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Chelsea Pinch The Points In Clough Paint Rage

It was April 1977. Chelsea started the month beating Blackburn Rovers 3-1 to go two points clear at the top of Division Two and look a decent bet for promotion. The side was made up almost exclusively of home-grown youngsters, a necessity as the club was skint, to the extent of bucket collections at home games and on special trains, and signing players was not an option. Eddie McCreadie’s side played attractive football, masterminded by 20-year-old England international Ray Wilkins, but were prone to occasional slip-ups.

Bad defeats at Fulham and Charlton over Easter, eased slightly by a home win over Luton Town in the middle, meant they faced promotion rivals Nottingham Forest at home on Saturday 16th April in second place, two points ahead of Forest. Though three sides went up, and in those days, it was two points for a win, they desperately needed to win to build momentum and keep ahead of the chasing pack, especially with two away games looming in the coming week. The game at the City Ground in November had been a 1-1 draw, my first ever Chelsea away game and quite a revelation.

The 4-0 defeat at Charlton spurred McCreadie into action, making two team changes for the Forest game that surprised supporters, including me, when it was back pages news in a number of papers on match day. Midfield regular Garry Stanley and 13-goal Ken Swain were dropped. In for Stanley came veteran Charlie Cooke, a teammate of McCreadie’s in the glory days of the early 1970s but 34 years old and with just two League appearances so far that season. Swain was replaced by 19-year-old Tommy Langley, who had just played nine League games, none that season. The manager admitted the team ‘have been playing terribly at the wrong time’ and was tired. He thought the hugely-experienced Cooke could ‘settle things down’ and, with Swain not having scored for five games, that Langley deserved his chance. He also brought back Peter Bonetti in goal, who had missed the Charlton game.

The match was sponsored by insurance company L&M Assurance, the club getting a total sum of £1,000 if the game was televised (it was, on Match Of The Day) and as part of the deal the players apparently threw carnations into the crowd before the game, though I have no memory of this.

With centre-back David Hay out having an operation for a detached retina, Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Locke, Wicks, Harris, Sparrow; Lewington, Cooke, Wilkins R., Britton; Finnieston, Langley. Substitute was Clive Walker, yet to make his first-team debut.

Forest, who had taken eleven points from their last six games, included future internationals Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neil, Peter Withe, Tony Woodcock and John Robertson.

On a relentlessly windy afternoon, the atmosphere was electric with 36,499 inside Stamford Bridge, there was a good turn-out of Forest supporters and, with a smoke bomb going off at the North Stand end, animosity between the two sets of support.

Forest controlled most of the first half on a bumpy pitch and it was no surprise when O’Neil netted three minutes before half-time after a clever one-two with Withe. The second half was tense but more even and Britton equalised after 62 minutes, volleying home a Chapman clearance and, with the crowd increasingly fervent, the game swung from end to end.

Ian Britton celebrates his equaliser

From my spot on the West Side of The Shed, I have a specific memory of seeing an Ian Bowyer cross from the left narrowly evade Withe’s head. Had that gone in, Forest would probably have gone on to win. As it was, it was Steve Finnieston who, just onside (as TV pictures later proved), hammered home Steve Wicks’ header for an 87th minute winner. Furious Forest players chased referee Ray Challis to argue, but to no avail. Chelsea supporters and players alike wildly celebrated both the goal and, at the final whistle, the result.

Finnieston sprints off to celebrate his winner

McCreadie thought a draw would have been a fair result and that Forest could easily have won, a view reinforced by the Daily Telegraph headline ‘Outplayed Chelsea Have The Luck.’ ‘It’s blood and thunder from here’ the manager predicted. Both teams were lauded in the press for their hard work and never-say-die attitude, but the general acceptance was that Forest were the better side. Wicks and Harris were praised for their hard work and defiance at the heart of the home defence. The introduction of Cooke and Langley into the side did not seem to make a dramatic difference but the result vindicated McCreadie’s selections. Brief highlights from the Match Of The Day coverage can be found here .

A number of papers reported that Forest Manager Brian Clough was most unhappy with the state of the away dressing room, observing ‘It’s a pig-hole. Can’t they afford a coat of paint?’. The Daily Mail match reporter felt he had seen better council park pitch changing rooms, though the reporter did point out that with Chelsea supposedly a terrifying £3.4m in debt, painting walls was not the number one priority. This was a point reinforced by Chelsea chairman Brian Mears, probably a bit put out that Clough’s outburst had prevented his side’s victory making more headlines. Clough also complained about the dug outs. His angry complaints made back page headlines, which I guess deflected attention nicely from his team’s defeat. The Daily Mirror reckoned it also prevented him ‘having to talk about the state of Chelsea’s team.’

Chelsea then spluttered again, drawing at Oldham and losing at Burnley. It was clear the game at Molineux in early May would be crucial. The Minister Of Sport, Denis Howell, told Wolves to make that game all-ticket and not send any terrace tickets to Chelsea. During the Forest highlights, three weeks before the Wolverhampton clash, the ‘We’ll be there at Molineux’ chant could clearly be heard and those chanting it were spot on, as 7,000 beat the ban to see Chelsea promoted, an eventful day described here :-

In the end both Chelsea and Forest were promoted, and it turned out that Chelsea would have gone up even if Forest had won. Their paths diverged more than somewhat after that. Brilliantly managed by Clough, Forest won the League the following season, then the European Cup in the following two seasons. McCreadie controversially left that summer, Chelsea’s financial morass meant they were forced to sell players including Wilkins, and they were relegated in 1979. Swain won a European Cup winners medal with Aston Villa in 1982, when their winning goal, ironically, was scored by Withe.

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