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.