- Rewind to 1970
How flashy Cockneys won a war of attrition
Fuelled, in part, by the North-South divide and the two clubs becoming title challengers in the 1960s, the rivalry between Leeds United and Chelsea has burned fiercely ever since. After a series of bruising encounters at a time when referees were far more lenient than today, the two played out one of the roughest games in history in the 1970 FA Cup replay at Old Trafford, but the rivalry started a little before that.
It is the managerial pair of Don Revie and Tommy Docherty who must gain the accolades for seeing Leeds and Chelsea, respectively, competing in the upper echelons of the English top flight in the 1960s.
Revie's impact during the decade eventually culminated in their first league title in 1969, while Docherty built himself a similar dynasty at Stamford Bridge, albeit one without quite as many trophies to show for it. Beyond the glittering prizes and established internationals plying their trade at each club, however, both had players capable of allying physicality to their ability and, when they clashed, it was invariably a fiery affair.
Rick Glanvill wrote in Chelsea FC - The Official Biography: "Perhaps we should blame the M1. The extension from Aston to Leeds was completed in July 1967 and it was almost as if the new infrastructure made loathing, as well as other goods, easier to transport. Three months before that was the match that may have ignited the whole thing. But by then there had already been several bouts in the classic Yorkshire grit versus flash Cockney encounter."
Indeed, the seeds were sown in 1952. A triple-replayed FA Cup fixture - which had been their first meeting in a cup competition - saw Chelsea eventually seal progress with a 5-1 win. However, "the ferocious tackling of the first replay at Stamford Bridge had forced Chelsea into seven changes for the subsequent League game. Nearly 150,000 fans watched the three games - and winced," the Mighty Leeds website reports.
As Revie and Docherty lifted their clubs into prominence in the '60s, the pair's first meeting in a cup competition came in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1966, and saw a 1-0 win to Chelsea. Ahead of the game, there were clashes as a rowdy 57,000 crowd were dispersed harshly by the police. On the pitch, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti had denied the Peacocks with a breathtaking display, as reported in The Times: "Why then did Leeds lose in a score line which suggests a battle of attrition? The answer was threefold - no luck; no deadly finisher inside the penalty area; and when they were near the mark there was Bonetti to produce three or four saves of world-class vintage."
Bonetti later remembered in an interview with the Blues' website that the two teams had a similar style: "Leeds had a name, a reputation as being dirty... [and] we matched them in the physical side of things because we had our own players who were physical... We weren't unalike in the way we played."
But the growing rivalry went deeper than that; the players hated each other. Alex Murphy, looking into the rivalry for The Evening Standard, wrote: "Don Revie's Yorkshire hard-men were famous for their elastic approach to the laws of the game with committed players like Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles and Norman Hunter. Chelsea, while having a reputation for flair and panache, also had a team populated with men who didn't mind a bit of afters; men like Chopper Harris and Peter Osgood."
Chelsea's Tommy Baldwin revealed in the book Kings of the King's Road: "There were a lot of scores being settled from previous games whenever we played them. It always just seemed to go mad, with everyone kicking each other." Leeds midfielder Johnny Giles, meanwhile, recalled the "special sort of animosity" between the teams that came to a head in 1967.
Another brutal game was played out that year in the FA Cup, with Chelsea winning 1-0. Indeed, one Times reporter noted the ferocity of the tackling more than anything else. "The tackling throughout was frighteningly ruthless," he wrote. "And too often retaliation was penalised while provocation escaped unseen. Shirts, elbows and studs were used and abused; to be caught in possession was like standing in the path of a stampede."
This time, it was not tackling alone that escalated the rivalry: referee Ken Burns disallowed two late goals to become the subject of Leeds' anger. Also, according to the Mighty Leeds website, "the touchline celebrations of Blues boss Tommy Docherty left a sour taste in West Yorkshire mouths".
But Chelsea's successes in the teams' cup encounters came in the face of poor league form against their rivals. Docherty's resignation, handed in a day before a 7-0 drubbing at Elland Road in October 1967, left the club in complete disarray. The Scot had received a 28-day suspension from all football activity following incidents on a so-called 'goodwill' tour of Bermuda in the summer, but felt he had no backing from the FA and left the Blues under a cloud.
For once, the focus was on goals and not the violence on the pitch, although that would change as the two clubs headed into what would be a six-game spell in the 1969-70 season. The first of these, a 2-0 win in the league for Leeds, led Phil Brown of The Yorkshire Evening Post to write: "I do not want to see another game like Saturday's. These are two good sides at their best... but the calibre of such teams is largely wasted when they set their teeth and play as venomously as that." Brown must have been forced to turn away as five more games were played out before the season's end: two league cup games in January, 1-1 and 2-0 to Chelsea; another league game which ended 5-2 to Leeds at Stamford Bridge; and the memorable two legs of the FA Cup final.
Of the six, the first final was surely the most 'attritional'. It was remarkable that the game finished 2-2 at Wembley as it had been brought forward a month due to the 1970 World Cup finals and, as a result, was preceded by the Horse of the Year show, ensuring the Wembley turf was turned into a quagmire by the trampling hooves. According to Leeds midfielder Billy Bremner: "The pitch was in a terrible state. There was not a sign of the normally immaculate turf which everyone associates with Wembley. The pitch had been sanded - but you found yourself almost ankle-deep in mud and sand, at times - and if Wembley's once lush turf was stamina-sapping, I can tell you that the pitch on which we played destroyed the energy of the players as the game wore on."
With the replay moved to Old Trafford because of the state of the Wembley turf, the FA appointed the 47-year-old Eric Jennings as referee - his last appearance before retirement. Within minutes, it was obvious that the focus would not be on the football as Chelsea's Alan Hudson, who missed both the final and the replay through injury, revealed: "Tommy Baldwin and Terry Cooper, two of the quietest men in football, [were] kicking lumps out of one another as the battle began."
Leeds scored first through Mick Jones, but Osgood's equaliser opened the floodgates for foul play. Chelsea's hard-men systematically targeted winger Eddie Gray, and Harris finally nailed him late in the first half with a malicious kick on the back of the left knee. Moments later, Jack Charlton headbutted and kneed Osgood after the Chelsea striker had tackled him from behind. Eddie McCreadie nearly decapitated Bremner with a ludicrously high kung-fu tackle in the box and Norman Hunter and Ian Hutchinson also exchanged blows.
Mercifully, the game was ended as Webb bundled in an extra-time winner and the cup went to Stamford Bridge for the first time. But as The Independent newspaper recalled in its 2006 obituary for Osgood: "The match provided a lengthy sheet of misdemeanours... Wherever you looked on the field there was mayhem, as players kicked, gouged and butted each other with impunity. The next morning, one paper summed up with the banner headline 'Robbery With Violence'."
Somehow Jennings kept it to 11-a-side and saw fit only to book one player - Chelsea's Hutchinson - leading Hugh McIlvanney to write in The Observer: "At times it appeared that Mr Jennings would give a free-kick only on production of a death certificate." Some years later, referee David Elleray studied a tape of the game and concluded he would have given six red cards and 20 yellows had he been officiating.
What happened next?
In the following season, neither team would reach the quarter-final stage of the FA Cup but Chelsea soon claimed their first European trophy with the Cup Winners' Cup. A hard-fought 0-0 draw between the sides at Stamford Bridge in December 1971 at times "more resembled some Mafia vendetta than football", according to The Times' Geoffrey Green, and there were incidents at a game in 1973 as well. But, soon after Revie left Leeds in 1974, the rivalry was put on the backburner as Chelsea were relegated the following season; Leeds were not far behind them.