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Best Stamford Bridge Atmosphere Ever?

It is generally recognised by those of a certain age that the atmosphere for the Cup-Winners’ Cup quarter-final second-leg against Bruges in March 1971 was among the finest, if not the very finest, ever heard at Stamford Bridge.

Picture the situation. Two weeks earlier Chelsea lost the first-leg in Belgium 2-0. Four days earlier, the team had been booed, jeered and slow-handclapped after labouring to a 0-0 draw at home with lowly Huddersfield Town. ‘Chelsea had about as much rhythm as a busted drum’ opined the Daily Telegraph. Peter Osgood was back after an absurdly draconian eight-week suspension, the FA tolerating outright thuggery but hammering any retaliation and, though clearly missed, he could not possibly be match fit. Given the dismal performance on the Saturday and the necessity of scoring at least twice in the most important match of the season manager Dave Sexton had little option but to pick Ossie and hope.

Osgood had lost five pounds in weight while suspended, having spent much of the previous eight weeks training with the reserves and running on Epsom Downs. He told the Daily Mail ‘I have never worked harder in my life’. He was raring to go in the second-leg, two days after his suspension ended, but agreed ‘I’m not sure whether they will risk me…maybe they’ll want to throw me in for 30 minutes if things look desperate’. He again made the point that he knew he needed to stop retaliating but ‘it is easy to say now that I won’t retaliate…until it happens and I get hit again…I won’t know until I’m involved…I need to prove I’m man enough to accept it. Otherwise I’m only damaging my career and my club. I’ve been out long enough.’ The problem was, he had said all this before and, under severe provocation, lapsed. Actions would speak louder than words. After just four goals in 23 League games, he had a lot of catching up to do in a personally underwhelming season.

The Daily Telegraph Bruges preview focused, as so often, on Osgood. ‘Chelsea’s wayward genius will bounce straight back to the centre of the stage.’ ‘If the suspension has done anything, it has made me hungrier for goals’. He was clearly not match fit, but with Ian Hutchinson ruled out he was desperately needed. Quickly pressing Ron Harris back after four matches out with knee trouble was also clearly a risk by Sexton. John Phillips retained his place, having done well in recent games, even though Peter Bonetti had recovered from his bout of pneumonia. Leading scorer Keith Weller had not recovered from flu, a worry as Chelsea needed to score at least twice and could not afford to concede as away goals counted double. If a play-off tie were needed, it would be at Stamford Bridge. Harris asked for the supporters to ‘really let it rip’ like at Old Trafford and the Kensington News felt ‘the West London skinhead answer to the Vienna Boys choir must be in good voice’. They were in excellent voice.

45,558 paid £20,323, though there are those there that night who think the attendance, and hence the receipts, were somewhat higher.

Two North Stand seat tickets - courtesy Ian Stutz

The Shed was absolutely rammed. In a raucous atmosphere Chelsea attacked from the off. Houseman scored after 20 minutes but, despite wave after wave of attacks the equaliser would not come.

Houseman scores the first...

And Baldwin celebrates...

John Dempsey had to go off with concussion and a cut-head at half-time, replaced by John Boyle. As so often happened when goals were urgently needed, the piratical, never-say-die Webb was sent up front. The crowd bayed, the team pressed and pressed, and sent in high ball after high ball but, though chances were created, the critical goal would not come.

But then cometh the 81st minute, cometh the King. Substitute Boyle, constantly looking to overlap, pounded forward, his long cross was flicked on by Charlie Cooke and Osgood stabbed it home.

Osgood equalises...

...and celebrates in a trademark manner

Cue absolute bedlam. Bruges, clearly wilting, held on to force extra-time. Tommy Baldwin, in another non-stop performance, hit the bar but Chelsea were resisted and a play-off the following week loomed. Home stamina began to tell and, finally, after 114 minutes, Chelsea went ahead. Alan Hudson, in one of his greatest games, crossed for the irrepressible Osgood to put Chelsea ahead for the first time in the tie. Cue further absolute bedlam. Three minutes later Baldwin finished off a Hudson-Cooke move to cement a Semi-Final place. Amidst utter euphoria, hundreds invaded the pitch at the end as the support wildly celebrated inside, then outside, the ground.

Hudson in ‘Working Man’s Ballet’, Osgood in ‘King Of Stamford Bridge’ and Albert Sewell in ‘Chelsea Football Book No.2’ all eulogise in glowing terms about the supporters that night. Sexton, not a man prone to hyperbole, called them ‘marvellous’. After the third goal Osgood ‘jumped the dog track and fell to my knees and saluted the human cauldron that was The Shed. In that moment, the fans and I were one, united in euphoria. It was a special moment in my life’. It was also, arguably, his greatest moment at Stamford Bridge. His teammates, feeling he has been so harshly treated in terms of his suspension, shared his wild celebrations. Hudson reckoned ‘the Chelsea crowd never gave us more fantastic support’ than that night.

Supporters who have been watching the team for 50+ years still remember that night and the noise the crowd made. Here is a selection of their comments. ‘Fantastic atmosphere.’ ‘Electric night, up there with the very best’. ‘The best game I’ve ever been to’. ‘Magnificent.’ ‘I was 11 years old and remember lying in bed in Battersea and heard the roar’. ‘This was THE night at the Bridge’. ‘It was the first time they were chanting in the stands. Fantastic.’ ‘In my 50+ years at the Bridge, the one that sticks with me for atmosphere’. Geoff Kimber, a matchgoing supporter for over half a century, thinks it one of the top five matches he has ever seen, certainly in terms of atmosphere and excitement. Fellow supporter Brian Gaches recalls the ‘astonishing’ support and reckons ‘anyone who was there will never forget it – it remains in my top five best ever games seen at Stamford Bridge’.

A fantastic result, a magnificent exhibition of spirit and talent and a place in the Semi-Final. The risks taken on the fitness of Osgood and Harris had gloriously come off. The next week’s programme felt, rightly, that that night ‘belonged among the great occasions in the history of football played at Stamford Bridge’. 50 years later, many supporters think it still is. Sadly, no TV footage of the tie seems to exist.

This is an expanded version of a section of ‘Sexton For God’ which covers Chelsea under Dave Sexton from 1967-71

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