A Chelsea team that has underachieved in the league against a background of player dissent, playing two games a week in April, with an FA Cup Semi final and a European semi final against Barcelona inside four days coming up? Sound familiar? Indeed it is. Welcome to April 1966.
Compared with 1966, nowadays Chelsea player rotation the norm and is accepted by *most* squad members as necessary in order to prevent burnout and injury. Although the game was slower then, players today are fitter, medical support is far more comprehensive, tackles are less rigorous and pitches seem immeasurably better. There is a misconception, however, that top teams play more games today. As well as participating in three competitions each season, in the mid-1960’s Chelsea, under the mercurial management of Tommy Docherty, played an extraordinary amount of pre-, in- and post-season friendlies. In ‘Tommy Docherty Speaks’ (written while he was still Chelsea manager and one of at least three autobiographies) Doc claims the schedule didn’t really do any harm but looking at the number of games key squad players appeared in, this claim must be open to at least some doubt.
Season 1964/5 began in July 1964 with six 1st team friendlies across four countries in 15 days. This followed a mere 14 post-season friendlies after the 1963/4 season. Doc reckoned his young team ran out of steam in the League in March 1965 and missed the possibility of a treble. Results would tend to confirm this, given they were top of the league until April but finished third and lost an FA Cup semi final to Liverpool.
Overplaying does not seem to have occurred to anyone at the club as a possible reason for this, and despite this evident tiredness, Chelsea still played 11 post-season 1st team friendlies that summer, mostly in Australia, a trip Doc refers to as ‘our holiday cum playing trip’, though a bridge-building exercise with the players after the Blackpool incident (where eight players were sent home by Docherty and dropped from a key game against Burnley which was lost 6-2) was presumably also in mind.
That 1964/5 season Chelsea played an amazing 75 1st team games. Ron Harris played in mind-blowing 72 of them (42 League, 5 FA Cup, 6 League Cup & 19 friendlies – he was rested for 3 League Cup ties). Six other players (Bonetti, Bridges, Hinton, Hollins, Murray and) played in over 60 games each – Bridges and Venables also played for England that season Venables and others played for the Under 23 team. It is worth bearing in mind that substitutes were not introduced in league or cup games until 1965/6, so apart from the occasional substitution in friendlies, a place in the starting line up meant 90 minutes of action and where at all possible, players tended to play on with injuries.
Less than seven weeks after the end of the Australian tour, Chelsea played the first of eight 1965/6 pre-season friendlies, mainly in Germany and Sweden, including a game against the West German national team. Ron Harris, inevitably, played in all of these. Chelsea played 59 competitive games and 9 friendlies in 1965/6 so it is probably just as well they withdrew from defending the League Cup because of their Fairs Cup commitments.
In 1965/6 Chelsea were finishing building the West Stand, which opened in January 1966, replacing the huge open terrace. Amazingly the Football League let the fixture list be manipulated so Chelsea played most of their attractive (and hence lucrative) home games – Spurs, Arsenal, Man Utd, West Ham – in the second half of the season. This allowed them to capitalise on the extra capacity (which, while the stand was being built was reduced to c40,000 but increased to 60,000+ once it was open). It is hard to see this being allowed now.
As an aside, though it is hard to see any connection (!), the opening of the new stand versus Spurs coincided with the permanent replacement of long-time thorn in Docherty’s side Terry Venables as captain with Ron Harris – Venables was to be found on the transfer list for much of the rest of the season. There is a separate, and lengthy, piece I plan to write about Doc’s relationship with many of his senior players, especially the charismatic and self-confident Venables, a relationship that can be summed up by the fact that Docherty was apparently the only member of the Chelsea playing and office staff not to be invited to Venables wedding in April 1966. Bizarrely, given that Venables won only two England caps (both in 1964), his wedding photo made the Daily Mirror front page. Mirror coverage of Chelsea in those days was extremely comprehensive with Ken Jones and photographer Monte Fresco seemingly camped at the ground. Mirror readers were also treated that season to photos of Mr and Mrs Venables moving into their new house and George Graham polishing his doorstep.
In theory, ‘easier’ home games should have meant a flying start to the season, but in reality a mediocre start to the 1965/6 season left Chelsea 10th by the end of November and hence playing catch-up in the league (they eventually finished a reasonably creditable 5th). The team were not as exciting, or as successful, as 12 months previously, despite the emergence of Peter Osgood as a obvious future star. Whether the 19 friendlies over the summer had left the players jaded is unclear, but it can hardly have helped.
There was therefore a major focus on the two cup competitions, FA Cup and Inter Cities Fairs Cup, and after a few rocky moments (including the infamous night in Roma, going through against AC Milan on the toss of a coin after a play-off and being taken to a 6th round replay by Hull) Chelsea reached both semi-finals. Unfortunately, as a direct result of their cup success, Chelsea suffered a major fixture pile-up even worse than that suffered by the current team recently. To heal cope with this, the club got as much help from the authorities as the FA and Premier League have recently given Chelsea – none whatsoever.
The Fairs Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg against was Barcelona was Chelsea’s 8th game in 19 days, matches which included the FA Cup semi final against Sheffield Wednesday and the away 1st Leg in Barcelona. Four players played in each of those eight games – Joe Kirkup, Ron Harris, Marvin Hinton & Peter Osgood, and a number of others played in seven, but Docherty did use squad rotation to a degree.
This schedule, which would have current managers hyperventilating, was borne largely without complaint by manager and players. To make matters worse, Chelsea suffered a major blow at Sunderland a week before the FA Cup semi-final. Left Back Eddie McCreadie received an injury that meant he played just one more game that season, necessitating Ron Harris moving to full back and Johnny Boyle coming into the side, lessening Chelsea’s attacking threat and possibly losing some bite in midfield.
Scheduled to play the 1st Leg v Barcelona on 20th April, the game was postponed by the referee due to a waterlogged pitch after heavy rain. Barcelona promptly, and absurdly, accused Docherty of watering the pitch and president of FIFA Sir Stanley Rous even got involved in the row. In the end the away game became the 1st Leg and the home game was rescheduled.
Chelsea were overwhelming favourites to beat Wednesday, and all 16,500 allocated tickets were sold out in 2½ hours (as an aside, given the Villa Park crowd of 61,000 you do wonder where the rest of the tickets went). However three days after the postponement farce, and on a Villa Park pitch which resembled a quagmire, Chelsea totally failed to perform against Sheffield Wednesday, being out-thought, outplayed and out-muscled by highly physical, well-organised (and probably less worn out) opposition (see highlights of what Doc described as a ‘fiasco’ here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ikiSTkF8xU ).
One of the Wednesday goals, almost inevitably, was scored by a highly motivated Jimmy McCalliog, sold by Docherty earlier in the season. Joe Turps, a Chelsea fan who went to his first game in 1946 and still goes today, remembers leaving the ground that day distraught with his young son Dean (who also still goes to games), as everyone was convinced this was to be Chelsea’s year. At Docherty’s behest Chelsea wore an Milan style blue/black striped kit for that game, the only time they have ever done so as far as I am aware.
An emotional Docherty promptly told the press that the Chelsea “players (were) not good enough” and implied he was going to break up the team. The following Monday the Daily Mirror described it as “The end of Docherty’s dream of greatness” and referred to Chelsea being “chained to tactics that screamed for alteration”. This was just three months after a FA Cup win at cup holders Liverpool http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhRwVbOapTE , in front of 4,000 travelling fans, that Doc described as “the greatest & most satisfying performance the Chelsea team have given since I became manager”.
Two days after losing to Wednesday, Chelsea lost 3-2 at home to West Brom in front of only 22,800 fans (the Man Utd game 6 weeks earlier had attracted a Stamford Bridge crowd in excess of 60,000). Two days after that they lost a tough game 2-0 in the Nou Camp, making Fairs Cup progress unlikely. Three days after that came a 2-1 league defeat at Champions-elect Liverpool. In the next week came a draw at Hillsborough and two home wins v Blackburn and Sheffield United. The midweek crowd against Blackburn, at 10,024, was the lowest for years, but hardly surprisingly given the nonsensical fixture schedule.
The 2nd leg against Barcelona, four days after the Sheffield United game, was a tempestuous affair. To their great credit Chelsea, with Charlie Cooke making his debut, pulled back the two goal deficit in a turbulent game. The Mirror response was slightly bizarre. Their headline was ‘Chelsea’s Night of Shame’ and referred to ugly tackles and ‘fans baying for blood’. In the event, the only sending off was of a Barcelona player. The crowd was only 40,000, which possibly reflects the fact that the Fairs Cup was not seen by fans as a major trophy in those days but also I suspect reflected, as now, the fact that fans did not have bottomless pockets.
So having lost the toss for play-off venue Docherty took his team, which he accurately described as ‘tired and battered’, to Barcelona two weeks later. Bridges never played again after the FA Cup semi defeat and walked out in a sulk at Heathrow after being told by Docherty that he had no chance of appearing in the play off. Venables had just been sold to Spurs, to be replaced by Cooke. The break-up had already begun, and other key players also wanted to leave. In the event, Chelsea were hammered 5-0 in the play-off, with 9,000 increasingly-depressed fans watching the game on beam-back to Stamford Bridge. The Mirror reckoned that the ‘defeat was partly due to the lack of faith (from the players)’ and that the team were ‘displaying obvious signs of recent dissent among their players’.
Let’s hope a similar set of matches has a very different outcome in 2012. That season Peter Bonetti, Marvin Hinton, Ron Harris, Terry Venables, John Hollins, and George Graham all played 50 or more competitive games for Chelsea. That summer, possibly because of the coming World Cup (even though no Chelsea player ended up in the final squad), possibly because the season only ended on May 25th and possibly because everyone was sick of the sight of each other, there was no post-season tour.
The following season Chelsea, after a lightweight six pre-season friendlies, made an excellent start to the season winning at West Ham 2-1 (Joe Turps remembers Chelsea fans singing ‘We All Live In a Blue Submarine’ that day). They were top of Division 1 on October 1st after an Osgood-inspired 4-1 victory at Manchester City (highlights here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymui-0oryRc ). Four days later Ossie’s leg was broken in a League Cup tie at Blackpool by Emlyn Hughes. That incident, the impact it had, and the period that followed, however, are for another day.
I only saw Chelsea once under Tommy Docherty, right at the end of his reign of nearly six years, which is a great shame as on their day they were a match for anyone and could play fast, attractive football. Events, and personalities, arguably conspired to ensure his teams underachieved but nobody could say it was an uneventful time and I think he was a force for good for Chelsea in terms of quality of football, club profile, professionalism etc.. This is the first I what I hope will be a number of pieces I write about different aspects of Chelsea (team, players, transfers, fans, ground etc.) under Tommy Docherty over the next few months.
Daily Mirror’s from 1965/6, accessed at the British Newspaper Library in Colindale, were heavily used as background for this article. The Mirror was was chosen as their football coverage at the time was comprehensive – the broadsheets were often patchy in their coverage. I have also used information from contemporary programmes and, of course Ron Hockings’ ‘100 Years Of The Blues’ a match-by-match Chelsea statistical history and Rick Glanvill’s ‘Chelsea FC The Official Biography’ – both are indispensible for anyone wanting an appreciation of Chelsea history.
If you are on twitter you can follow this blog on @PlainsOfAlmeria. As always, the wonderfully insightful pieces looking into our past are written by the excellent Tim Rolls, who you can follow on twitter @tim_rolls.