Chelsea vs. Leeds United : 11 December 2021.
I have penned six-hundred-and-thirty-four of these match reports. Such has been Leeds United’s absence from the top flight in English football that not one of them has featured our oldest and nastiest rivals from South Yorkshire. There was one rare meeting in December 2012 – away in the League Cup – but I didn’t attend that one; it came just too soon after the World Club Cup in Tokyo. I was in no mood to make a lone trip north for a mid-week game. And then, just over a year ago, there was the high-water mark of Frank Lampard’s tenure as Chelsea manager, the 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge that took us to the top of the league, but there was a limited attendance for that one of around a few thousand. Recovering from my heart attack, it was a game I really wasn’t in a fit enough condition to attend. The return game at Elland Road in March had no spectators at all.
As I drove to London early on Saturday morning – a fleeting but beautiful sunrise over Salisbury Plain, a beguiling mix of orange and pink, was the memorable highlight – I pondered a few topics and angles to use in this blogorama. It soon dawned on me that many of our newer fans, of which there are utterly millions, have never witnessed the heated rivalry of a Chelsea and Leeds United league game at a packed Stamford Bridge stadium.
The last such occasion was in May 2004.
The last game of the season, Claudio Ranieri’s last game in charge, a 1-0 win for us, Goodnight Vienna, Goodbye Leeds. I watched that one in the West Lower, freeing up my ticket for Glenn’s mate Tomas from Berlin. A Jesper Gronkjaer goal gave us the points to secure a second place finish behind Arsenal. I wonder whatever happened to them?
But let’s go back further.
The first time that I saw Leeds United in person was in the Second Division in October 1982, a game with a phenomenally malevolent atmosphere before, during and no doubt after. Chelsea had been playing in the second tier since 1979, Leeds were newly-relegated. It seemed almost implausible, to my eyes and to others, that these two giants were now out of the top flight. But the thought of Chelsea playing Leeds, with me able to attend, certainly galvanised me during the close season. The anticipation was palpable. Throughout the previous campaign, our highest home attendance was 20,036. Yet this game smashed that; 25,358 attended and it no doubt drew in the hooligan element of which we had thousands. Leeds had signed off their long membership of the old First Division with a loss at West Brom, sending them down, and their equally notorious hooligans wrecked the away end as a parting gift.
I will not lie. In those days, football was often an afterthought in many attendees’ minds. It was all about “how many away fans, did they go in the seats, any trouble?”
Chelsea and Leeds.
Back against each other for the first time in three seasons.
It was a huge match.
I watched a dire 0-0 draw from The Shed, but can well remember the amazingly heated and noisy atmosphere. I can recollect the northern sections of The Benches and the Gate 13 section of the East Lower to be absolutely rammed with Herberts, goading the travelling thousands from the north in the middle two pens in the sweeping away terrace. How many did Leeds bring? I am not sure. Maybe 3,000, maybe more. There was a welcome and a warning on the front page of the programme for all Leeds fans; “don’t be a mug, don’t be a thug and help your club achieve greatness once again” but there were outbreaks of violence throughout the game.
I also vividly remember The Shed goading the away support :
“Did the (Yorkshire) Ripper get your Mum?”
Different, crazy, brutal times.
From that encounter in 1982/83 I was then able to watch every single Chelsea versus Leeds United league game until that match in 2003/04. This was a run of seventeen unbroken games, and for around ten of these I would always meet up with my college mate Bob, a Leeds season-ticket holder, who got to know my closest Chelsea mates in the pub before disappearing into the away section. Bob also came down to Stamford Bridge for the Liverpool game in 1986, the West Ham game in 1987 and went with me to Forest in 1987 and also to Old Trafford for the FA Cup game in 1988. I accompanied him to Elland Road to see West Brom in the last league game of 1986/87, and I remember smirking as the Leeds fans alongside me in the South Stand – hoolie central – sang about guns and Chelsea scum.
I wore it as a badge of honour that they sung about us when we weren’t even playing each other.
There were the blissful moments when our promotion from the old Second Division was reached in 1984 with a memorable 5-0 demolition of Leeds United at home, then the wonderful repeat in 1989 albeit with a narrower 1-0 win to secure promotion once again against the same opponents.
I can well remember meeting up with Bob, another college mate Trev who also followed Leeds, and my Rotherham United mate Ian, all of whom watched many of Leeds’ games as they closed in on the 1991/92 League Championship. We were sat in a pub in Worcester Park on an afternoon session after the season had finished, and the lads were reminiscing on a few of the games that had given Leeds the title, and not Manchester United. Because of my friendships with these lads, I was definitely in the Leeds corner as 1991/92 came to its conclusion. I just despised Manchester United in those days. Deep down, I still do. I remember asking Bob “what did it feel like when you won the game at Bramall Lane to win the league?” and the sub-text was undoubtedly “what will it feel like if Chelsea ever win the league?”
In the summer of 1992, Chelsea Football Club seemed light years away from silverware.
But I was genuinely happy for my Leeds mates; all lovely chaps, bless ‘em.
From relegation in 1982 to a Football League Championship – the last “real” one, and one with Eric Cantona playing for Leeds – was some turnaround.
Sitting in that pub on a warm summer day, I could not help but think back on that classic Second Division season of 1983/84 – arguably the strongest ever – when the five powerhouses of Chelsea, Leeds United, Manchester City, Newcastle United and Sheffield Wednesday faced-off. At the end of it all – my favourite ever season – Leeds, along with City, missed out on promotion. Yet here they were, finally promoted in 1990, winning the bloody league ahead of the other four. In fact, all four other protagonists had managed to get themselves relegated again since 1984.
The saying “whoever laughs last, laughs longest” never felt more applicable.
Our rivalry, of course, dates back specifically to 1970 – and arguably for a few seasons before it – but there was definitely a renaissance at certain times since. In the early ‘nineties, Leeds tended to have the upper hand over us, and I hated it. They beat us at Stamford Bridge in 1990/91 and 1991/92 and also in 1994/95, a horrible 0-3 loss.
But I remember a game in April 1996 too. I watched that game in the temporary seats of the Shed End alongside Rotherham Ian and his father too – a nice memory – while Bob and Trev were in the away section of the East Lower. Chelsea won 4-1 with Mark Hughes getting a lovely hat-trick; that must have annoyed the fuck out of the away fans. Sadly, the gate was only 22,000 at a time when our capacity was at the 31,000 mark. The gaping holes in the North Stand – yet to become The Matthew Harding – make my eyes smart. Sigh.
Leeds United were relegated at the end of that 2003/04 season. There was a certain amount of schadenfreude when their last game that season was at Stamford Bridge.
“Be off with you, and take your father’s gun too.” Or words to that effect.
In 2005, our erstwhile chairman Ken Bates took over as Leeds chairman and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The Leeds fans, to a man, woman and dog, definitely cried.
They eventually crawled back to the top flight of English football at the end of the 2019/20 season.
“What took you?”
There had been the usual pre-match at “The Eight Bells” with friends from near and far. For the first time, I approached Putney Bridge by car from the south side of the river and was able to drop Paul and Parky right outside the pub; door to door service indeed. By the time I had parked-up and then caught the tube to join them it was 10.30am. Gillian and Kev from Edinburgh were already with them; lucky enough to grab tickets from the ticket exchange at the last minute. They were not watching together though; Kev was in the MHU, Gillian was in the West Lower. Luke and then Aroha showed up, and also Courtney and Mike from Chicago. A few of the Kent lads sat at the bar. At last I was able to meet up with revered Chelsea author Walter Otton and it was a great pleasure to be able to personally thank him for his support in my endeavours over recent seasons.
There was talk of not only Chelsea but Leeds hiring boats to the game; a River Thames cruise apiece from out east to nearby Putney, across the river. I had visions of some bizarre medieval boating battle with jousting poles, or maybe a violent version of the university boat race (“with more than two cox”)
Outside the Fulham Broadway tube, I sensed the presence of a little mob of Leeds; just by their looks and stares. They were close by a line of police. We edged around them. By the time I had reached my seat in the MHU – with Gary talking about Leeds lads slapping a few Chelsea fans outside, unchallenged – I was absolutely ready for the football to begin.
Azpilicueta – Silva – Rudiger
James – Jorginho – Loftus-Cheek – Alonso
Mount – Havertz – Werner
So, still no starting place for our number nine.
Leeds United were without Patrick Bamford, the former Chelsea youngster. Unlike on many occasions at Stamford Bridge, Leeds wore the all-white kit, albeit with some nasty luminous yellow socks. On quite a few times over the years they used to opt for the all yellow kit. There were three thousand Leeds fans in The Shed, but I didn’t spot a single flag nor banner.
The match began and, just like against the United of Manchester, we absolutely dominated the first quarter of an hour or so.
An early free-kick from Reece James went close but not close enough. It was all Chelsea. My usual match-going companion Alan was absent – COVID19 – so I was sat in his seat next to Clive. In my seat, a Chelsea fan from Scunthorpe.
There was a rising shot from Ruben Loftus-Cheek that crashed into the Shed Upper.
“They’ve hardly attacked us yet, mate.”
On thirteen minutes, a loud “Marching On Together” – their battle hymn – and soon after, Leeds enjoyed their first real attack. A shot from the lively Raphinha was blocked, but the Brazilian then forced a fine save from Mendy.
It’s interesting that the Mendy song did not make an appearance during the game. I am not sure that if there is an agreed-upon life-cycle of a chant at football, but this one is still in its infancy; heard at the densely-packed away terraces, but not yet widely-known enough to warrant a full-throttle rendition at Stamford Bridge. Yet.
There was a Leeds corner, and this elicited the other Leeds battle-cry which always follows the awarding of a Leeds corner.
“Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!”
Loud and original. I can’t fault that.
Thiago Silva was trying his best to orchestrate things, looking to float balls into space or to pick out runners. But it was a hard slog. There was little room in the final third.
Mid-way through the half, a loud chant from the away quadrant :
“Marcos Alonso. You should be in jail.”
This was answered by the Chelsea faithful with a typically antagonistic chant of our own aimed at a Leeds native. I don’t like even thinking about the man, let alone saying it, singing it, nor writing it.
The Alonso chant was repeated and almost without pause for thought, our left wing-back took a wild swipe at Daniel James. It was a clear penalty.
Raphinha’s stuttering run was almost against the spirit of the game, but Mendy took the bait. However, he seemed to collapse too soon and the Brazilian’s gentle prod to his right ended up a mere yard or so away from him.
The Leeds fans roared, Rapinha wound up the MHL, game on.
On the half-hour, a very loud “Marching On Together” was met with an even louder “Carefree” and everything was alright with the world. At last, the atmosphere was simmering along nicely. But I couldn’t help saying to Clive “there’s a lack of invention and guile out there today.”
A few minutes later, the third Leeds battle cry of the day.
“We are the Champions, the Champions of Europe.”
This harks back to May 1975. A hotly disputed disallowed goal from Peter Lorimer and Leeds United would eventually lose the European Cup Final to Bayern Munich in Paris. I remember watching it on TV. They still feel aggrieved.
The Leeds fans still sing this almost fifty years later. Bloody hell, lads and lasses, let it go.
They must have hated seeing our “Champions Of Europe” signage on the West Stand if any of them got close to it.
With half-time approaching, sinner turned saint. Alonso won the ball on our left and played a brisk one-two with Timo Werner.
I whispered “(needs a) good cross Alonso”…and it was.
It flew low to the near post and Mason Mount whipped it home with one sweet swipe.
Soon after, a dipping free-kick from that man Alonso did not dip enough. Then the young Leeds ‘keeper Illan Meslier saved from Kai Havertz.
Chances had been rare and it was 1-1 at the break. There were no complaints with the score, but plenty of moans at the lack of quality in key areas.
We began a little brighter in the second-half but goal scoring chances were absolutely at a premium. Werner threatened a little, Havertz tried to link things together, but we missed a focal point.
Just before the half-hour mark, down below me, Raphinha slid in to prevent a raiding Antonio Rudiger cross. But the challenge was untidy and legs were tangled. Everyone yelled for a penalty. Some divs even yelled “VAR” which is anathema to me.
Penalty it was.
Get in you beauty.
I snapped away like a fool.
At the other end, a very fine save from Mendy from James, but still no song. Silva messed up a great chance to further our lead and held his head in his hands. It wasn’t a great second-half, but we noted that Alonso improved as the game continued. He was always looking to get close to the man with the ball and on a number of occasions did just enough to help win the ball back.
Clive and I wondered if Tuchel might bolster the midfield and bring on Ross Barkley to bulk it up a little. Leeds were tending to swarm through us and we looked out of shape, physically and positionally.
Christensen for Azpilicueta.
Hudson-Odoi for Werner.
Then, a lightning bolt of an attack down the Leeds left and another low cross, a la Alonso, from in front of the East Lower. Joe Gelhardt arrived with perfect timing to knock the ball in past Mendy. The Leeds fans roared some more.
In a seemingly desperate “last throw of the dice” moment, Lukaku replaced Alonso. There were three minutes to go, and then an extra five.
“COME ON CHELS.”
With ninety-four minutes played, and with Clive having headed for the exits a few minutes earlier, Rudiger again found himself in the Leeds United box. There was a half-hearted challenge from behind but my first thoughts were that Rudiger crumpled far too easily. I didn’t even appeal. I’d be no good at cricket. This one went to VAR again. Another positive decision. And a quicker decision, I think, this time.
GET IN YOU BEAUTY.
Chelsea 3 Leeds United 2.
It hadn’t been a great game in terms of quality. We had hardly peppered the Leeds goal. But it was certainly an old-fashioned battle which became more intriguing as the game developed. As I walked out of the MHU, there was one almighty melee occurring on the far side between the players of good old Chelsea and good old Leeds.
Some things don’t change, eh?
To be continued at Elland Road in April, no doubt.
Next up, Everton at home on Thursday. See you there.
1995/1996 : From The Shed.
2003/2004 : Joe And Jesper.
2021/22 : High Fives.
2021/22 : Chelsea Smiles.
2021/22 : The Winner.