Ahead of our match against Burnley, Tim Rolls looks back our past encounters in the 1960’s
A trip to Turf Moor on Saturday. It could be lively, but probably not as edgy as such games were sixty years ago. Encounters between Chelsea and Burnley in the early- and mid-1960s were often enlivened by an ongoing spat between Chelsea boss Tommy Docherty and controversial Burnley chairman Bob Lord, christened ‘The Khrushchev of Burnley’ by journalist Arthur Hopcraft. The latter became notorious for speaking his mind but some of his public comments, including an appallingly antisemitic outburst about the people running British television (for years he refused to allow cameras into Turf Moor), were completely beyond the pale, even then.
1961/62 was one of the most difficult seasons in Chelsea’s history. The loss of Jimmy Greaves the previous summer was keenly felt, manager Ted Drake paid the price for a dismal run and though his replacement Docherty shook things up, cleared out a bunch of old lags and gave youth its head, he was unable to prevent the side finishing bottom of Division One.
Chelsea’s final game of a long and difficult season was a trip to Turf Moor. The game was meaningless for the visitors but crucial for the hosts, for whom victory, followed by a win at Sheffield Wednesday two days later, would give them the League title for the second time in three years. Burnley were also in the FA Cup Final the following week, so were in with a realistic chance of the double. Chelsea had drawn their two previous games, including a 2-2 home draw with Burnley’s title rivals Ipswich Town, after gaining just one point in their previous seven games. Frank ‘The Tank’ Upton’s selection at half-back coincided with the, albeit too late, improvement in form. Burnley’s squad included the supremely talented schemer Jimmy McIlroy, as well as England forwards John Connelly and Ray Pointer.
Docherty’s side, playing with ‘polish and fire’ produced arguably their best performance of the season. Ian Towers put the hosts ahead before half-time but Frank Blunstone’s fluke sixty-eighth minute equaliser upset the apple cart. The ‘furiously frustrated’ Burnley crowd were incensed by Chelsea’s ‘hacking style’ and booed their ‘tough tactics’ which certainly showed the players were committed in a, for them, meaningless match. In a frenzied atmosphere Pointer missed two easy chances to keep their title hopes very much alive, hitting the post in the very last minute, as Chelsea held out for a hugely commendable 1-1 draw, handing the title to Ipswich, who beat Aston Villa 2-0.
An incandescent Lord complained about the visitors’ rough play and weak refereeing and the Daily Herald moaned about Chelsea’s gamesmanship, obstructive tactics and ‘lack of grace.’ Why Chelsea should just lie down and keep Burnley’s title hopes alive was not explained and Docherty was understandably delighted with the commitment his side showed.
Impressed with the fight and attitude, the Daily Telegraph pointed out that on this form, ‘Chelsea (are) already halfway back to the First Division.’ Burnley lost the cup final a week later and, sixty years later, have not been that close to either trophy since. This game was the start of an ongoing, and public, antagonism between The Doc and Lord. Doc later revealed that the Burnley supremo told him after the game ‘that’s you in the Second Division and I hope you stay there.’ He told me in 2017 ‘he (Lord) never forgave me for Burnley not winning the League when our already relegated team got a draw up there’.
The sides next met in September 1963 after Chelsea’s return to Division One, at Turf Moor. Burnley fans soon became agitated at Chelsea’s blanket defensive approach and police had to patrol the touchline after locals, possibly remembering the game two seasons earlier, got angry at Chelsea’s tactics, back-passing and time-wasting. Bobby Tambling twisted a knee and had to hobble through the second-half so, in those pre-substitute days, the defensive display was hardly surprising, and Chelsea achieved a highly commendable goalless draw. Lord scathingly criticised Chelsea for defensive play, observing ‘the game as played by Chelsea will absolutely kill football.’
Chelsea were criticised by the press, along with other teams, for playing a ‘too defensive’ 4-2-4 system. Brazil pioneered that system in 1958 and nobody accused those World Cup winners of negative play. Because wingers Bert Murray and Frank Blunstone tracked back and covered when Ken Shellito and Eddie McCreadie overlapped, it was more a 4-4-2 system but that had not been ‘invented’ yet.
Lord was roundly booed when taking his seat at Stamford Bridge in the return a week later. A Terry Venables penalty and a late Frank Blunstone header gave Docherty’s men a 2-0 win, 31,900 turning out to watch ‘a wonderful match’, the Daily Herald ‘Chelsea Shake Lord’ headline rubbing the result in nicely. The Daily Mail stressed the key role of Chelsea’s ‘fly-away’ overlapping full-backs, pointing out that no other team in England was playing that way and press comment was generally positive as the defensive shackles of a week earlier were lifted.
A year later Burnley were in nineteenth place, a shadow of the side competing for League and FA Cup honours a few seasons previously. Their match at Stamford Bridge in October 1964 should have given Chelsea the perfect opportunity to retain their top of the table position, and they approached the game confidently. In the event, the two teams spent ninety minutes kicking each other as Burnley won an ugly encounter 1-0 through a Willie Irvine goal, Chelsea’s tackling described as ‘shockingly crude’. The News Of The World went to town. ‘Chelsea lost their self-control and dignity in this match littered with fearsome fouls’ they claimed, under a ‘Fiery Chelsea Toppled In Battle Of The Bridge’ headline. The crowd got on the team’s back but, though Chelsea put pressure on towards the end, they could not score. Surprisingly for such a physical game there was just one booking, Mortimore, given that five Burnley players were badly fouled in the last 15 minutes. Lord, not for the first time, vehemently criticised Chelsea’s physicality. Docherty pointed out ‘I have too much work to do getting Chelsea back to the top of the League to argue with Mr. Lord.’ He added ‘the game was a bit rough. But we gave no more than we got. In football you have to be prepared to look after yourself.’
Lord exclaimed ‘I would rather Burnley went down to the Second Division than play like that. Big incentive payments are bound to increase petulance. I don’t know whether this was why Chelsea played as they did, but it does tend to happen with younger players.’ Chelsea’s well-publicised incentive scheme for points won clearly riled Lord.
The next time the sides met, the following April, a different type of controversy surrounded the game. A number of key Chelsea men were missing from the line-up after the notorious Blackpool incident, where eight players broke a Doc-imposed curfew at their hotel and were sent home, making unwanted front-page headlines. Those who did not go back out that night included first team regulars Peter Bonetti, Ken Shellito, Ron Harris, John Mortimore and Bobby Tambling plus youngsters like John Boyle and Peter Houseman. They all played at Burnley and debutants Jim Smart and Billy Sinclair were drafted in. Docherty optimistically claimed to the Express ‘there is no reason the replacement team will not be as successful as any side I could field. We have slotted players in all season.’
Chelsea’s once-bright title hopes had already faded and the 6-2 thrashing was unsurprising, as morale even among those who played no part in the late night out must have been rock bottom. Hard-man centre-forward Andy Lochhead scored after thirty seconds, and went on to score five goals. Ron Harris and Peter Houseman’s goals were no consolation. 37 free-kicks were given and three men booked as, once again in encounters between the sides, tempers became frayed and referee Mr. Grundy struggled to retain control.
At the start of the following season a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, Arthur Bellamy equalising Venables’ opener, was marked by Ron Harris laying Lochhead, a genuine hard man, out cold. Four years of animosity and physicality between the two sides showed no sign of abating.
By late January 1966 there was a new star at Stamford Bridge. The hugely talented Peter Osgood had come into the side in October and was already being talked about as a possible for that summer’s World Cup squad. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win at second-placed Burnley, taking Chelsea up to sixth place. His second goal, a mazy sixty-yard run past four defenders on a heavy pitch, had journalists purring and even the Burnley supporters applauding. ‘The Doc’ later observed ‘the best goal I ever saw Ossie score we were playing at Burnley. They had a corner. Bonetti picked it out of the air and threw it to Ossie just outside the eighteen-yard line. Away he went, beat loads of men and stuck it away. We won 2-1. Chairman Bob Lord, no fan of me or Chelsea, said it deserved a gold medal, it was the best goal he had ever seen.’
The next time Chelsea played Burnley, the following October, the situation was rather different. They were top, Venables, Murray, Barry Bridges and George Graham had left the club as an increasingly volatile manager fell-out with many of his side, and Tommy Baldwin and Charlie Cooke had arrived. Sadly, Osgood had broken his leg at Blackpool in midweek, an injury that was to seriously impact on his side’s title challenge. An uninspired 3-1 home defeat ended ‘slack’ Chelsea’s unbeaten run and took them off top spot, Lochhead scoring twice and Willie Morgan the other. Chelsea’s League season spluttered from there on in, with Docherty regularly falling out with new chairman Charles ‘Pratt by name’ Pratt, leaving him little time for rows with other chairmen. By the time The Doc left the club in October 1967 his relationship with Bob Lord, though certainly still strained, no longer made headlines. I interviewed The Doc in 2017 for ‘Diamonds, Dynamos And Devils’ and his continued hatred for Lord who he called ‘a horrible man’, shone through.
In an era when most club chairmen attracted no headlines whatsoever, Lord was the opposite, glorying in the controversies he stirred up. These days some chairmen do have a higher profile, but an ongoing spat between a manager and a rival chairman of that nature would be unthinkable. Which, in some ways, is a shame.
Tim Rolls @tim_rolls