Paul Waterhouse recalls 7th January 1978 when Chelsea played Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in the F.A.Cup 3rd Round.
After a two year break Chelsea were back in the First Division and despite the continued financial restraints the largely young side had done reasonably well so far. The season was just past the halfway point and the club were occupying 14th place, but a string of three positive results over the Christmas period had no doubt given the team confidence. The distraction of the F.A.Cup was always welcomed by supporters up and down the country, but it had always held a special place in the hearts and minds of Chelsea fans and the thought of an extended run in the competition was always welcome, particularly by the Chelsea board due to the prospective extra income such a run could generate.
However, when the 3rd Round draw was made there couldn’t have been many Chelsea fans who didn’t feel a sense of trepidation at having to face the current reigning League and European Champions.
There was ‘history’ between both clubs as there had been four previous meetings in the Cup. but none had taken place at Stamford Bridge.
In 1931-32 Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in a 6th Round tie. In 1961-62 Liverpool won 4-3 at Anfield in a 3rd Round tie and then both sides met at Villa Park for a Semi Final tie in 1964-65 which Liverpool won 2-0 after Chelsea had controversially been denied an opening goal. Defending the trophy in 1965-66, Liverpool then faced Chelsea at Anfield and the visitors prevailed 2-1.
Liverpool were themselves struggling to defend their League title due to the emergence of a strong Nottingham Forest side and were 4th in the table, but were still odds on favourites to beat Chelsea, especially as the home side were suffering from a number of injuries and would be without influential captain, Ray Wilkins for the game.
An attendance of 45,447 spectators were packed into Stamford Bridge for a game of high drama and memories that still resonate today.
There was already a tremendous atmosphere when both teams emerged and right from the kick off the young Chelsea side showed they were not cowed by their illustrious opponents and went close to taking the lead twice in the opening ten minutes. On both occasions Ray Clemence saw his defence collapse as Tommy Langley fired over and then Bill Garner took advantage of a Clemence mistake before shooting just past the post. Liverpool had decided to switch the positions of both full backs, Joey Jones and Phil Neal, the idea being to prevent Chelsea from attacking out wide, but even in the early exchanges it was clear that Clive Walker was up for the game and he also had the beating of Jones, plus anyone else for that matter.
On 16 minutes Chelsea gained a throw in on the left and after receiving the ball Clive Walker headed straight to the corner of the Liverpool penalty area. “He really does look lively, Walker,” said commentator, Brian Moore, and he wasn’t wrong. Walker launched a rocket of a shot from twenty yards that Clemence seemed to misjudge.
The ball flew into the top corner of the net, Clemence had his head in his hands, the ground shook and Chelsea were ahead. Two minutes later with the crowd buzzing Walker found himself clear through on goal and Clemence pulled off a tremendous save to deny the Chelsea forward and Liverpool knew they were in for a fight.
Two of Chelsea’s stubborn survivors of the last cup game, Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti then came to the fore. Ron Harris had replaced the injured Micky Droy and although much shorter, he was craftier at ground level and was managing to keep Kenny Dalglish fairly quiet. However, Liverpool stepped up a gear and Ray Kennedy twice forced Peter Bonetti into making superb saves. Having ceded the early initiative, Chelsea were relieved to go in a goal up at the break. The home side had had to reorganise after Charlie Cooke went off injured in what would be his last appearance for the club, but his replacement, Steve Finnieston, would feature heavily in the second half. The home support were probably expecting a Liverpool onslaught, (I know I was) but there then followed a golden two minutes.
Chelsea gained a free kick after a needless foul on Tommy Langley by Joey Jones and the resulting kick was floated in by Clive Walker. Bill Garner challenged for the ball and it dropped invitingly for Steve Finnieston to beat Clemence with a low drive.
Wild celebrations ensued, but it got even better two minutes later when an interchange of passing on the right involving Ian Britton led to Phil Neal totally misplacing a back pass to Ray Clemence. Alert to the situation, Tommy Langley sprinted to intercept the ball and he clipped his shot past the Liverpool keeper and the ball went in off the inside of the far post.
The noise inside the ground was by now unbelievable, certainly nothing I’d experienced before personally, and there was still over half an hour to go. A lucky deflection in the Chelsea penalty area on 60 minutes allowed Dalglish to set up
David Johnson for an easy tap in and for a few moments a sense of doubt crept in, but five minutes later the three goal cushion was restored when a hesitant Liverpool defence failed to clear the ball and an unselfish pass by Bill Garner allowed Clive Walker the easiest of tasks to score and at 4-1 it was party time. All around the famous ground the Chelsea fans were in full voice and the Shed gave the away section a stunning rendition of “You’ll never walk alone.”
Liverpool were a beaten side, but to their credit they fought back and pulled a goal back on 81 minutes through ‘Smiler’ Dalglish, his header giving Bonetti no chance. Despite the goal coming so late, Chelsea were hanging on by the time the whistle went to record a remarkable victory. It had been a wonderful all round team performance, but Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti had certainly rolled back the years, so impressive were their contributions. In Clive Walker, Chelsea had a winger who was a throwback of footballers past, with a talent for taking on defenders and shooting at goal.
Team was; Bonetti, Wilkins G, Sparrow, Britton, Harris, Wicks, Garner, Lewington, Langley, Cooke, Walker. Sub; Finnieston for Cooke.
Scorers; Walker 2, Finnieston, Langley.
Ken Shellito was rightly proud of his team but the praise was less forthcoming from his counterpart, Bob Paisley. “Bloody pathetic” he described his team’s performance and said his players had sawdust in their heads in the opening twenty minutes. Paisley was an honest man, certainly not the board room carpet munching liar that some managers are, but he genuinely thought the four Chelsea goals were purely down to his team’s mistakes. He didn’t want to take the credit away from Chelsea, who he thought took their chances well. I’m sorry Mr Paisley….it could have been six and it wouldn’t be the last time you took us lightly.
** This game above all others holds special memories for me as I’m sure it will for many of you. I’ve seen more important games at Stamford Bridge but I can’t recall such a noisy and celebratory atmosphere as this one in my time of supporting the club.
** There was a pavement artist outside Victoria Station who looked remarkably like Karl Marx and I always chatted with him as well as parting with a few bob. He would always ask for the score and this was the only time I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him. To prove it wasn’t a one off, we beat them 3-1 in the league a few weeks later.
Reproduced with permission from Paul Waterhouse, Bygone Chelsea 1905-99
Chelsea 4 – 2 Liverpool 1978 FA Cup – Chelsea FC Lookback: