some 14 years earlier, so were used to suffering at the hands of The Blues.

Fulham Road was buzzing hours before the game and the eventual crowd of 33,447 (though it seemed like more, The Shed was utterly rammed) was the second-biggest at Stamford Bridge that season, after the January 3-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

The bare facts were these. Mickey Thomas (6 minutes) volleyed home a Kerry Dixon header, precipitating a minor pitch invasion from the West Stand benches. Dixon (18 and 23 minutes) put Chelsea out of sight before half-time. Nevin laid on Dixon’s first after beating four Leeds players before crossing for him to head home and David Speedie set up his second, a superb angled lob over Harvey’s head. I remember away end late arrivals being serenaded with ‘Do you know you’re 3-0 down?’ by The Shed.

Dixon Nets His First

And celebrates...

The third goal brought another pitch invasion and Bates used a megaphone at half-time to ask supporters to stay in their places during the game, but invited them to go on the pitch at the end. That plea worked to a degree but most of the second half felt like a swarm of supporters on the pitch was just waiting to happen.

Ken Bates' Half-Time Megaphone Appeal

Dixon completed an emphatic hat-trick from the edge of the area after 52 minutes. The game understandably meandered a bit as the crowd celebrated and Leeds had a couple of chances late on but in general Chelsea were completely dominant. John Bumstead had hit the post twice from free-kicks, so the score could have been even more emphatic. In the last minute, substitute Paul Canoville, on for Bumstead for the last 15 minutes, rounded off the thrashing with a brilliant solo goal.

Well before the final goal supporters were on the edge of the pitch. As Canoville celebrated his late goal, the masses charged joyously onto the pitch, which took a few minutes to clear before the game could restart and end. On the final whistle, the players charged off the pitch while thousands charged on. As the players celebrated at the front of the East Stand middle tier, they were doing so in front of a pitch packed with joyous supporters.

Supporters fill the pitch after the final whistle...

Coach John Hollins, Chairman Ken Bates And Manager John Neal Celebrate

Leeds supporters, unsurprisingly kept in, kept themselves amused by trying to smash up the scoreboard and fighting with police. As we left the ground, probably 30 minutes after the final whistle, a posse of riot police were running through the Britannia Gate towards the away end. In all 300 police were on duty for that game. West London celebrated and Fulham Broadway was very lively indeed that night.

The Sunday and Monday press coverage was more about off-field events than the game itself. The Daily Mirror praised the ‘passion and adventure’ of the side but focussed on the pitch invasion, a charge towards the Leeds supporters, arrests and the fact the referee was knocked over by invading supporters after Canoville’s goal. The Daily Telegraph eulogised the ‘vibrant performance’ but their headline ‘Chelsea’s Joy-Day Ends So Sadly’ reflected the tone of their match report.

The Mirror talked about Bates arranging to install fences at the sides of the pitch before the following season started, matching those in front of The Shed and North Stand terraces. That was for another day, however. Chelsea were back where they belonged and all that remained was to try and win the League. Wednesday lost at Shrewsbury and drew at home to Manchester City while Chelsea won their last three games so Neal’s men won the title on goal difference, clinching it at Grimsby on another glorious and eventful day.

The Leeds game sticks in my memory forty years later as I am sure it does for everyone who was there. Euphoria rarely experienced at any game, a sense of redemption after several bleak seasons, mixed with genuine anticipation of what Nevin, Dixon and Co could achieve among the big boys of Division One. Bates, Neal and the players all deserved enormous credit for turning the side round so comprehensively in a matter of months. From chumps to champs.

The details in this piece are taken from newspapers and my memory. The latter is a bit faded after 40 years so it is entirely possible your recollections of that day may differ.

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Les Largan
Les Largan
Mar 01, 2023

It was a most wonderful day celebrating especially beating the hated dirty Leeds after so many mediocre years in the second division although we travelled in our thousands following them away.

As an aside so different to today's Chelsea supporters cracking up because we haven't won silverware and we're mid table. They don't know how spoilt they are with two decades of success.

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