Chelsea reaching the FA Cup semi-final for the 10th time had set supporters at fever pitch. Everyone wanted a ticket for the last-four match against lowly Watford at neutral ground White Hart Lane on Saturday 14 March.
Around 18,000 tickets were allocated for the west Londoners. Seats in the stands were set aside for season ticket holders, with prices ranging from 50s to 20s (£2.50 to £1). Supporters’ club members were also entitled to terrace tickets at 10s (50p) a pop, with the remainder going on general sale.The only reason for season ticket holders to queue at the club’s box office before it opened at 10am on Sunday 8 March was to pick a favourable spot, so the majority who camped out after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest in order not to miss out were regular attenders without an annual pass. The Black Bull pub (now the Chelsea Pensioner) on Fulham Road loved a lock-in, and was often open in the early hours to those who knew and fancied fortification before the long wait.At the same time on Sunday morning the Supporters’ Shop on the corner of Fulham Road and Cedarne Road, adjoining Fulham Town Hall, opened its doors to card-carrying club members wanting to secure a ticket.So it was that on Saturday night/Sunday morning the Fulham Broadway area was swamped, demand dwarfed supply, and amid chaotic scenes the ‘sold out’ signs went up.
Another problem was the hexed location of the Watford match, as the Nottingham Forest programme a week before noted: ‘In 1967 we beat the Villa Park semi-final jinx at the third attempt and, remembering what happened in 1950 and 1952, we hope to deal likewise with the Tottenham semi-final bogey.’ Worse still, both those Fifties defeats had come at the hands of Arsenal.Superstitions, though, meant little to those unfortunates who missed out on a ticket. Where to follow the game? At lunchtime on BBC One, the Grandstand programme had its FA Cup semi-final preview with Sam Leitch, and results at ten to five. Match of the Day was at 10.05pm. Radio 2 carried no match commentary, though. Not even the 17th Fulham Scouts Hospital Football Commentaries broadcast to local hospitals was available – they only covered home games at the Bridge. A bleak scenario.The lucky few packed into the Lane were taken through the gamut of emotions experienced by every generation of Chelsea supporter. Chant after chant lustily voiced, a sea of scarves held aloft, toilet rolls thrown at the goal net, keenly fashioned flags and banners, silver foil cup replicas, surges that swept you involuntarily five steps down the terrace. And on the pitch tension, spectacularly released.
For the best part of an hour against Watford, on a sand-strewn beach of a pitch, Ken Furphy’s relegation-haunted Division Two side held firm at 1-1, and might have sneaked the lead. Alan Hudson’s corner had met the head of John Dempsey for David Webb to prod home, but minutes later Terry Garbett’s bouncing shot from outside the box had eluded Peter Bonetti.Knocked back for a while, Chelsea eventually gained midfield mastery through Hudson and John Hollins. On 58 minutes a sensational six-man move concluded with Peter Houseman crossing and Peter Osgood (pictured top) heading into an empty net.
Then, as one report stated, came: ‘Chelsea’s shattering and characteristic second-half goal burst, three of them in six minutes.’ Houseman slalomed past three players and fired a third, Ian Hutchinson whipped in a fourth on the swivel, and Houseman made it five. Watford were left shellshocked while the massed ranks of travelling Chelsea fans were delirious with belief that a place in the final was secured, and that this time would not be like 1967, no matter who the opponent might be.The 5-1 final score was the biggest victory racked up by any FA Cup semi-finalist for 31 years, and only the second time the Blues had hit five away from Stamford Bridge in the history of the competition. The previous occasion was a victory by the same scoreline in a 1952 quarter-final replay at Villa Park… against fellow semi-finalists Leeds United.
Chelsea’s ‘third time lucky’ maxim was also beginning to ring true. And after two unsuccessful attempts in 1915 and 1967, now came the chance to conquer the ultimate hoodoo with FA Cup final number three.Manchester United and Leeds played out a semi-final draw at Villa Park, 0-0 after extra time, before at Bolton’s Burnden Park, this latter-day War of the Roses was settled by an early goal from Leeds’s Billy Bremner.Fate had decreed Chelsea’s date with destiny on 11 April at Wembley would match the Blues with their most hated of rivals.
By Rick Glanvill
Try the Retro Blues box set on the 5th Stand for more from this great Chelsea era