Chelsea's original lion cubs
Inside Blue Thu 2 Nov 2017
Five Chelsea youngsters helped England's Under-17s to World Cup glory, but it isn't the first time a heavy Blues presence has contributed to a youth triumph by the Three Lions.
Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi, Callum Hudson-Odoi, George McEachran and Jon Panzo all played significant roles for England as they won this year's FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India, the first time the Three Lions had ever won that tournament.
However, in 1975 England also lifted the trophy in a competition then known as “The Little World Cup” with four Chelsea players in the thick of the action, plus another who would later have a huge impact on the club as a player and manager.
That name was a little misleading as it had been taken over from FIFA by UEFA by that time, and only included European teams, officially becoming labelled the UEFA Youth Tournament.
Held in Switzerland, it saw the Blues' Tommy Langley, John Sparrow, Steve Wicks and Ray Wilkins join their Under-18 team-mates, including Glenn Hoddle, on a charge to glory.
Wilkins was the skipper of the team, demonstrating the leadership skills which would see him take on the same role for Chelsea's first team before the end of the summer, and was one of two future England senior captains in the side, alongside Bryan Robson. It was certainly a formidable midfield line-up, as Wilkins, Robson, Hoddle and Manchester City's Peter Barnes would go on to earn a combined 249 senior caps for England.
The Three Lions qualified by defeating Spain 2-1 in a two-legged play-off, with Blues striker Tommy Langley (above) providing the cross for the winning goal, having already been the star performer in a friendly warm-up tournament in Las Palmas. Langley was one of the younger members of the team, having only recently made his Chelsea first-team debut aged 16.
By 1977 he was an established member of the Blues side and finished the season as our top scorer, as he would again in the next campaign, when he was also named our Player of the Year. In total he scored 43 goals for Chelsea before moving across west London to Queens Park Rangers in 1980.
Upon arrival in the Alps, England got to work immediately by winning all three games in Group B in the space of just five days, against the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Swiss hosts, scoring eight goals without conceding once.
That led to a semi-final with Hungary, where Chelsea full-back John Sparrow (above, top) took a starring role. The Londoner had already made 20 first-team appearances for the Blues by this point, being another 16-year-old debutant, and got his first goal the previous season.
He supplied two in the semi, both from free-kicks, as the Three Lions booked their place in the final with a 3-1 win. However, Sparrow never managed to secure a regular place in the team at Chelsea and would move on for Exeter City, following a loan spell with Millwall, in 1980.
The decisive match which claimed England the trophy also had a Blues player as the hero, fittingly captain Wilkins (above), who had already scored twice in the 4-0 group-stage thrashing of Switzerland.
'Butch' got the only goal of the final against Finland, delicately chipping the goalkeeper in the fifth minute of extra-time, signalling the end of the match and crowning his side as sudden-death winners in an early experiment with the golden goal rule.
Wilkins was one of the most experienced players in the team, having already been a regular in midfield for Chelsea during the 1974/75 season, even if that campaign ended in relegation for the Blues. By the start of 1975/76 he was wearing the captain's armband at Stamford Bridge too, becoming the figurehead for a rebuilt youthful Chelsea side which would earn promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt. However, with the club struggling financially following another relegation in 1979, he was sold to Manchester United to help balance the books.
Wicks (above, right) also played his part as an imposing physical presence at the heart of the defence and was another leading member of the late-Seventies Chelsea team who would be forced to move on from Stamford Bridge for the good of the club's precarious financial situation, admitting the mixed emotions left him in tears as he departed our stadium for the last time.
Not before he had made 128 appearances and helped us to two promotions, though, and he would eventually return to the Bridge to play another 37 games over two seasons from 1986, as he ended his career back in SW6.