SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 4-4 CHELSEA
Kerry Dixon is an absolute legend at Stamford Bridge, and rightly so. Not only was he a magnificent striker and fantastic servant to Chelsea Football Club, he also had the good grace to fall in love with the club during his time in SW6. However, despite his incredible goal-scoring exploits, he was certainly a tad profligate from the penalty-spot. As he says himself, he scored a few and he missed a few, but sadly for Kerry, his most famous failures from 10 yards all proved costly in terms of the match result: his two misses against Portsmouth in December 1983 helped Pompey steal a 2-2 draw; whilst his famous moonshot at Loftus Road nearly seven years later (nine if you include the time it took for the ball to land), came in a match in which QPR had already scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game. However, as David Essex once tunelessly slurred ‘Every cloud has a sil-ver li-ning’, and there is one missed Kerry Dixon penalty for which all Chelsea supporters should be grateful.
The great thing about supporting Chelsea in the Eighties was that the club’s travelling support was absolutely incredible, something we could truly afford to show off about… and that was right up my street! As a youngster – during my salad days of hair, innocence and a 28-inch waist – I was more than comfortable with the notion of being the centre of attention, and while my school-mates had long-term aspirations towards being footballers, astronauts and pimps (my school was in the middle of the White City Estate), I just wanted to be a show-off. In fact, the day my school class had our careers interviews was a proud one for me. The first boy in to see poodle-permed ponce Mr Bartlett, the careers advisor who also doubled up as a geography teacher, was my best friend, John Prendergast. “So Mr Prendergast, do you have any idea what you would like to do when you leave school?” “Yes sir, I would like to work in the music industry.” “That’s all very well, boy, but have you considered a job in a bank?” Next in was Jose Pascal. “So then Pascal, what are you planning to do when you leave school?” “Sir, I would like to be an architect.” “An architect, eh? Have you considered a job in a bank?” Before I could unleash myself on the permed one, he had the pleasure of a visit from the ever-alert Cecil Smart (Smart by name, but definitely not by nature). “Mr Smart, you will be leaving school soon, do you have a vocation in mind?” “Yes sir, we’re going to Devon for a fortnight.” “No Smart, do you have any idea what job you would like to do when you leave school?” “Yes sir, I want to work in MacDonalds and get my own name-badge with five stars underneath.” “Very commendable. With all that experience of handling money, you will be working in a bank in no time.” And then it was my turn. “So then Mr Barker, what would you like to be when you grow up?” “Sir, I would like to be a show-off, show-off, pick your nose and blow-off.” “YOU ALREADY ARE ONE, NOW GET OUT OF MY OFFICE AND STOP WASTING MY TIME. YOU’LL NEVER GET A JOB IN A BANK WITH AN ATTITUDE LIKE THAT.”
So there I was, in my mid-teens and I had already – according to Mr Bartlett, at least – achieved my lifetime’s ambition. In my mind I was now a child prodigy, a bit like Michael Jackson or that scary boy who was an antiques expert while he was still at primary school, and is now a scary woman. But my penchant for posing cost me a whole lot of credibility prior to the replay at Hillsborough when I got a little bit carried away as a few hundred of us Blues fans bowled cockily through the streets of Sheffield, and I walked straight into a pillar box midway through a rendition of Chelsea boys we are here. The locals must have been terrified at the thought of being invaded by such buffoons.
With less than 48 hours to plan their journeys, an estimated 6,000 Blues fans travelled north for the match. Wednesday manager Howard Wilkinson selected his normal line-up, comprising a goalkeeper, five bulky defenders, two ball-winning midfielders and a strike-pair whose first priority was to defend from the front. His joker in the pack was Brian Marwood, a tidy winger who could play football better than he can talk about it, as anybody who has witnessed the tedious plonker’s performances as a Sky co-commentator will testify.
The atmosphere inside the ground was electric, and the Wednesday players responded to the backing of their home crowd. Captain Mick Lyons and the effeminate Lee Chapman both scored with headers from set-pieces to give the home side an early two-goal cushion, before Marwood fired home from distance with the last kick of the first-half to send the Blues into the break in complete disarray. The only bright spot of the first period had been Mickey Thomas’ fierce left-hook that flattened Wednesday big-mouth Andy Blair midway through one of his personal tirades about Thomas’ wife. He looked more like Lionel Blair as he ponced about on the floor while Thomas walked sheepishly away. The fact that 6,000 Chelsea supporters saw the incident, but neither the ref nor his linesmen spotted it, made it all the sweeter.
The injured Colin Lee made way for Paul Canoville at half-time, and it was the speedy sub who sparked the Chelsea revival with a goal just eleven seconds after coming on; and when Kerry Dixon beat Wednesday’s much-loved offside-trap to make the score 3-2, it really was game on. Pat Nevin, playing in a more central role than normal, began to take the midfield by the scruff of the neck, and it was the little Scottish genius who was instrumental in setting up Mickey Thomas for a glorious equaliser, the Welshman’s second great strike of the night.
Both sets of supporters cranked up the volume, the Blues fans in anticipation of a famous victory, the Wednesday crowd in a desperate plea for their players to dig deep and stave off an embarrassing defeat. From the Leppings Lane End came a throaty rendition of We are the famous, the famous Chelsea, which was suddenly interrupted by a Nevin pass which set Kerry Dixon free, and the big man’s cross was converted by Canoville to put the Blues 4-3 ahead with just four minutes remaining. Whilst the home supporters fell earily silent, there was absolute pandemonium on the away terrace. Sadly, though, Chelsea had a defender in their side that night by the name of Doug. Bloody. Rougvie. Big Dougie is what’s known as a ‘cult hero’ at Chelsea, which often translates to ‘laughing stock’, and he ensured that a memorable match would have one final twist when, in the last minute of the match, he tripped Wednesday’s spiteful, mullet-haired right-back Mel Sterland, to concede a penalty. Sterland picked himself up, tucked his hair into his shorts, and dispatched the spot-kick past Eddie Niedzwiecki in the Chelsea goal to bring the scores level.
A frenzied period of extra-time brought no further goals, so it was all back to the Bridge for a second replay exactly a week later. The Saturday after the Hillsborough epic, Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw at Leicester, and the following Monday the Blues were the victims of a shock FA Cup defeat when Millwall won 3-2 at the Bridge. With the third match of the Milk Cup Trilogy due to take place just 48 hours later, it meant that Chelsea had played five matches in the space of eight days, and every single member of the squad had been desperate to play every single minute of each one of those games, which rather puts into context the bizarre claim of one of the current Chelsea players that he was tired by November. What a load of Ballacks.
‘Lionel’ Blair called Mickey Thomas a skunk in the players’ bar after the game at Hillsborough, which is a terrible waste of an attempt to hurl an insult, but in front of 35,000 baying Blues at the Bridge a week later, Blair apologised to Thomas before kick-off. Presumably, he is not somebody you would want alongside you in the trenches. He was a loser on the pitch too, and it was, ironically, Mickey Thomas who scored the last-minute winner to send Chelsea through to the infamous semi-final clash with Sunderland, which ended in chaos on the Stamford Bridge pitch as the Blues imploded on a passionate night of cup football. Let’s hope there is no need for any such histrionics when Wycombe visit next week!