Football: When Webb gave Leeds the blues: Chelsea meet Manchester United in Saturday's FA Cup final. In 1970 they were also underdogs but recovered three times to win the trophy. Dave Sexton recalls his finest hour as manager

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The Independent Online
THE 1970 FA Cup final could easily have been, as it is now in 1994, a confrontation between Chelsea and Manchester United.

In the semi-finals, we had expected to face Bill Shankly's Liverpool, but they were unexpectedly beaten by Watford, then of the Second Division and ably managed and coached by a good friend of mine, Ken Furphy. Consequently we played Watford at White Hart Lane, winning 5-1 on an absolute bog of a pitch.

I will never forget driving to Chelsea's training ground at Mitcham on the following Monday morning, from Brighton where I lived. It was a ride through the Sussex and Surrey countryside, in springtime, and the flowers and fields never looked more beautiful to me, such was the euphoria at getting to Wembley.

Meanwhile, we had to wait to find our opponents. Manchester United and Leeds United drew their first semi-final at Hillsborough and had to replay twice, with Leeds eventually winning. So the stage was set, Chelsea v Leeds at Wembley on 11 April, 1970.

Ironically, this game was also played on a bog of a pitch: yes, I'm talking about Wembley. This was the infamous year when Wembley allowed a showjumping event to take place on the hallowed turf, and they absolutely ruined it for the football. In retrospect, it was probably an advantage to Chelsea to have had the experience of coping with these conditions against Watford at White Hart Lane.

I think the most important factor going into the final was that we had already played Leeds four times that season. They had beaten us 2-0 at Elland Road, and given us a 5-2 drubbing at Stamford Bridge in the League. We had drawn 1-1 at Leeds and beaten them 2-0 at home in the League Cup. So, with the Wembley final and Old Trafford replay, we finished up playing Leeds six times that season: won 2, drawn 2, lost 2.

What I learned from the two defeats in the League was that you had no chance to beat Leeds United unless you matched them for skill, passing and mental toughness. They were a formidable team: everyone was comfortable on the ball, all the defenders could pass, they had flair plus a great work ethic, and they could all score goals.

Add to all that the fact that they were a mean machine, relentless in their pursuit of success. They were in contention for three major trophies that season, the League Championship, the FA Cup final and the European Cup, and the fact that they did not win any of them did not detract from my respect for their quality as a football team par excellence.

I tried to keep things as normal as possible, so we treated the Wembley final as a home game. I let the players stay at home on the Friday night and report to the Montana Hotel in Kensington on Saturday morning, where we always had our pre-match meals for League games. Then we took the coach for the short trip up Wembley Way, and were shocked by the state of the pitch when we first walked out.

Leeds scored first, a typical Leeds corner with Jack Charlton making himself a nuisance and getting the final touch. Then Peter Houseman, an unsung Chelsea hero, scored after a good run with a shot that went under Gary Sprake's dive, due to the deadness of the pitch.

With seven minutes to go, Mick Jones scored after I thought John Dempsey had been body-checked from getting to him. However, the goal stood and we were in deep trouble. Then, with four minutes left, a cleverly flighted free-kick from John Hollins saw the brave Ian Hutchinson hurl himself at the ball and bury it in the net with a fierce header and earn us a draw and extra time.

I've got to say that Leeds were the better side technically on the day, but we showed that we had the mental toughness to stay with them.

Chelsea's strengths that season were twofold. First, we had gifted players who could score goals. Look at our progress through the rounds: Birmingham City 3-0, Burnley 2-2 and 3-1, Crystal Palace 4-1, QPR 4-2, Watford 5-1, and then Leeds 2-2 and 2-1. Is this a record? Second, we had lion-hearted defenders such as Ron Harris, Dave Webb, John Dempsey, Eddie McCreadie and Marvin Hinton, with 'The Cat', Peter Bonetti, ever watchful in goal.

My most vivid memory of that Cup final at Wembley is of David Webb. He played right-back against the talented Eddie Gray, who had an absolute blinder, but at no time did David ever give up, and in extra time David made a great goal-line clearance to keep us in the game. In the coach afterwards, going to the Cup final banquet, I sat next to Dave and I said to him: 'Dave, I'm going to switch you and Ron Harris for the replay,' and he said with a big grin: 'I think you're very wise]'

We had to wait 18 days for the replay at Old Trafford because Leeds were playing Celtic in the semi-final second leg of the European Cup at Hampden Park, which they lost. Old Trafford was a much more physical game, played on a firm fast pitch. Peter Bonetti was banjoed in the first few minutes and hobbled about for the rest of the game after a painful knee in the thigh, but he stuck at it and typified our attitude.

Leeds went in front again through Mick Jones, but Charlie Cooke, who was great in both games, conjured up a wonderful cross for Peter Osgood to dive and head a glorious equaliser. Then, in extra time, Hutchinson, with his dangerous long throw, produced a moment of uncertainty in the Leeds defence, and Webb threw himself at the ball to force it home.

The next day we travelled back by train to London and a wonderful reception from thousands of fans at Fulham Town Hall. A special open-topped bus was hired to drive us through the streets, which I discovered had come up from Brighton. So after all the excitement was over, instead of going back to Brighton on the train I got a lift on the coach. It was a lot slower, but I had plenty of time to savour our achievements.

On a personal level the Old Trafford win gave me a great deal of satisfaction and pride for family reasons. My father, Archie Sexton, a distinguished middleweight boxer in the 1930s, had his finest hour at Belle Vue, Manchester, in 1933, when he fought the tough Mancunian, Jock McAvoy, for the middleweight championship of Great Britain. He was stopped in the 10th round. I knew he would have been very proud that another Sexton had had his finest hour in Manchester in 1970.

We went on the following year to even more excitement, winning the European Cup-Winners' Cup, beating Real Madrid in Athens after another replay, and the year after that we lost a League Cup final at Wembley against Stoke. They were a bonny team, that Chelsea, and I hope this Cup final marks the start of similar success for Glenn Hoddle, Peter Shreeves and the lads. To them I would like to say:

If you think you can win, you can,

If you think you dare not, you don't,

If you'd like to win but think you can't, it's almost certain you won't,

Life's battles don't always go to the faster or stronger man,

But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.

(Photographs omitted)