Unexpected Rivalries 6: Leeds United and Chelsea
After nearly a decade since the clubs’ last meeting, the press have been doing their best this week to stoke up the ghosts of rivalries past ahead of tonight’s Capital One Cup quarter final between Leeds and Chelsea at Elland Road.
Frank Lampard admits that he felt the need to inform his foreign team-mates of the historical enmity in case they find themselves upended and bewildered on the northern turf, wailed at by twenty thousand Yorkshiremen; while that cuddly soul Neil Warnock has reminded us of past disputes, albeit of a personal kind.
My Dad once spent a few days working on a Berkshire building site with the late Peter Osgood and the affable former striker regaled him with tales of previous clashes – Jack Charlton’s objection to the nickname ‘Giraffe’ and Ron Harris’s fierceness among them. Geographical distance and recent inactivity qualifies this antagonism as an unexpected one but it’s clear and present nevertheless.
The 1970 Cup Final that starred Osgood is viewed as the watershed moment – a snarl of whirling limbs on an Old Trafford mud heap every bit the equal of the initial tie’s excesses a few days before. Chelsea triumphed 2-1 in the replay, provoking Charlton to kick open the dressing room door and to claim that he had never been so angry to lose a game.
Eddie McCreadie’s Bruce Lee impression left Billy Bremner prostrate but that was only one of many abominable challenges peppering a period of several decades – indeed, it’s said that the rivalry was born over the course of a 1952 cup tie that went to two replays while Gus Poyet claimed that congenital dislike for Chelsea hastened his departure from the Leeds dug out along with Dennis Wise in more recent times.
The narrative contends that Chelsea’s Kings Road flashiness jarred with the parochial honesty of Yorkshire folk. While Sixties London swung and David Hemmings was snapping pictures, Leeds was swathed in the beige and fawn shades so memorably recalled in David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet.
But if the on-pitch mickey taking and thuggery was actually underpinned by a strong mutual respect, the really nasty stuff was reserved for the terraces. Fans of both clubs were among the most feared of the Seventies and Eighties and incidents were legion.
I myself was present at a meeting at Stamford Bridge early on in the 1982-3 season. Watching on from the family section of the white elephant of the East Stand, I watched as Chelsea hoodlums ripped seats from their moorings before hurling them a full thirty yards or so towards the caged pocket of Yorkshiremen to their right.
Thankfully, the sprawling, ungainly lay out of the Bridge in those days prevented too many injuries although earlier that afternoon, Piccadilly Circus tube station had been subjected to an encounter that led to 153 arrests.
Leeds’ fans appetite for a rumble was rarely sated, with trouble in Paris after defeat in the 1975 European Cup Final, a less than sporting reaction to relegation at West Brom in 1982, the death of a 14 year old after a wall collapsed at Birmingham in 1985 and a riot of pillaging in Bournemouth after the club returned to the big time in 1990 among the more notorious incidents.
Chelsea’s mob – with its core group known as the Headhunters – made every attempt to keep pace, even gaining a mention on John Craven’s Newsround after a relegation battle with Spurs in the 70s.
Initially, the clubs’ rivalry was fuelled by mutual success on the field and that cup final was one of many high profile matches during the glory years of The Big Match and Match of the Day. Both, however, ended up with perhaps less to show than they might have done given the talent available to them.
The Stretford win was followed by a Cup Winners’ Cup victory over Real Madrid in Athens while the 1972 League Cup Final was lost to Stoke. Leeds, meanwhile, might consider that two Championships, two Fairs Cups, a League Cup and an FA Cup was a disappointing return – a mighty haul it may be, but it pales into insignificance compared to those amassed by the arguably no more talented Liverpool and Manchester United sides of later years.
Perhaps the despair of so many near misses led to anguish in the stands. Either way, the slide for both was spectacular with that 1982 battle played out to a half empty stadium in the second division. Leeds met their nadir when Paul Petts scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 loss to Shrewsbury in 1983 while Chelsea shipped seven at Middlesbrough thirty four years ago this week.
John Neal reinvigorated the Londoners first – a marvellous team including the likes of Pat Nevin and Kerry Dixon clinching promotion back to Division 1 with a 5-0 battering of Leeds in April 1984 – another match at which I was present and one punctuated by multiple pitch invasions.
From then, fortunes were to diverge. Leeds took until 1990 to climb back and by the time Eric Cantona had scored a wonder goal in a 3-0 win over the Blues en route to the Peacocks’ unlikely national title two years later, the conflict had lost much of its niggle. True, there have been incidents since, but the money swirling around Stamford Bridge has helped Chelsea onto another level entirely; Leeds own attempt to recapture former glories foundering on the rocks of overspending and goldfish tanks.
The draw for tonight’s encounter did lead to much rubbing together of hands, however – and that’s perhaps because both clubs lack a serious rival closer to home.
Take Leeds. The only Yorkshire clubs of similar size are in Sheffield and are far more worried about each other than the West Riding crew. Nor – and in spite of an alleged attempt to set fire to a chip stall on a visit to Bradford City’ temporary home Odsal Stadium in the wake of the 1985 fire – can there be too strong a level of mutual distaste given the teams’ traditional difference in status (that may change if Leeds get through and the semi-final draw falls right of course).
At the height of their fame, Leeds could have jostled with Liverpool but the Kop provided hearty acclaim to the whites in April 1969 while Bill Shankly ordered a bottle of champagne for the visitors’ dressing room. Then Leeds tried to engineer a bitter hatred with Manchester United and even if most fans would still cite the Red Devils as the main enemy, it’s something of a one way affair, Eric Cantona’s sale and toe to toe meetings in the early nineties notwithstanding. War of the Roses? Nah.
Nor have Chelsea anyone to truly spit bile at. Their nouveaux riches status has allowed them to take on and beat Tottenham and Arsenal at regular intervals but both dislike each other more. Ditto West Ham and Millwall when it comes to off pitch matters while QPR and Fulham are just too small.
So The Daily Telegraph, while treating us this week to a few mementoes in advance of the fray, has admitted to the somewhat clichéd nature of the Leeds-Chelsea spat and how it is characterised. Indeed, the similarities between the two clubs are perhaps stronger than the differences – alongside the ‘nearly men’ results of the Seventies and the Division two dog days of the Eighties, the hooliganism and tribalism, both played bloody good football even if both could put a foot in. Despite the efforts of some, the occasion should pass by peacefully.