In the dressing room before Leeds United played Chelsea last Saturday at London's Wembley Stadium in the Football Association Cup Final, soccer's equivalent of the Super Bowl, one of the Leeds players solemnly bounced a soccer ball off his head 10 times. He was Jack Charlton, a tall man with a thick, elongated neck, and he looked a good deal like a seal as he went through his ritual. Not far away another Leeds player did the same thing. No one laughed.
The captain of the Leeds team, a stumpy, sandy-haired man named Billy Bremner, who has been named the Player of the Year in the English Football Association, took a lukewarm bath. Manager Don Revie, a big man with a face like a St. Bernard and the kind eyes of a cocker spaniel, was busy giving another player a back rub. Just before the team left to take the field against Chelsea, Paul Madeley, another player who had only recently gained some fame by refusing a place on the English World Cup soccer team on the grounds that he was tired and his wife was pregnant, ricocheted a soccer ball off Revie's trouser leg.
Going onto the field, Revie walked to the left of Trainer Les Cocker, who was wearing a rather shiny blue mohair suit and a scruffy blue tie that he has worn every match day for the last seven years. All of these things were designed to bring the Leeds players luck against Chelsea; luck has been conspicuously absent from the Leeds horoscope for some time now. What it brought them this time was one of the most unlucky 2-2 draws in recent Cup history; they overwhelmed Chelsea on a soggy field at Wembley and should have won this game, in regular time, handily. As it was, they settled for a tie after a 30-minute overtime, and no one will know who gets to own the Football Association Cup in 1970 until some time on the night of April 29, when the same two teams meet in a replay at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester.
Leeds United this year has been the Green Bay of soccer. It is a tough, solid, unspectacular side that depends on unrelenting pressure and perfect execution for victory, and not long ago the team seemed likely to win the regular league championship of the Football Association, the Football Association Cup (a kind of tournament play which goes along at the same time as league play) and the European Cup, another tournament that includes European champions. This would have been a triple on the order of Bobby Jones' Grand Slam in golf.
Chelsea, on the other hand, has played the old Mets on the English sports scene until very recently. At one time a restaurant in Chelsea had a sign in the window offering a free dinner to all comers if Chelsea ever won the Cup. The restaurant is now out of business but not because of a plethora of free dinners; in the 65 years the club has been in existence since its creation in a pub off Fulham Road it has never won a Cup.
Chelsea used to be a sure laugh-getter in vaudeville turns. Back in the '30s one Norman Long, a music hall comedian, wrote a ditty called On the Day That Chelsea Went and Won the Cup. One of the stanzas went, "Doctors wrote prescriptions we all could understand/and Gordon Richard wore Carnera's trousers down the Strand/on the day that Chelsea went and won the Cup."
The coach of the Chelsea team is Dave Sexton, who has no deep and abiding superstitions, as far as anyone knows. It is difficult to know, however, since Sexton is a modest, shy man who answers most questions in two words, looking at the ground. He is also a strong taskmaster; in personality, he is the Vince Lombardi of soccer so far as his players are concerned. Revie, on the other hand, is the George Allen of the game. Not that Allen is as superstitious as Revie, although the coach of the Rams is aware of luck. But Revie provides the same tender loving care for his athletes that Allen does; when he learned that Paul Reaney, one of his better players, had broken a leg in a game against West Ham nine days before the Cup Final he burst into tears. Not because he had lost a fine player; even Lombardi might cry if he lost Sonny Jurgensen before a Redskin game. Revie cried out of sympathy for Reaney, who had been named to the English World Cup team.
Once he took the Leeds players 40 miles out of their way so they could spend five minutes with a young fan who was dying in a hospital. Given a far better offer as manager of the Sunderland team a few years ago, he accepted it at first, then turned it down when he went into the Leeds dressing room to pack his kit and found some junior players crying over his departure.
"I decided to stay," he said. "I promised the parents of these youngsters that I would look after them and I can't go back on that promise." He has looked after them very well.
A few nights before this game, in the Queens Arms, a pub on Fulham Road not far from the Chelsea home field, the conversation, expectably, was about the Chelsea club. An old gaffer in the blue, high-necked uniform of a Royal Hospital pensioner (the equivalent of a disabled veteran) was explaining to his friends what Sexton had done for this club. Chelsea has, for several years, had individual talent, but only in the last few has it been cohesive. The little old man held up a trembling hand, fingers spread, and peered at his listeners through rheumy blue eyes.
"This was the side before Dave came," he said. "All of them goin' their individual ways, like the fingers on me hand." He wiggled the fingers to demonstrate. Then he made a shaky fist. "And this is what Dave did to them," he said. "He put them all together and now they hit together, like me fist." He started to hit himself in the palm with his fist, and remembered only just in time that he was holding a pint of bitter in his other hand.
Chelsea, an area about a dollar's cab ride from the center of London, has gone berserk over the team. Streamers span the streets reading SEXTON'S SIZZLERS and CHELSEA—1970 CUP CHAMPIONS, and in the boutiques and mod men's shops that line King's Road, every shop has a picture of the club in the window or a sign proclaiming undying love. Not all of the signs are sincere.
In one shop featuring super one-sex clothes, a visitor asked the proprietor what his sign meant. "I have no idea," he said disdainfully. "Two chaps brought it in and threatened to bash in my window if I didn't show it. So I'm showing it, dear."
Since Chelsea is also the Greenwich Village of London, on a somewhat more savory plane, artists and actors are among its strongest supporters. Richard Attenborough, one of London's leading actors, is an honorary director of the club. Asked what the most exciting moment of his career was, Attenborough said, "It hasn't happened yet. It will come when Chelsea wins the Cup Final."
Leeds, on the other hand, represents a dour constituency from the north. The city is 192 miles from London and is primarily industrial, producing wool, textiles, clothing, leather, printing machinery, locomotives and furniture. Curiously, sophisticated Chelsea supports its team much more avidly than does industrial Leeds. The Chelsea Stadium at Stamford Bridge is almost always sold out; Leeds, with a park holding 52,000, has averaged only 36,000 or 37,000 per game. Some people blame this on the natural disinclination of a Yorkshireman to spend a bob; on the other hand, Leeds has only recently become a soccer power and does not have the long tradition of a Manchester United behind it.
Despite the lack of overwhelming enthusiasm of the home fans, the Leeds side, at the behest of Revie, is dedicated and determined. Revie is a sentimental man, but a tough one, too. When Charlton, who was on the England team in the last World Cup and will be again in Mexico City this June, got his eye blacked against Manchester United in a semifinal match, Revie's wife provided the steak to put on it. When he joined the Leeds club as a player nine years ago, Revie told Charlton that if he were the manager Jack couldn't play on his third team. "You don't give it all," he said.
When he became manager he told Charlton that if he played up to his potential, he would be an international star, the equivalent of an All-Pro in American football. Charlton has played up to his potential.
In this game, on a cold, overcast day, playing on a Wembley Field that, for the first time in history, had to be blanketed with tons of sand to sop up the rain, Charlton scored the first goal for Leeds. Ironically, it was an easy goal; it came on a corner shot across the goalmouth that Charlton headed, knocking it to the ground directly in front of the goal. On the soft, doughy turf, the ball hit and stopped instead of bouncing. A Chelsea player trying to kick it clear kicked over it and Charlton nudged it in for the score.
Despite all of Revie's genuflections to lady luck, it was one of the few breaks Leeds got all afternoon. Three times during the game Leeds players fired cannon shots at Chelsea Goalie Peter Bonetti only to have them hit the goalposts and bounce back into play; an inch to the inside or down on any of these shots would have meant a score. All afternoon Chelsea players fought desperately to fend off a swarming Leeds attack, getting few opportunities to shoot themselves. If it had been a basketball game you would have said that Leeds players controlled both the offensive and defensive boards.
Charlton's goal put Leeds ahead but 20 minutes later Peter Houseman made a goal for Chelsea that was even more fortunate than the Leeds score had been. From 25 yards away he fired a forlorn hope at Gary Sprake, the Leeds goalkeeper. It was not a particularly hard shot and it hit just in front of Sprake, who dived at it to smother the ball. It slipped under his arm and into the net. "It was the bloody pitch," Sprake said after the match. "The ball was coming in low and I went for it to take it on the bounce and it squatted in the pudding and slid under me. I should have gone right down on it, I suppose."
Leeds went ahead with seven minutes to go on a header by Mick Jones. "I didn't see the ball at all," Bonetti explained. "There were two or three players between me and it." Ian Hutchinson, a youngster whose specialty is the throw-in from the sideline (he holds the record at 115 feet in this rather esoteric specialty), equalized two minutes later with a header of his own, and the game went into extra time.
The soggy, brutally slow turf had exhausted both teams by the time they began the 30 extra minutes and neither threatened seriously. It was a particularly disheartening ordeal for Leeds, which had two semifinal ties with Manchester United before gaining the finals, eventually triumphing 1-0.
Before one of the Manchester games Revie had visited a soothsayer to have his fortune told. He was wearing a new sheepskin jacket he had just bought for $144. The seeress looked at it and said, "That jacket is going to bring you bad luck," whereupon Revie threw it away.
His best plan for the replay is to retrieve the jacket. His luck can't get any worse.