Whites legend Eddie Gray on how the Leeds United and Chelsea rivalry all began

Former referee David Elleray felt the 1970 FA Cup final replay between Leeds United and Chelsea warranted six red cards and 20 yellows.

By Lee Sobot
Thursday, 9th December 2021, 4:45 am

Elleray’s assessment was made 27 years later in 1997.

Twenty-three years on, modern-day official Michael Oliver went a few steps farther, handing out 11 reds and 16 bookings as he refereed the contest through current rules.

A newly-emerging rivalry between Leeds and Chelsea was reaching its peak, a rivalry that will be renewed once again at Stamford Bridge this weekend.

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BATTLES: Whites winger Eddie Gray and Leeds United had regular fierce tussles against Chelsea in the 1960s and 1970s, notably in the 1970 FA Cup final and replay, above. Picture by Varleys.

Yet 51 years after featuring in the famous 1970 cup final, Whites legend Eddie Gray says times are now very different and that newly-promoted Leeds will face a team that is almost the finished article in addition to a historic rival.

With wing wizard Gray starring out wide, Leeds were often the finished article under legendary former boss Don Revie whose side scooped two league titles, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Charity Shield during his magnificent 13 years in charge.

Yet Gray knows there could and should have been even more honours and the club that Leeds will visit this weekend denied the Whites another such honour over two epic battles in April 1970.

By then, Leeds and Chelsea were very much fierce enemies, a rivalry Gray says was fuelled by the north-south divide during continued clashes in the 1960s, if not before.

More often than not, says Gray, Leeds came out on top, even if the 1970 cup final defeat and also a loss in the 1967 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park still rankles.

But Gray is mindful that five decades later it is now Thomas Tuchel’s Blues who are at the top of their game ahead of a clash that will evoke plenty of memories for United’s former legendary winger.

“I think probably you go back a long time,” Gray tells the YEP, assessing where the Leeds and Chelsea rivalry all began.

“I remember playing them in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Villa Park and they beat us 1-0.

"But Peter Lorimer scored a goal that day, he smacked it in but the referee disallowed it and there was a little bit of chirping on the pitch and that.

“You had the ’70 cup final as well when we should probably have won the game and Chelsea ended up winning it with a late David Webb goal in the replay at Old Trafford.

"I think it just stems from there.

“I remember beating them by seven one day at Elland Road but they beat us 4-1 one day at Stamford Bridge when Peter had to go in goal because our goalkeeper got injured.

"But I think a bit of it in that era also stems from the north-south divide - the London clubs and Leeds United.

“They had Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham and they thought they were top dogs and, all of a sudden, a Leeds United team came along as well as obviously Liverpool and the Manchester clubs.”

Recalling his memories of the 1970 FA Cup final replay in which incredibly Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson picked up the game’s only card, a yellow, Gray pondered: “There were a lot of games when you look back today, late ’60s, early ’70s where just let’s say there wouldn’t be as many players left on the football pitch at the end of the game.

“Chelsea was one of them games where it was always going to be tough because you had physical players and good footballers on both sides.

“The physical players were trying to put the so-called skilful players out of the game and, in those days, you got away with challenges a bit more than you do nowadays.

"They had tough men in their team, we had tough players in our side, both sides had good footballers.

"They had the likes of Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke and Peter Houseman and players like that. Both sides had players that could play as well as being tough players.

“When we played in the replay, Chopper Harris caught me a beauty on my knee and that ended me for the rest of the game.

“But, in those days, you knew somebody was going to try and do that. But you just had to avoid it! I stayed on but it hindered me for the rest of the game.

“But, from the Chelsea point of view, Chopper will have been seen to have done his job that he was supposed to do.”

Fifty-one years later. Chelsea’s task will be bouncing back from last weekend’s surprise 3-2 defeat at West Ham.

But Gray knows Tuchel’s Blues are every inch title contenders who are 17 points and 12 places higher up the table than 15th-placed Leeds.

The Whites legend reasoned: “When I look back, it was a bit different for me because we could compete with them all.

“But now it’s a bit more difficult for us. We are at the other end of the table to the likes of Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea, teams that we had great battles with.

“But we just have to concentrate on each game as it comes and, regardless of who we are playing, go out and give the best they can and a good account of themselves and try and pick something up from the game and get on with it.

"We are still in a building process in terms of Premier League football and the top sides.

“Chelsea are nearly the finished article right now, they are one of the top sides and we will be going down there as underdogs.

"But that doesn’t mean we can’t pick anything up out of the game and, regardless of that, the rivalry will still be there between our fans and their fans. It will be a great atmosphere.”

Recalling his first-ever taste of Leeds facing Chelsea - back in 1966 - Gray recalled: “You remember all the teams you went to, especially when you went to London.

"But you knew the players we had and the players they had, players like Eddie McCreadie and Chopper Harris and the likes of Peter Osgood, top players.

“The games were always going to be tough. But our players could handle any atmosphere and that’s the thing you have got to do when you go to these clubs.

"You have got to be able to handle the atmosphere and the expectation level of your own fans.

"Our fans will be going down to Chelsea and you only need to hear them at Elland Road ‘we hate Chelsea’.

“There is a rivalry there between the Leeds supporters and the Chelsea fans so the Leeds United fans will want our players to go down there and put a good show on, no doubt about that.”

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Thank you Laura Collins