Chelsea versus Manchester United is one of the classic North v South fixtures in the English football calendar.
Chelsea first faced Manchester United on Christmas Day, 1905 – some nine months after the club had been founded by Edwardian businessman, Henry Augustus ‘Gus’ Mears. The match was played at Bank Street in Clayton, Manchester and attracted a crowd of 35,000 who witnessed a 0.0 draw in this Football League Second Division clash.
Mears had contracted a famous architect of the time, Archibald Leitch, to build a huge new stadium - Stamford Bridge – on the Fulham Road, where the new team would play. The first football match to be played there had been a friendly against Liverpool on 4th September 1905 which Chelsea had won 4.0. That match also saw the appearance of the first 4-page matchday programme in London and reflected the growing interest in football in the South of England, away from its original heartlands in the North and the Midlands.
Manchester United first headed south to play The Pensioners at Stamford Bridge on 13th April 1906 – this time it was Good Friday but the result was still a draw, in front of a huge holiday crowd of 67,000. Charles Sagar put United ahead early in the second half before Tommy McDermott equalised for Chelsea ten minutes before the end.
It was Sagar’s first season at Manchester United and he had scored three goals on his league debut for them in a 5.1 win against Bristol City. Wayne Rooney is the only other United player in the history of football to have scored a hat-trick on his debut for the club. The Red Devils were second in the league at the time of this Easter clash with Chelsea and, indeed, would finish as runners-up behind Bristol City (the club they had thrashed on the opening day of the season) and so gained promotion to the English First Division. Chelsea finished third in what was their first competitive league season.
Chelsea had to travel to Bank Street again in order to beat Man United for the first time – in League Division One now – on 7th November 1908. The match ended 1.0 to Chelsea with George Hilsdon scoring their winning goal from a penalty. At Stamford Bridge, though, the wait for a win lasted much longer – nearly 12 years in fact; and a World War separated these first two victories.
George Hilsdon began his career at West Ham United, joining Chelsea in 1906. He went two better than Sagar and Rooney, scoring five goals on his Chelsea debut in a 9.2 win over Glossop North End (Glossop is just under fourteen miles from Manchester!). He was the first player to score 100 goals for the club and was known in West London by his nickname of "Gatling Gun." This label was given to him as he was renowned for hitting unstoppable shots which were so hard that it seemed as though they might have been fired from a gun! After scoring a total of 108 goals for Chelsea he returned to play for West Ham before being conscripted for service in that first World War where he was seriously injured on the Western Front in a mustard gas attack. Only four people attended his funeral when he died, in Leicester, in 1941 and he lay in an unmarked grave for some 74 years until Chelsea fans clubbed together to fund a headstone for this hitherto forgotten hero.
Manchester United first won at Chelsea on 28th September 1907 – a 4.1 win in the First Division. Hilsdon again got Chelsea’s goal and Billy Meredith scored two for The Reds. United continued to do well in Fulham, winning three and drawing two of their next five league games there. It wasn’t until 17th January 1920 that Chelsea finally secured their first home win over Man United – 1.0 in Division One – in front of a crowd of 40,000. Centre-forward John Cock scored the only goal of the game. This will have been a cause of great celebration - lightening the post-war gloom in that part of the capital - ironically on the same day that Prohibition came into effect in the USA.
Chelsea hit six goals (their highest goals total in home matches between the two sides) past the men from Old Trafford on 6th September 1930. Alexander Cheyne scored a hat-trick that day and Hughie Gallacher got two more in a 6.2 win in a top tier clash watched by 48,648 at The Bridge.
Alexander ‘Alec’ Cheyne had only signed for Chelsea that year and for a then club record fee of £6000. One year earlier, while playing for his native Scotland against England, Cheyne scored direct from a corner with just a minute of the match remaining. A 'roar of encouragement' came up from the 110,000 fans - most of them supporting Scotland who were down to ten men at the time - and continued even after the final whistle. This was the first time such a noise had been noted and it became known as the 'Hampden Roar,' with the match being forever labelled the 'Cheyne International.'
Chelsea’s highest margin of victory against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge came sixty-nine years later on 3rd October 1999. The Blues won 5.0 in the Premier League in front of a crowd of 34,909. Gus Poyet scored two of Chelsea’s goals that day – his first after just 27 seconds, from which The Reds never seemed to recover. Bearing in mind that United had become the first English football team to complete a treble of League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League victories in the May of that year, and had gone 29 matches unbeaten in the league prior to this match, it was a truly remarkable result, not just in the context of matches between the two sides but in football history in general.
Manchester United have scored four goals in league games at Stamford Bridge on five occasions – the third of these provided them with their best winning margin. They beat Chelsea 4.0 in a First Division game there on 29th November 1947 with Johnny Morris scoring a hat-trick. Morris scored 35 goals in 93 appearances for United in all competitions and helped them win the FA Cup the following year.
Chelsea also won this fixture with four goals of their own and much more recently. On 23rd October 2016 José Mourinho - who had enjoyed two spells as Chelsea's manager - returned to Stamford Bridge with his new club but the day started off badly for him and his Manchester United team and got progressively worse. Pedro scored for Chelsea after just 30 seconds and Gary Cahill added a second just 20 minutes later. Chelsea scored two more goals in the second half through Eden Hazard and new signing from 2016 Premier League champions, Leicester City - N'Golo Kanté - with his first goal for the club, to complete a 4.0 win.
One of the most dramatic league encounters – and highest aggregate score (11) – between these clubs at Stamford Bridge took place on 16th October 1954 in front of a crowd of 55,966. Chelsea again scored five goals, with Seamus O’Connell marking his Chelsea debut with a hat-trick (he and George Hilsdon are the only two Chelsea players to have scored hat-tricks on their debuts for the club). However, Manchester United fought back with six goals of their own, Dennis Viollet also scoring a hat-trick and Tommy Taylor with two. Sadly, Taylor would die in the Munich Air Crash less than four years later.
The highest scoring draw in this fixture came on 5th February 2012 with the match finishing 3.3. Chelsea had led 3.0 in the game but two Wayne Rooney penalties and an equaliser six minutes from time by Javier Hernandez completed the comeback by United.
Another dramatic encounter – albeit with less goals – occurred later that same year: on 28th October 2012 in the Premier League. United prevailed once again, 3.2, but the score tells us only the result rather than the story of the match. This time it was United who were two goals up after just twelve minutes but Chelsea fought back to level with a Juan Mata free-kick and a Ramires header. Chelsea then found themselves down to nine men after Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres were sent off, before Javier Hernandez (again!) scored a controversial winner (deemed to be offside by The Blues) fifteen minutes from the end. Manchester United would go on to win the league that season with Chelsea settling for Europa League success.
United had won by the same margin of 3.2 at Stamford Bridge just over forty-one years earlier on 18th August 1971 with some famous names on the scoresheet: Tommy Baldwin and Peter Osgood for Chelsea; Willie Morgan, Bobby Charlton and Brian Kidd for United. Another massive domestic crowd of 54,763 turned out to see these two top teams who had also done so well in Europe in recent seasons – Chelsea in the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup that year, and Manchester United as the first English team to lift the UEFA European Cup three years earlier.
Much of the research for this article was done for our book – First Football Histories: The Chelsea FC Story
Article Updated: 23rd October 2016