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Chelsea 4 v Liverpool 2 – The First Time

Chelsea have achieved two memorable 4-2 FA Cup wins over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. Many of you will remember the 1997 win, the highlight of that successful FA Cup run. Older readers will go misty-eyed when they go back a further nineteen years to January 1978.

To put the 1978 game into context, Liverpool went into it European Champions and League Champions. Only a surprise FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United has prevented them doing the treble the previous season. They had lost Kevin Keegan to Hamburg but arguably further improved the side by replacing him with Kenny Dalglish.

Chelsea had been promoted the previous summer with a thrilling young side but talismanic manager Eddie McCreadie had quit in the summer, replaced by Ken Shellito, in his first managerial position.

Liverpool were 11-1 second favourites for the FA Cup, Chelsea were not among the top ten sides in the odds. Liverpool were a slightly disappointing third in the League table, Chelsea fourteenth. It needs to be borne in mind that Chelsea were skint, Liverpool still active in the transfer market, so seven points above the relegation zone at that stage, the season after promotion, was actually a pretty decent performance.

The news that Chelsea’s best player, England international Ray Wilkins, would be out injured with a groin strain, and talismanic centre-back Micky Droy missing with an achilles injury, cemented the feeling that a difficult afternoon lay ahead, though visiting midfielders Terry McDermott and Jimmy Case were also out. Worse for Chelsea, Ken Swain had to drop out with flu on the morning of the game. Shellito asked Ron Harris, moved to centre-back, to mark Dalglish. Ray Lewington and Clive Walker had started just half-a-dozen league games thus far that season and Tommy Langley was leading club League scorer with just four. Harris was made captain in Wilkins’ absence, reclaiming a post he had lost six years earlier.

All in all, despite Shellito’s public confidence in press statements the portents were not good for the home side. The game was not all-ticket but 45,449 supporters (possibly more) packed into Stamford Bridge, the vast majority more in hope than expectation.

Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; G. Wilkins, Harris, Wicks, Sparrow; Britton, Lewington, Cooke; Garner, Langley, Walker. Sub. Finnieston.

Liverpool’s side was packed with internationals :- Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hughes, Jones; Heighway, Kennedy, Callaghan; Dalglish, Fairclough, Johnson. Sub Hansen.

Ten of that home twelve were home-produced, in contrast to Liverpool where only Phil Thompson, David Fairclough and Ian Callaghan had come through their youth system.

Both sides had chances before, after sixteen minutes, speedy 19-year-old winger Walker firmly put himself on the Chelsea map with a magnificent, swerving 25-yard left foot drive, hit on the run, which completely bamboozled a hapless Ray Clemence at his near post. We were rammed into the West Side of the Shed and the image of Walker’s ball swerving into the goal at the North Stand end, and the sheer delirium that followed, stays with me 45 years later.

Walker lashes home the first goal...

...and celebrates with his joyous team mates

Peter Bonetti was leaping round like he was fifteen years younger, as agile and brave as ever and, in front of him, Harris kept Dalglish quiet without resorting to foul play. Lewington and Ian Britton were everywhere and Langley, Walker and Bill Garner chased long ball after long ball. Chelsea were on top but Charlie Cooke had to limp off after 33 minutes replaced by the previous seasons’ leading scorer, Steve Finnieston, who had made just one forty-second substitute appearance since being injured at Ipswich four months earlier. Nobody realised at the time but it was to be the final first-team club appearance for Cooke, one of the most skilful and charismatic players ever to pull on a Chelsea shirt.

Chelsea maintained their lead and dominance till half-time, though Bonetti had to make a couple of sharp saves from Ray Kennedy. Shellito’s side went off to a storming ovation from supporters hugely appreciative of their efforts but apprehensive about what might happen after the interval, when reality would presumably set in and Liverpool’s casual approach would drastically change.

Amazingly, things got even better for the home side when Finnieston volleyed home a poor Emlyn Hughes headed clearance six minutes into the second half.

An exultant Finnieston celebrates his goal

When, four minutes later, a flustered-beyond-sanity Neal hit a hilariously sloppy back pass, a rampaging Langley reached the ball before Clemence and fired the ball under him into the corner of the net from a tight angle. Cue absolute disbelief.

Langley hits home the third past a despairing Ray Clemence

Jubilation from player and supporters as Langley celebrates his goal

Though David Johnson pulled one back, Walker then coolly, and unbelievably, netted a Garner pass.

Walker slots home the fourth

At 4-1, and with the disbelieving home support jumping like it has rarely jumped before or since, that was surely that. Dalglish netted another with ten minutes left but Chelsea hung on, working as hard as ever and backed by their joyously vibrant, roaring support. The Guardian referred to ‘a packed Shed swinging their blue-and-white scarves in perfect unison as they sang their team to victory;’ and the TV footage reinforces that image of passionate support.

It was the first time Liverpool had been knocked out in the FA Cup third round since Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea side won 2-1 at the then holders in January 1966, a game Bonetti, Harris and Callaghan played in. Liverpool were dismal and seemed to assume they only had to turn up to win. The press laid into a number of their international stars. Neal, Hughes and future Bridge hero Joey Jones in particular, had games to forget. England regular Neal was hustled out of his stride and Walker’s pace ‘ran Jones into submission’. A proud Shellito had told his young side to unsettle the visitors and they certainly did that. Chelsea out-competed the European Champions and thoroughly deserved their win.

Paisley was furious with his ‘bloody pathetic’ side and locked his players in the dressing room for 75 minutes while he read the riot act, turning down an opportunity to go on the 30th anniversary celebrations of BBC Radio’s Sports Report because he feared he might swear. He described his hapless side as having ‘sawdust between the ears’.

That Stamford Bridge attendance was the biggest of the season and the crowd has not exceeded 45,000 since. Receipts that day were £65,608, buttons now but very decent (and welcome) then.

This game was the high point of Shellito’s reign. He commented ‘I always fancied us to win, and I have always fancied our youth policy. In another two years we will have some really top class players.’ The Sunday Express ‘Chelsea Cup Kids Are Kings’ headline spoke volumes.

The following week his side were thumped 5-1 at Coventry and though his side finished sixteenth, he dismissed the following autumn as Chelsea lurched inexorably towards relegation, the club forced to sell many of those self-same youngsters he had rightly praised. Liverpool? They beat Bruges in the European Cup Final four months later.

Footage of the game still gets the blood pumping 45 years later.

It was one of the finest Chelsea performances I have ever seen, especially given the respective strengths of the two sides. Ninety minutes of effort from the whole side, backed by a delirious, baying support. A truly great day, one of few during those dark days to be a Chelsea supporter between summer 1977 and summer 1983.

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