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Diamonds sparkle in Upton Park FA Cup win

In late January 1965 Chelsea were considered credible candidates for an unprecedented treble. They were second in the League, were in the League Cup semi-final against Aston Villa and had beaten Northampton Town 4-1 in the third round of the FA Cup, visiting holders West Ham in the next round. This was only the fourth season of the League Cup’s existence and only the second season Chelsea had entered. There was comparatively little publicity about the competition and ‘big clubs’ often did not enter, interest being limited until the final was played at Wembley from 1967 onwards.

For the semi-final first-leg at Villa Park, manager Tommy Docherty picked his first-choice team apart from replacing injured left-back Eddie McCreadie with hard-tacking left-half debutant John Boyle, with Ron Harris moving to left-back. Boyle certainly made an instant impact as Chelsea won 3-2. He scored a goal, crocked Villa’s Barry Stobart with a crunching tackle, was roundly booed by the home fans in a disappointing 12,000 crowd and was the subject of a Daily Mail ‘Boyle Steps Out To Jibes And Glory’ headline. Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges scored the other goals, Villa’s aerial threat Tony Hateley scoring twice in reply to keep Villa in with a chance.

Docherty was effusive about the young Scot. ‘Really, this chap is fantastic. I have known for a long time that he could tackle. John Hollins and Harris are not in Boyle’s class when it comes to going for the ball in a tackle.’ Given Harris’s undoubted talents in this area, and Hollins’ growing reputation, this was praise indeed. Asked if he minded being booed, an unperturbed Boyle replied ‘Mind? No, I liked it. It proved I was doing my job properly’.

An FA Cup trip to Upton Park was tough but before that there followed an arguably tougher game, a League trip to table-toppers Leeds United. The Leeds programme reckoned that Docherty and Leeds boss Don Revie agreed their teams played very much alike, founded on ‘hard work’. Chelsea certainly worked hard and could mix it when necessary, but Leeds had a justified, growing reputation as a nasty, cynical team and to band Chelsea with Revie’s outfit was arguably harsh. The game, predictably, was ‘fierce, fiery and flat-out’. The Daily Mail, headlining their report ‘Feuds Cloud Summit’ reckoned some feuds were carried onto the pitch before the game began and that Leeds were hostile, persistent opponents. And this was without McCreadie, who had brutally put Johnny Giles out of the game at Stamford Bridge in September and would doubtless have been the subject of retribution.

The Kensington Post reckoned Leeds spent eighty per cent of the game on the attack but Chelsea came out with a well-earned 2-2 draw, taking the lead twice through George Graham and Bridges and would have won but for a late equaliser deflected in off Hollins. Despite the feuding and niggles, the News Of The World was unstinting in its praise. They called the game a classic, claimed it was ‘tough but never dirty’ and one of the greatest League games ever played at Elland Road. Docherty called it a wonderful point and claimed that ‘considering the tension, this was our greatest performance of the season’. What is clear is that both teams were good enough to win the League title, as, undoubtedly, were Manchester United.

Chelsea’s bid for the unparalleled treble continued the following week with the 30th January trip to Upton Park, their fourth away game in a row. Tickets were sold at both grounds simultaneously the previous Sunday morning, in an attempt to reduce the opportunity for touts to acquire them. Because Chelsea had no home game between the third and fourth rounds, there was no way of notifying supporters that the game was all-ticket or when tickets would be sold. They had to rely on information in the evening paper, or phoning the club, to find out selling arrangements. With no segregation and many more tickets on sale at Upton Park (18,000 against probably around 6,000), presumably many Chelsea supporters travelled East to buy theirs.

Excitement about ticket sales were completely overshadowed by the announcement that Sunday morning of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, a momentous, desperately sad event which understandably completely dominated national conversation that week. The ex-Prime Minister's state funeral was held on the morning of the cup-tie and supporters who wished to could pay their respects, watching his coffin loaded onto a launch at Tower Pier at 12.45, before they headed off on the District Line to Upton Park in time for the 15.00 kick-off.

Chelsea were unchanged from the bruising encounter at Leeds. Their hosts, tipped as favourites by many writers, were already missing the injured Bobby Moore and suffered further frustration when forward Geoff Hurst failed a fitness test in the gym 30 minutes before kick-off, meaning Joe Kirkup was brought into a reshuffled team. Ironically both men were to spend time at Chelsea, Hurst as manager 15 years later and Kirkup moving to Stamford Bridge in March 1966.

In front of an all-ticket crowd of 37,000, which included thousands of Chelsea supporters, the team lined up :-

West Ham:- Standen, Kirkup, Bovington, Brown, Bond; Peters, Boyce; Sissons, Byrne, Sealey, Scott.

Chelsea:- Bonetti; Hinton, Mortimore, Boyle, Harris; Hollins, Venables; Murray, Graham, Bridges, Tambling.

The tactically innovative Docherty decided to play John Mortimore as sweeper (Marvin Hinton could also play the role effectively) and concentrated on defence, looking to counter-attack at pace where possible. Doc had just had to promise the FA, in writing, that he would not coach from the touchline as the rules did not allow it (a ridiculous restriction) and he was reported for doing it in a Youth Cup tie against QPR.

Players and officials line up for the minute's silence

Both teams wore black armbands and, after a minute’s silence, the visiting supporters were soon rewarded with a tenth minute Bobby Tambling goal, after Jim Standen could only parry a deflected Terry Venables shot. The scorer performed a ‘triumphant war dance’ back to the centre circle.

Tambling scores...

...And duly celebrates

The visitors’ defensive tactics worked superbly, restricting the chances West Ham could create. Twenty-seven of their thirty shots were from outside the penalty area and where necessary dealt with comfortably by a ‘completely masterly’ and ‘flawless’ Peter Bonetti. Hollins did an effective marking job on highly talented England forward Johnny Byrne, who had 22 goals in 27 games already that season. Boyle did the same on Hammers winger John Sissons, who a decade later ended his League career at Chelsea. Man-of-the-match Venables dominated midfield as the whole team did the job The Doc asked of them. The travelling thousands happily cheered their side on, as ‘cocky chants’ of ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea’ were regularly heard.

Banner-waving Chelsea supporters enjoy their afternoon

Boyle hit the bar late on and in the end a ‘well-drilled side’ held on fairly comfortably to take them through to the fifth round, shattering both the opposing players and their supporters, who had expected to win. This was a fine Chelsea performance for which fulsome praise was rightly forthcoming. The Sunday Express felt that ‘in the past two months Tommy Docherty’s eager young men have made a starting advance in sophistication and skill. They are football’s cheeky chappies. Impudent, resilient, flexible and aggressive’.

The Daily Mail coined a new nickname to go with Docherty’s Dynamos. ‘Docherty’s Devils’ ran the headline, noting that ‘on this form, Chelsea could win the double. Nothing now seems impossible for the corps of fast, fit young warriors Docherty has assembled and drilled to perfection’. There was increasing press talk about the double, though interestingly little talk in the papers about the treble, the League Cup seemingly barely worthy of consideration.

Ironically, in the end the League Cup was the only trophy Docherty’s side won that season, which in January had shown such promise. They controversially lost an FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool and fell badly away towards the end of the League season, winning just one of their last six games and finishing third. That cup performance at Upton Park was one of the highlights of that season, Docherty’s tactics aligned with strong team discipline and effective individual displays to produce what was in many way the complete performance.

A lot more detail on that pivotal season in Chelsea’s history can be found in Tim Rolls’ book on Tommy Doc’s Chelsea ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’, available on eBay and Amazon.

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