Supporters still in the first flush of youth, or those who have only latched on to football for social purposes, may be surprised to learn that the much-decorated Chelsea FC were, in the fairly recent past, a very middling and troubled football club indeed. They were always cast as “trendy” due to their location, and consequently got more publicity and leeway than sometimes they deserved, but certainly there have been times in the technicolour era when their achievements on the football pitch were scant.
In the 1970s, the well-to-do club from Stamford Bridge fought endless battles. Their wonderful team of the late 1960s under Tommy Docherty and then Dave Sexton, that peaked when triumphing in the 1971 European Cup Winners Cup, got old. Little was evident from the ranks or from investment that the new breed of blue was going to match up as the ageing superstars were sold, retired or implored to carry on in their sporting dotage as fragile shadows of themselves. Stamford Bridge was hellish, both in design and atmosphere. There was a truly fearful element following the club, as violent and as prejudiced as any that pockmarked what would forever be known as a bad old decade that heralded hooliganism’s rise. Relegation followed just four years after European glory; the cracks were papered over temporarily but later Chelsea became known in the 80s for their poverty, bigotry and electrified fences – and had another pair of relegations thrown in. It wasn’t until the arrival of Glenn Hoddle in the early 1990s that the Chelsea we know today began, slowly, to evolve into a power of the game, though it took Roman Abramovich’s money to eventually get them beyond success in the minor competitions.
In the midst of all this was a two-year stint in the Second Division, where City, for their part, had spent all of the 70s thus far.
The 1975-76 season, only Chelsea’s second outside the top tier since 1930, had been imprinted forever by their shock loss in the FA Cup fifth round to Third Division promotion chasers Crystal Palace, who were inspired by a young hip-swivelling winger called Peter Taylor. They finished in an unremarkable 11th place, one point and three places above City, and were continually affected by a transfer fund of zero pounds, which contributed as much as anything else to Ray Wilkins’ early fast-tracking from cradle to captaincy, Charlie Cooke’s resolute defiance of the pain barrier and the inexpediently long service of a now sluggish Ron Harris.
However, times changed for the club in 1976/77, and although the finances were still a mess and the hooliganism a major problem, they had a hungry team which had gelled well in the lesser lions’ den of the lower division. City certainly felt the brunt of the Chelsea machine in December 1976 when they were outplayed by some distance in front of a somewhat raucous 11,774 crowd at Boothferry Park and were fortunate to get a share of the spoils. Chelsea, managed by their former left back Eddie McCreadie, picked up their form in the new year and sealed promotion with a 1-1 draw at the beginning of May at Wolves, a team already destined for the Second Division title.
City, meanwhile, were in a bit of a rut. This was their 11th straight season in the second tier of English football but only in 1970/71, with Terry Neill rumbustiously cajoling a last big effort out of the great 1960s forward line, had promotion to the helm of the game looked possible. The eventual fifth placed finish would not be threatened again, and Neill’s successor, John Kaye, had been frustrated by an array of underperforming signings and a youth policy that simply wasn’t spitting out enough gems to replace the legends. Crowds were dwindling too; the 16,096 that squeezed into Boothferry Park on October 2nd 1976 to witness Billy Bremner’s debut had scattered by a whopping 12,585 for the May 7th visit of Cardiff City, which secured survival for the Tigers but only thanks to results elsewhere. Everyone was, frankly, bored.
The contrast between the paltry 3,511 that saw Peter Daniel score the consolation in a 2-1 defeat by the Bluebirds and the numbers that piled into the rickety Stamford Bridge seven days later was eye-popping. And the effect of a gate of such crazy magnitude was obvious on several folds; firstly, it inspired Chelsea to sign off their home fixtures with a coasting win; secondly, it made City’s team of unremarkable journeymen freeze; thirdly and most notoriously, it heralded an array of pitch invasions of not always the most charitable of natures which had the Tigers’ manager Kaye and secretary Mac Stone each criticising the police, the officials and the Chelsea safety staff afterwards.
The game itself was a bit of a gimme for the Blues, especially with striker Steve Finnieston in such blinding form for the season. He had already passed the 20-mark prior to City’s visit and by the end of a stop-start encounter had acquired himself a match ball, albeit only figuratively as the actual ball quite obviously disappeared into the frenzy of fans that galloped on to the Stamford Bridge turf at the final whistle. Promotion had already been secured but this game was set down as a thank you to the Chelsea faithful. City’s presence was deemed completely incidental.
ITV cameras covered the game, and we are pleased to have the full extended highlights on TigerTube, embedded for your delectation here and initially recovered thanks to some diligent archive dusting by Chelsea TV.
Brian Moore, he of the planetarium-shaped bonce and penchant for melodrama and misidentification, was host of The Big Match and commentator on the footage dually, meaning he was essentially introducing himself in the initial voiceover as the line-ups appeared on screen. It was big of him to say the Tigers had “always been just beyond the clutches of relegation” though his assertion that Bremner, now absent through injury and therefore robbing the national audience of their one possible reason to be interested in the visitors, had “steadied them so well for most of the season” will surprise City fans of appropriate vintage who remember Bremner being decidedly underwhelming once the novelty of his not being at Leeds any more had worn off.
The footage doesn’t show – nor mention – the lap of honour the Chelsea players attempted before kick off which was brought to an untimely end by the first pitch invasion of the day. More such acts of nefarious trespass would follow.
Considering what eventually happened, it’s gratifying to see that City had the first chance, created and attempted by the shufflesome boots of Chris Galvin, who forced a smart save from silver-haired veteran and friend of Mexican anglophobes Peter Bonetti, a man who a year later would be the oldest player featured in the Panini football sticker album at 37. Though the corner came to nought, you can hear the unrest among the less cerebral Chelsea fans in the Shed End already, so perhaps for the sake of public safety it was just as well that 19 year old Tommy Langley set up Finnieston for the opening goal on 15 minutes, leaving the red-shirted Jeff Wealands stranded and a bit riled.
One useful thing this footage achieves is the validation of Wilkins, back in his bouffant days, as more than just the purveyor of simple square balls and over-congenial platitudes in a punditry chair that have since unjustly adjudged his career in football. The Chelsea version of Wilkins, still only 20 at the time of this game but already an England international and skipper of his club, was a truly fine player. The ball he delivered with the outside of his foot to begin the move for the next Chelsea attack was as sublime as Moore suggests, though the home side didn’t score from it. Roger deVries, in his seventh straight season as City’s left back, headed the final cross heroically over his own bar, though obviously Moore interpreted that as merely a fortunate escape from an own goal, even though Finnieston was breathing down deVries’ neck. The pat on the back from Finnieston for the Tigers’ full back perhaps construed the situation more accurately.
After a brief mention of Steve Wicks, the fair-haired Chelsea defender who was 15 months away from fathering a son that City fans wouldn’t remember with great fondness, came Moore leaving aside his need for London-centricity when calling for a penalty as Dave Sunley slipped his marker and fell to the turf as he tried to round Bonetti. The referee, mentioned at the beginning but we’re not bothered enough to scroll back and find his name, gave nought.
One wonders how the home fans would have reacted if a spot kick had been awarded and, indeed, scored. “How on earth could that not have been a penalty? Well, that’s the most blatant penalty I think I’ve seen for a long time”, countered Moore. The ref did that run to the corner of the 18-yard box thing that all referees do when expecting a players’ revolt but although Sunley half-chased him, the appeals didn’t materialise. The players of the era were not saintly, especially when it came to tackling each other, but somehow the idea of pursuing the officials in any aggrieved state, irrespective of how wronged they felt, seemed alien to them. The editing doesn’t help, but it genuinely looks like City’s team just prepared to take and attack the corner instead. And that, naturally, came to nothing.
Finnieston headed over from a delightful Cooke cross and Galvin spurned a decent chance offered up unwittingly by a Malcolm Lord miskick as the Bridge remained oddly hushed. For a crowd of 43,718, that was quite a hush; one that didn’t dissipate when the half time whistle was greeted with mild applause and Moore declared that City had “battled away a bit”.
We got early evidence that the Galvin shuffle, for what it apparently was, did actually exist when he conceded a free kick in the early seconds after the restart following a bit of foot-over-ball nonsense that actually got him nowhere at all and ended up with him grabbing Gary Locke’s ankles to prevent the Chelsea full back joining the counter attack when regaining the ball. Locke then “scattered a few photographers” with a smart run and assistance from an impertinent Finnieston back heel, before a move begun by current England assistant manager Ray Lewington allowed the same combination up front to craft a goal of similar style to the first, namely a low Langley centre which evaded two centre backs and a goalkeeper and gave Finnieston an empty net to fill.
On came the Chelsea fans, though that could have been in protest at Lewington’s decision to climb on top of the prostrate Finnieston in the goalmouth – they didn’t approve of celebrations that suggested homoeroticism back then, especially at Chelsea – as much as it was to misguidedly celebrate the goal and delay the resumption and, indeed, completion of the game. Most of them scattered quite quickly back to the stands, possibly because the Chelsea players made a point of ignoring them as they tried to muscle in on the joy, though it was amusing to see one supporter stay on long enough for everyone to wait for his sole exit before City’s forwards could resume the game. In a moment of laughable contradiction, Moore finally chose to mention the influx of supporters by saying: “And we’ll ignore the mindless people who see fit to run on to the field, and concentrate on the players.”
City nearly pulled one back to the Shed strains of “we shall not be moved” but Bonetti held on to Stuart Croft’s awkward shot well as Galvin and Paul Haigh both closed in. Wilkins then again delivered a glorious ball with the outside of the foot for Langley to chase but he belted it just over the bar, as the camera closed in on a short haircut that would have been regarded as deeply uncool in 1977.
Galvin and Locke then had a set-to after City’s shuffle-fetishist reacted unfavourably to a tackle from the full back, swiping at his ankles from the ground before Wicks charged in to protect his mate. Lewington then aimed a hand-off at Lord, the most pacifist player in City’s ranks, before the handbags were eventually discarded and City prepared to take the free kick. Sadly, this action was to be delayed further by, as Moore describes in a rare moment of forthrightness, “some young idiots on the ground, being booed by the more responsible fans”.
This was pitch invasion number three but the most telling one so far, as it hadn’t happened as a reaction to any high-octane event. The players weren’t doing a lap of honour, nor had Chelsea just scored. City’s outfield players, evidently peeved at the lack of protection, didn’t wait for instruction from the officials and sprinted for the tunnel, with most of the Chelsea players following suit. As they vanished from sight, the fans on the pitch again realised the futility of their actions and made for the sanctuary of the 43,000 plus. Interestingly, Wealands didn’t go off, presumably as his path from goalmouth to tunnel was difficult to follow as the crow flew, instead preferring to stay in his area and avoid eye contact, though the brief clip of him wandering around his goalmouth as the interlopers dispersed is telling, as it’s obvious he’s issuing a complaint.
The players came back to the field as the mounted police turned up and City’s free kick from the Locke and Galvin altercation got the game underway once again. As was now the norm, it came to nothing. As City then took a corner – which, er, came to nothing – we got the curious sight of Chelsea fans running at large around the pitch perimeter between the fence and the stand. Chelsea then did the worst thing they could have done as police gamely tried to round everyone up: they scored again.
Wilkins was again masterful in his vision, releasing Ian Britton down the inside right channel to glide a simple but true finish under Wealands’ body. By this stage you can imagine that none of the City players or staff were really bothered about the result as there was a real danger that someone may emerge from Stamford Bridge with some kind of injury or abrasion. As the ball hit the net, on they came again. And off went the players again. Some hung around the tunnel area, accompanied in full 1977 City tracksuit by a richly sideburned Jeff Radcliffe, while McCreadie went on the PA system to ask for the fans to stop being such dozy, threatening cretins, or words to that effect. “Don’t spoil the season for the players”, is one line decipherable from the footage, with both the quality of the microphone and the quality of the TV coverage not helping. McCreadie, incidentally, looked like the oldest 37 year old ever to exist.
Again the game restarted, with nobody now having any true idea of how long was left, and the exasperation in Moore’s voice was now audible. Amusingly, Finnieston had a lobbed goal then disallowed for offside, and the few that tried to enter the pitch again – such lamebrains – only got as far as the outskirts before turning back, aware of the decision by the referee, if not of their own ignorance.
City could have had a penalty – again – when a Haigh flick seemed to hit the arm of Cooke but the referee once more refused the appeals, though was quick to give Chelsea a spot kick seconds later from the counter attack as Finnieston and Croft clashed in the City box. Moore’s confusion over the referee’s certainty is only brief as the viewer – and those on the pitch – realise what is now threatening to happen before them. Wealands even looks across at the menacing number of Chelsea fans converging on the cusp of the Shed, ready to charge, should he be unable to keep Finnieston’s kick out. He didn’t, though he went the right way, but no more than a handful of fans interrupted this time, and the cameras elected not to show them. From the restart, Bonetti got the ball and as he kicked it out of his hands, the referee was already hightailing for the tunnel as he blew for full-time.
The rapidity with which the pitch filled with jubilant and hostile Chelsea supporters is absolutely frightening.
It’s well known that City were very unhappy on an official level with how the day went, claiming that the earliest invaders during the pre-match celebrations should have been kicked out of the ground, as apparently would have happened at Boothferry Park. Kaye declared afterwards, sensibly though having to fend off accusations of post-event wisdom, that the game should have been abandoned after the second goal – despite there being 30 minutes to play – with the result still standing. After all, Chelsea were promoted and couldn’t go any higher than second, while City were in mid-table and unaffected by any potential outcome. The players’ safety was compromised; it took an age for Wealands to get through the crowds at the end, and according to reports (the footage didn’t show this), his red keeper’s shirt was ripped from his body as he did so. The City staff had to do a rollcall in the tunnel after the game, akin to a school register at 8.50am, to make sure everyone had emerged from the field of play in one piece. And when Kaye and his staff got up from their seats to talk to McCreadie and the officials during one of the earlier invasions, they found their dugout on their return full of Chelsea fans who duly refused to move.
City’s record in the League at Chelsea, which Moore briefly detailed at the start of the second half, had been truly rotten. They had never won there and had only ever scored there once (in 1905/06). This 4-0 stuffing, albeit in eccentric and thankless circumstances, just prolonged a statistic of agony that persists to this day, as City have still never won at Stamford Bridge. Only Peter Howe, (the scorer in September 1905), Garreth Roberts (February 1989) and Stephen Hunt (August 2009) have ever scored for the Tigers in League matches there, and those games ended in 5-1, 2-1 and 2-1 defeats respectively. A trio of goalless draws, the most recent in February 2009, offers a thimbleful of further relief from one of the truly abject head-to-head records in League football, though fans of the iconic 1966 side will at least remember the 2-2 draw in west London achieved in the sixth round of the FA Cup prior to a hard-fought defeat in the replay.
City’s side was devoid of names without Bremner, and not many of the XI that was at the mercy of the Chelsea juggernaut on and off the pitch are regarded as club legends. Picks of the bunch were Wealands, an agile and underrated keeper who spent the vast majority of the 70s at Boothferry Park, and the long-serving duo of deVries and Lord, both from the ranks (Lord having debuted in 1967 before spending the next decade fending off graceless criticism) and both leaving the club (in deVries’ case, to great surprise; less so for Lord, who was injured) in the infamous Mike Smith clearout of 1980.
Haigh was just 19 but had been in the first team picture for two years, and three weeks after this game, would win his solitary England Under 21 cap. Croft alongside him was the senior pro but was still just 23, with the two of them looking as solid as any centre back pairing for a club with limited funds could hope to nurture. Both were also jettisoned by Smith in 1980. Daniel, meanwhile, was the ablest defender in the team, as proved by his own elevation to the national Under 21 ranks the previous month. He later played in the same representative game as Haigh and won seven caps in total before joining Wolves a year later and becoming an established top flight defender. Dave Roberts was the only full international in the team, with five caps for Wales next to his name by the time of this game. He played against England 17 days later in the Home Internationals at Wembley and had made 11 appearances for his country in total by the time City sold him to Cardiff in the summer of 1978.
Galvin and Sunley had big things expected of them but never properly delivered, while teenage striker Rob McDonald, talked up by Moore at the start of the game, ended up overpowered by the rigours of English second tier football and instead carved out a nomadic living in Scandinavia before a brief and featureless attempt at a renaissance in the top flight with Newcastle United at the end of the 1980s. Gordon Nisbet, the wide midfielder signed earlier in the season from West Bromwich Albion, took over from Daniel as right back and was the last of this XI to leave the club, just before Christmas 1980. The unused substitute Dave Gibson, a wide attacker, left the club the following season without ever scoring a goal. Aside from Bremner, there were other prominent players absent through injury at the time, such as John Hawley, Ian Dobson and George Lyall, the latter of whom never recovered from the broken leg he suffered in the February.
After six years of waving, City finally drowned the next season. Three managers had periods in charge of the club and all were culpable during a very sickening relegation, hence the sale of assets like Daniel, Roberts and Hawley at its conclusion. They next played Chelsea in the third round of the 1981/82 FA Cup, drawing 0-0 at the Bridge before losing at Boothferry Park to goals from the undistinguished pairing of Alan Mayes and John Bumstead. Chelsea were, at this stage, back in the second tier after relegation in 1979, and they yo-yo’d a bit, going back up in 1984 before losing in the play-offs in 1988 when the embryonic version of the end-of-season contest included one side trying to stave off the drop. Irritated by this, they went straight back up the following year as champions and have been in the top flight ever since.
Bonetti, Harris and Cooke attained a ludicrous 1,554 League appearances for Chelsea between them; Harris remains the record holder for the club with 655, which even current long servers John Terry and Frank Lampard won’t get near, though keeper Petr Čech, still only 30, might stand a chance if he plays unhindered for another decade. Wilkins was sold to Manchester United following the drop in 1979 before enjoying a spell in Italy, remaining a first-choice (and first-rate) midfielder for his country right through to 1987, with a few gags about his premature baldness and daft sending off at the 1986 World Cup along the way. The likes of Wicks, Langley, Locke, Finnieston, Britton, Lewington and the true unknown of this team, left back Jon Sparrow, didn’t quite fulfil their potential and this lacklustre version of Chelsea came to represent the most high-profile spell of their careers. Teenage sub Clive Walker, a winger who didn’t get on to the pitch, was the last to exit Stamford Bridge, eventually leaving in 1984.
Though Chelsea’s season was now over, City still had one game left, three days later on the other side of London. They had to go to the team then known as just Orient, and a win for the Tigers – an unlikely prospect, as City had managed just one away from home all season – would relegate the Os and keep Carlisle up. Anything else would have the opposite effect, and so predictably Orient managed a 1-1 draw and Carlisle were sent packing on goal difference. For the second year in a row, City finished 14th. And it’s coincidental that the current version of City’s next two trips to London are to Chelsea and (Leyton) Orient, really.
Back in the mid 70s, the one thing about Chelsea not to be feared was the actual team, the epitome of a work in progress that was crammed with over-promoted teenagers (all good players, but often not deemed to be truly ready for weekly senior football) and a trio of slowing, greying legends (joined later by a fourth when Peter Osgood made an unwise return to a scene of former glories). The ground, however, was a crumbling, half rebuilt wreck, with the Shed named appropriately for its lack of concession to luxury as well as burdened with the reputation of one of the game’s genuinely chilling meeting places for the unruly element that tainted the era. And boy, did they fill the Shed – and the other sections that day – as the 43,718 crowd would not be bettered for a normal League game involving the Tigers until the trip in the Premier League to Newcastle United in September 2008. Whatever gripes one can air about the modern-day Chelsea (and there are many), there is no cause to criticise the facilities, with both tiers allocated to away fans representing one of the best views of a pitch in the Premier League.
Kudos, incidentally, to Chelsea TV for not being tempted by any editing to try to shroud the activity of their supporters that day in 1977. By comparison, the occasion this weekend will be somewhat more sanitised, more serene and even more prone to hyperbole as the Sky team salivate over Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge and pepper their necessarily evil presence with as much verbal smoke blowing up the Special Anus as possible.
One thing about the coverage this weekend that will be similar to 1977, however, (no, not the scoreline – though now you mention it…) is the total inconsequence of City’s presence on the park. At least ITV had regionalisation as an excuse back then.