THE FIRST DIVISION SEASON THAT WE ALL FORGOT
Having lost manager Eddie we looked to Ken Sheleto to lead the team in our quest for the double.
Although the same feeling was there and the same players (almost), we soon found out the difference between Division 1 and Division 2 was BIG. We lost our remarkable home record early in the season to Coventry. We found ourselves struggling to cope with the demands of the top league; the sparkle had gone. We were finding it impossible to win. Then Trevor Aylott made his debut against Bristol City (yes, they were in Division One), at this game someone draped a banner over the wall of the middle-tier. Large white letters on a blue background depicted all our hopes – PLEASE WIN. In those days Chelsea always seemed to find something extra between the 50th and 60th minute if attacking the shed end during the second half. This Bristol City game was no exception, we piled on the pressure and Aylott found the back of the net after 55 minutes, we won 1-0. The following Saturday we had a harder match, Notts. Forest at home. Brian Clough’s men would not have been promoted if there had been any justice in football, yet here they were taking the first division by storm. Upstarts. There was confusion about the kick-off time and I missed the first few minutes of the game. Unbeknown to thousands, including myself, Chelsea had altered the kick-off time to 14:15. This was to reduce floodlight use, necessitated by the power shortages owing to industrial action. A similarly constructed banner appeared in the same place as the previous week, THANK YOU, expressing gratitude for the victory against Bristol City. Once again we attacked the shed end during the second half, once again we hit our best spell around the 50th minute. And after extensive pressure Trevor Aylott once again found the back of the net after 55 minutes, (in actual fact only 14 seconds later than his winner the previous week), and once again we won 1-0.
The same day Tottenham’s new wonderkid Colin Lee scored 4 on his debut as Spurs thrashed Bristol Rovers 9-0. That’s what I listened to on the way home on the radio, nothing about Chelsea. Winning was always fun, but when Tottenham also won it did not mean so much, nothing to gloat about to my little bruvver. There was a rare Chelsea moment in the spring when we drew 2-2 with Newcastle as Ron “Chopper” Harris scored one of his rare goals. He scored 7 goals during his twenty years at Chelsea; incidentally, despite his nickname, he was only sent off twice in his career. Newfound hope of a resurgence to glory after the 2 “Aylott” wins never materialised; things went from bad to good to mediocre. We finished 14th in the league.
The cup was a different story, this year we did not draw the cup holders away; we drew the FA Cup runner’s up / European cup holders / Title holders at home. I remember the draw live on good old Radio 2 after a Saturday home match in December. I had taken my transistor and afraid of the bad reception on the tube train I sat on the platform at Fulham Broadway until the draw at 5.30….No. 7….Chelsea will play No. 15………Liv – er – pool , a small crowd had gathered round me, we cheered and cheered. It was as if we had drawn a non-league team. Had these Chelsea fans heard correctly? Had I heard correctly? Maybe they had said Black-pool, But no, it was Liver-pool. Did no one know who Liverpool were? Was everyone barmy? – I wanted us to have a cup run, although I did not understand the cheering I soon found myself joining in, (when in Rome….) The next few weeks consisted of discussions in school with all the Liverpool ‘supporters’ (the boys that had adopted Liverpool as their favourite team to win footballing arguments, “my team is better than your team na na na na na”,,, I am sure that these guys never saw a game.) I told them all how Chelsea were “gonna beat Liverpool” so much that I even convinced myself of this fact, not sure if I really believed it though.
So the day of the game arrived and I took my place in a packed shed. I went down the front first to see if the cameras were marked LWT or BBC, always nice to know when the match was going to be on. (BBC’s Match Of The Day was on Saturday night and LWT’s The Big Match was on Sunday afternoon). These were the pre-video days when cameras were only present at a few chosen matches in the season and everyone took every opportunity to see every glimpse of their team on TV. We always accused both TV companies to be anti-Chelsea (hardly ever shown on TV, although we were the best, most exciting, team in the world). Clive Walker was playing one of his first games for us, and in the 16th minute he received a ball from a throw-in, turned and cracked a banana shot passed a surprised Ray Clemence, the ground froze for a brief second….. And then erupted. For all the worrying and hoping over the previous few weeks, I think this was moment of realisation for us that we had a chance and for Liverpool that they could actually lose this match. We went in 1-0 up at half time. In the 45th minute we scored again, Steve Finneston and we were once again dancing around. Straight from their kick off we got the ball and I think it was Ian Britton that pumped down a long ball for Tommy Langley to chase hopefully. (How he chased everything, during the coming years he must have run a million miles towards opposing goals with no hope of reaching the ball before the goalkeeper got it, indeed he even continued runs at goalies long after they had booted the ball over his head.) This time was different, the pass was perfectly weighted for him and he connected just before an out-rushing Clemence got to it, I watched on as the ball hit the far post. I put my head up to the sky as if to say, ‘how close,…that was so near’. Suddenly I noticed that others around me (i.e. the entire Shed) were not reacting like me, they were cheering in abundant glory. Had they all failed to notice the ball had hit the post. But what if someone else was running in?…. I looked back at the pitch between all the jumping feet, hands, heads and legs; most people including myself were upside down in the crowd movements. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of IT through all the mayhem. – The ball was in the back of the Liverpool net, it was 3-0, THREE NIL, THREE, that’s ONE plus ONE plus ONE, T-H-R-E-E. To this day I swear that the ball hit the post and bounced out, even though I have seen the TV pictures with the ball going in just inside the post. I think my brain just refused to believe what my eyes told me, that we were 3-0 up against Liverpool, which was impossible.
But we were, I then enjoyed my happiest moments as a Chelsea fan as we continued to play well. Liverpool did get one back and then we scored again, Walker, and they got a late goal, so we beat them 4-2. Back in school the “Liverpool” fans were suddenly no longer interested in football, strange ! This always upset me. These “non”-fans would rub it in when “their” team beat Chelsea, but were not interested in football when the boot was on the other foot. In the 4th round we were drawn at home to Burnley, standing outside at 2.15 we learned the game was off. A lot of fans went off to Arsenal to see Arsenal-Wolves. I went home. The rescheduled match was played midweek, we went 1-0 down in the first minute, before we banged in 6. When Burnley scored again in the last minute the shed laughed and sung “Burnley are back, alo, alo”. That was fun. Then we had Orient away in the 5th round, they packed too many in and the terracing became extremely overcrowded. When we had a shot on goal early in the game everyone surged forwards and the wall collapsed. I don’t think there were too many badly hurt, the potential disaster being averted by luck and by the way Londoners react in a crisis or near crisis, people eased back at the very moment the wall went. The weak wall was due to bad organisation by Orient and the FA. The FA had very limited ground safety rules at the time. Right in front of me a large bit of wall was half down, only held up by metal supports. A grounds-man came out and cut down the rest of the wall support with an industrial saw. On a day like this the football came second, quite fitting that it was a 0-0 draw. On the way out people panicked, the ground was falling down around us, we were expected to leave by a little side entrance through a door the size of an outside lav. (Actually Orient’s ground resembled an outside lav.). So people started to climb over the entrance booths to get out, these gave way under the weight. The next day biased Brian Moore had the Orient Chairman on the Big Match.
No one from Chelsea was invited on, none of us who had seen what had happened. The Orient chairman accused us (Chelsea fans) of intentional criminal damage. This can be compared to someone who says oh! you smashed my knuckles with your face. Their chairman even said that WE had taken in saws and sawed through the metal supports to weaken the wall, he said saw marks had been found. (They did not know about the grounds-man and his saw !). He offered no explanation as to why we did this or how we managed to do this in front of thousands of onlookers and hundreds of police. What did he really mean, to think Chelsea fans could have been killed in the episode, but it was typical reaction to all things Chelsea at the time, we were always to blame, wait until I write about the Liverpool supporter disasters (Heysel and Hillsborough). So having got a draw at Orient we played at home and LOST, 1-2 after extra time, what a pity, we missed our easy sixth round against Wrexham. The Wembley dream had died. That season saw the likes of Kenny Swain, Ray Lewington and Garry Stanley playing for us. We had a great young team, with the inspiration of Butch Wilkins there was still lots of hope for the following years. He would have been great for us, and he would have had a fantastic career. What a pity he went to Man Utd, the only reason they bought him was to stop him playing for us. He could have been remembered for great things. As it is, he is best known for being a cretin in the 1986 world cup finals. Brian Robson had been carried off injured, Wilkins assumed captaincy and needed to calm things down, and lead by example. Within minutes he got in a barney with a linesman and through the ball at the ref. he was sent off, never to play for England again. That was not the Butch we knew at Chelsea, he would never have developed that Man Utdian temper had he stayed at Chelsea.
I saw every home match for the first time season 77/78. I remember vividly how the season finished, in those days teams ‘saved’ matches to the end of the season. I went to see our two remaining fixtures, both at home: QPR on Tuesday May 2nd (0-0 ) and Man City on Friday May 5th (0-0) both games played the week after the season’s scheduled last Saturday.
We had established ourselves in Division One, there was reason to be hopeful for the following season, and our young team were maturing. I can hear myself saying at the time….Just wait, next year, we will win the double, we ARE the best.
In 1978 an FA Cup semi-final was played at the bridge (for the last time) – Orient v. Arsenal. Malcolm of the McDonald clan had a shot that was going for the corner flag deflected in to his own goal by an Orient defender. Another of his shots was actually going backwards towards the half way flag, but that too struck an Orient player and went in for another own goal, Arsenal won 2-0, what’s that 5 letter word that we usually use to describe Arsenal (CLUE : starts with an L). Arsenal credited both goals to big Mac, why, how, is beyond me, they just couldn’t admit how it was , that they had needed two OWN goals to beat Orient. The season finished off on a high note though because Bobby Robson’s brilliant young Ipswich side (similar in style to Chelsea and also BLUE) beat Arsenal 1-0 in the cup final, Good ‘ole Roger Osborne.
The cup win over Liverpool had been followed up 2 months later with a similar brilliant Clive ‘flasher’ Walker performance and we beat them again, this time 3-1. This match had been filmed by cameras marked LWT, so I watched The Big Match anticipating a great Sunday afternoon, but the match was not shown, ,,,,Strange. The answer was given the following Sunday. A lot of Chelsea fans had phoned LWT to find out why it was not shown. LWT cameras had filmed it so it could be shown live in Sweden. They even showed the goals with the Swedish commentator speaking that following week. This was the second of these Swedish connections, this time it put Sweden on the map for me, as a country with football and Chelsea interests.
Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website. More tomorrow … Oh Dear What Happened?