As Chelsea sit relatively comfortably placed after the first-leg against Tottenham, Tim Rolls takes a chance to look back on an epic League Cup semi-final between the bitter rivals, from 50 years ago.
In December 1971, the League Cup was Chelsea’s best chance of European qualification that season. Humiliatingly knocked out of the Cup-Winner’s Cup by part-timers Atvidaberg and off the pace in the League, the semi-final against holders Tottenham was hence a hugely important game. Fierce London rivals, an opportunity to exact some revenge for the 1967 FA Cup Final defeat and the chance of another Wembley final. The other semi-finalists were West Ham United and Stoke City, neither setting the world on fire, so whoever won the London derby would be clear favourites at Wembley in early March.
Chelsea approached the home first-leg with confidence, unbeaten in 14 games and having impressively beaten Spurs 1-0 at home weeks earlier, Charlie Cooke scoring the winner. It was clear that goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who had his leg in plaster, would not be fit, so John Phillips, who had performed admirably when called on the previous season, would get his chance. There was a scare when he needed emergency dental treatment, but he was fit to play. Steve Kember was cup-tied and Tommy Baldwin not fully-fit so Sexton brought in Chris Garland in a side that lined up :– Phillips; Mulligan, Dempsey, Webb, Harris; Hollins, Hudson; Cooke, Osgood, Garland, Houseman.
The tie, three days before Christmas, was not all-ticket. It is a mystery why only 43,330, over 10,000 under capacity and 9,000 less than the League game a month earlier, were officially recorded as entering Stamford Bridge for what proved to be a night of high excitement. Peter Osgood put Chelsea ahead after goalkeeper Pat Jennings bizarrely collided with Terry Naylor. Naylor and Martin Chivers put Tottenham ahead in the first ten minutes of the second half, but Sexton took off Cooke for Baldwin and Chelsea stepped up the pressure. Garland headed a 75th minute equaliser, a belated first goal for the club some three months after his debut. Amidst tumultuous support from The Shed, Chelsea continued to press and a John Hollins penalty four minutes from time, following a Naylor handball, clinched a 3-2 first-leg win in a defiant comeback which caused a mass pitch-invasion from jubilant supporters at the end.
Hollins winning penalty at Stamford Bridge
In an inevitably physical game, Osgood was booked for kicking Mike England, an old rival, in the chest and could have been sent off. The indefatigable David Webb needed five stitches in a head wound and, worryingly given Bonetti was still not fit, Phillips aggravated a back injury. Despite Alan Hudson claiming ‘Spurs put eight men behind the ball’, the tie was great entertainment for the 43,000 in the ground and the millions watching TV highlights later that evening on BBC’s Sportsnight With Coleman. All to play for at White Hart Lane in a fortnight. Footage of that first-leg here.
In the interim, Chelsea beat Ipswich and lost at Derby, their first defeat in 17 games. What was unusual was that with Phillips out and Bonetti still not fit two different goalkeepers played those games. Third-choice keeper Steve Sherwood did not reach Stamford Bridge in time for kick-off against Ipswich, so the ultimate utilityman Webb had to go in goal, heroically keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win. Sherwood made his debut at Derby and did well in a 1-0 defeat. There was real concern, though, about who would go in goal for the second-leg four days later.
The White Hart Lane tie received huge publicity and ticket demand was enormous, touts getting £8 to £10 for £1 seats days before the game. Tottenham assistant secretary Bill Stevens observed ‘some of the spivs seem to live in the street outside our ground’. In the event, best seats reportedly went for up to a staggering £25, indicating the importance of the match, a 52,755 sell-out, to both sets of supporters. Thousands of Chelsea supporters made their way into the Park Lane End in anticipation of winning another trip to Wembley.
Bonetti was fit, great news for the team and no reflection on the inexperienced Sherwood. The Daily Mirror “One Happy ‘Cat’” headline said it all. He was Chelsea’s fourth different goalkeeper in four successive games, surely a record. Cooke came in for the ineligible Kember, Eddie McCreadie was fit enough to sit on the bench, after being out since the Atvidaberg away-leg. Sexton made it clear he was not aiming to sit on the lead ‘we are going out to attack, and win’. His side lined up Bonetti; Mulligan, Dempsey, Webb, Harris; Hollins, Hudson; Cooke, Osgood, Garland, Houseman.
Another pulsating, thrilling game ensued, with chances at both ends, and two great saves by Bonetti, before Tottenham took the lead though Martin Chivers just before half-time. After the interval Chelsea came out like a team possessed, the Daily Mail claiming ‘never have I seen 20 minutes of such lung-busting effort and unremitting effort as Chelsea produced’. Hudson was increasingly influential, and it was no surprise when Garland equalised, superbly, from outside the area.
Garland’s equaliser at White Hart Lane
Ten minutes from the end, though, a Martin Peters penalty, after Hudson handled, put Tottenham 2-1 ahead in the match and level on aggregate. In a frenzied atmosphere in the last minute, with extra-time looming, Mike England, not for the first time, fouled Osgood. Hudson whipped in the free-kick from near the left-hand corner flag. Full-back Cyril Knowles tried to clear the ball with his wrong foot, haplessly missed it and it rolled slowly into in the corner of the net. Cue absolute bedlam among the Chelsea support packed behind the goal. Tottenham, despite referee David Smith clearly indicating a direct free-kick, claimed it was indirect. It was a freak goal, but it was the winner and, as the Daily Telegraph said, ‘justice was done’. Hudson later described the goal as his most important for Chelsea.
Hudson’s late winner.
The result was a stupendous achievement by Chelsea, whose determination and drive deserved their place at Wembley. Even after the game, a hugely-frustrated Mike England was bleating about how it was an indirect free-kick to any journalist who would listen, but presumably his guilt at conceding the winning free-kick got the better of him.
The whole team deserved enormous credit for a performance up there with any achieved under Sexton’s management. Optimism for the final was high, especially as the injured John Boyle, Baldwin and McCreadie were all expected to be fit by early March, increasing Sexton’s options. Ecstatic chairman Brian Mears claimed ‘what a fine manager he is. He must be the best this club has ever had’. Again, great entertainment for the millions watching on TV, this time on ITV’s Midweek Sports Special.
Footage of that second-leg here.
Some Chelsea players celebrated long and hard. At 3.25am, Osgood, still celebrating with Hudson, Garland and others, was arrested with a friend in Royal Avenue, off King’s Road on a charge of drunk and disorderly. Assistant manager Ron Suart and club secretary Tony Green accompanied him in court the following morning, where he was given bail in the sum of £5 and told to appear again on February 4th. The story made the front pages (‘Osgood Bailed On Drink Charge’ being the Daily Mail’s offering) further cementing his status as ‘The King’ with The Shed. The incident must have given Sexton more cause for thought, however, especially as, on leaving court that morning, Osgood joined Hudson in the Chelsea Bar of the Drugstore in King’s Road, close to where he had been arrested hours earlier. Osgood was subsequently found not guilty, but his playboy reputation had been reinforced.
Sadly, for that generation of Chelsea players there were to be no more trophies, no more glory. Seven weeks later they were ignominiously eliminated from the FA Cup at Leyton Orient and, a week later, under-performed at Wembley, allowing Stoke City an unexpected victory. It was to be 22 years before Chelsea were to reach another major cup final. In the glorious aftermath of knocking out Tottenham that night, however, that would have seemed inconceivable.
However next Wednesday’s game in N17 goes, and it is probably fair to say that Chelsea have a better team than half a century ago and Spurs a worse one so there is every opportunity for optimism, it is unlikely Chelsea supporters will have to wait that long to reach another final. For followers of Tottenham, trophyless since 2008, that may be another matter.
This is an edited extract from ‘Stamford Bridge Is Falling Down’ by Tim Rolls, available on Amazon and eBay.