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Dancing On Ice with Charlie Cooke

The December 1970 cup draw meant another visit to Crystal Palace, following Chelsea's 4-1 victory there during their victorious cup run the previous season. The Boxing Day Division One match at Selhurst Park had been postponed because of a snow-laden pitch, so the squad, who had played a sapping thirty-one games already that season, had the chance to rest and recover before the Palace cup-tie in the New Year.

Peter Osgood was chosen for a World XI playing in ex-Portuguese captain Mario Coluna's testimonial in Lisbon with Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst. He was moving into a £16,000 four-bedroomed house near Epsom, ten minutes from the Mitcham training ground. He enthused about it to the Daily Mail in an article headlined ‘My Home Advantage.’ ‘Winning the FA Cup last season was the breakthrough for Chelsea as a club and for a lot of the players financially...Now we’ve grown accustomed to the status of being Cup holders and for nearly a year we’ve all enjoyed the celebrations and being feted by everyone and everything that goes with it…This house we’re getting shows how good the game is being to me…The beauty of it is that we’ve got a team young enough to enjoy it for at least another five years. Other clubs like Manchester United and even Leeds are starting to go over the top or getting near the day it will happen. Not us.’ Osgood advised he would probably buy a racehorse in the New Year. ‘I have always admired the country squire way of life ever since seeing them pop into my local in Windsor. Now I am going to join them, and I cannot wait.’

Each member of the FA Cup-winning team was presented with a personally inscribed photograph album, reminding them how the cup was won the previous season. Goal magazine interviewed the captain, who was pictured on the front cover, with a ‘We’ll Hang On To It Says Ron Harris’ headline. ‘Despite what some people say, we won the cup on merit, and we are determined to hang onto it…Let’s be fair, we haven’t shown consistent form in the League. We’ve thrown away silly points at home, but our away record is still second to none over the past three years.’ Chelsea definitely had the ability and the spirit to retain the trophy and Harris was right to focus on League inconsistency.

There were complaints that with 8,000 Chelsea season-ticket-holders and only 2,250 seats allocated, putting them on sale after the forthcoming visit of West Ham meant any supporter wanting one would have to miss much of that match in order to queue. The Selhurst Park terraces were not all-ticket. Chelsea were surprisingly only 14-1 to retain the trophy, Leeds United were 6-1 favourites.

Going into the cup-tie, Chelsea were third in the League. Palace, who avoided relegation the previous season by a single point, were a creditable eighth. Before the game Sexton had concerns about flu, with Alan Hudson, Charlie Cooke and Keith Weller all missing training, though trainer Harry Medhurst insisted there was not an epidemic at the club. Paddy Mulligan was back in the squad after eight weeks out injured but, in the end, Sexton fielded an unchanged side. Still no Alan Hudson, no Ian Hutchinson and no Eddie McCreadie (all injured) and John Dempsey was only fit enough for the bench, so Sexton’s squad strength was certainly to be tested. Bobby Tambling missed out on an encounter with the club for whom he was record scorer with a hamstring problem.

The tie only went ahead after a 10am pitch inspection, the ground staff having cleared the pitch of snow though Hollins felt ‘it had a bit of everything - frozen hard with ice, a thawed skin on a bone-hard surface and thick mud in the goalmouths’.

Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Boyle, Hinton, Webb, Harris; Cooke, Hollins, Houseman; Weller, Osgood, Baldwin. Sub. Dempsey.

In an ‘entertaining classic,’ in front of a 42,123 crowd including a huge contingent of visiting supporters, Osgood headed the visitors into an early lead, but defensive frailties allowed Palace captain John McCormick to score with an overhead kick and ex-Blue (and Palace captain for the day) Alan Birchenall, with a dipping shot, to put Palace ahead two minutes later.

Osgood heads Chelsea ahead at Selhurst Park

Tommy Baldwin equalised in the second-half after a mazy run by Cooke. Chelsea probably deserved to win, Cooke and Peter Houseman both hitting the woodwork late on, but given the pitch, were happy enough to have a replay the following Wednesday. John Hollins called it ‘the best we’ve played all season’ and Harris opined ‘Palace can’t possibly be that lucky again.’

Tommy Baldwin equalises at Selhurst Park

Cooke, whose long runs were ‘the outstanding feature of the game' according to The Observer, took advantage of the dreadful surface, which meant defenders had trouble turning, to put in a memorable and truly masterful exhibition of running with the ball in a highly entertaining game. The Daily Mail called ‘the hero of the terraces’ ‘brilliant’ and referred to ‘his goat-like grip on a glass-like surface.’ Cooke modestly ‘it was a ball player’s pitch’ put his performance partly down to wearing old-fashioned studs rather than ‘new’ nylon ones, whereas Palace kept changing boots in a futile attempt to keep up with him. John Boyle and a ‘majestic’ Osgood, too, mastered the conditions without trouble. Future-Blue Steve Kember suffered two broken front teeth after a ‘bone-jarring’ collision with Harris, the former observing ‘he (Harris) just missed the ball.’

Alarmingly, an 18-foot Selhurst Park crash barrier snapped at the base and nearly two hundred children tumbled onto the pitch. Police had to form a human chain. Worryingly, all their stadium barriers had been tested just three weeks earlier. Fortunately no-one was hurt but as supporters travelled home, they heard the appalling news about the Ibrox Stadium disaster, where sixty-six died when a barrier collapsed on an exit stairway at the end of the Rangers v Celtic match.

Stamford Bridge had experienced a few barrier collapses over the years, though fortunately they were far less serious, and injuries were few. Rightly, with big attendances likely in forthcoming weeks, Chelsea’s engineers checked all one hundred safety barriers and, according to new Secretary Tony Green, were satisfied they were in good order. He pointed out that many of the barriers had been replaced in the past couple of years and that the architects had sent a signed safety certificate to the FA. Sports Minister Eldon Griffiths went to the Palace replay to see first-hand how crowds reacted at big matches.

If Chelsea beat Palace in the replay, they would host Manchester City, an encounter that would surely fill Stamford Bridge and attract enormous interest, the FA Cup holders against the Cup-Winner’s Cup holders. Leeds were now 9-2 favourites to lift the trophy, Chelsea still only 12-1. Harris commented ‘it’s still our trophy and we intend to keep it.’

On a pitch that had gone from frozen to sodden but was perfectly playable, an unchanged Chelsea comfortably won the replay 2-0. Recreating the ‘form that won the cup’ as the Daily Mail put it. Cooke was watched by Scotland manager Bobby Brown and had an effective game though, unsurprisingly, could not quite recreate his Selhurst Park majesty. Baldwin, with an excellent lobbed goal, and Peter Houseman scored in the first half, the latter’s first goal since the FA Cup Final. Both goals were made by Weller.

Baldwin lobs Chelsea into a replay lead

It was a competitive game, Harris and Jocky Scott were booked after a flare-up and Osgood was lucky not to join them after a ‘late and damaging lunge’ on Mel Blyth. A huge attendance of 55,074, paying £23,220, showed the interest in the FA Cup and the revenue that could be earned from a good cup run. Manchester City managerial duo Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison were present and impressed by Chelsea but, as Mercer observed, ‘we can play a bit ourselves.’

Peter Houseman (left) steers home Chelsea's second in the replay

Sadly, a Colin Bell-inspired City side ended the chance of a lucrative cup run a fortnight later, winning comfortably, 3-0. Maybe the bookies knew what they were doing after all, though a massive consolation, in terms of Sexton’s side winning the Cup-Winner’s Cup, was only four months away. Chelsea really were a particularly good cup side in the early 1970's, though without the consistency integral to a sustained title challenge, as Harris rightly observed.

As an aside, you must admire Osgood’s positivity about the team's future, but sadly five years later only Bonetti and Harris were still in the side, and they were playing in Division Two. The reasons behind that, though, are another story (which you can read about in ‘Stamford Bridge Is Falling Down’).

‘Stamford Bridge Is Falling Down,’ covering Chelsea’s 1971-75 decline, is one of three Chelsea books Tim Rolls has written. All are available on eBay and Amazon.

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