The Chelsea/Leeds Rivalry. Dam Busters vs Your Father’s Gun.
There are few non-Derby footballing rivalries that merit their own Wikipedia page. The hostility between Leeds United and Chelsea is one of these. Popular supposition is often that the Chelsea and Leeds rivalry emanates from the 1970 FA Cup Final and, particularly, the replay. Not quite true. A few games in preceding years appear to sow the roots of the mutual antipathy.
As a backdrop you need to understand the image Leeds cast for themselves (or had cast, depending on your viewpoint) in the mid 1960’s. Promoted to Division One in 1964 , they immediately challenged for honours in both Division One and FA Cup. Their manager, Don Revie, was a complex man. ‘Rank paranoia was a feature of Revie's career’ according to the www.mightyleeds.co.uk website. His team included intimidatory hard men like Bobby Collins, Billy Bremner, Willie Bell, Norman Hunter, Johnny Giles and Jack Charlton and rightly earned itself the nickname ‘Dirty Leeds.’ Even keeper Gary Sprake used to put it about, as John Boyle still remembers.
Gary Sprake Attempts To Dance The Kung-Fu With John Boyle
The irony is Leeds had some highly gifted players (Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and Giles to name but three) and on their day could play superb football but they cultivated an image of a team happy to get their retaliation in first. Every top team in those days had hard men (Chelsea had Ron Harris and Eddie McCreadie, for starters) but Leeds really seemed harder, more cynical, more provocative and more consistently brutal than their rivals. They perfected the harassment of referees (Bremner was particularly gifted at this), the rotational fouling, the ‘early foul that would avoid the booking’ and the mass punch-ups that got football such a bad press.
Chelsea were not the only team Leeds had ‘tough’ matches against – Everton, Manchester United, Sunderland and Liverpool all had notoriously bruising encounters with them at this time. It just seems, maybe with hindsight, that many of the Chelsea games were even more charged. Revie, who wore a lucky blue suit on occasions, spent years moaning about how Leeds were unlucky or cheated. On occasion he may have had a point, but this siege mentality often backfired when it mattered most. ‘We have enemies in the Press Box’ is a classic Revie quote.
It seems clear that highly charged games over five or six seasons during the mid-late 1960s helped contribute to the building of the rivalry, culminating of course in the 1970 final. The ‘dour Northerners’ against ‘flash Kings Road cockneys’ image inevitably includes some stereotyping, but there was more than a ring of truth about it. Revie was a pragmatic, puritanical man, in many ways the antithesis of the wise-cracking, volatile Tommy Docherty, and tales about his dislike of flashiness abound. It is hard to see The Doc organising games of carpet bowls the night before matches.
Looking back, it seems the mutual dislike may have begun in the early 60’s and certainly by 1964 there was no love lost. In 1959/60 Leeds were relegated but still managed to do the League double over a mediocre Chelsea side who avoided the drop by just three points, despite 29 League goals from Jimmy Greaves. In their 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge, their first in 32 years, Leeds defence was described as ‘strong tackling’ and as Chelsea ‘gave up fighting’ the result was no surprise.
The sides next met in 1962/63 after the Blues were relegated. Eric Smith effectively had his Leeds career ended at Elland Road in September 1962 after breaking his leg in a tackle with Graham Moore, playing just a League Cup-tie thereafter before joining Morton the following year. Leeds won that game 2-0 and gained a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge the following April as Chelsea spluttered their way to promotion, Barry Bridges and Frank Blunstone scoring. Chelsea had drastically changed, only Blunstone remaining from the Stamford Bridge defeat three seasons earlier, the old guard jettisoned by Docherty and a shoal of youngsters brought in. Leeds, too, were changing and their side included a number of names who would attract controversy in the seasons ahead.
Leeds went up the following year.
1964/65. Newly promoted Leeds visited Stamford Bridge that September in a clog-fest that set the standard for a bruising series of encounters over the coming years. Collins’ brutal retaliation on Harris for which he was fortunate to escape with a booking, was matched shortly after by McCreadie hammering into the influential Giles (shown at 1m30s on the footage, link below) who had to leave the field of play on a stretcher with a ligament injury, reducing Leeds to ten men (this was the final season before substitutes were introduced) and Chelsea ran out 2-0 winners. The game was punctuated throughout by a series of fouls, the hosts at least as culpable as their visitors. Jimmy Greenhoff was hurt by both McCreadie and Harris in quick succession and Bremner suffered a brutal Harris challenge, retaliating shortly after with a two-footed assault. Peter Bonetti was badly dazed by a knock to the head but, as ever, battled bravely on.
Peter Bonetti dazed after his head injury
It seems likely that the open hostility between the two sets of players dates back to this game. The match, which received much press criticism ( ‘a brute of a game’ according to The People), was shown on BBC Match Of The Day, footage here https://youtu.be/7P3MpkIF5Nc
In the return at Elland Road the following January, Chelsea fought their way to a creditable 2-2 draw. The game was unsurprisingly not without incident. Terry Venables suffered a gashed leg after Bremner’s studs left their mark. ‘Thunderous, tiger-tackling’ football led to two busy trainers and a series of referee lectures but only Collins, again, had his name taken.
Chelsea, Leeds and Manchester United were all fighting for both League and FA Cup honours as the season entered April. Having just won the League Cup, Chelsea were in theory on for a unique treble. Chelsea imploded as the team ran out of energy and the infamous Blackpool incident (8 players sent home by Docherty for breaking a curfew) rounded off a dismal end of the season. Leeds lost the League title on goal difference to Manchester United and a dull FA Cup Final to Liverpool, who had beaten a flat Chelsea in the semi-final. To get so close to honours a year after promotion was a great achievement by Revie, but the methods he and his team used left a sour taste in the mouths of many. Interestingly, pocket-battleship Collins, arguably Leeds hardest player at this time (despite stiff competition) easily won the 1964/5 Footballer Of The Year award, which suggests an ambivalence about Leeds approach from the gentlemen of the press.
1965/66. A Fourth Round FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge attracted a 57,000 crowd with thousands locked out and resultant chaos on the streets outside. A superb goalkeeping display by Peter Bonetti and an early goal from Bobby Tambling won a highly physical game that Leeds largely dominated in terms of possession and chances. Leeds fans at one stage sang ‘Dirty Chelsea’ according to Ken Wolstenholme on Match Of the Day. Revie was left bemoaning their luck in a tournament they saw themselves well placed to win that season, a recurrent theme. Match Of The Day footage here, including a wonderfully evocative clip, right at the start, of a bouncing Shed End, scarves, flags and banners aloft, before it had been named as such. I am not aware of any earlier TV footage of The Shed. https://youtu.be/ZdYB44lDaKE
1966/67. The draw for the FA Cup Semi-Finals paired Chelsea with favourites Leeds at Villa Park. Over 62,000 packed the ground, including over 30,000 Chelsea fans. The sense of anticipation was massive, with Leeds looking for revenge for the previous season and Chelsea trying to reach their first ever final. The mightyleeds.co.uk website says that “the clubs did not get on and a bitter enmity had developed.” In the usual bruising encounter between the teams Leeds set about intimidating Chelsea (Sprake's attempted decapitation of Boyle was only punished by a booking). The bare facts (Tony Hateley scored a classic header as Chelsea won 1-0) do not scratch at the surface of a tempestuous match...
Terry Cooper had an equaliser disallowed for offside, which infuriated Revie and his team, but this was nothing compared with what was to happen in injury time. Leeds were awarded a free kick, waited a few seconds for Chelsea to form a wall then Giles passed to Peter Lorimer who thundered a shot into the net. Pandemonium ensued as referee Ken Burns disallowed it, apparently as the Chelsea wall had not retreated ten yards. Leeds players surrounded Burns, to no avail. Brief footage here https://youtu.be/7XFIVGDy39k .
Jimmy Greenhoff, Billy Bremner and Willie Bell disagree with Ken Burns
The final whistle went shortly after and Chelsea, after two successive losing semi-finals, had finally reached Wembley. The fact that newspapers pointed out that Chelsea had been the better team meant nothing to an embittered Revie, his team and their hugely disappointed fans. It is clear that by this point relations between the teams were actively hostile.
1967/68. A series of controversies and a set of poor results led to the departure of the volatile Tommy Docherty as Chelsea manager in October 1967, after six years in charge. The first game after Doc left was at Leeds. The Chelsea team were in uproar and, sensing blood and revenge, Leeds tore into them. A demoralised (and possibly hungover, according to some accounts) Chelsea were never at the races and lost 7-0, amid wild celebration from the Leeds fans. As an aside, papers reported that on the train home Chelsea fans attempted to attack the carriage containing the Chelsea board, Chairman Charles Pratt being widely seen by supporters as the reason for the highly popular Doc’s leaving. Fortunately, the board appointed Dave Sexton shortly afterwards and the ship was steadied.
Late 1960s. Games between the sides in the late 60s were marked by increasing levels of physicality and hostility. Press comments from that period included ‘there were more fouls than goal chances,’ ‘no long-lasting friendships were struck up last night’ and ‘Paul Reaney and David Webb were booked but at least six others could have been,’ this at a time when bookings were only for serious offences. After the September 1969 game at Elland Road three Chelsea players had to go to hospital on their return to London and another three required treatment.
1969/70. A 5-2 home thrashing by Leeds in January 1970, when Chelsea were widely seen as being given a footballing lesson, helped make them firm favourites for the 1970 FA Cup Final. Millions of viewers watched the debacle. https://youtu.be/lTdhcjqGBw4
The bare bones of the two FA Cup Final games themselves are well documented. The first game on an absurdly muddy pitch, included bizarre goals and a stack of fouls and it was generally accepted that Chelsea were lucky to earn a replay in a game Leeds dominated.
In the replay at Old Trafford, manager Dave Sexton ensured Eddie Gray, star of the first game, would have less space and time by putting Ron Harris to mark him. Harris clattered Gray early on, and the Scot was far less effective second time around. Bonetti, flattened by Mick Jones, needed treatment before carrying on. Chelsea gave as good as they got and committed more fouls - Leeds were awarded 28, Chelsea 13 as the outright thuggery from both teams continued unabated.
John Dempsey clears the ball from under Mick Jones’ nose at Old Trafford
The bookings of Ian Hutchinson and Bremner came late and merely as a gesture, as referee Eric Jennings, in his final game before retirement, exercised leniency to an absurd degree. Cooke and Clarke were involved in a kicking match. Charlton was floored by Osgood, got up, and ran three paces before knocking him flat. Peter Osgood tangled with Bremner, and the Scot hacked at the other until Hutchinson rushed up and knocked him flat. The highlight/lowlight was probably the karate kick Eddie McCreadie executed on Bremner. 30 years later former referee David Elleray reviewed the match against the standards set by modern day refereeing. He concluded that Leeds should have had seven bookings and three dismissals (Giles, Bremner and Charlton), while Chelsea deserved 13 bookings, including three each for Webb, Harris and Charlie Cooke.
Jones gave Leeds the lead past a crocked Bonetti before half time. Osgood scored his iconic, classic equaliser from Cooke’s glorious cross and celebrated in front of the Chelsea fans in the Stretford End. Webb’s extra-time winner, in front of the Leeds fans and a few delirious interlopers from London at the Scoreboard End, must have been the last straw for a team who had been so near and yet so far in so many competitions over the past five years, given they skulked off to the dressing room without collecting their medals. The general public may have had a little sympathy with Revie and his team but there was certainly none emanating from SW6. As Hutchinson later observed, ‘they hated us, and we hated them.’ Replay footage here https://youtu.be/nfUH6I5m--M
In an ironic twist, in the early 1970’s Leeds belatedly tried to build a trendy, showbiz image. Synchronised waving to fans before games, tracksuits with players names on, a ‘modern’ kit and sock tabs were all innovations introduced, with much mockery from many whose view of the club was carved from years of ‘Dirty Leeds.’ This not entirely successful attempt at rebranding came about as Chelsea were starting to shed their own glamorous image.
Chelsea and Leeds probably both underachieved in terms of trophies between 1964 and 1972, although arguably for different reasons. What is clear, however, is that the players genuinely disliked each other. Jack Charlton made a famous TV show comment “I have a little black book with two players in it, and if I get a chance to do them I will. I will make them suffer before I pack this game in. If I can kick them four years over the touch line, I will.” Though the book clearly never existed as such, rumour was that one player Charlton was riled by was Osgood, another was reputedly Everton’s Johnny Morrissey, not a man to be trifled with.
The open hostility between the two sets of players had died down by the late 1970’s, by which point most of the usual suspects had retired, the teams had declined and, perhaps critically, Revie had moved on to (mis)manage England. Off the pitch it was a different matter. Hostility between the sets of supporters grew as the decade wore on and certainly by the early 1980’s clashes between the two had the police on full alert. ‘We all ******* hate Leeds’ and ‘Shoot the Chelsea scum’ became the songs of choice. The 1983/4 Division Two games featured 7,000+ Chelsea travelling North for a 1-1 draw in the October (the escort back to the station was the biggest I have ever been in) and Leeds smashing up the Stamford Bridge scoreboard as their side capitulated 5-0 to a rampant, promotion-clinching home side and their euphoric, pitch-invading supporters.
Kerry Dixon celebrates scoring in the 5-0 1984 win
Leeds departure from the Premier League in 2004 put the clash on hold for several years but the edge was certainly in evidence when Chelsea travelled up north for a League Cup-tie in December 2012.
The Chelsea End, Elland Road, December 2012
Pictures of the Chelsea end that night show it packed to the rafters with hardly a scarf or shirt in sight. Flare smoke drifted across the Yorkshire night as the first meeting for over eight years had if anything stoked the mutual hostility. Two hours of unabated noise from two totally committed supports created arguably the best atmosphere at a Chelsea game in England in many years. A 5-1 win was the icing on the cake for a throwback trip remembered fondly by thousands of travelling supporters almost a decade later. Brief footage here. https://youtu.be/a81O2_i5Z7w
I was at Elland Road late last season and the home crowd were certainly passionate. In fact they were so fired, up the players responded by running round like headless chickens, with Dan James sent off for a ludicrous challenge on Mateo Kovacic. Chelsea won comfortably, 3-0, in a most enjoyable evening for the travelling support.
The atmosphere on Sunday afternoon will be loud, angry and nakedly hostile - anyone wearing ‘friendship scarves’ is like to get blank looks or worse. Can’t wait.