In our rivalries series, we take a look at the best rivalries Chelsea have had with different clubs over the years.
It always rears its ugly head, even when we’re nowhere near them. As predictably as the late plod of Corporal Jones’ foot, when Leeds fans gather in any stand, they will sing their song about their Cockney rivals. ‘Fetch your father’s gun and shoot the Chelsea scum’.
Chelsea fans still sometimes reciprocate with an elegy “We hate Leeds and Leeds” over the tune of ‘The Dambusters March’.
There is no love lost between the blue of Chelsea and the white of Leeds. But for the uninitiated, the question must be asked, how exactly did a rivalry emerge between a London based Chelsea and a Yorkshire based Leeds United?
The rivalry first appeared in the 1960’s after fiercely contested and controversial matches when the two clubs were involved in domestic and European honours culminating in the 1970 FA Cup Final which is regarded as the most physical match in English Football History.
The supposed disparity between the clubs also fuelled the rivalry, summed up as ‘Yorkshire grit’ and ‘Flashy Cockney.’ The rivalry spilled out into the terraces; at the height of British football hooliganism in the 1970’s and 80’s. Chelsea Headhunters and Leeds Service Crew were among the most infamous firms and had numerous violent encounters.
In the 2003 football fans census, Leeds named Chelsea as their second biggest rival behind Manchester United. In the official Chelsea Biography, Leeds was cited as one of Chelsea’s major rivals. The animosity between the two sets of supporters continues to this day.
The clubs first met in a competitive match in the Second Division on 10 December 1927; Leeds won 5–0. Adding insult to injury, Leeds also won 3–2 in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge that season to clinch promotion back to Division One.
In 1952 they contested a demanding fifth round FA Cup tie which took three matches to produce a winner with Chelsea eventually prevailing 5–1 in a second replay at Villa Park. An aggregate crowd of almost 150,000 watched the three matches and such was the fearsome tackling on display, Chelsea had to make seven changes to their line-up for a subsequent match.
It was in the 1960s that a noteworthy rivalry first materialised between the clubs.
In 1963, Chelsea were promoted to the old First Division; Leeds were promoted in 1964. Both were coming teams brimming with talent and by 1965, both finished in the top three, behind title-winners Manchester United.
Chelsea and Leeds had become challengers, and the tension derived from just that, the challenge. Yet there was something else to this. It is fairly amazing to note that Chelsea have never bought a senior Leeds player, not one; Leeds did not sign a Chelsea player until Tony Dorigo moved to Elland Road in 1991.
Under the management of Don Revie Leeds became a force in English football for the first time, capped by winning the league title in 1969. Chelsea, too, had enjoyed a renaissance under Tommy Docherty and also challenged for honors in the 1960s.
Over the decade they would meet in numerous important and fiercely contested matches. Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti opined why rivalry between the teams emerged,
“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.
Tommy Baldwin said,
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.
The rivalry was also fuelled by the traditional North-South divide in England, and by the clubs having markedly different images and philosophies. Chelsea were associated with the fashionable King’s Road and celebrities like Raquel Welch and Steve McQueen. Leeds were perceived as a cynical, albeit talented, side with a style which some observers regarded as “dirty”.
The first evidence of any animosity came during a Second Division victory for Leeds in 1962 over Tommy Docherty’s promotion-bound “Diamonds”, when United’s Eric Smith suffered a broken leg.
In 1964–65, Chelsea and Leeds had a three way tussle for the league title with Manchester United and met in a league match at Stamford Bridge in September 1964. The Yorkshire Evening Post’s reporter observed that ‘Never mind the ball’ seemed to be the order of the day as scything, irresponsible tackles ruffled tempers. Bobby Collins viciously retaliated against Ron Harris and a McCreadie tackle on Giles saw Giles leave the field on a stretcher, reducing Leeds to ten men for the remainder of the match.
Hollins, with 593 appearances for Chelsea, recalled,
In one of my first seasons, we were unbeaten in our first 10 games and top of the league. We were running people off the pitch.
I remember a game at Leeds in the season of 1964-65, around this time of year — it was always this time of year at Leeds. It was tense. The game should not have been played because the pitch was iced up. We didn’t have the studs you have now. We changed ours before kick-off — we went for the leather type with little nails in them. So did they.
All of a sudden you had a good grip on the pitch, you could turn and play. The thing is, if you did catch anyone with a stud, you could rip a sock or something. It finished 2-2, I think. That was a day we thought, “Dirty b******s, wait ’til you come back to our place.
In 1966 the teams met in an FA Cup fourth round tie, where a crowd of 57,000 saw Chelsea win 1–0 with a goal from Bobby Tambling, a game in which ‘the young Chelsea team withstood an almost continuous battering from Leeds’.
Similarly in semi-final of the FA Cup at Villa Park in 1967, Chelsea won 1-0. Leeds had a Terry Cooper strike ruled out for offside and a goal disallowed, a shot from Lorimer. The referee said the wall wasn’t back the full 10 yards. Chelsea manager Docherty conceded he would not have complained had the second goal been allowed to stand. Hollins recalled,
That really got them. The word “hatred” came up then, and we were at each other all the time on the pitch. We knew who to hit.
In a game with “frighteningly ruthless” tackling, Leeds goalkeeper Gary Sprake kicked Chelsea midfielder John Boyle in the face as they challenged for a high ball, a grudge which still remained when the teams met in the FA Cup final three years later.
Six months later Leeds gained revenge by beating manager-less Chelsea (Docherty had resigned the previous day) 7–0 at Elland Road, their biggest ever win in the fixture.
Bitterness was gathering. Hollins saw it personified in two men — Charlton and Osgood. Norman Hunter said that he and Chelsea striker Peter Osgood shared a “tremendous rivalry”. Hollins said
That was personal. Ossie used to elbow him, knock him, try to get him annoyed. Ossie was one of the best at that.
He enjoyed Leeds games; he got at them. And that header in the replay in Manchester was his best goal ever, I think that was his favourite goal.
He didn’t like Jack Charlton. At one point in the final, Ossie and Jack had a fight off the ball. The ref just waved play on.
It was often rumored that Osgood was top of the list in Jack Charlton’s infamous “black book” of players he intended to exact revenge on, although Charlton himself stated that it was actually another, unnamed, Chelsea player.
Johnny Giles recalled the “special sort of animosity” between the teams and his “previous” with Eddie McCreadie.
The clubs met six times during the 1969–70 season. Leeds won both league games, 2–0 at Elland Road and 5–2 at Stamford Bridge. The match at Elland Road on 20 September 1969 continued in the same vein as previous encounters. A Yorkshire Post journalist lamented the many “late and early tackles” and condemned the teams for playing “venomously”. During the match Allan Clarke, Jack Charlton, David Webb, Peter Houseman, Ron Harris and Alan Birchenall all suffered injuries which ruled them out of subsequent matches.
Chelsea gained a measure of revenge by knocking Leeds out of the League Cup after a replay.
On 11 April 1970, Chelsea and Leeds contested the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Leeds dominated for the majority of the game, hitting the woodwork three times and twice taking the lead, with winger Eddie Gray torturing Chelsea right-back David Webb all game. But the Whites just could not put the tie to bed. The game at Wembley finished 2-2 when Ian Hutchinson’s late equalizer for Chelsea took the match to the first Cup final replay in 58 years.
Just over a fortnight later, the two teams met again for the replay at Old Trafford which attracted a UK television audience of 28 million, a modern day record for an FA Cup final and making it the sixth most-watched television broadcast in British history. This match has been cited ironically as both “one of the greatest FA Cup finals” and “the dirtiest match in football history”.
Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris was detailed to mark Wembley’s Man of the Match Eddie Gray. A series of Harris’ fouls during the first half effectively immobilized the Scot. Chelsea’s Alan Hudson admitted Harris knew exactly what his job was, saying:
Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris did not need any telling. His scything tackle on the wing wizard Eddie Gray in the opening minutes was chilling.
Elsewhere, Charlton kneed and head butted Osgood, Hunter and Hutchinson traded punches, and Eddie McCreadie flattened Billy Bremner with a “Kung Fu” challenge.
Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti suffered a knee injury during the game after after being bundled into the net by Mick Jones and limped through the rest of the match with a heavily bandaged knee.
He later told Chelsea’s official website,
It probably was the most physical game I played in and today it would never have lasted. Referees today say it would not have got past the first 20 minutes, because of the tackles, but that was the game in those days and you had to put up with it.
The Leeds great, Peter Lorimer, who was never mistaken for an angel, remarked that Chelsea ‘kicked everything above grass’.
When modern day referee David Elleray re-refereed the match 30 years later, he concluded that he would have issued six red cards and twenty yellow cards. Remarkably, referee Eric Jennings only booked one player – Hutchinson – over the two games.
Hugh McIlvanney wrote that
At times it appeared that Mr Jennings would give a free kick only on production of a death certificate.
As for the game, Mick Jones put Leeds ahead again in the replay, but Osgood equalized with 12 minutes remaining. Chelsea eventually prevailed 2–1 after extra time.
Charlton was so angry at the loss that he left the pitch without collecting his runners-up medal. Charlton later said:
It wasn’t the losing of the game, it was the losing of the game to Chelsea, because there were never two more competitive sides when we played each other over a period of four or five years.
The rivalry intensified in the following season when the two sides met at Villa Park in an FA Cup semi-final. Tempers flared early on when Leeds goalkeeper Gary Sprake’s boot connected with John Boyle’s face as they challenged for a high ball. It was a typically heated affair, fuelled by Leeds having two goals dubiously disallowed as Chelsea went on to win 1-0 before going on to be beaten 2-1 at Wembley by Tottenham Hotspur.
In 1971, after a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge, Geoffrey Green of The Times reported that a hard-fought 0–0 draw at Stamford Bridge in December 1971 at times “more resembled some Mafia vendetta than football”.
A crowd of 51,000 (with a further 9,000 locked out) watched a 4–0 Chelsea win over Leeds in the opening match of the 1972–73 season. The match was “marred by a string of infringements”; Trevor Cherry, Chris Garland and Terry Yorath were all booked, and Leeds lost David Harvey and Mick Jones to injury. Crowd trouble and pitch invasions led Chelsea to erect wire fences around the terraces.
By the end of the 1970s both clubs were in decline and would spend many of the ensuing years in the Second Division. Chelsea were relegated in 1975 and again in 1979. Leeds was relegated in 1982, and would not regain their First Division status for the next eight years.
No longer challenging for trophies (but frequently competing for promotion), the rivalry often continued off the pitch in the form of hooliganism.
When the teams met in the Second Division in the 1982–83 season, their first match for four seasons, 153 Leeds and Chelsea hooligans were arrested after fighting broke out at Piccadilly Circus tube station on the London Underground, and another 60 were arrested at the match itself.
Two years later, they met at Stamford Bridge (April 1984), with John Neal’s Chelsea needing a win to seal their return to the First Division. The game was marred by clashes between supporters (Chelsea fans invaded the pitch several times, and Leeds fans smashed up the Stamford Bridge scoreboard) but a Kerry Dixon hat-trick helped Chelsea to an emphatic 5-0 win, sealing their return to the top flight for the first time in five years. Clashes between rival fans resulted in 41 arrests.
A Brief Revival
The rivalry only really picked up again in 1996, when Brian Deane’s vicious ankle-stamp on Mark Hughes signalled the rebirth of Chelsea-Leeds hostilities.
In 1997 when Leeds under George Graham held on for a 0-0 draw away from home despite having two players sent off. They battled out a heated 0-0 draw in 1997 in which there were eight players booked and Leeds had Gary Kelly and Alf-Inge Haaland sent off. Comparisons between the game and the high-tempered clashes of the 1970s were drawn due to the physical nature of the contest. PA Sport’s chief football writer at the time, Martin Lipton, claimed the game was “a throwback to the worst excesses of the Revie era when the likes of ‘Chopper’ Harris kicked lumps out of Johnny Giles and Co.”
The rivalry also flared for the next four years in some rough-house interludes between Dennis Wise and Frank Leboeuf on one side Gary Kelly and Alan Smith on the other.
More recently, before a Chelsea-Leeds match in 2002 then-Leeds manager David O’Leary urged fans to behave after recent crowd trouble at other matches although stricter policing and the introduction of CCTV in grounds and all-seater stadia in the 1990s means that crowd trouble at matches is now generally rare.
Long gone but never forgotten
Apart from one cherished, derogatory song each, it has lain dormant since 2003. In December 2012, Chelsea met Leeds at Elland Road in the League Cup quarter-final, a game without incident, and were victorious 5-1.
Interestingly, Leeds have never been able to beat Chelsea in a knockout tie. The sides have met 8 times in the FA Cup and 4 times in the League Cup. However, Leeds do boast a better record in the League winning 39 and losing 26 (in 90 meetings).