Chelsea, up for a historic treble, win the League Cup but then slip up in a key cup tie and fall away in the league after leading for much of the season. Won’t happen? I don’t think it will, though the unexpected defeat to PSG was a wake-up call for any complacency merchants. It is worth pointing out, though, that exactly fifty years ago this weekend this is just what did happen, in the final that time seems to have forgotten.
Most Chelsea supporters will fondly remember beating Liverpool and Arsenal in Cardiff and Middlesbrough at Wembley in League Cup finals. Many will remember the defeat by Stoke in 1972, the last ‘proper’ final Chelsea reached for 22 years, though nobody expected such a steep decline at the time.
Fewer supporters will probably remember the first League Cup final Chelsea played, and probably even fewer still actually went. I have been lucky enough to find four lifelong supporters who went to the final and their memories have made this piece possible. I am very grateful to Barry Holmes, Steve Lloyd, Allen Mortlock and Peter Noah for taking time out to reminisce. Peter even went to the second leg at Leicester, which I suspect puts him in a very elite group of current Chelsea supporters.
Photo: John Downing/Hulton Archive
Above: Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty catches the train to Swansea
In mid March 1965 a rampant young Chelsea side had the possibility of achieving a unique treble. Top of the League (in a three way tussle with Leeds and Manchester United), in the FA Cup Semi Final and in the League Cup final. The other two were established competitions every club wanted to win, but the League Cup was seen as the poor relation by top clubs, and was not highly regarded by most supporters.
The League Cup had only started in 1961 and given that previous winners were (no disrespect) Aston Villa, Norwich, Birmingham and Leicester it is clear that the top clubs were not that bothered. There was a two legged final and no place in Europe for the winners. Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton Spurs and Arsenal chose not to enter that season. Until it moved to Wembley in 1967 the competition was considered a waste of time by many, especially if you were competing in Europe. Chelsea had not bothered entering in 1961/2 or 1962/3, and a weakened team had been humiliated 3-0 at Swindon in 1963/4.
As a by-product of this lack of interest in the competition by top clubs, crowds were much lower than for League games. In those days, average FA Cup crowds were generally higher than those for league games, but that love of knock-out football had not spread to the League Cup.
In keeping with this trend Chelsea’s home League Cup crowds that season were significantly lower than the League crowds. The five home League Cup crowds totalled under 59,000 with a low of 5,900 vs Swansea (which I am pretty sure is a club record low for a major competition) Even the League Cup match programmes were thinner, 12 pages as opposed to 16. Admission prices were the same as for league games which may not have helped the crowds, especially as prices had just gone up for the first time in twelve years.
The FA Cup clearly caught the imagination among Chelsea supporters in 1965 - 44,300 vs Northampton, 63,200 vs Spurs and 63,600 vs Peterborough. Local paper reports talk of thousands of Peterborough fans mobbing the turnstiles three hours before kick off. (As an aside, this was a game where the police spotted 22 illegal hotdog stands operating around the ground and arrested five stall holders, who were charged and fined. A shame that touts don’t get the same treatment now). League crowds at Stamford Bridge averaged over 37,000 in 1964/65.
The highlight of the Workington programme was a letter from Mick Greenaway (RIP) saying Chelsea’s away support was louder and asking fans at Stamford Bridge to shout more loudly, especially early on in games, to inspire the team. Fifty years on, much of football has changed seismically, but some common issues remain …
Photo: Kent Gavin/Hulton Archive
Above: Chelsea captain Terry Venables at Stamford Bridge. Below: “Doc’s bargain boy” George Graham in training.
Photo: McCabe/Hulton Archive
That was the season manager Tommy Docherty’s classic pre-Ossie front five of Murray, Graham, Bridges, Venables and Tambling came into their own - a key part of ‘Doc’s Diamonds’, a vibrant young team that regularly put out eight home grown players, the other three (McCreadie, Graham and Mortimore/Upton) costing very little . George Graham cost a ludicrous £5,000 from Aston Villa and was described as “Doc’s bargain boy” by the Daily Mirror.
The front five all played over 30 league games and, apart from Venables, all scored in double figures. Bert Murray is probably the least remembered of the five but got 17 league goals from the wing, no mean feat then or now. According to one of Docherty’s autobiographies (I have three, there may be more) the team got a basic £40 a week wage that season, plus league place bonuses so were on almost £100 a week when top of the league, which they were for much of the season. He barely mentions the League Cup wins. The designated League Cup winning players bonus of £25 would therefore have been useful but hardly substantial.
The League Cup squad was shuffled, though, so the squad rotation of the modern era is certainly nothing new. Docherty used it to give first team debuts to Ossie, Jim McCalliog, Joe Fascione and Johnny Boyle. Chelsea played 56 competitive games that season, despite not being in Europe, so the rotation was doubtless necessary.
After winning at Birmingham and beating Notts County and Swansea at home Chelsea were taken to a quarter final replay by then Division Four perennials Workington Town. The replay is notable solely for two second half goals by debutant Peter Osgood.
By the semi final, though, Docherty was clearly taking the competition more seriously as more regulars were selected. Aston Villa were overcome over two legs 4-3 on aggregate and a two legged final against holders Leicester City awaited.
This was Chelsea’s first ever cup final, but the lack of hype was, in retrospect, remarkable. Club programmes, national and local papers all treated it as a barely relevant sideshow. Both legs of final were arranged for a Monday (the first leg was at Stamford Bridge), two days after Saturday league games, despite the Football League running both competitions, which seems almost wilfully perverse. The tournament received no TV coverage and no live radio commentary.
Two days before the first leg Chelsea’s title hopes took a hammer blow. They went to Old Trafford top of the league by three points, but were outfought and outplayed, as Doc admitted to the press afterwards, in a Best-inspired 4-0 thrashing. Chelsea were still top of the league but the air of near-invincibility had gone, although they remained real title contenders for a few more weeks.
The first leg at Stamford Bridge on 15th March (50 years ago this Sunday) was played in heavy rain and, apart from the lucky ones sitting in the old East Stand, most supporters huddled under the architectural oddity that was the old North Stand or under the roof at the back of the Fulham Road end (not to be named The Shed by Clifford Webb for another 18 months). Steve Lloyd comments that it certainly didn’t feel like a cup final. There were at most a couple of hundred Leicester supporters present. Many away supporters usually sat in the old North Stand. The crowd was only 20,600 which must have disappointed the club, though the weather probably played a part.
Barry Holmes remembers the game as low key but recalls that “it was one of the first occasions that ‘The Shed’ started to chant, much to the irritation of most of the frosty old-timers shivering on the West Bank”. This was the last season before the West Stand was built, so maybe the rain had a beneficial effect in that it got supporters huddled together.
Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive
Above: Fullback Eddie McCreadie played as a makeshift centre forward in the final, and scored the winner
Docherty pulled a tactical surprise, playing full back Eddie McCreadie at Number 9, much to the surprise of the crowd when it was announced over the tannoy. Allen Mortlock remembers “Eddie Mac was playing as a makeshift centre forward, Barry Bridges was injured I think and Docherty picked him to start there, I think for his pace. Eddie also fancied himself as a bit of a centre forward.” Doc told the Daily Mirror “I could have played young Peter Osgood, who is so promising. But we want to win this trophy so Eddie Mac will play up front.”
Chelsea led twice but the game was heading for a 2-2 draw when what is considered as one of the best goals in Chelsea’s history won the game. There is sadly no film of it, only a slightly indistinct photo from the Daily Mail (reproduced in the following week’s programme), but here is Allen’s account. “With less than 10 minutes to go Peter Bonetti threw the ball out to Eddie McCreadie in the right back position and he set off towards the goal at the North Stand end. He evaded a couple of tackles and raced over the half way line, he pushed the ball forwards, probably too far and sprinted, at the same time Gordon Banks came flying out of his goal but McCreadie slid in and beat him to the ball and it rolled gently past him into the back of the net.”
Peter Noah recalls that Chelsea played with ten men for seventy five minutes. “Allen Young our centre half was carried off injured (no substitutes in those days). McCreadie then reverted back to defence,which made his goal even more remarkable, and Chelsea held on for a 3-2 win”. The Leicester Mercury talks about McCreadie’s goal in glowing terms but point out that Leicester players claimed they stopped due to a ‘phantom whistle’ in the lead up to the goal and assumed a free kick had been given. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no other contemporary report I have read refers to this incident.
Before the away leg on 5th April Chelsea had an FA Cup semi final against Liverpool and three league games. They beat Sheffield United (a match postponed 48 hours at very short notice, due to the weather) and Birmingham at home, and drew at Everton. The Birmingham game, which Chelsea won 3-1 to stay top of the league, was notable for two things. Captain Terry Venables was publicly criticised by Docherty for holding onto the ball too long and dropped for that game (though reinstated for the second leg two days later). This is arguably the start of a deepening fissure between two complex characters that ran through the Blackpool fiasco, included Venables not inviting Docherty to his wedding (every else involved with the first team went) and ended with his departure to Spurs. Docherty also used the press to criticise a section of the support who slow handclapped the team that afternoon, a surprising crowd reaction given Chelsea’s league placing.
In the middle of these games came the 2-0 semi final defeat at Villa Park. Chelsea ran a series of special trains from Paddington to Snow Hill and were pre-match favourites, despite Liverpoool being League champions. Sadly, they did not perform well on the day, though they had a ‘perfectly good’ goal disallowed, and this result was a real kick in the teeth for Docherty and the club. Many supporters were heartbroken, convinced Chelsea were on the cusp of winning the FA Cup for the first time. To rub it in, the Chelsea team coach was held up for a while afterwards by a crowd of jeering Liverpool fans blocking their way and chanting “Ee, Aye, Addio, Chelsea’s out the cup”, which can’t have helped.
The second leg at Leicester got very little advance publicity in the papers. Peter Noah remembers that only one Chelsea supporters coach went up (he was on it) and many supporters on the coach hung round the players entrance at Filbert Street picking up complimentary tickets from the players. It is not clear how many Chelsea supporters travelled up, though it was probably at most a few hundred in a crowd of 26,000.
Peter recalls that George Graham was angry about being dropped for 17 year old Johnny Boyle. “Boyle’s role was playing as a sweeper in front of the back four (the Makelele role). We had heard of foreign teams playing a sweeper behind the back four but this was genius. The Doc was ahead of his time.”
Barry Bridges hit the post and Chelsea defended effectively, deserving the 0-0 draw that gave them the trophy. Peter went on the pitch after the team had collected the trophy and their medals and hugged several players especially Boyle.
Barry Holmes found that “the second leg was almost impossible to get any news of as on the night it was being played the media decided to blank it. I finally discovered the outcome from the fluctuating voice of a Radio Luxembourg newsreader around midnight.” Steve Lloyd found out that we had won the cup on his paper round the following morning.
The Daily Mirror headline the following day was “A Triumph That Came Like The Dawning of a Bright New Day” which has a nice ring to it. The Evening Standard sports pages (aka The North London Football Gazette) inevitably did not make any mention of the game or the trophy. Other press coverage implied Chelsea went for a draw and deserved it, though there was some criticism of negative play.
The cup was paraded by the team before the final home game that season, against West Brom. Venables and Bonetti carried a banner saying ‘Thank you For Your Support’, an interesting message given Docherty’s ongoing concerns about the lack of passion among the home support.
To everyone’s lasting disappointment, that trophy was the highlight of the season. Defeats at Upton Park and Anfield in the next couple of weeks meant Chelsea slipped away in the league, finishing third, five points behind the top two. Manchester United eventually won the title on goal average. Events in Blackpool (worthy of a piece on their own) didn’t help, but the late night enjoyed by the infamous eight probably did not, in reality, affect the final league position. As Steve points out, having games on March 27th 31st, April 3rd, 5th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 24th and 26th (ten games in a month) certainly didn’t help the cause.
Chelsea didn’t defend the trophy the following season, electing not to take part as third place in the league meant qualification for the Fairs Cup. Doc’s Diamonds never won another trophy and within eighteen months Venables, Bridges and Murray had gone. A great shame that an exciting young team, packed with home produced talent, didn’t have more silverware to show for their talents. That team, like Eddie Mac’s youthful side a decade later, are so fondly remembered by supporters partly because so many of the players had come through the ranks. It is highly unlikely we shall ever see their likes again at Chelsea, or any other top club.
Five decades on the League Cup pretty much thrives. Wembley, live TV coverage, sponsorship and a much higher media profile. To Chelsea’s credit, they take the competition very seriously and their deserved victory over Spurs was raucously celebrated.
The club are currently marking its 110th birthday, and rightly so. There is a lot to celebrate. It would be nice if the 50th anniversary of the clubs first ever cup win maybe got a bit more attention. Tommy Docherty and his Diamonds probably never realised their potential, but brought pleasure to thousands and certainly raised the profile of the club. The trophy they won deserves to be commemorated, fifty years on.