We look back to match in the Midlands at this time of year over three decades ago…
On Monday it will be 31 years since a crucial moment in Chelsea history, when Bobby Campbell’s resurgent team hit the summit of Division Two for the first time. Uniquely relegated through the play-offs the previous season, the Blues had started the tier-two campaign poorly, taking time to adjust to the inevitable change of personnel. Inconsistency had struck again the previous weekend as a 2-0 lead at home to promotion rivals Portsmouth became a 2-3 deficit, only for Kevin Wilson to restore parity at 3-3.At 27, marksman Wilson was in his prime and over the course of the campaign seasoned pros such as Graham Roberts and Peter Nicholas (pictured top, carrying Bobby Campbell) would make their debut, but alongside teenagers including David Lee and Graeme Le Saux. For the trip to Birmingham City on Friday 16 December 1988, Lee was part of a youthful defence featuring another 19-year-old, Gareth Hall, at right-back, left-back Tony Dorigo, 22, as well as Roberts, a ‘veteran’ centre-half at 29. Lee, Hall and Dorigo each had a hand in one of the Blues’ goals against Pompey. And two of their beneficiaries, Kerry Dixon and Gordon Durie, did much of the damage again at St Andrew’s.
A devastating three-goal spell either side of the break put the troubled hosts in their place, Durie, twice, and Dixon capitalising on defensive errors to beat goalie Martin Thomas. ‘Defenders stood, transfixed, as if Santa Claus had popped up in the penalty area, while Chelsea players were scoring,’ groaned a local scribe. Even the visitors’ shirts – red and white hoops – had a festive feel to them.
Steve Whitton pulled one back for Garry Pendrey’s side with his head but the three-goal advantage was restored permanently by Dixon in the last minute from a shot on the run.
Taking over top spot was a huge boost to morale and Campbell’s well-assembled team did not look back. Chelsea were beaten only once in the league before the end of the season, the sole loss coming at Leicester on 15 April, the same day as the Hillsborough disaster. That run included the visit of a Bournemouth side managed by Harry Redknapp in March 1989, a year after Campbell took the reins at Stamford Bridge from John Hollins. His key signing Roberts was among those on target in a 3-0 thrashing of the Cherries.
The skipper netted 15 goals over the season, 13 of them, including this one, from the spot – still a club record. Ten games later the Blues were promoted as champions with a 99-point haul. We have never been relegated since.
By Rick Glanvill