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Early 1964 - Chelsea on the up, Spurs in decline

In late 1963 Chelsea were starting to play with the style, verve and efficiency that was to bring them close to a treble the following season. An excellent December 1963 with three wins and two draws (including at champions Everton, where manager Tommy Docherty got hit by a stone for his troubles), meant they were seventh in Division One, just five points behind leaders Blackburn Rovers. In the new year they faced two trips to White Hart Lane, in the FA Cup and a month later in the League. Spurs had won 3-0 at Stamford Bridge three months earlier, and were second in Division One, a point behind Blackburn with two games in hand and were favourites for the title, so this was an opportunity for Chelsea to demonstrate their recent improvement.

The trip to Tottenham in the FA Cup third round on 4th January was a massive game that attracted newspaper previews days in advance. The Doc, never averse to having his name in the paper, announced he had put cold-stricken pair Eddie McCreadie and Barry Bridges on a ‘raw eggs and steak’ diet to build them up for the cup-tie, an interesting nutritional approach. Both were fit to play, but young Peter Houseman’s cold kept him out, so Dennis ‘Bullets’ Brown came in for the cold-stricken Houseman as Bobby Tambling was recovering from a knee injury. Peter Bonetti had broken a little finger against Blackpool the previous week and was out for a few weeks so young John Dunn made only his fourth first-team appearance. At the start of the week, after beating Blackpool 1-0, eight players were getting treatment from trainer Harry Medhurst, and that was without the cold victims, but luckily most recovered.

Chelsea lined up :- Dunn; Hinton, Harris, Mortimore, McCreadie; Upton, Venables; Murray, Brown, Bridges, Blunstone.

In front of 49,382 spectators (interestingly 8,000 below the White Hart Lane crowd for the visit of Arsenal six weeks later), many of them supporting the visitors, Bert Murray’s header equalised an early goal from Terry Dyson and Chelsea hung on in a hard-fought game with thirty-six fouls, twenty-two in the first half. 19-year-old reserve goalkeeper John Dunn, in for the injured Peter Bonetti, grew in confidence as the game went on and Docherty was delighted with the whole team. ‘I’m well satisfied with the result. The whole team gave the lot, and no manager can ask for more than that. Once again, we saw young players coming into the side and fully justifying themselves and the faith the club has in them.’ Frank Blunstone commented how well moving Frank ‘The Tank’ Upton to wing-half, and Terry Venables to link man, had worked.

Bert Murray equalises at White Hart Lane...

...and rightly celebrates

The News Of the World view was summed up by their ‘Football? This Was A Brawl’ headline, though they praised ‘a tigerish fight by these supremely fit Chelsea youngsters’ and referred to a ‘desperate’ Spurs manager Bill Nicholson. The Daily Telegraph referred to an ill-tempered and negative game and optimistically hoped the replay would have less midfield spoiling, fewer petty fouls, more skills, and greater boldness. At the same time, they praised defenders McCreadie, Ron Harris and Marvin Hinton and the way Chelsea’s keen tackling and close marking brought Spurs attack to a halt. The Sunday Express felt Chelsea hunted the ball ‘like a pack of snapping hounds’ but called it ‘a lamentable cup scuffle,’ The Times dourly seeing it as ‘a match of chilling mediocrity.’ No matter, the result was all that counted to manager, team and the ‘highly voluble faithfuls of Chelsea.’

Interestingly, The News Of The World had clear misgivings about the loyalty of Spurs fans, commenting that the match was ‘a hard luck story to pacify even those spoilt brats who pass as Spurs fans.’ Tony Marchi, Spurs wing-half, had asked to be left out of the team because of the abuse he got from his own supporters every time he touched the ball. Graham Moore and Derek Kevan had had their critics among Chelsea supporters, but it never descended to that type of abuse. The Spurs fans were an unhappy lot. At the replay, a ‘Nicholson, This Is Lunacy’ banner was paraded on the pitch. Docherty was predictably unrepentant about his team’s competitive approach. ‘I shall tell them (before the replay), as I always do, to go in hard. Saturday’s game was not vicious. It was hard and there were lots of petty fouls.’

Chelsea expected a big crowd for the replay four days later and doubled the number of policemen on duty in the ground but, ludicrously, chose not to make the biggest London derby for years all-ticket. In the event the game attracted an astonishing crowd of 70,100. This was the biggest domestic crowd in England that season, the biggest at Stamford Bridge for nine years, the biggest-ever floodlit crowd at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s fourteenth biggest crowd ever and bigger than any crowd at Chelsea since. Marchi returned for Tottenham, Nicholson presumably hoping the travelling support would not get on his back. Docherty took a real gamble, bringing back Tambling earlier than anyone expected. Spurs were 11-1 for the cup, Chelsea 25-1, showing that Spurs were seen to be favourites despite playing away.

The gates were closed fifteen minutes before kick-off in utterly chaotic scenes as at least ten thousand supporters were locked out. Stand ticket-holders could not get through the locked-out masses and some, including Transport Minister Ernest Marples, did not reach their seats until nearly half time. Supporter Bob Barlow remembered supporters being crushed like sardines at the front and people having to pee where they stood, as there was no chance of getting to the toilet. Supporter Peter Gray recalled as a boy getting in early and getting a good spot on the North West corner terrace but being gradually pushed off the terrace and having to watch from behind a pillar.

Chelsea lined up :- Dunn, Hinton, Harris, Mortimore, McCreadie; Upton, Venables; Murray, Bridges, Tambling, Blunstone.

The replay, predictably, was as physical as the first game. The Daily Mail saw Chelsea as ‘ruthless, restless,’ and snapping in with tackles that shook the stand whereas the match lacked grace, skill and dignity. Peter Lorenzo in the Daily Herald thought Chelsea ‘played like 11 Tommy Docherty’s’ in a ‘raw conquest’ with ‘non-stop hustle, shuddering tackles and a lot of big boot’. Not that any of that mattered to the jubilant fans, who chanted ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea’ as their team won the right to face Huddersfield Town at home.

Docherty’s gamble paid off as Tambling, who Barry Holmes remembered as having one of his very best Chelsea games, gave the hosts the lead after 17 minutes, turning in a ball from Murray.

Bobby Tambling opens the scoring at Stamford Bridge

Though Venables missed a penalty two minutes later, Murray headed home Tambling’s cross after 72 minutes. Spurs were unable to breach the Chelsea defence, meaning the penalty miss, and a Frank Upton thunderbolt controversially disallowed for offside, did not matter. Chelsea dominated, the Spurs forwards were completely ineffective with Harris man-marking Greaves and the Daily Telegraph felt Chelsea should have scored six.

Bert Murray nets the second in the replay

A famous victory, the first time Chelsea had ever knocked Spurs out of the FA Cup, celebrated with a post-match pitch invasion and mocking chants of ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, As Chelsea Go Marching On.’ Tottenham had no monopoly on ‘glory, glory’ nights, and in fact their glory, glory years were fast coming to an end. The Times referred to ’70,000 violently partisan supporters from either end of London (working) themselves into a frenzy’.

Murray never received the recognition he deserved. An industrious winger happy to track back when his full-back overlapped, he also had the happy knack of scoring goals. Twelve League goals that season and seventeen the following were superb returns for a wide-man. In all he played 183 games for the club, scoring 44 goals, before departing for Birmingham in the same mid-1966 Docherty cull as Venables, Bridges and George Graham.

Chelsea dominated play but received criticism for their physical play over the two games, when a total of fifty-eight fouls were committed. Spurs boss Bill Nicholson commented ‘it was too hard.’ Docherty clearly could not care less what Nicholson thought and made what, for the time, were highly outspoken comments to the Daily Mail. ‘I don’t give a damn what people say. Nor do my players. Some Spurs players squealed after that replay but that is because they lost. Tackling is part of the game and tackling is what we are good at. We are not a big enough side to be dirty. If the other side is chicken, that is their problem.’ Exactly the sort of comments to enrage opponents and endear yourself to your own players and supporters. He later denied his team were bruisers, stating ‘let me say bluntly, we’re not thugs at Stamford Bridge.’

The likes of Harris, Upton and McCreadie could certainly tackle. However, every side had their physical players, even Tottenham had Dave Mackay (recovering from a broken leg) and Maurice Norman, so the bleating does seem a classic case of sour grapes. The Evening Standard commented that Spurs played ‘without heart.’

Barry Holmes stood on the West Terrace and recalled the Tottenham fans round them making confident noises before the game. He remembers that many of these same fans slunk away long before the end, knowing that the favourites were out.

The chaos outside and inside the ground could have been a lot worse. Barry Holmes described the ‘crush getting a bit scary’ and Steve Lloyd remembered being ‘terrified’ leaving the ground as a nine-year-old in the ‘awful crush,’ losing his dad and his feet hardly touching the ground until he reached Fulham Road. Three crash barriers gave way, people fainted, and club secretary John Battersby commented ‘one of the barriers went as the crowd surged forward after we scored our first goal. It could have been dangerous.’ It could indeed. In fact it was. Amidst police concern, the club called in an architect to inspect every crash barrier. There was utter chaos on London Underground too, not helped by a circus at Olympia and an exhibition at Earls Court taking place the same evening.

That win firmed up the realisation that Docherty had created an exceptionally talented, highly promising team. Tottenham were European Cup Winners’ Cup holders and were second in the League, but had been deservedly beaten and, in some eyes, humiliated. As The Times put it ‘Farewell to a Tottenham side that once was great, and is now in the shadows.’ The Evening Standard headline the following day, ‘Be Tolerant While We Rebuild – Pleads Nicholson,’ spoke volumes and there was talk of them having £200,000 to spend.

The sides were scheduled to meet in the League at White Hart Lane on February 1st, three weeks later. Prior to that Chelsea lost at Anfield, beat Aston Villa and, shocking many who thought they could go deep into the competition, were beaten at home by Huddersfield in the FA Cup.

When the sides met for the third time in a month, Tottenham were still favourites to win the League. Veteran player-coach, and ex-Spur, Tommy ‘The Charmer’ Harmer, 36 the following day, came in when Venables (ironically a future Spur) failed a late test and was made captain for the day against his old side. There was a bizarre prelude to the game when newspapers received hoax calls saying Greaves had been killed in a car crash, the latest in a series of distasteful false calls to the press about Tottenham personalities, including captain Dave Mackay and Nicholson.

Greaves optimistically told the Daily Mail that he expected no repeat of the ‘clogging’ of the cup-ties. Tambling commented ‘I know some of the Spurs were upset after our cup win, but we reckon we beat them fairly. Now we want to beat them in a football match and this time get a little credit for it’. Apart from the injured Bonetti and Venables, Docherty could put out a full-strength side.

51,007 turned out to see whether the hosts could exact revenge on a heavy pitch. If Spurs thought their visitors would be less competitive in a League game, those hopes were very quickly dashed. After just fifteen seconds Tambling volleyed the ball home after a clever one-two with Harmer, praised pre-match by Nicholson for his. The first Spurs player to touch the ball was keeper John Hollowbread picking the ball out of the net.

Tambling (next to the far post) turns to celebrate netting after 15 seconds

Jimmy Greaves equalised before half-time but Chelsea continued to fight and were rewarded when Tambling scored the winner after an hour, again from a Harmer pass, which nutmegged defender Mel Hopkins. A ‘listless’ Spurs, supposedly a classy footballing side, hit the bar through Norman but in general were reduced to lofting long, hopeful balls into the box, which Dunn capably dealt with. Docherty’s side comfortably held on for a well-deserved 2-1 win.

John Dunn comfortably catches a corner

The Daily Mail continued an old theme, claiming that ‘Harris and Upton, those two engines of destruction, laid about Greaves and John White with a merciless purpose.’ The Daily Telegraph referred to ruthless tackling and felt White was sometimes tackled unnecessarily harshly by Frank Upton. They also observed that Ron Harris had effectively close-marked Greaves three times in six weeks. Dunn had acquitted himself well in all three games and, basically, Chelsea had more than matched their supposedly more illustrious London rivals three times in a month, to the great credit of Docherty, coach Dave Sexton and the players.

Tottenham remained top of the League, though Docherty archly pointed out that to win it ‘they’ll have to work harder than they did today,’ and their inability to close down the 36-year-old Harmer spoke volumes. Two defeats by Chelsea in a few weeks had laid bare any claim to invincibility, their lack of appetite for tough tackling was widely advertised (the Sunday Times pointing out that they ‘seem to abhor fast, relentless tacking’), and their decline was such that they finished the season in fourth place.

Chelsea were now in sixth place, their best position since August, six points behind Tottenham. Just three League defeats in four months was superb form, and the team had proved they could compete against the best in the League. Nobody in the press realistically thought the team was good enough or experienced enough to challenge for the title, but confidence was high about what the team could achieve in the future. There was also the possibility of qualification for Europe via the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup if the team finished in second or third place.

In the end Chelsea finished fifth, just a point behind Tottenham and seven behind champions Liverpool, but outside the European places. Harmer played just one more game for Chelsea and Dunn, who had performed very capably in Bonetti’s absence, inevitably lost his place when the No.1 was fit four games later. He played one more game the following season before leaving in late 1966 for Torquay.

Arguably, that Stamford Bridge cup defeat, reinforced by the League loss shortly afterwards, marked the end of Tottenham’s claims to be at the pinnacle of English football. They had won trophies in each of the previous three seasons but their season rather imploded (they finished fourth) and critical press articles about their future appeared. By the following season Chelsea, Leeds, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton were all more likely title contenders and Chelsea again knocked them out of the FA Cup. Spurs beat Chelsea in the 1967 cup final and have won a few cups over the succeeding decades, but I bet none of their support squeezing their way disconsolately out of Stamford Bridge that January night thought that 59 years later they would have won no more League titles, whereas Chelsea would have won five, and that The Blues would be 2-0 ahead on European Cups.

This is an expanded extract from ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils,’ which covers Chelsea from 1961-67 by Tim Rolls and is available from eBay and on Amazon.

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