One of the weird things about Chelsea is that they don’t really have any famous or historic rivalries. The West London Derby—which they contest with Fulham, Brentford, and Queens Park Rangers—does not exactly send shockwaves through the footysphere. (It doesn’t help that Chelsea is the only team that’s had a stable run in the top flight.) They also had some tense confrontations with Leeds in the 60s and 70s, but A) every team had tense confrontations with Leeds back then and B) Leeds are probably stuck in the second division for the foreseeable future.
A poll conducted some years ago asked Chelsea fans to list who they thought were their biggest rivals; the responses were, roughly in descending order, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool. Yet it’s hard to tease out what the emotional thrust behind these rivalries are for Chelsea fans (or neutral observers) beyond “we want something and you tend to get in our way.”
That said, if “you’re in our way” totally works for you as a reason to get pumped up for a fixture, Chelsea vs Manchester United tends to fit the bill pretty nicely.
This old-timey newsreel features highlights from Chelsea’s FA Cup quarterfinal tie against Manchester United held on March 4th, 1950. First things first, let’s take a moment to appreciate the younger, less-polished version of Stamford Bridge from way back when. This was back when most of the stands were still uncovered, including the Shed End (where the most, erm, enthusiastic fans have historically congregated).
It’s also worth noting, as the narrator mentioned, that the home side were definitely the underdogs for this tie. Manchester United were in the first few years of the Matt Busby era and had only narrowly missed out on the First Division title the previous season. Meanwhile, Chelsea were still largely a struggling midtable outfit. Their league campaign was underwhelming that season (they would ultimately finish 13th), which made their Cup run all the more important. A trip to Wembley would’ve meant the world to the club and the fans.
Chelsea did end up pulling off the upset. Early in the first half, right winger Bobby Campbell sent in a long cross that ended up in the back of the net. After holding firm against sustained pressure from the Red Devils for much of the game, Chelsea center forward Roy Bentley put the game away with a venomous shot. Chelsea won the day 2-0, sending 70,000 Blues supporters home with dreams of Wembley swirling in their heads.
(Chelsea ended up losing in the next round to Arsenal, who ultimately went on to win the Cup.)
Chelsea host United again this Saturday and, once again, they are in each other’s way. If Chelsea win, they’ll have cleared one of the last major hurdles toward claiming the Premier League title. If United win, the entire Top 4 race will be thrown into disarray. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.