United's opening game of the 1972/73 season, at
Stamford Bridge against old rivals Chelsea, left an unfamiliar
set of players enduring the most miserable of afternoons.
Although 24-year-old David Harvey had proved a few
months earlier that he was one of the most outstanding young keepers
in the game as he helped United win the FA Cup for the first time,
Leeds fans were still coming to terms with Harvey's promotion
over long time first choice, Gary Sprake.
That same afternoon Sprake was playing for United
reserves against West Bromwich Albion at Elland Road; joining
him was former England centre-half, Jack
Charlton, now 37, and nearing the end of a 20-year career
Terry Cooper, one of the world's best left-backs,
also missed the Chelsea trip, nursing the fractured leg he sustained
against Stoke City four months earlier.
Completing the list of absentees were Norman Hunter
and Allan Clarke, both unavailable through suspension.
During the close season, Whites
manager Don Revie had recruited defensive reinforcements,
signing the two Huddersfield Town centre-backs, Trevor Cherry
and Roy Ellam, and both men made their United debuts at Stamford
Bridge. Though Cherry wore Cooper's No 3 shirt, he partnered Ellam
at the heart of the back four, with Paul Madeley playing left-back.
Of the customary rearguard, right-back Paul Reaney was the only
member on show.
Mick Bates lined up alongside Billy Bremner and
Johnny Giles in a midfield three with Peter Lorimer and Eddie
Gray supporting spearhead Mick Jones. Terry Yorath was named substitute.
If United's team had an unfamiliar ring to it, the
West London surroundings were every bit as alien. Brian Woolnough
in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "The massive redevelopment project
at Stamford Bridge means that Leeds United players will change
in portable changing rooms and receive treatment in a caravan
when they open their League programme against Chelsea on Saturday.
The whole of the East Stand has been knocked down, leaving the
popular side of Chelsea's ground a mass of rubble and bricks.
"Chelsea have spent £30,000 on portable accommodation
for the players, who will also have to walk 75
yards through the crowd to get on to the pitch.
"Directors, the Press and season ticket holders
have been switched to the North Stand, the stand closed last season
because of shuddering reports… 'We have told the season ticket
holders who will use that stand that they will be refused admission
if they are not in their seats 15 minutes before the start,' said
Chelsea secretary Tony Green today. 'We just couldn't have them
walking along the pitch when the game was about to start or even
"Stamford Bridge still looks a complete shambles
and Green admitted: 'There is a lot of work to be done before
Saturday. Another headache is getting the public used to the new
site and entrances.'
"Chelsea are expecting a 50,000 crowd for the visit
of United. It will be a severe test of their temporary arrangements
but a good guide for the rest of the season.
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"This is the first stage of Chelsea's £5,500,000
new look plan. The new East Stand - a two-tier cantilever stand
costing £1m - will not be in operation until the beginning of
next season. So all clubs face changing in portable accommodation
There were more than 50,000 people packed into the
Bridge for the game, and many of the younger supporters spilled
out onto the old greyhound track after a barrier buckled in the
Shed End. This doubtlessly averted potential problems on the terracing
later in the day. Chelsea were pilloried by the Press for the
chaos before and during the game. The club subsequently cut the
standing capacity of Stamford Bridge by 7,000 and during the reconstruction
period the crowd limit was set at 44,000.
The club's plans for the transformation of Stamford
Bridge were almost fatally ambitious, comprising the development
of a 60,000 all seater circular stadium. The project was described
as the "most ambitious ever undertaken in Britain" and the timing
could hardly have been worse. The project coincided with a global
economic crisis and was hit by delays, a builders' strike and
shortage of materials, all of which sent the costs spiralling
viciously, to the extent that the club were £3.4m in debt by 1976.
Between August 1974 and June 1978, Chelsea were unable to fund
any transfers and had to sell their own star players to support
the huge financial drain.
In August 1972, though, Don Revie was understandably
cautious about the threat posed by Chelsea, considered by many
as potential champions. The United boss warned, "They have a first
class squad of players and the experience to do well. We know
we start with a difficult match."
The Blues had added two forwards, Chris Garland
and Steve Kember, since they beat United
in the 1970 FA Cup final, but the rest of their starting eleven
had been regulars for the preceding two or three seasons and were
very much a force to be reckoned with in their own stadium.
After a fine sunny morning in West London, the match
began in steadily falling rain. United kicked off wearing yellow
socks rather than their customary white.
Chelsea were the first to show any attacking intent,
with Kember feeding Charlie Cooke out on their left, but Reaney
alertly intervened to halt the move in its tracks and United were
soon pressing forward. They had a free kick in the Chelsea half
after four minutes which Lorimer swung high towards Peter Bonetti's
goal, but the keeper came out to gather confidently.
Chelsea continued to enjoy the best of the play,
with Alan Hudson exerting some early influence. The midfielder
fired over one cross from the right, only for Cooke to chip wide,
and then worked his way cleverly to the edge of the United area
before hammering in a shot which Harvey had to punch away.
The Leeds keeper had to save smartly thereafter
from two corners and was clearly winded following the second of
these incidents. However, he resumed following treatment from
Les Cocker and seemed able to cope with whatever handicap he was
suffering, plucking a high cross out of the air as Peter Osgood
went up with Reaney to challenge.
In the 25th minute the game turned fatefully against
United. Mick Jones injured an ankle in a tackle and, as reported
by Albert Barham in the Guardian, "Yorath, the substitute, flexed
his muscles but was waved back by Bremner, for, at the moment
Yorath was about to come on to the pitch for Jones, Harvey, the
goalkeeper, was being carried off for attention behind the goal.
He had earlier in the game been heavily buffeted at a couple of
corners when he appeared to collide with Ellam. Eventually he
was wheeled away on a stretcher to spend the night in Fulham Hospital
"In fact, the attempt to get Jones to walk proved
that he could not continue either, so it made no odds which of
them Yorath was substitute for. Lorimer wore Harvey's jersey and
at one stroke Leeds had lost a goalkeeper and two aggressive forwards.
Small wonder they are the most superstitious team in the country;
ill luck seems to hover over them."
In such adverse circumstances, Yorath was forced
to take up the cudgels in the unaccustomed role of lone striker,
a position for which he was ill suited.
There was no chance of Lorimer being shielded from
the thrust and slash of the Chelsea forward line and he was soon
under the severest of examinations. He showed a remarkable aptitude
for life between the posts, diving to save at Cooke's feet, punching
away a cross from John Hollins and once again denying Cooke.
Chelsea continued to pile the pressure on, provoking
some moments of tetchy ill temper. Kember clashed fiercely with
Bremner, prompting stern words for both men from Swansea referee
Tommy Reynolds, though only the Chelsea man had his name taken;
then Giles received a lecture for a stiff challenge on Hollins.
That was enough for the referee who called the two captains together
in order to lay down the law, stressing the importance of cool
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Just when it seemed that United would make it to
the interval without conceding, Chelsea opened the scoring. As
the match ticked into time added on, Garland was given the freedom
of United's penalty area and took the opportunity to make his
way across the face of goal before attempting the shot. His effort
was bravely blocked at point blank range by Lorimer but Peter
Osgood was on hand to slip home the rebound.
It had been a long time coming and United had done
exceptionally well to hold out for twenty minutes with ten men
and a substitute keeper; it was inevitable, though, that the home
side would make their advantage count and they were straight back
at Leeds when the game restarted.
Hollins made space for himself but fired high over
the bar in his over eagerness to shoot, and then Lorimer came
out with some assurance to gather a high cross from Kember. The
Scot continued to surprise the onlookers with a sound display
of goalkeeping, turning an Osgood shot round the post and then
saving a low shot from Hollins. However, he could not sustain
such heroics indefinitely.
As the harassed United defence struggled to keep
their heads above water, debut man Cherry was booked for scything
down McCreadie after 50 minutes as the Chelsea captain was going
full tilt down the flank.
A minute before the hour, the Blues registered the
long expected second goal. Hudson got hold of the ball in his
own half and then freed Cooke down the left with an astute long
ball. The Scottish wing man headed goalwards and hammered an angled
shot low past the helpless Lorimer.
The game was now being played out almost exclusively
in the United half, but the men in white made a rare excursion
upfield which ended with Giles getting in a shot. It would have
been understandable had Bonetti, for so long an isolated spectator
at the feast, been undone by a lack of concentration, but he was
alert to the danger and saved the effort.
That kind of respite for the Leeds defence was now
all too rare and Garland added Chelsea's third goal after 68 minutes.
Cooke fired a low pass across the face of goal, Osgood feinted
to accept it, deceiving and wrongfooting Ellam, and Garland accepted
the opportunity coolly, sliding home his shot.
Three minutes later, Yorath became the second United
player to have his name taken, going into the book for a foul
on the effervescent Cooke. It was more frustration than any genuine
malice that prompted the Welshman's action.
Five minutes from the end, Garland got his second
goal and Chelsea's fourth. The former Bristol City striker headed
home after some long crossfield passing between Cooke on the left
and Ron Harris on the right gave the Chelsea full-back the opportunity
to swing over a telling cross.
It was like the last fatal strike of a matador ending
the misery of a bull; minutes later United trooped off the pitch
a well-beaten and dishevelled outfit.
As Barry Foster observed in his report for the Yorkshire
Post, it might have been a very different outcome but for United's
early misadventures. "The match was finely balanced until midway
through the first half. Then Leeds received a double blow that,
despite a brave effort, they could not weather. One minute they
were holding their own, although already hit by injuries and suspensions
to top players, the next they had lost their centre-forward and
goalkeeper - and not even a side with the depth of talent of Leeds
United can take that kind of medicine.
"The two new boys from Huddersfield, Ellam and Cherry,
had made a cautious start and were just beginning to settle down
when first Jones went off with a twisted ankle and then, in the
same minute, Harvey followed him, leaving Leeds, with their substitute
on, down to ten men. Harvey had received attention after a heavy
goalmouth collision in the 11th minute but another heavy fall
had left him dizzy and a stretcher was called in.
"For the two injured it meant an unhappy start to
the season, for Ellam and Cherry it meant a nightmare debut situation
and for Leeds as a team it left a task to test the most gallant
hearts. They rose to it well, with Madeley and Reaney giving
tremendous performances but without Harvey, Lorimer had to go
into goal and without Lorimer and Jones the Leeds attack was completely
back to top
"Until the setback Leeds had shown the class, Chelsea
a lot of skill. After it, one sat back and waited for the goal
cloud to burst and reflected that matches between these two sides
almost always produce the unusual incident with Leeds not often
"Lorimer set about his task well. Ironically he
had been practicing hard during the week for just such an emergency
and he showed the value of that effort but Chelsea, particularly
in the second half, tested him from all distances and of the 16
attempts they got on target two by Garland and one each from Osgood
and Cooke provided goals. He could be blamed for only one, which,
on a day when Chelsea, all told, outgunned Leeds on goal attempts
by 26 to six, was an achievement in itself.
"Twice Leeds might have had a consolation goal but
Bonetti, who can seldom have had less to do in a match, foiled
Giles and Yorath - a tireless and for the most part one-man forward
"The game had its share of hard play and Cherry
and Yorath of Leeds and Kember of Chelsea had their names taken
for what appeared to be four-point offences under the new disciplinary
code. Leeds at least won on free kicks awarded for fouls - they
got 17 against Chelsea's 16. They may like to reflect, too, that
the last time they were beaten by a margin of four goals in the
League was in October 1968 - their title winning season."
Don Warters in the Yorkshire Evening Post: "Although
one could have only the highest possible praise for the brave
way the depleted side fought on there was only one conceivable
"Chelsea, who are being freely tipped to become
London's strongest and most successful side this season, were
in luck. You could almost see a sparkle come into their eyes as
they pressed forward eagerly and incessantly with the intention
- and no one can blame them for it - of taking the fullest possible
advantage of United's misfortune.
"In the circumstances, it was difficult to judge
the value of United's two new signings - £100,000 defender Trevor
Cherry and £30,000 centre-half Roy Ellam - from Huddersfield Town.
Both performed reasonably well in new surroundings and under the
inevitable extra strain which was placed on the whole side.
"United were virtually finished as an attacking
force after the 24th minute as they had to concentrate their
efforts on keeping out Chelsea. Paul Madeley did as much as anyone
in this respect, absorbing plenty of pressure and covering a lot
of ground. Lorimer, too, did as well as could be expected between
the posts and brought off several creditable saves. Reaney was
another player to stand out under the heavy pressure."
Norman Fox in the Times: "The rebuilding that Leeds
are doing is not guaranteed by a contractor. Their replacement
of Charlton is inevitable but only at the right time, and with
the right man. Undoubtedly, the confidence of the whole team was
"Ellam had none of Charlton's commanding character
and was never master of Osgood. His former Huddersfield colleague,
Cherry, was not much better.
"It is fairer to view this as Chelsea's success,
not Leeds United's failure. Chelsea were Chelsea, except that
they scored more than their usual number of goals. Their play
alternated between such inspired adventure that it seemed to be
showing the path of imagination and skill to the rest of British
football, and such lethargy that one wondered if they could score
more than twice."
After the extraordinary heights reached by United
earlier in 1972, this opening day defeat was a sad wake up call
for Don Revie, hinting at a challenging season to come. The defeat
could not be laid solely at the feet of Roy Ellam, but the former
Huddersfield men had been dreadfully uncertain in his play and
seemed to be like a rabbit caught in the headlights as he was
asked to perform in such exalted company. It was very early days
but he certainly convinced nobody that he was the solution to
the vexing question of who would be the long term successor to
Jack Charlton at the heart of the United defence.
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