Fifty-eight years ago, Chelsea played in a momentous FA Cup tie at Anfield against the holders. They were a disappointing seventh in the League but had won their four previous games and were gaining momentum nicely. Manager Tommy Docherty certainly had the supporters on his side, something Harry Catterick at Everton apparently could not count on. Papers reported that after a defeat at Blackpool the previous week, the manager was knocked to the ground whilst boarding the team coach and was attacked by a number of his own fans, suffering bad bruising.
The cup-tie, on January 22nd 1966, was a chance to revenge the FA Cup semi-final defeat the previous season. Chelsea Supporters Club organised two special trains, which was rare in those days. Usually British Rail sold discounted excursion tickets on designated trains, but those trains were not specifically for football supporters. The Supporters Club also ran a number of coaches, which left London at midnight and were due in Liverpool at nine o’clock the following morning. Travelling overnight was certainly one way of avoiding possible traffic jams but left supporters at a loose end until the pubs opened at eleven o’clock. In the end, around 5,000 travelled up for a match never to be forgotten by the Chelsea supporters present. Supporter Barry Holmes remembered there being red and blue buses at Lime Street when he got off the train, assuming the blue ones were for Chelsea fans and ending up at Goodison Park, where Everton were playing Sunderland.
54,097 supporters packed Anfield, paying receipts of £13,947. Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Harris, Hinton, Boyle, McCreadie; Hollins, Venables; Bridges, Osgood, Graham, Tambling.
Docherty asked Peter Osgood, only in the side for a couple of months but already much-discussed, to play deep, alongside and sometimes behind Terry Venables, but he was given license to drive forward as Docherty gave ‘speedy’ wingers Barry Bridges and Bobby Tambling their head on a heavily sanded ice-rink of a pitch.
Liverpool paraded the FA Cup on the pitch beforehand, warming their crowd up nicely, and Roger Hunt scored after two minutes following a rare Ron Harris mistake. Chelsea regrouped and Osgood equalised five minutes later, heading in a Tambling corner flicked on by Bridges.
Osgood heads the equaliser
And rightly celebrates
Chelsea continued to press, and Barry Bridges could have had a first-half hat-trick. The winner, after sixty-six minutes, was a classic of teamwork, running and passing and it is well worth watching the (sadly brief) YouTube footage https://youtu.be/XWV3Ig2WcYA . Bonetti caught a cross, threw it to Venables who passed to Harris. The captain gave it to Tambling who played it wide on the right to George Graham and ran into the penalty area for the return cross. Tambling’s header, arcing past Tommy ‘Flying Pig’ Lawrence, was unstoppable. Noted football writer and Chelsea fan John Moynihan described the goal as Chelsea’s finest since the war.
Tambling heads the winner
Even after the goal the visitors kept counter-attacking and dominated play, thoroughly deserving their famous victory over the cup holders. The Observer headline ‘Superb Chelsea Topple Holders’ said it all. Chelsea’s whole performance that day was superb, the Sunday Express saying, ‘I have never seen Chelsea play better either tactically or individually.’ The Guardian called it ‘a famous and deserved victory.’
Celebrating Chelsea players leave the pitch
Peter Bonetti made a series of brilliant saves (‘Mighty Bonetti Stuns The Kop’ is how the Sunday People put it) and ‘master defender’ Marvin Hinton gave a magnificent performance at centre-back, nominated as Evening Standard ‘Man Of The Match.’ Hinton was a much under-estimated footballer, capable of playing sweeper and comfortable on the ball. Graham was also picked out for special praise, and Osgood confirmed his status as the most promising English footballer of the time, with respected writers calling for him to be part of Alf Ramsey’s plans for the forthcoming World Cup. Barry Holmes remembers Liverpool fans at the game saying how special Osgood was and the footage shows him making a superb run past flailing Liverpool defenders. The Liverpool Echo called him ‘a great player if ever I saw one.’
Hugh McIlvanney in The Observer reflected on Chelsea’s ‘tactical and technical superiority’ and Docherty, whose counter-attacking tactics were spot on, was understandably and rightly elated, observing that his side adapted better to the conditions and enthusing ‘I was thrilled to pieces with every one of them.’ In the Fulham programme he called it ‘the finest performance I have seen by any Chelsea team’ and in ‘Tommy Docherty Speaks’ he described the day as ‘the greatest and most satisfying performance the Chelsea team has given since I became manager.’ Beating Bill Shankly, who he idolised, must have felt especially sweet, especially after the Liverpool boss commented ‘this was the greatest match I have ever seen – a great performance and great entertainment.’ Arguably it was Chelsea’s best performance during Docherty’s reign.
The Kop were starting to get heavy media publicity because of their 'noise and fervour', but that day they developed a ‘cathedral like hush’ and were ‘shattered and silent’ ‘like mourners at a funeral’ as Chelsea put in their best performance of the season in their biggest game of the season so far. The Chelsea support had a wonderful day. The Kensington Post sent a reporter on one of the special trains. He reported that Chelsea supporters were apprehensive about the game on the way up, given that Liverpool were cup holders and League leaders. The approach to Lime Street station was ‘dirty, grimy.’ The chants of ‘Chel-sea, Chel-sea’ apparently got the retort of ‘under the arm’ from The Kop (no, me neither…), who also aired ‘If you hate Terry Venables, clap your hands.’ The strains of ‘Zigger, Zagger’ were clearly heard, as were ‘Ee-aye-addio, Liverpool’s out the Cup’ and ‘Osgood Is Good.’ In the Fulham home programme Docherty praised the ‘terrific’ travelling supporters for their contribution at Anfield.
Chelsea supporters wave scarves, flags and banners
The supporters’ journey home was a happy one, and on returning to Euston the fans assembled to cheer the victorious party, who had been given the FA Cup by Bill Shankly to take back to the Football Association. Many present thought Chelsea would be picking it up again in four months’ time. The euphoria of the result increased when the Round Four draw was made. Leeds United at home. A guaranteed sell-out at Stamford Bridge and the chance to knock out one of the best teams in the country.
Tommy Docherty and Chelsea director Brian Mears' wife June at Euston with the FA Cup
Liverpool duly won the League that season. Chelsea made the FA Cup semi-final again that April, but Docherty got his tactics wrong on a mud bath and they lost 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday. An exhausted, fractious team lost a Fairs Cup semi-final play-off 5-0 to Barcelona and, by the start of the following season Bridges, Venables and Bert Murray had left the club, to be followed shortly afterwards by Graham. That Liverpool result was the high point of the season and, arguably, the high point of The Doc’s seven years in charge at Chelsea.