UP, UP AND AWAY IN OUR BEAUTIFUL BALLOON
The three teams that finished 4th 5th and 6th in Div. 2 in 74-75 came 1st 2nd and 3rd in 75-76. Notts. County, Southampton and Bolton had come 4th 5th and 6th in 75-76, so according to the first home program this season they would be favourites for promotion: The three teams we would have to beat if we were to make a serious challenge for promotion. We beat Bolton at home early on in the season 2-1. Prior to this game Chelsea were presented with the Sir Stanley Rous Cup, which they had won on a pre-season tour of Sweden. Don’t confuse this cup with the Sir Stanley Rous Trophy which was inaugurated a couple of years later and awarded to the winners of the England – Scotland home international.
After Bolton things got better and better. We were unbeaten at home all season in the league for only the second time in Chelsea’s history (the first being 1910). This home record was in serious jeopardy against Wolves. We were 3-1 down with 2 minutes to go before Steve Finneston saved the day by scoring twice. The only dark spot was our results in away games not played on Saturday afternoons. We lost 8 away league games, 6 of these were played during midweek or on bank holidays. Peter Bonetti had his last great season for us, we always felt safe with Bonetti between the sticks. We let in 3 or 4 on a number of occasions that season, Millwall, Fulham, Charlton and Luton spring to mind. Despite only playing 7 games that season John Philips was in goal during these games. We lost them all.
We led the league for a long time, and were taking took promotion for granted by Christmas, most assumed that we would also win the league. The title-race appeared to be between Bolton and ourselves and we earned a fine 2-2 draw at Bolton. As this game took place on the same day as the FA cup 6th round it was not covered by TV, however the radio reporter said it was the game of the season. We remained in the driving seat until Chelsea’s old stumbling block – Easter – and suddenly Wolves were also in the picture. Inexplicably, Bolton had started to have a few bad results and the title race was finally reduced to a head-to-head clash between Wolves and us in the 41st match (of 42) of the season. We drew 1-1 on May 7th, which meant that we were promoted. Spurs lost 5-1 at City the same day and were relegated. That was the sweetest moment for a 15-year old Chelsea fan (ME) with a little bruvver who supported Tottenham. They had put us down on that black day in April 1975 when the game was stopped because of riots. But now we were back. We still had a theoretic chance to win the league if we could make up 24 goals on Wolves on the last day of the season. Nottingham Forest had came with a late run and had finished their season a week early, currently lying in third spot but with no real chance or hope of going up. We played Hull City on the last day of the season, everyone was very happy. Actually we had been for a long time, the last two home games both drew over 40 000 to the Bridge. Chelsea fans had to be given both ends, this could be done as Hull and Sheff. Utd did not have great away support. There was so much optimism at Chelsea then, this was a wonderful time to be a supporter, so much was happening and we expected great things from our maturing side. Such days are now long gone. Some people may feel they would have behaved differently if they had known this was the end of the road, and that it wouldn’t get better than this. I revelled fully in it and spent many a day with my head in the clouds. I am glad I did, especially so with the hindsight of what was to come. Make the most of any success in football; you never know when it’s going to cease.
Against Hull they tried to present the team to the supporters, but after 17 pitch invasions they gave up. The team actually went on a lap of honour BEFORE the game. We won 4-0. This was obviously not enough to win the league so we finished runners-up. So what of Bolton? – They had narrowly missed out on promotion the year before, their manager’s (Ian Greaves) hair turning greyer and greyer. They played Wolves on the last Saturday and had one more game to be played on the following Tuesday. They only needed to win one and draw one to be promoted. They failed, Wolves beat them at Bolton and Forest had fluked promotion. Forest won the first division the following year followed by the European cup when Francis scored THAT goal. But none of this could have taken place if Bolton had not fouled up at the end of the 76-77 season. Implications.
We received a nasty cup draw, cup-holders (Southampton) away in the 3rd round. Gary Locke scored for us and we drew 1-1, but we lost the replay 3-0 after extra time at the Bridge, Peter Osgood (then playing for Southampton) was clapped off the pitch afterwards.
So all in all a very happy season. I would have liked us to win the league, we were good enough, but no complaints, it was an excellent time. We had produced a brilliant young side capable of playing real football and winning. Our young players were going to blossom and set the first division on fire. We were going to win the double. We were going to show the boring big teams how to play attractive football. We were going to be so good. We were going to be noticed. We were going to take the first division by storm. We were … We were …
We were … Were we..? BANG!!
The bubble burst in early June, contract negotiations broke down between Eddie McCreadie (Manager) and Brian Mears (Chairman), and Eddie walked out. Although widely blamed for this it is said that Mears later gave in to Eddie’s demands, but Eddie’s Scottish pride would not let him return having walked out, I often wonder how it would have been had he stayed.
Produced with permission of the author of the Missing Link website. More tomorrow … The First division season that we all forgot