Having joined the other Chelsea fans who this week relived the titanic tussle and eventual victory against Leeds United, our columnist Giles Smith has some suggestions for the future of football, a caution for those at Old Trafford on the night, and a rather scary thought...
What a game! What a night! Unbelievable scenes. We’ve only gone and won the 1970 FA Cup final after a replay at Old Trafford!Were you there? It was on the app last night, as live, in honour of the 50th anniversary, and can watched in full here and now. And talk about exertion for the cause. As if one version of this final plus extra-time hadn’t been hard enough. Both teams were struggling to stay upright by yesterday’s final whistle - like two heavyweights still swinging away at each other in the 15th round. Except that this fight had gone to 16 rounds. Twice.Heroes all over the pitch, of course: Charlie Cooke, it goes without saying, for the assist for Peter Osgood’s equaliser when things were beginning to look at little lost; and Ossie himself for that ghosted run in behind which was so sweetly timed it briefly left, not just Jack Charlton, but the entire Leeds defence effectively playing in another match altogether.But I do feel we need to single out Peter Bonetti, who twice kept us in it late on – and this despite having had his kneecap all but removed by Mick Jones in the first half. The camera behind the goal brought home the full extent of the crisis at that point – our goalkeeper bent double and wincing like somebody who would surely play no further part while Norman Medhurst valiantly but perhaps ineffectually applied the entire contents of a can of pain-killer.
The referee’s verdict on that particular flying assault, by the way: goal-kick. Refs certainly knew how to ‘keep the game flowing’ in those days.They also knew how to dress for football. That was another oddity. The players were clearly in classic thick cotton tops which must have grown still heavier in the second-half’s obligatory Mancunian rain. The ref, meanwhile, spent the evening wafting around in some kind of zippered bri-nylon air-flow top with a white ‘feature’ collar. And in the case of our friend Mr Eric Jennings of Stourbridge, the zip was lowered to reveal a daring flash of pale chest.Extraordinary. Did the sportswear fabric revolution really happen in refereeing garments before it happened for the players? Startling to think.
Ian Hutchinson had the chance to win it with five minutes remaining but hit the side-netting. This was just after Billy Bremner had almost had his head removed by Eddie McCreadie following the kind of challenge which these days would probably result in a red card (and, indeed, further disciplinary action), but which back then merely qualified for the slightly coy description ‘robust’. But like Bremner hadn’t been asking for it anyway.
One thought, though: would football perhaps be improved by banning the back-pass to the goalkeeper – or, at any rate, by penalising the goalkeeper for picking the ball up in that circumstance? It may be something that’s worth a try.Also substitutes: when Marvin Hinton came on for Peter Osgood in the second half of extra-time he became the only sub used by either side across the four-hour duration of the two ties. Yet, by the closing minutes, the pitch was strewn like a battlefield with cramp victims, including Norman Hunter, whose legend would suggest he tended not to make too much of a fuss about that kind of thing. Clearly tactical substitutions would be a way forward. And, at the risk of raising controversy, maybe teams should have more than one.Our support was magnificent, of course, especially during extra-time when the team most needed it. And how nice to go to Old Trafford and for once hear noise from a crowd. That said, I must admit I was a little disappointed to notice some premature ‘ee-aye-adio’ coming from our end with five minutes to go. You can curse these things, you know. On the other hand, they weren’t wrong. We were going to win the Cup. And we did.Good job, too. Imagine the consequences if we hadn’t. Imagine if that Johnny Giles shot near the end of regulation time had deflected into the goal rather than round the post. What kind of chain reaction might that have set up, passing down through history and altering everything for all of us?No FA Cup would have meant no Cup Winners’ Cup the following season. No Cup Winners’ Cup would have meant no slightly over-weening plans to redevelop the ground in 1972. No slightly over-weening plans to redevelop the ground in 1972 would have meant no Ken Bates rescue package in 1982. No Ken Bates rescue package in 1982 would have meant no Roman Abramovich take-over in 2003. No Roman Abramovich take-over in 2003 would have meant.. well, let’s not even think about what no Roman Abramovich take-over in 2003 would have meant.
But no wonder we all had our knuckles in our mouths in the dying minutes last night. It wasn’t just our first ever FA Cup win that was at stake. So, in a very real sense, was our ability to win it seven more times in the ensuing half-century, along with our ability to sign Didier Drogba, win the league five times and lift the Champions League in 2012. That was an awful lot to lie trembling in the balance as John Dempsey once again went up like a granite wall to head away a deviously outswinging cross from Eddie Gray.The boys in blue clung on, though. Job done. And what a job. ‘We’ll talk about this Cup Final for years,’ said Kenneth Wolstenholme in the commentary box, deep into extra-time. And you know what? I think time will prove him right.
There is the chance for more trophy-winning nostalgia on this website today.