“We’ve got some memories, albeit from the Seventies…”
So sang Suggs some twenty years ago in his cup final classic ‘Blue Day’ – and indeed, in 1997, the Madness frontman and his fellow Chelsea fans had to look as far back as 1970 for a tale of FA Cup triumph – and even then, it would take a replay. Nevertheless, as the dawn of a new millennium loomed large, a Blue Day at Wembley was finally on the horizon, with the boys from Stamford Bridge ending a decades-long drought in style. Kicking off our Retro Month, we revisit the finals that book-ended this era, as Chelsea lifted their first two FA Cup trophies.
1970: Chelsea vs Leeds United
The 1970 FA Cup Final was a real war of attrition; a bruising struggle between South and North, as Dave Sexton’s colourful Chelsea side, skippered by Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris tackled Don Revie’s hard-nosed Leeds, typified by titans Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles.
Played on the grand stage of a bustling Wembley Stadium, the initial final on Saturday 11th April was a prime piece of sporting theatre, held unusually in April to allow the defending English national team time to acclimatise ahead of the upcoming 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
With the Wembley surface feeling the effects of a recent ‘Horse of the Year’ show, Jack Charlton handed Leeds a 20th-minute lead, only for courageous Chelsea to battle back to 1-1; Battersea boy Peter Houseman unleashing a long-range hit that slid under Gary Sprake.
As conditions worsened, a hard-fought contest looked to have been settled in favour of favourites United, with Mick Jones netting their second late on. However, Chelsea’s London pride stayed strong and the spirited Blues struck again with four minutes remaining; injured hero Ian Hutchinson heading in a second equaliser at the near post, from John Hollins’ cross.
A consequence of the poor state of the Wembley pitch, the midweek replay on 29th April was moved to Old Trafford and garnered huge interest across the country, attracting an audience of over 28 million to become the most-watched club match in British television history.
An epic physical battle, Chelsea again had to do things the hard way; trailing for much of the match before Peter Osgood’s diving header cancelled out Jones’ opener with 12 minutes left.
The decisive moment came in extra-time, as Hutchinson propelled one of his signature long throws into the danger zone. Looping its way across to makeshift centre David Webb, the Londoner duly nodded home from close range to give the Blues their first advantage of the entire 1970 final. Crucially, it was a lead that they would retain.
As Harris held the trophy high, some tranquility finally engulfed Old Trafford. In a month that saw Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ at #1, the Stamford Bridge side had risen to the challenge in the North’s canal capital, capturing their first FA Cup.
1997: Chelsea vs Middlesbrough
Winding the clock forward almost three decades, 1997 saw Men in Black rather than blue command the cinemas, otherworldly Teletubbies land on our TV screens and the United Kingdom sweep to Eurovision Song Contest glory on the crest of Katrina and the Waves.
At the dawn of May, the first Labour government in a generation washed into Downing Street, turning the British political landscape red. In contrast, the FA Cup Final weeks later proved to be a Blue Day indeed, as Chelsea tackled Premier League rivals Middlesbrough.
Three seasons after a 1994 defeat to Manchester United, the 75th FA Cup Final played under the Wembley twin towers was a match with a distinct international flavour, as Blues boss Ruud Gullit attempted to become the first overseas coach to win the coveted trophy.
A total of 12 nationalities were represented on the Wembley field, with Chelsea’s dazzling Italian talisman Gianfranco Zola joined by Frenchman Frank Leboeuf and Romanian Dan Petrescu against Boro’s Fabrizio Ravanelli and the Brazilians, Juninho and Emerson.
With such a high calibre of player on display, an exciting encounter on May 17th was almost a given, though few could have anticipated the standout moment would come with a mere 43 seconds on the clock; Roberto Di Matteo firing home the fastest goal in FA Cup Final history.
A 1996 recruit from Lazio, Di Matteo had coincidentally netted against Middlesbrough on his Stamford Bridge debut. However, the midfielder’s long-range strike at Wembley would mark the Italian international’s crowning achievement in English football; preceding an eventual return to SW6 that saw him manage the club to FA Cup and Champions League honours.
As fate would have it, it was Di Matteo’s 2012 assistant and a local Hammersmith lad who put the blue icing on the 1997 cup cake. With under ten minutes remaining, Eddie Newton sidefooted home the conclusive second, ensuring the FA Cup finally returned to the Bridge.
A fitting tribute to club director Matthew Harding, who had tragically passed the previous October, Chelsea’s 1997 triumph would have a similarly lasting legacy, paving the way for 15 more major trophies in the 18 years to follow, including both League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup honours the following season. They’d waited so long… but they’d not wait forever. AC