The game is not perfect – and we could do without the divers – but just remember the brutality of yesteryear
Fears that Wednesday's Capital One Cup quarter-final between Leeds United and Chelsea would become Armageddon revisited proved unfounded. An open and entertaining match minded its manners. There were few fouls and the game was played in the right spirit throughout.
If the players were aware of the stormy history of this fixture they did not show it. Only those spectators with long memories were in a position to compare the benign mood of Elland Road with the two hours of public disorder that passed for a game of football when Chelsea met Leeds at Old Trafford in the replay of the 1970 FA Cup final.
The League Cup in its various guises is rarely going to arouse the passions of the FA Cup even if the latter has lost some of its prestige. Yet the contrast between the encounters of 1970 and 2012 is surely a measure of how far football in England has come in cleaning up its act since the grim days of the late 60s and early 70s.
On Wednesday Chelsea's Frank Lampard was booked for a tackle that took the man before the ball. The decision was correct in the modern context of the game but it was hardly a vicious challenge and 40-odd years ago the referee would not have given a free‑kick let alone issued a caution.
Eric Jennings for one would have let it go. Jennings, who was nearing retirement, refereed the two matches it took to settle the winners of the FA Cup in 1970 and did so in a way that suggested he was a paid-up member of the permissive society. The game at Wembley produced an entertaining 2-2 draw with few untoward incidents apart from an ugly spat involving Leeds's Norman Hunter and Chelsea's Ian Hutchinson. But when the sides met again 18 days later, Chelsea winning 2-1, the mood was sour from the start.
As the Daily Mail's Brian James put it: "Players from both sides were cut down by awful tackles and referee Jennings, seeking peace in his final important match, was content to wag the odd reproving finger." Jennings did not book anyone until the 65th minute when Hutchinson, having flattened Billy Bremner because he thought the Leeds man was hacking at a prone Peter Osgood, had his name taken. A furious Jack Charlton refused to collect his runners-up medal after David Webb's goal in extra time had won the Cup for Chelsea.
In a backhanded sort of way this disgrace of a match did English football a service since it helped to convince the Football Association that something needed to be done to halt the decline in standards of conduct among players and the accompanying cynicism. If the 60s had begun with a new dawn as Tottenham's Double winners and Burnley's classicists set exciting standards in pure football, the game entered the 70s under a cloud, bedevilled by ugly tackles from all directions and crabbed by what was described as gamesmanship but was in reality plain cheating.
Don Revie's Leeds team took a lot of criticism for its cold-eyed approach to winning matches but was not alone. Chelsea, who were as guilty as Leeds in the 1970 replay, were then managed by Dave Sexton whose recent obituaries have rightly praised the quality of the football he wanted his teams to produce. But then they were captained by one Ron "Chopper" Harris even if he was not a principal offender that night.
At the start of the 1971-72 season the referees, under instructions from the FA, started to book players for technical offences, tactical fouls and deliberate handling. Tackling from behind was outlawed. The skilful player was given more protection, although one of the first to be sent off under the new aegis was Manchester United's George Best.
Football did not purge itself overnight and only came to serious grips with its problems after a particularly cynical World Cup in 1990 persuaded Fifa to set up a task force with the aim of getting referees to deal even more sternly with, among other things, professional fouls.
The game is not perfect now and the divers are still going off at the deep end, but as Elland Road showed this week most matches are a considerable improvement on the sort of stuff players got away on an April evening at Old Trafford in 1970.