Division One - 21 April 1951
Rooted to the foot of the table, winless for as long as anyone cared to recall, Chelsea needed a miracle to avoid relegation in April 1951.
Manager Billy Birrell was stoical about his side’s plight: ‘No one is taking these failures to heart more than the players themselves,’ he said, hailing the ‘mutual understanding and team spirit.’
Nevertheless, he made one extremely bold selection for the visit of sharpshooter Liddell and his mid-table Merseysiders, replacing experienced goalie Harry Medhurst with the callow young Bill Robertson.
The 22-year-old did not betray his fellow Scot’s faith; in fact he was outstanding, made no mistakes and kept a clean. How his nerves fared is another matter: he was never known to take the field without a tot of whisky first.
Plaudits also went to another youngster, Bobby Smith, 18, one of the first graduates of Birrell’s new Chelsea Juniors scheme. Thirty-thousand spectators cheered wildly when the Yorkshire lad scored the fifth league goal of his debut season. Incredibly, the winner was Chelsea’s first since 13 January, an incredible boost at a vital time of the season.
The 1-0 victory was ‘fully earned, but I am afraid the points have come too late to save [Chelsea],’ averred the Mirror’s John Thompson. How wrong he was: the morale boost was a huge turnaround.
The Pensioners won the last three matches of the season and soared from bottom to 20th — and safety, thanks to a 4-0 last day win over Bolton. That result meant that although Everton, Sheffield Wednesday and Chelsea all ended on 32 points, the Pensioners’ marginally superior goal average – just 0.04 better – preserved top-flight status.