OH DEAR WHAT HAPPENED?
Having gone on the traditional family holiday to Jersey in August 78 I missed the first league game of the season. That game against Everton (0-1) was the only home game I missed from Easter 1977 to August 83. I had not been able to find out the score all evening, I knew it was going to be on Match of the Day, but these were the pre-video days so no chance to see it beckoned either. Late at night somewhere in the English Channel I was walking sadly around the deck of the ferry, when I noticed you could see in to the staff cabins. And there it was on TV, so I stood there like a peeping Tom glued to the soundless action. I was splashed by the choppy waves and when I saw Andy King score their goal I had my first ever bout of seasickness. This season went downhill fast. We had lost every home match and were rock bottom by mid-October when we met Bolton at the Bridge. This match followed the usual pattern and we were 3-0 down by half time. Late in the second half Clive Walker started warming up and we cheered him, I was pleased because I thought he had a better chance of a regular spot in the team if he could get his socks dirty. He was put on with 11 minutes to go. To say he transformed the game is an understatement, he received a pass as soon as he came on and set off on a run down the left, he cut inside the area and scored; we had a consolation goal. Soon after he was on the left wing again, running, swiftly beating player after player, he crossed the ball in, Langley, 2-3, There was hope. The thousands who had left the game early started running back in, having heard the commotion from outside, in particular the area between the shed and the East stand was full up. Most people in the shed were now in the lower part of the terracing, during goal cheers you normally went down a few rows, this time no-one wanted to take their eyes off the pitch to climb up again. There was no cheer for this situation in the “Chelsea book-of-cheers” so everyone was just making loud noises, shouting screaming and howling.
In the last minute he was on the ball again, Stamford Bridge held it’s breathe and watched one man, the ground was on fire, we were watching history. He ran round players as if they were subbuteo players, drew the keeper, CRACK! – The ball flew in, YES, 3-3, we had done it, we were on cloud nine in seventh heaven. The ground shook in glory; you could feel the excitement, relief, happiness and amazement in everyone. There was still a few seconds left for Bolton to kick off, Walker ran at the ball and won it, Bolton froze, and he ran through them again. Langley had only just realised that the game was still in progress and was still running back to his kick off position after the impossible equaliser. Walker was after the miracle, he ran in from the touchline and crossed for the absent Langley. Sam Arlydyce the Bolton captain, thought he was under pressure and tried to cut out Walker’s cross, WHACK ! BANG ! Own goal! – 4-3 – the final whistle. Not since Moses parted the dead sea have mere mortals witnessed such a divine performance. On the way out of the ground everyone was hugging everyone else. We were so happy and on the way to Fulham Broadway I sung “Happy days are here again…” As long as I live I will remember how Utopia happened that magical day in London during the chocolate autumn of 1978. The week after the Bolton match we went to Anfield, my first game outside London. I went on the Chelsea special as that seemed to be the safest way to travel. They put us on 6 special buses at Lime Street to be transported to the game. I was on the 4th bus, there was a set of traffic lights, the lights changed and our bus went over on amber, leaving 2 buses behind. Just as we started to pass the traffic-lights the windows started to go, my dad saw it before me, and protected my face from the flying glass. We had been ambushed, there was a building site adjacent to this stretch of road and Liverpool fans were hiding behind the builders’ corrugated iron fence.
Invisible to us they were lobbing bricks in through the windows, we were defenceless, sitting ducks, but luckily the driver had continued to drive and we got away. There were 5 casualties on our bus, the bricks were full size house bricks; someone on our bus lobbed one back over the fence. We arrived at Anfield and waited for the medics and our last two buses. They had not been so lucky, they had taken the full pelt of the ambush and every nearside window on both buses was missing. Chelsea fans from the first 3 buses came back to give first aid to those in need. Our wounded staggered off the buses and some casualties were bleeding heavily. The most badly hurt were lying down on the pavement awaiting attention. The only police we saw wanted to know who had lobbed the brick FROM our bus, the one that was chucked back. AMAZING. This was a particularly nasty incident as there were many woman and children on the buses. You may know the type of fan I mean, the ones who always went by special instead of independently. I did not enjoy the football, I spent the whole game in shock and worried about the return trip through Liverpool. For the record we lost 2-0. My father and I walked back to Lime Street. This incident went unreported; nothing was said on the TV that night. This was the typical cover up of all negative things to do with Liverpool. This “blind-eye” was responsible for both of the disasters they could not pretend hadn’t happened: Heysel and Hillsborough. In Heysel I can imagine the officials saying “Oh it’s Liverpool they’re so well behaved we don’t need to separate the fans to different ends of the ground”. And at Hillsborough, “Oh it’s Liverpool, they don’t push in, they are well-mannered” The fact that Liverpool’s supporters were “known” to be so well behaved has always been a myth, and the FA were at the heart of the cover-up. Those cruel scousers were the most wicked bunch in the league. The FA could never admit this. When a bottle thrown by “The Cop” hit Joe Corrigan they put it down as an “isolated incident”.
Had this happened at Stamford Bridge we would have had the ground shut down for 3 months -(But the thrower would have probably been signed up for Great Britain’s Olympic Javelin team – The shed being 100 yards from the pitch). When a dart thrown by the Liverpool fans hit a Man Utd fan in the eye; it too was as “isolated incident”. When Liverpool fans ran at the Italians in Belgium and 38 were killed I said to my brother the same evening that they were going to blame it on Chelsea, sure enough they tried to. Liverpool fans, they said, were very well behaved. Liverpool claimed that their own fans never carried or displayed the Union-Jack so it was more likely that Chelsea had gone over there to cause trouble. This was a lie, Liverpool had clearly filled football stadia all over Europe with the red, white and blue. I disliked the violence at games, yes there were some nasty Chelsea fans, but there was usually some justice in the fact that only fans that went looking for trouble found it with Chelsea. If you wanted to avoid it you could, after learning a few very important lessons, getting to know the ropes. I never got involved in trouble in over 400 Chelsea games. Not on the “giving” end anyway. Do you remember how the FA reacted after Heysel? Prior to the UEAFA decision to ban all English teams for 5 years the FA had withdrawn all English teams for a year. I am convinced that had this been any team other than Liverpool they would have only banned that team. Having pretended that Liverpool fans were so nice the FA verdict was that if Liverpool could do this then the whole of England must be punished. The FA’s “ban-all” decision pre-empted the UEAFA one, it was undiplomatic and unnecessary.
In December Peter Osgood made a welcome return to the Bridge, this gave us renewed hope for staying up. Ken Sheleto was sacked and our new manager was none other than Danny Blanchflower. Surely he could get some life in to our team, we had the talent, of that I was sure.
Osgood scored on his new debut away at Middlesboro and put us 1-0 up, we lost 7-2. We got a couple of goal-less draws over Christmas, so we lived in hope. After New Year, we said, things will get better. We’d drawn Man Utd away in the 3rd round, maybe we could have a cup run. Although I was 17 I was still at school and after the Liverpool game my parents were reluctant to let me go to any more away games. I did manage to obtain permission, and money, to go to Old Trafford. This game was, however, called off a couple of times due to the bad winter and eventually rescheduled for a Monday night. Alas, this coincided with a train-strike and Chelsea could not get a decision from British Rail as to if the train would run or not. There was a chance, Chelsea said that the special would run as it was not a regular service train. I had no reason to doubt this at the time so I bunked off school and made repeated phone calls to the Bridge to find out about this train. By mid-morning they were saying “probably”, by lunchtime – “maybe” and early in the afternoon – “NO”. Knowing what I now know I strongly suspect that someone knew that this train would not run all day but delayed given out this information to make it as difficult as possible for as many Chelsea fans as possible to get to Manchester. By keeping our hopes up about the special train so long they made it more difficult/impossible to get to Manchester. I had to go over to Chelsea and get the money back on my ticket as the condition my parents insisted upon was that I went by special. We lost 3-0 in the cup, about 11 000 Chelsea managed to make the journey up there. The next game was away against Man City on Jan 20th, again I had been told I could go to this game if I went on the special train . However when Chelsea had lost 6-2 at City the previous season some of our lot had rioted so Chelsea were banned, therefore there was no special. I had to stay at home again. This match was one of the two away matches we won that season. It was shown on The Big Match the day after. Peter Osgood scored his last ever goal for Chelsea, Walker scored from a Chelsea break following a Man City corner; and we won 3-2.
I had missed my last match for 4 years and 7 months. In February 1979 I left school to start work as a trainee computer operator in the City of London. I had had to decide whether to stay on and do my A-levels or leave and start earning. For me, this meant whether or not I would have the money to see Chelsea every week or not. The choice was easy. The day after I left school we beat Birmingham 2-1, Butch Wilkins scored both our goals and things were looking up, we had now won 2 games on the trot. I find irony in the fact that I left school in between these two games as they were the only 2 consecutive victories of the season. The first away game of my run was when I travelled to Bolton on February 24th to see us lose 2-1. I’d purchased a British Rail pork pie at Euston, which was still in my pocket as I entered the ground. A policeman found this and threatened to nick me for carrying an offensive weapon, he confiscated it. I was learning what being a Chelsea fan was all about: Harassment. In mid-March I went away to Norwich for some kind of friendly game, I think there were about 60 of us in the crowd of 500. We had to endure a 3-hour wait for the night-train back to London. This is significant, that right from the moment I began to attend all league matches I could not get enough of Chelsea, I just had to go to every game. The rest of the season was pretty dismal, we just couldn’t stop losing. Trevor Francis had just become the first million pound football player, incidentally his last game for Birmingham was the one I just mentioned against us. He was still chasing his first Forest goal when we went up there in March for a midweek game. We immediately put 5 men on him, he wasn’t going to score against us; everywhere he went Chelsea players were on him. Forest soon realised the problem with our tactics and Francis started making decoy runs. Every time Notts. Forest scored Francis was somewhere near the corner flag or the halfway line surrounded by the entire Chelsea defence. Then Francis got his chance and cracked a superb dipping shot into the top corner, but Petar Borota pulled of a miraculous save, tipping the ball over the bar.
Borota actually had a fantastic game for us, but with his defenders all over the place he was chance-less on the 6 that we conceded. We stood there cheering our beloved Chelsea on, it rained heavily, we lost 6-0, relegation was even more certain; our only solace was that Francis had failed to score. Forest fans clapped US at the end of the game, we had not stopped cheering Chelsea on despite the performance, the result and the fact that we were drenched. At the following home match Brian Mears thanked all the Chelsea fans that had been there via the scoreboard. By now there was no hope, we were doomed, it was just a case of when it would be final. I joined in with the prediction making on the special trains. I claimed that there was still hope; that we should not take relegation for granted. But I remember saying that if we do go down, expect it to take at least 4 years to get out of Division 2. I felt that the consistency would not be there to mount a serious challenge for promotion. It’s probably easier for mediocre teams to stay in the First than get out of the Second. By Easter Monday it was almost a dead cert. that we would take the drop, but I was still holding out for our chances. We played Arsenal away in the morning. We lost 5-2, Walker scored the last and the best goal of the game. I went over to Wimbledon v. Torquay in the afternoon, Wimbledon won 5-0, but more significantly I heard on my tranny that Wolves had picked up the point that made it certain, even for an optimistic mathematician like me. IT had happened – Relegation, Down, Doomed, The drop, Fallen. What had it all been for in 1977 ? Why were we back in Division 2 so soon ? At the remaining games fans started to sing, “Division 1 kiss my ar**,….Division 2 we’re back at last. What humour! The night before the Cup Final I went to see a repeat of my first ever game, (Palace v. Burnley), in front of Palace’s record ever attendance (51 000+).
This Friday night match was THE last Division 2 fixture of the season, Palace were in fourth spot, but it was very close. So close, in fact, that when Terry Venebels’ great young Palace side won 2-0 they not only achieved promotion but also the championship. Palace’s promotion was at the expense of Sunderland who would now spend another season in the lower division, this fact was going to affect Chelsea much more than we knew at the time. The following day I watch the Cup Final on TV; it was really boring, don’t let anyone tell you it was the final of the century. I fell asleep when Arsenal were leading 2-0, I awoke when there were 10 minutes to go. The football in this final was below average and unentertaining. Everything in this final happened in the last 5 minutes, with Utd pulling back to 2-2 before Alan Sunderland scored the winner for Arsenal. The Chelsea-Leeds final of 1970 was always regarded as the final of the century before “that” BBC video took said caption for the title of the 1979 final. The 1970 final had it all, 2 of the most talented teams to have graced English soccer fought it out on two momentous occasions. Many of the players from that final remain household names today. Even Man Utd and Arsenal fans know more about the players from the 1970 final than the ones from the 1979 final. The week following the final we had two games left, ironically (but also because of their fixture congestion), Arsenal at home on the Monday and Man Utd away on the Wednesday. Peter Bonetti played his farewell match on the Monday, he was presented with all sorts of awards and received a standing ovation for all he’d done. We sung “lucky-lucky-lucky Ar-sen-al” at them. I had wanted Man Utd to win the final and I fully agreed about the “lucky” bit so I joined in wholeheartedly. I’d now seen 12 away games this season in which we had failed to take a single point. I went to Old Trafford on the Chelsea special. We were met at the local station near the ground by the meanest looking coppers I’d ever seen. We were lined up against a wall and the policeman with the most stripes started to abuse us.
He called us all sorts of names, told us he knew that we had only come to his town to cause trouble. He was hitting the ground with a big stick as he walked up and down the line telling us the season was over, there was no footballing interest left so we just had to be hooligans. Then he said that they were going to remove us from the ground 15 minutes before the end of the match to avoid trouble. This scared me, I did not want to leave a game early, I decided if they were going to remove me they were going to have to drag me out. In the ground I stood as far from the entrance/exit tunnel as possible. Then Chelsea fans started singing “Alan, Alan Sunderland” at the Utd fans, I did not join in, such was my hate of Arsenal and their winning of the cup that year in such a jammy way. This was the first inclination I had that I wouldn’t always agree with or join in with the Chelsea chants at away matches. We drew 1-1, with Gary Johnson scoring one of the finest goals I have ever seen. “My” first Chelsea away point in the top flight since 1971 was secured. No attempt was made to remove us from the ground, I don’t think they expected 4000 Chelsea fans to turn up for this end of season match. So they kept us behind, for 2 hours and 27 minutes. While we were waiting we had one of those joke phantom matches. You know, where everyone pretends that we are watching a match, and we cheer and then we pretend that Chelsea have scored and we all go nuts. I hope this still happens nowadays. We got up to 7-0 and then someone shouted out “Oh No! Graham Wilkins just got the ball in his own penalty area 7-1.” That was fun. We were eventually marched back to the special. As was customary for the time a lot of others who’d made their way up on normal service were put on our train. So the worst ever season in the top flight was over, only Sheffield Utd had ever had a worse record than this one of ours from 1978/79:- P42 W5 D10 L27 PTS20, We let in 92 goals and scored 38. Two seasons before this we had not lost a home match in the league, now we had lost 12 of the 21. But I had still enjoyed it somehow, supporting a football team is not just about winning and losing. It never entered my head not to go. I had the money and I had the opportunity, nothing was going to keep me away. Although I did wonder when the First Division sun would rise again at Stamford Bridge I was sure I’d be there to see it when it did.
Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website. More tomorrow … So near but so, so far