An England legend played his final game when Manchester United visited Stamford Bridge in the mid-1970s, but the Blues had our star too…

Bobby Charlton was supposed to be the talk of the day when Chelsea entertained Manchester United in April 1973. It had been announced this would be his 751st and last appearance for the Red Devils before taking the coaching reins at Preston, and before kick-off Blues chairman Brian Mears made a presentation to the 35-year-old England World Cup-winner.

To avoid accusations of impropriety, the Football Association insisted the value of Chelsea’s pre-match proffering be limited to £25. Nowadays handing an athlete an inscribed silver cigarette case would be most peculiar, but in the early Seventies it was as common a retirement gift as a carriage clock. A big crowd of 44,184 was present, though few could see what was happening because of the swarm of photographers.

The attendance was all the more impressive because the old East Stand had been demolished and the new one, a 10,900-capacity modern construction dubbed the ‘Concorde of the Fulham Road’, was still emerging behind hoardings, off-schedule and over-budget. Curiously absent as both teams formed a guard of honour for the 106-cap man was any FA or England presence.

What ensued was classic end-of-season fare between the hosts, set to finish 12th, and 18th-placed United. Charlton looked off the pace (his manager, Tommy Doherty, afterwards admitted, ‘I’ll be able to replace him on the field but not off it’) and even the brightest moment, Peter Osgood’s winner, was less than satisfying in its execution.

As Daily Express writer Desmond Hackett put it: ‘It was Osgood, commendably patient and tolerant, who recalled the majesty and command that once belonged to Charlton. It was a pity his winning goal was such a shambles that he almost apologised.’

The goal did, though, produce one of the most iconic celebrations by the charismatic striker, who on the hour controlled a Tommy Baldwin header, sweeping the ball past his marker, Jim Holton.

As he surged towards the six-yard area the ball suddenly bumped up and off his shin, careering past Alex Stepney. Ossie followed the ball into the goal, fell to his knees grinning, and then shrugged.

‘I wanted us to play better for my last game,’ said Charlton in the aftermath. Far worse was to come in his absence: a year later Man United were relegated for the fifth time in their history.

by Rick Glanvill