#FlashbackFriday - Chelsea v Manchester United Part Two: 1964 to 1979

Chelsea’s first season back in the top tier ended with them finishing sixteenth, however the Blues were unable to build on this success in 1978/79.  Manchester United returned to Stamford Bridge the following November, with future Chelsea player Mickey Thomas making his debut for United having signed from Wrexham.  Manchester United sat in seventeenth place, while Chelsea would languish second from bottom with just two wins out of sixteen.  A goal for Jimmy Greenhoff gave United a 1-0 victory.  Shellito would lose his job the following month to be replaced by former Spurs captain Danny Blanchflower.  Three months later, the two sides were drawn together in the third round of the FA Cup.  Goals for Steve Coppell, Jimmy Greenhoff and Ashley Grimes gave Manchester United a 3-0 win. 

United would go all the way to the 1979 FA Cup Final, but ultimately lose to a dramatic last minute winner from Alan Sunderland for Arsenal.  In the week that followed that final, Chelsea would have to play both Arsenal and Man United in what were ultimately meaningless fixtures having been relegated on Easter Saturday after losing 2-5 to Arsenal at Highbury.  The return fixture with the Gunners ended in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, just forty eight hours on from that famous Cup Final.  Another two days on at Old Trafford, their final game of the season against United ended in a 1-1 draw, with Steve Coppell on target for United, while Gary Johnson would be on target for Chelsea.

That match would ultimately be Chelsea’s last in the top flight for the next five years.  This would be the longest peacetime gap between meetings between the two sides since the early to mid-1930s, before Chelsea returned to the top flight in 1984.  As will be covered in Part Three of this series of articles, when Chelsea visit Old Trafford next April, there would follow another prolonged period for Chelsea in the top tier and a rise in prominence for the standing of both sides by the dawn of the Premiership era from the early 1990s onwards.

  *Follow me on Twitter@robert_exley


Published October 20th 2016

In 1964/65, would come the launch of Match of the Day and that season’s title race involved both Man United and Chelsea.  At the end of September, Chelsea topped the old First Division after four straight wins.  Four straight wins for United had also pushed them up to fourth.  Goals for Denis Law and George Best gave United a 2-0 win, which pushed them up to second and within two points of Chelsea at the top of the table.  This win for United started a run of thirteen victories out of fourteen.  Though Chelsea had a prolonged spell at the top of the table, they lost the top spot to Man United at the end of October.

Chelsea wrestled the top spot back at the start of February after a 2-1 home win over Arsenal, by which time United dropped three points behind in third place.  By the time of Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford in mid-March, the Blues were five points clear of Man United with ten games left to play, though Man United had a game in hand.  As captured by the Match of the Day cameras, a 4-0 hammering of Chelsea at Old Trafford for United was secured with goals for George Best, Denis Law and David Herd. 

A run of seven straight wins swept United to the title, while Chelsea’s end of season form collapsed, with a 2-6 defeat at Burnley in which manager Tommy Docherty dropped eight players – which included Terry Venables, George Graham, Eddie McCreadie, John Hollins, Marvin Hinton, Barry Bridges, Bert Murray and Joe Fascione – for breaking a curfew.

In 1965/66, Chelsea visited Old Trafford in Mid-September.  United had only managed one win all season, however pulled off a 4-1 win with goals for Bobby Charlton and a hat-trick for Denis Law, while Terry Venables would be on target for Chelsea.  The following March Chelsea lay in sixth position, while United were in second place albeit eight points off of the League leaders Liverpool, but with two games in hand.  Captured by ITN cameras, the game started twelve minutes late as the crowd from the boys enclosure crowded over the barriers and had to be cleared by police.  Goals for George Graham and Bobby Tambling gave Chelsea a 2-0 win, which left United nine points off the pace.

United finished the 1965/66 season in fourth place – three points above Chelsea in fifth - but sought to recapture their title the following season.  In Mid-October, Chelsea visited Old Trafford to face the Reds.  United by that point lay in sixth place, having already lost four games.  Chelsea the week earlier topped the table, but slipped to third after a 1-3 defeat at home to Burnley.  Goals for Denis Law and a Man United own goal meant that the game ended in a 1-1 draw. 

The two sides would meet again back at Stamford Bridge in the return fixture just three weeks later.  Chelsea were back on top of the table, but a 1-0 win for Man United at home to Arsenal had pushed them up to fifth.

On the afternoon ahead of Bonfire Night 1966, United took the lead after Peter Bonetti dropped a shot from Paddy Crerand which fell to John Aston Jr. (his father John Aston Snr. also played under Matt Busby and was a United Youth team coach in the 1960s).  United’s lead then doubled with a goal from George Best, as described by Ken Jones of the Daily Mirror: ‘an incredible shot hit off the wrong foot, swept past a bewildered Peter Bonetti…it was more than just a great goal, It was absolute proof that in the ultimate it is the magic of the individual that makes the game live’.  John Hollins pulled one back for Chelsea, whose speculative shot flew over the heads of United defenders and in off the post, before a second from John Aston secured a 3-1 away win for United.

Man United regained their title in 1966/67, but had to wait another twenty six years before winning the title again.  After nearly a thirteen month gap between playing each other, Man United visited Stamford Bridge in at the end of November 1967, by which time Tommy Docherty had left Stamford Bridge to be replaced by former Arsenal coach Dave Sexton.  Chelsea were languishing in eighteenth place, while Man United topped the table.  Goals for Tommy Baldwin for Chelsea and Brian Kidd for United meant the two sides played out a 1-1 draw.  United failed to win back their title in 1967/68, but became the first English side to win the European Cup

Five games into the 1968/69 season, in August Chelsea visited Old Trafford in the League.  Despite mounting the summit of European football just three months prior, a report from the Manchester Guardian on the match said that: ‘Chelsea surely will never gain two points so easily again’.  Within forty seconds, Tommy Baldwin gave Chelsea the lead.  In under a quarter of an hour, Bobby Tambling pounced on an error by Tony Dunne to put United two goals up.  Seven minutes before half time Tommy Baldwin added a third.  In the second half, Alan Birchenall completed the scoring as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners.  On summary, the Manchester Guardian was quoted as saying: ‘for people to tell Sir Matt Busby what he should do in United's hour of extremity is, to put it in somewhat plebeian language, tantamount to telling your grandmother how to suck eggs’. 


By the middle of October, United lay in sixteenth place and just four points from the bottom of the table.  1968/69 turned out to be Matt Busby’s final full season as Manchester United manager and his final trip to Stamford Bridge ahead of his first retirement came in mid-March.  Chelsea were fifth in the table, while United were still languishing in seventeenth place.  In the first minute, David Webb opened the scoring, pouncing on a mistake by Man United keeper Alex Stepney.  On the half hour mark, Ian Hutchinson put Chelsea two goals up.  Steve James pulled one back for United, before Ian Hutchinson put Chelsea 3-1 up eleven minutes into the second half.  Denis Law pulled one back for United from the penalty spot, however Chelsea ran out 3-2 winners.

Man United managed to finish the 1968/69 season in eleventh position.  In the close season of 1969, former Youth team player Wilf McGuiness took over as Man United boss.  Chelsea’s first visit to Old Trafford during the Wilf McGuiness era came in December 1969.  Chelsea stood in sixth place, two points above Man United in ninth place.  Two goals for Ian Hutchinson gave Chelsea a 2-0 win.

The following March, Chelsea moved up to third place.  Man United however lay in eighth place.  Again, another double strike from Ian Hutchinson made the difference, as Wilf McGuiness’s first visit to Stamford Bridge ended in a 1-2 defeat for United, with Willie Morgan on target for the Reds.  

McGuiness’s first season in charge of United saw them finish in eighth place.  After losing the opening match of their 1970/71 season, Manchester United faced Chelsea at Old Trafford.  The two sides played out a 0-0 draw in August.  At the end of October, Chelsea came back to Old Trafford in the League Cup.  Goals for Bobby Charlton for United and John Hollins for Chelsea had the scores balanced at one apiece before the magic moment that set the two sides apart.  George Best, after being played through on goal faced a crashing challenge from Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris.  Incredibly though, Best rode the challenge to coolly slot the ball past Peter Bonetti in the Chelsea goal. 

As Harris went on to describe: ‘I remember it well….because I've seen it so often. We got beat 2-1 on a Wednesday night and that run by Georgie was part of an opening sequence on Grandstand for some time after. Every Saturday lunchtime I would see myself coming at him from the right of the screen, and every time I thought I was going to get him but I never did’

By Christmas 1970 however, United’s league form was out of sorts and in the interim between Christmas and New Year – as Man United sunk to eighteenth place - Wilf McGuiness would be sacked by Manchester United.  Busby would return and take over as caretaker manager until the end of the 1970/71 season.


Busby’s final visit to Stamford Bridge as United manager came in early January 1971, where the Reds had climbed up to fifteenth.  Chelsea on the other hand stood in fifth place, but ten points off of league leaders Leeds United.  United ran out 2-1 winners with goals from Willie Morgan and Alan Gowling, while Alan Hudson would be on target for Chelsea.  Frank O’Farell took over as United manager in the Summer of 1971.  Old Trafford had been closed for the opening two home games of the season due to a knife being thrown from the Stretford End at Newcastle keeper Willie McFaul, meaning that United’s first two games of the 1971/72 season were back to back away games.

In mid-August 1971, Man United’s visit to Stamford Bridge saw them pick up a 3-2 victory with goals for Willie Morgan, Bobby Charlton and Brian Kidd, while on target for Chelsea were Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin.  Just forty eight hours later, United played their first ‘home’ game of the season when they met Arsenal at Anfield on a Friday evening in front of a crowd of just 27,649.  By the following January, Man United had won fourteen of their first twenty league fixtures and stood third in the table, just one point behind Leeds United at the top.  Chelsea on the other hand languished in ninth place.  A Peter Osgood goal gave Chelsea a 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

The first and second half of Man United’s 1971/72 season contained a day and night contrast, as the Reds had entered a disastrous run of seven straight defeats and winning just five games out of twenty two since the start of December.  They finished the season in eighth place and their poor form continued into 1972/73, having lost their first three games.  There followed two further draws which left them second from bottom by the time that Chelsea visited Old Trafford at the end of August.  The two sides however played out a 0-0 draw.  After just five wins out of twenty two games, Frank O’Farrell faced the sack and would be replaced by former Chelsea boss Tommy Docherty, allegedly on the advice of Denis Law.


Law stated in his autobiography ‘The King’: ‘Matt Busby, who was by then a director at Old Trafford, took me aside and asked for some advice when they were looking for a successor to Frank O'Farrell.  Matt asked if I thought Docherty would do a good job.  I had known Docherty for years, we had even played for Scotland together so I was happy to say I thought he would.  It was pretty much on my word that United went for him’.  Despite this, the Doc set out to dismantle the holy trinity of Best, Charlton and even the man who helped him get the job – Denis Law.  At the end of the 1972/73 season, United visited Stamford Bridge on the final day, in what was Bobby Charlton’s final appearance before moving on to Preston North End as Player Manager.


Ahead of the game – as the sides emerged from a ramshackle Stamford Bridge as Chelsea were in the process of building a new stand - Charlton was handed a commemorative cigarette case by Chelsea chairman Gus Mears.  In the event, Chelsea won 1-0 with a bizarre goal from Peter Osgood (@13.47 you can see Ossie staring into the MOTD camera with his arms held out in disbelief). 

The year of 1973 was a turning point for both clubs.  In the twenty first century, Chelsea may have built success on the back of oil.  Back in the early seventies however, the 1973 Oil crisis – triggered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the OPEC cartel of oil producing countries – led to the first major global recession of the post-war era, which spelt disaster for the Blues who had planned a 50,000 capacity all seater stadium. 

The building of the East Stand as the first phase of development left Chelsea in financial dire straits and no further development occurred at Stamford Bridge for another two decades.  Similarly, United’s post-Busby decline continued.  By the time of Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford in early November 1973, Denis Law had been given a free transfer and moved across town to Manchester City.  Ahead of the game, Man United and Chelsea stood in sixteenth and seventeenth place respectively.  Chelsea took a two goal lead with goals for Tommy Baldwin and Peter Osgood, before United pulled one back with a twenty yard drive from Tony Young (which in seven years at Old Trafford would be his only goal).  An equaliser from Brian Greenhoff earned United a 2-2 draw. 

By the time of Man United’s visit to Stamford Bridge at the end of March 1974, a twenty seven year old George Best had announced his retirement from top level football at the turn of the year.  In the league, Man United were in deep trouble sat rock bottom of the table having won just one league game since Best walked out on Old Trafford.  United however picked up a vital two points with a 3-1 win secured by goals for Willie Morgan, Gerry Daly and Sammy McIlroy, while Bill Garner was on target for Chelsea.  For United this would be the start of their best run of the season, unbeaten for the next six games which included four victories.  Despite this, the Reds would fail to win their last four games and their relegation would be sealed with a Denis Law back heel which sealed a 0-1 defeat to Man City.


After one season in the Second tier, Manchester United would bounce back up again as Champions in 1974/75, however this would coincide with a relegation for Chelsea from the top flight that season who – after sacking Dave Sexton, who moved on to local rivals QPR – would finished second from bottom in the old first division.  Chelsea would remain in the second tier until securing promotion as runners up in the old Division Two in 1976/77.  In the meantime, Chelsea’s old boss Tommy Docherty would be sacked by Manchester United just weeks after winning their first major trophy since the 1968 European Cup, by stopping Liverpool’s hopes of treble by winning the 1977 FA Cup Final.


The Doc would be sacked as a result of an extra marital affair with the wife of Manchester United’s Physio, Laurie Brown.

By the time Chelsea next came to Old Trafford in September 1977, United would be managed by another former Chelsea boss in the form of Dave Sexton.  Meanwhile, Chelsea themselves would also be disposing of a successful manager in somewhat bizarre circumstances.  Former Chelsea left back Eddie McCreadie guided the Blues to promotion, but left Stamford Bridge after the Chelsea board refused his request for a company car. The Chelsea board then relented, but McCreadie’s pride had already been hurt and refused to return.

At the helm at Stamford Bridge was another former Chelsea full back - Ken Shellito.  Man United were riding fairly high in the table in fifth place, while Chelsea were languishing in eighteenth position.  The Blues however walked away from their Old Trafford return with a 1-0 win, secured by a goal from Bill Garner.  The fixture however would be marred by hooliganism between the two fans, who obviously had an absence of three years’ worth of punch ups between them to make up for. 

The return fixture at Stamford Bridge came the following February, with Man United’s first visit there in nearly four years. Man United sat in eleventh place in the table, while Chelsea with two points less sat in fourteenth.  Clive Walker gave Chelsea the lead, before Sammy McIlroy pounced on a mistake by Chelsea defender Steve Wicks to equalise for United.  The Blues regained the lead with a twenty yard strike from Ray Wilkins, before United equalised with a penalty from Gordon Hill with the match ending in a 2-2 draw.