Why do Chelsea & Leeds fan hate each other? Rivalry explained

If there is one thing that English football is not short of, then it is surprisingly ferocious rivalries between clubs – and the one shared by Chelsea and Leeds is among the most bitter.

On the surface, there is little you’d think that would even bring these two clubs together. They are 200 miles apart and, in terms of the modern era at least, have rarely even been in the same division.

Football rivalries are rarely logical, though. In fact, very little about football generally is logical.

So, what is the basis for the fierce rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds?

How did the Chelsea and Leeds rivalry start?

While geography obviously plays no direct part in the Chelsea and Leeds rivalry, it is borne of both football and cultural factors.

Neither one of them could have produced the rivalry by themselves, but together they have proven a potent recipe for mutual antagonism.

The rivalry actually dates back to the 1960s, when neither club were in the top tier, which was the First Division back then. Both were trying to get there, though.

In the 1962/63 season, Leeds and Chelsea were fighting it out for promotion. Chelsea pipped the Yorkshire club to the post, finishing second behind champions Stoke City. A year later, Leeds joined them.

After a year apart, they immediately became rivals again, with Leeds finishing second in the First Division the following year, one place above Chelsea – who won the League Cup.

For the next few years, they were locked together in battle towards the top of English football, with Leeds definitely getting the better of the League exchanges.

How did the rivalry become so bitter?

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Leeds were an incredible team. In fact, they were downright revolutionary. While we talk casually and acceptingly of the ‘dark arts’ of football today, Leeds were the side who practically invented it.

They were able to marry their brilliant football with a core of solid steel, and they were nasty. The nickname ‘dirty Leeds’ was attached to them in that era and with good reason. Don Revie’s side were physical to the point of brutality and they were masters of winding up the opposition.

The things we see today such as persistent fouling, time wasting, crowding the referee to argue decisions and deliberately targeting opposition players… they were all done by Leeds first in England.

Had they not been so superb at it – and successful with it – few would have hated it so much, but the fact is they were an exceptional football team.

It was not only Chelsea who disliked them either. If you have seen the famous scene in The Damned United when Michael Sheen, depicting Brian Clough, tells the Leeds players on his first day in charge they can ‘throw all their medals in the bin as they’ve not won any of them fairly,’ you have seen a fictional account of a very real disdain Clough had for Leeds.

Similarly, the 1974 Charity Shield between Leeds and Liverpool in which Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner were sent off for fighting is another example of it.

So, while Leeds’ brutally cynical winning football is not the only factor in the rivalry with Chelsea, it is a very big reason why it started.

What role did culture play in the rivalry?

While social media and telecommuting has broken down many of the cultural differences between regions nowadays, in the 1960s and 1970s England was a much more territorial place.

Leeds and Chelsea were polar opposites in that regard.

While Leeds was a northern industrial working class city, Chelsea represented the glitz and glamour of London and the decadence of the Kings Road.

For many, probably most, supporters back then, they were utterly irreconcilable differences. The gritty and wonderfully gruff Yorkshire men and women saw Chelsea as soft and pampered southerners. Meanwhile, Chelsea saw the Leeds fans as loud and brash northerners.

Those differences on the terraces grew into something much more sinister with the rise of hooligan culture around the same time, and rivalry became hatred due to ugly scenes between the various firms.

That atmosphere fed into what was already a fierce rivalry, played between two very physical teams, and it boiled over on the pitch.

Leeds and Chelsea rivalry on the pitch

The matches were always incredibly physical to the point of football being completely secondary. Players like Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris of Chelsea and Leeds’ Norman ‘bite your legs’ Hunter relished such occasions and often set the tone for the games, although they were far from alone in that.

Their matches were mostly the same in terms of brutality but the one that really stands out was the 1970 FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford. Chelsea won it 2-1, but that was not really the story.

It’s hard to describe it to modern fans accustomed to the relatively tame football of today, but it’s best illustrated by an experiment in 2000.

One of the top referees of that time was David Ellery, and he re-refereed that game retrospectively. He adjudged that there should have been an astonishing six players sent off. If a similar experiment was done today, that would almost certainly be eight or nine.

That is why it is an iconic match in English football history and the definitive one of the rivalry.

Modern day rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds

Leeds and Chelsea have not met on the pitch much in the last 20 years or so, and they have certainly not been fighting for the same honours.

You would think that would mean the rivalry has subsided a little, but for the fans that is not the case.

Perhaps Ken Bates, the former Chelsea owner, thought that too when he bought Leeds in 2005. He had strong associations with Chelsea and the Leeds fans immediately made it clear that they did not want that anywhere near the corridors of power of their club.

To make matters worse, Bates appointed Chelsea legend Dennis Wise as manager with Gus Poyet, another former Blue, as his assistant. It caused an uproar, with Poyet later admitting fans were always against them due to their Chelsea connections.

Clearly, while the football has no longer dictated cause for rivalry, history has taken over the mantle and it remains as ferocious as ever.

Chelsea vs Leeds head-to-head record

MatchesChelsea winsLeeds winsDraws

Top scorers in games between Leeds and Chelsea

Peter OsgoodChelsea7
Peter LorimerLeeds7
Mick JonesLeeds6
John SpencerChelsea4
Eidur GudjohnsenChelsea4

Source: 90mins

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