THE STORY OF CHELSEA
CHAPTER 4: Swinging London – Chelsea and the Kings of the King’s Road
‘Charlie Cooke hit the ball round one side of Ron Yeats and ran off the pitch, round the track, round the other side of the corner flag, and got the ball. And I thought, “Bloomin’ hell, wouldn’t it be lovely to come and play with this mob!”’
- David Webb, prior to signing for Chelsea in 1968
The Chelsea that fell from grace, that dipped from winning the league to relegation in seven seasons, did not just become great again as the whirlwind Sixties arrived, the club epitomised everything that was ‘swinging’ about the decade. Like the explosion of new music, art, fashion, science and political movements that swept the world, the Blues’ revival was rooted in youth.
Adjacent to the King’s Road, one of the epicentres of ‘Swinging London’, the club blossomed once more with a young manager at the helm, Tommy Docherty in his first job in charge having briefly been a player/coach at Chelsea. It grew strong again with fledgling players in the side, many the early fruits of the pioneering youth system developed under the previous two managers.
That the Chelsea Juniors could produce players of the very highest calibre had been proved beyond all doubt in Ted Drake’s time as manager, with Bobby Smith the first to break through in 1953. The experienced side that had captured the league championship in ’55 morphed into a younger but less consistent group dubbed ‘Drake’s Ducklings’ – the nickname a nod to Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ of the same time.
Though not high achievers, Drake’s version produced an exceptional talent who remains to many eyes the greatest finisher English football has ever seen: Jimmy Greaves.
In his first full season with the Chelsea Juniors, Greaves scored a record 114 goals so no wonder there was already great interest in him when he made his senior debut at Tottenham aged 17 in the first game of 1957/58. He scored, of course, and he would take that total to 132 in just 169 games over his four Chelsea seasons, his drifting dribbling and dead-eyed goalscoring with either foot the star attractions.
As Greaves emerged, jet-age football was gradually transforming in other ways. The advent of floodlights reimagined stadiums including Stamford Bridge as theatres, ushering in night matches where the darkened crowd became a noisy, purposeful, horde. One response was the arrival of the midweek League Cup in 1960, but by then new trans-European competitions were capturing the imagination.
Denied entry to the inaugural European Cup by the Football League in 1955, despite playing a big part in its creation, Chelsea’s continental debut came on 30 September 1958 in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup away to a Copenhagen select XI, Frem, in 1958. Naturally Greaves was on the scoresheet in a 3-1 victory, but the Blues bowed out against Belgrade in the quarter-finals of the competition that would become the UEFA Cup/Europa League.
The goals of Greaves and fellow homegrown Ron Tindall were keeping afloat a team sinking under the weight of goals conceded, however. After 13 hat-tricks, including three five-goal and three four-goal hauls, Greaves was sold to AC Milan, and Chelsea departed the top division in England too the following season. It was no surprise as the marksman had made no secret of his dislike of English football’s salary cap – which ironically ended just months later – but a huge blow to Drake’s squad.
‘One wonders, with some desperation, what Chelsea will do without him next season’ – BBC TV commentator during Greaves’ last Chelsea game, when he scored all four goals in a 4-3 win, taking his season’s total for 1960/61 to 41, a club record.
Thankfully, desperation was averted. There were plenty more young stars to come from the Chelsea Juniors, who won the FA Youth Cup two seasons running in 1960 and 1961. Drake would not be the beneficiary. Docherty, his successor, was all too happy to build his side on this youthful foundation.
Chelsea call for the Doc
Strikers Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, midfielder Terry Venables, winger Bert Murray, defenders Ken Shellito and Allan Harris – with a handful of older heads plus new signing from Scotland Eddie McCreadie, they took Chelsea back into Division One at the first time of asking, and were the basis for the exciting seasons to come.
‘Come on my little diamonds!’ Docherty – ‘the Doc’ – was famously filmed shouting encouragingly, and another team nickname was born.
More Juniors, John Hollins and Allan Harris’s brother Ron, soon became regulars too and this Chelsea team were being talked about far beyond London SW6.
Football was beginning to be televised like never before, with the birth of iconic highlights show Match of the Day, and the young, sharp, witty Docherty suited the media coverage.
The Mod youth subculture was in its heyday, with its equally sharp tailoring and continental flair, and Docherty was a modernist too.
He introduced a radical new Chelsea kit, with white shorts changed to blue and blue socks to white – an ensemble so stylish it endures, and the team played with equal panache.
The Doc’s football outlook was far-sighted, not parochial, and influenced by the way the game was played in Spain and South America. He introduced flying full-backs to the English game, with Shellito and McCreadie so successful in their innovative roles that West Germany asked to play friendlies against Chelsea in preparation for meeting the likes of Brazil in the 1966 World Cup. Bonetti’s careful distribution sprung counter-attacks and the strikers had pace and energy to burn.
Docherty later mused that he should have called his young team ‘my little dynamos’ and it summarised the bustling imagination and perpetual motion of his side, who attracted huge crowds once again. The Blues finished fifth in our first season back in the top flight and then third, despite Shellito being cruelly struck by injury.
Out from the Shed came a young rising star
Late on in that 1964/65 season, the team was genuinely in contention for a treble of trophies and eventually captured one – our first knockout competition silverware – as London’s first League Cup-winners. During that brilliant floodlit campaign on the way to lifting the three-handled trophy, there were two moments especially to cherish.
One came in the final against Leicester City, which was held over two legs. In the first match at Stamford Bridge, injuries meant full-back McCreadie was deployed as a stand-in no.9 and scored an extraordinary goal, beginning his solo run not far from where he would normally be defending, and slotting past Gordon Banks for what ultimately proved to be the winning goal in a tie that finished 3-2.
An even more significant moment came earlier in the League Cup run, when Stamford Bridge was introduced to its first king. In a replay against Workington in mid-December, the 17-year-old Peter Osgood was handed his debut by Docherty. He did not disappoint.
The young striker scored both the goals in a 2-0 win to herald his surprisingly late arrival at a professional club. His uncle had written to Chelsea asking for a trial to take Osgood away from the non-league pitches of the Windsor area where he was working as a bricklayer. Docherty, mindful other scouts might be watching, had him hauled off at half-time during that trial and signed.
‘Where have you been all this time?’ the team’s midfield schemer Terry Venables remembers being the reaction from the players when they first saw someone of Ossie’s skill suddenly emerge on the scene.
Wherever he had been, he was at Chelsea now, and he would be the shining star at the Bridge for nearly a decade.
Early in the season following Osgood’s debut, 1965/66, Docherty, so enamoured with this new talent, told him he would have a run of 10 games in the side regardless of how well he performed. The pressure was off and it was enough to cement his place in the team.
All was going well for Ossie but there would be a significant set-back a year later when his leg was broken in a League Cup game against Blackpool. It took him almost a year to return and he later maintained he was never quite the same player again. Weight gained when out of action could not be shed but if the searing, gliding pace was a little diminished after that, he compensated with cleverness, and more than enough talent remained for Osgood to be crowned the King of Stamford Bridge.
That title was bestowed on him in song by the Shed End at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea’s most vocal fans were now congregating on the terrace at the Fulham Road end of the ground. A peculiar roof that covered just a small portion of the south end had originally been built in the 1930s to shelter bookmakers at greyhound race meetings.
More semis and a final
The FA Cup – almost as big a deal as the League title back then – proved Docherty’s unluckiest competition, even though he led Chelsea to our first ever Wembley final in a major tournament. Three years running, from 1965 to 1967, the Blues made it as far as the semi-final stage, each time played at Villa Park.
The first two of those semi-finals ended in defeat, the first bitterly so as we were eliminated by Liverpool having had a goal inexplicably ruled out when the game was scoreless. A year later, the Blues were the favourites to beat Sheffield Wednesday but again underperformed on the day.
It was third time lucky however when back at Villa for the 1966/67 semi, we overcame Don Revie’s Leeds United who this time were the side to suffer a goal chalked off, a very late equaliser disallowed when the ref declared he had not blown his whistle. The Chelsea goal came from Tony Hateley, known exclusively for his aerial ability and signed from Liverpool as a stand-in for the injured Osgood.
For the first time since 1915 (excluding two appearances in the wartime equivalent) jubilant Blues fans could celebrate reaching the FA Cup showpiece, against Tottenham in May 1967. The prospect of the first ever ‘Cockney cup final’, with the Blues’ Ron Harris the occasion’s youngest ever skipper, could not prevent another under-par Chelsea performance. Bobby Tambling scored our consolation in a 2-1 defeat made all the harder to take by our former stars, Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, playing for the opposition.
We would be back in the FA Cup final soon enough, although Docherty would not have another chance to win it as Chelsea manager. His other breakthrough came in Europe and a sensational 1965/66 Fairs Cup campaign.
This was true glamour in west London, especially when teams like Roma, AC Milan and Barcelona were in town. Stamford Bridge was swinging with the rest of London at the time. The Beatles, the darlings of Merseyside and poster boys of the whole era, had moved to the capital city and Edith Grove, just around the corner from our stadium, was home to the Rolling Stones.
Brazil’s foremost musicians, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, even whiled away part of their late-Sixties exile in London amid huge crowds at our stadium. The Bridge was the place to be.
A Chelsea fan since training with the team in preparation for a film part in the 1940s, Richard Attenborough, the award-winning actor, director and producer, and also Chelsea FC director, was sharing in his love for Stamford Bridge on match days by bringing along a plethora of showbiz stars as guests. They ranged from English thespians such as Laurence Olivier and John Mills through to Hollywood’s greatest stars like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen, adding considerably to Chelsea’s reputation as London’s glamour club. An early 1970s programme feature, ‘Stars In The Stands’, would showcase showbiz’s great and good expressing their enduring love for the Blues.
The Fairs Cup of 1965/66 provided a focal point and the club did not defend the League Cup (entry to which was optional). This continental action – exotic stars and different football cultures – was lapped up by those in a newly-opened West Stand. This covered, modernistic creation replaced the massive open terrace on that side of the ground, significantly increasing the seated capacity and noise projection at the Bridge.
‘By now Chelsea were without doubt regarded as London’s most glamorous football club, on the verge of realising that potential foreseen by Gus Mears and Frederick Parker in those long ago Edwardian days.’
– Chelsea chronicler Scott Cheshire
On a September evening early in the season, Chelsea hosted AS Roma and recorded a superb 4-1 win with Terry Venables scoring an artful hat-trick, although the Italians’ crude tackles and dirty tricks niggled to the point where Eddie McCreadie was sent off for a retaliatory punch.
There were repercussions when we played in Rome, with many missiles launched at the visiting players and the coach attacked on its return to the airport. A 0-0 draw was more than enough to take us on to beat Wiener Sport-Klub from Austria, and then face more Serie A opposition in AC Milan.
Osgood scored a brilliant goal in the home leg against the stellar 1963 European Cup-winners but the two teams could not be separated over the two matches, nor a third one – a play-off in Milan’s San Siro. So, in the era before penalty shoot-outs, the decider was a toss of a coin which resulted in Harris selecting ‘heads’ and Chelsea smiles.
German club Munich 1860 were comfortably overcome in the quarter-finals and the Blues met Barcelona, packed with internationals, in the last four. The first leg at the Bridge, which injured key players including Tambling and McCreadie would miss, was called off by the referee due to a waterlogged pitch. Docherty later claimed he had mischievously enlisted the local fire brigade to flood the playing surface so the second leg was in London, but it had rained for several days.
After Barca won 2-0 in Catalonia eight days later, the Blues won the rearranged game at the Bridge 2-0. Again, a third game was needed, but this time no coin toss would follow as Barcelona ran out 5-0 winners. It was not great watching for those gathered at Stamford Bridge for the first ever simulcast on big screens. Like the players in Spain, the screens blew over. There would be a long wait for the next meeting, but this certainly was not the last big European competition clash between Chelsea and Barcelona.
By this stage, fractures were appearing and the Doc had begun dismantling his original Diamonds. One of the initiators for the shake-up was the manager’s disappointment with their shoddy semi-final showing against Sheffield Wednesday in 1966, and another had happened a season earlier, towards the end of the 1964/65 campaign when Chelsea had been in proper contention for a unique treble.
As the season drew to a close, the FA Cup semi-final was lost but the league title could still be added to the League Cup success and a 2-2 draw with West Brom put the Blues top. With the final three games of the season in the north-west of England, the Doc decided to keep his players billeted in a Blackpool hotel and the chickens came home to roost. After a lacklustre defeat at Anfield, an angry Docherty placed a curfew on his squad.
One evening, eight of his cooped-up stars sneaked off for a night out. The Doc snapped, sent them back to London and called for the reserves. Chelsea were on the front page of the newspapers for the wrong reasons and soon the back pages were telling the tale of a big defeat at Burnley for the now-makeshift side.
The league-title dream had died with many questioning the strict disciplinary actions by the young manager. Docherty survived thanks to his strong relationship with key ally, chairman Joe Mears, but after he died suddenly in June 1966 his replacement, Bill Pratt rarely saw eye-to-eye with the unpredictable manager.
By then Docherty had signed skilful Charlie Cooke from his native Scotland to replace the clever Venables, whom he believed undermined him with his own coaching ideas; Barry Bridges was making way for Osgood; and winger Bert Murray and forward George Graham were shown the door while others handed in transfer requests.
The regime seemed mired in controversy. There were bonus and ticketing disputes between players and club before the 1967 FA Cup final defeat and when unacceptable behaviour from Docherty on a pre-season tour earned him a 28-day suspension by the FA, it was the final straw for his Chelsea reign.
He would continue on as one of football management’s most colourful and charismatic characters, and worked for over a dozen clubs and his country, but he always maintained a great love for the one where that all started, and where he was the catalyst for significant change that ran out of steam.
Sexton and the Seventies herald silverware
Docherty’s replacement was Dave Sexton, the studious son of a prizefighter who had coached the Blues’ first team before moving elsewhere to begin his own management career. Sexton’s less ebullient character but inspired tactics made him a popular choice among the players. Soon, he would turn Chelsea into major trophy winners once more.
If Docherty’s teams were Cavalier, Sexton introduced more Roundheads. More steel was added with new signings such as combative defenders David Webb and John Dempsey, and in came strikers Alan Birchenall and Ian Hutchinson, the latter a never-say-die star from non-league. If Docherty’s signing of Tommy Baldwin had suggested the Blues were moving away from top marksman Bobby Tambling, these new arrivals upfront confirmed it.
The prolific striker, who had filled the hole left by Greaves, moved wider following the emergence of Osgood but with his pace and pinpoint shooting, the goals continued to flow from his left boot, and on occasions his right, throughout the Sixties. By the time Tambling left he had set a club record of 202 goals that stood until Frank Lampard surpassed it over 40 years later.
A highlight of those early Sexton seasons was defeating newly crowned European champions Manchester United 4-0 at Old Trafford in August 1968, and a crazy story came later that same season in the FA Cup, when with Chelsea 2-0 up and close to winning a replay against Preston North End, the Stamford Bridge floodlights failed and could not be quickly resuscitated.
The match was abandoned and rearranged for the following Monday but not in the evening, in the afternoon instead. Still a crowd of 36,522 turned up, not far short of the original game’s attendance as work was dodged and school skived. Some fans even lost their jobs as a result but at least they had the reward of watching drama and success. Preston led with a minute to go but goals from Webb and Cooke in injury time turned the tables.
We went out in the quarter-finals and finished fifth in the league that season, which would be elevated to third in 1969/70. Sexton’s more cerebral approach demanded exertion – including defending – from each team member and he was happy to build flamboyance on a solid rearguard. Impressive league campaigns were shaking off the club’s age-old image of inconsistency.
New stars emerged who would come to adorn the club’s history. Peter Bonetti was outstanding in goal with his command of the penalty area and agility worthy of his ‘The Cat’ nickname. The defence in front with Sexton signings Webb and Dempsey augmenting Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Eddie McCreadie was uncompromising. With Hudson in the middle was the leather-lunged John Hollins and the magical dribbling of Charlie Cooke, while Peter Houseman was very effective at creating chances with his crosses.
In attack, the fearless Ian Hutchinson was forming a great partnership with Peter Osgood, while Tommy Baldwin and Marvin Hinton were vital in executing Sexton’s schemes to thwart or hurt the opposition. An 18-year-old Alan Hudson, who grew up within the sound of the Stamford Bridge crowd, had established himself in the team, and his dynamic, passing midfield game crystallised this Chelsea side into something special.
All came to a peak in one glorious campaign. Birmingham and Burnley were defeated in the early rounds of the 1969/70 FA Cup before big away wins in London derbies (4-1 against Crystal Palace and 4-2 versus QPR) put the Blues in the semi-final for the fourth time in six seasons.
This time the venue was White Hart Lane, not Villa Park, and third-tier Watford were dismissed 5-1 on a ploughed field of a pitch. Osgood, again among the scorers, had now netted in each round.
Awaiting in the final at Wembley were arch-rivals Leeds, the defending league champions. We had defeated the Yorkshiremen in the semis three years earlier but not since – until a League Cup replay in October 1969. The 1970 final would be the fifth meeting of the season between the two teams, who disliked each other intently, and a classic North versus South showpiece. Chelsea were the King’s Road swingers, patrons of the nightclubs and restaurants of west London; Leeds were the gritty White Rose club, who bonded over games of bingo.
Matches between the two had been pockmarked with foul-play. Chelsea called their foes ‘dirty Leeds’ while Revie’s men thought the Blues ‘kicked everything above grass level’. Unlike other teams, Don Revie’s Whites were unable to intimidate the Londoners, who gave as good as they got.
A showjumping event many months earlier followed by a long, cold and wet winter had ruined the usually pristine Wembley turf, helping bring an even more agricultural feel to the final.
Sadly, Hudson was missing with an injury and the uneven surface played a part in Leeds’ opening goal when the ball failed to bounce and rolled under McCreadie’s foot on the goal-line. Leeds goalie Gary Sprake made a mess of a Houseman shot for the equaliser, but Leeds scored again. Three minutes later, with only four left on the clock, Chelsea fans everywhere were celebrating a headed Hutchinson equaliser. Thanks also to some typical Bonetti aerobatics, we had earned a replay despite being second-best on the day.
An inquest into the pitch meant the replayed match two-and-half weeks later was staged under Old Trafford’s tall stands rather than the twin towers. One of Sexton’s great skills was his subtle tactical plans and bold changes, and he made one of his most significant for this rematch. Moving Webb, handed a torrid time at right-back at Wembley by tricky winger Eddie Gray, into the centre of defence allowed ‘Chopper’ Harris to move wide and take care of the Leeds danger man.
Chopper employed his trademark way of diminishing his opponent’s effectiveness with a crunching challenge early on but Chelsea suffered too when Bonetti was clattered in the first half and needed treatment on a swelling knee.
The Whites once again took the lead and with unsettled feuds still simmering from the Wembley game now boiling over, the drama in Manchester gripped the nation. The live television audience across the UK of 28.49 million remains the largest ever for a club football match. Many new Chelsea fans were recruited that night.
A strapped-up ‘Cat' bravely emerged for the second half and limped on to repel the Yorkshiremen’s attacks and just as the opponents appeared to tire, Chelsea equalised, Osgood diving to head in Cooke’s floated delivery for an iconic goal at the Stretford End hailed by a sea of Blues fans.
Ossie had taken his record of scoring in every round of the cup run into the final itself – he remains the last man to do so – and having stood our ground, we were now the better team. The Yorkshire side’s belief waned and in extra time there was, as they say, only going to be one winner.
A major weapon of the team was Hutchinson’s windmill-armed long throw-in, capable of projecting the ball into the heart of the goalmouth, and as the first additional period drew to a close he catapulted one in that caused panic in Leeds’ ranks. The throw was flicked on at the front post to the back, where Webb gained redemption for his Wembley woes by bundling the ball over the line.
Before long, Harris was the first Chelsea captain to be lifting the FA Cup and Sexton’s Blues had something to show for our quality and resilience. The entertainers from the King’s Road had overcome northern grit and pragmatism, and how west London celebrated when the trophy was brought back via train and then paraded on an open-top bus the next day.
Chelsea become continental conquerors
With that first ever FA Cup win, Chelsea earned entry into the European Cup Winners’ Cup and this new competition for Chelsea would prove to be the centrepiece of the 1970/71 season.
Greek and Bulgarian opposition were defeated in the first two rounds before a bigger test was presented by Belgian side Bruges. Trailing 2-0 from the away leg, Chelsea had only pulled one goal back as the second leg entered its 80th minute. But urged on by one of the all-time great Stamford Bridge atmospheres, the equaliser came from Osgood, who had only just completed an eight-week ban for excessive bookings. Ossie had to persuade Sexton to start him having originally been pencilled in for place on the bench. So often the man for the big moment, he netted in extra-time too. Hudson set up his goal and another for Baldwin, the 4-2 aggregate score delivering a place in the semi-finals.
'Osgood came into a Chelsea side desperate for his scoring flair as they set out to pull back from a 2-0 defeat in Belgium,' wrote The Daily Mirror. 'And he obliged in a way that 45,558 fans lucky enough to see this marvellous match will never forget. Osgood signalled his delight by leaping the four-feet barrier surrounding the pitch, to be engulfed by excited fans.'
As Osgood wrote in his autobiography: 'In that moment the fans and I were one, united in euphoria.’
The talisman was absent for the next round, this time through injury, but in an all-English affair against Manchester City, Chelsea won both legs 1-0, home and away.
Matching the previous year’s FA Cup final, our European final opponents wore all-white, this time the famous kit of Real Madrid, and again it would take a replay to decide the destiny of the silverware although this time it would be Chelsea taking the lead and then suffering an equaliser.
Osgood – who else – put his team 1-0 up but in the 90th minute Real levelled following a Dempsey lapse, earning extra-time and ultimately a replay, held two days later on Friday 21 May 1971.
The venue for both games was the Piraeus port district of Athens in Greece and many of the large numbers of Chelsea fans who had made the journey out there had to return home after the first game. Many, though, managed to remain, some even sleeping on the beach, while others flew out for the replay.
Injury to Hollins tested Sexton’s tactics again but Hudson was fit following his FA Cup disappointment 12 months earlier and Cooke was outstanding in both games, this time deployed deeper after the Chelsea manager learned the Spaniards had hatched special plans to thwart the winger.
After Webb in the FA Cup, it was defender Dempsey’s turn for replay redemption after first-game agony. The reliable centre-back opened the scoring with a strike as emphatic as it was unexpected. Osgood made it 2-0 and although the Spaniards pulled a goal back, an outstanding Bonetti save prevented any chance of another. Days after fans joined Ossie and co. in a lap of honour around the Karaiskaki Stadium, another trophy was being paraded in London by one of the most cherished and stylish Chelsea sides ever. The King’s Road never had so much swagger, before or since.
The famous Chelsea club anthem may not have been recorded by those players until another cup final beckoned a year further on, but in May 1971 when the Cup Winners’ Cup was triumphantly paired with the FA Cup from April 1970 – even on the Chelsea badge – there was no disputing that at that very special moment, blue most definitely was the colour!