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Greaves To The Four At St James Park

A few years back, whilst killing time in a Newcastle café before Chelsea played at St James Park, which they visit this weekend, an elderly man approached me. Realising I was a visiting supporter, he regaled me with the story of the time he saw Jimmy Greaves score four goals for Chelsea there. Nearly 60 years later he was still in awe of the precision of the man’s finishing.

It was 1961. Since winning the League in 1955 Chelsea had achieved a state of steady decline Mediocrity across most of the side was fortunately countered by the performances of tireless winger Frank Blunstone and prodigious goalscorer Jimmy Greaves, who went into the side age seventeen at the start of the 1957/58 season and stayed there, becoming an England international in 1959.

Greaves’ Chelsea goalscoring feats were astonishing but his League record demands repeating :-

1957/58 22 goals in 35 games as Chelsea conceded 79 goals and finished 11th

1958/59 32 goals in 42 games as Chelsea conceded 98 goals and finished 14th

1959/60 29 goals in 40 games as Chelsea conceded 91 goals and finished 18th.

It was clear that without their talisman, Chelsea would be playing Division Two football, given the ongoing leakiness at the back. By late March Greaves had scored 31 goals in 32 League games that season, but there was worrying press talk of him leaving Chelsea. Luckily for the club, he was available and raring to go for the trip to Newcastle on 25th March.

Tommy Docherty has just been appointed Chelsea coach, under manager Ted Drake, and he had already sharpened up training, which had become very casual, almost optional. Greaves later commented that until The Doc arrived, training often comprised of a few laps of the greyhound track and a kickabout at one end. Tactical plans to counter or exploit the opposition were almost unheard of. There was a mutual antipathy between The Doc and some of the old guard, to whom Drake was extremely loyal.

The game at St James Park kicked off at 6.30pm under floodlights, to avoid competition with the Grand National which that afternoon was on live TV for only the second year, Nicolaus Silver a surprise 28/1 winner. It was one of only two Division One games to be moved. British Rail offered Chelsea supporters an excursion fare of 45/- (£2.25). The return left Newcastle at 11.20pm, handily just after pub closing time, and arrived back in Kings Cross at 05.47am on Sunday. Ah, the heady days of cheap football excursion fares on ordinary services, and late night train departures. A Chelsea programme later reckoned over 100 diehards made the trip, getting home on Sunday morning, in the days when very few supporters travelled distances to watch their team.

Newcastle’s young goalkeeper, making his home debut, was Dave Hollins, elder brother of John, who was still a couple of years away from Chelsea’s first team. The previous Wednesday, Dave had saved a penalty as Newcastle amazingly won 2-1 at Champions-elect Tottenham, so in theory they were coming into the game in a bit of form. They were, however, still fourth from bottom having conceded 91 goals in 34 games, despite Len White scoring 28 of their 74 goals. This defensive record was even worse than Chelsea, who at that point had conceded 80 while also scoring 74. The visitors were fourteenth, five points off the relegation zone. White missed the game, injured. Newcastle must have heartily cursed that it was their star forward, not Chelsea’s, who was absent.

Chelsea, who the previous week had been slow-handclapped during a dismal 1-1 home draw against a Preston side destined to finish the season bottom, lined up :- Bonetti; J. Sillett, P. Sillett; Venables, Scott, Anderson; Brabrook, Greaves, Tindall, Tambling, Blunstone. Promising youngsters Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables and Bobby Tambling were becoming regulars in the side.

* Thank you to Neil Smith for pointing out that Newcastle's record crowd, as mentioned on the front cover above, was against Chelsea in 1930, when the hugely popular Hughie Gallagher, recently sold to The Blues, returned to St James Park. Over 10,000 were locked out.

At half-time the 0-0 scoreline reflected forty-five minutes of mediocrity from both sides and, if anything, Newcastle should have been ahead. The second-half was somewhat different. Home full-back Dick Keith hurt his knee and briefly left the pitch. While he was off, Ron Tindall headed Chelsea ahead after 54 minutes.

The Newcastle defence ponder how Tindall opened the scoring

Jackie Bell, who had been marking Greaves tightly, chose to occasionally move up field, leaving defensive colleague John McGrath to mark both Tindall and Greaves. This bold plan did not work well, especially with the returned Keith still hobbling, in those pre-substitute days. In fact it was a calamity as Greaves, Tindall, Tambling and wide men Mike Harrison and Peter Brabrook ran riot. Goals after 57, 69, 75 and 80 minutes by an unstoppable Greaves, interspersed with 61st minute second for Tindall, swept a hapless and hopeless Newcastle aside. Duncan Neale’s late goal was scant consolation for Charlie Mitten’s shell-shocked side and the vast majority of the 28,975 crowd.

Tindall nets his second, Chelsea's third

Every time the rampant Greaves got the ball near the goal, he looked likely to score. Mitten told the Daily Herald ‘If Jimmy Greaves had been on our side we would have won by as big a score. He is the most devastating finisher in the game.’

Greaves nets his third

Every match report focused on the remarkable 21-year-old, who got a rare 10/10 rating in The People. The press rightly praised Greaves to the heavens, heartily laid into the Newcastle defence but exempted Hollins from any blame. At that point, this was Chelsea’s biggest ever away League win, and the second-half must have made wonderful viewing for the travelling loyalists.

Greaves, far right, rounds off Chelsea's scoring

It would be nice to say that result turned the season, but the utterly erratic nature of Chelsea’s performances continued, with 6-1 win over Cardiff and a 3-1 win over Arsenal countered by two defeats by soon-to-be Champions Tottenham (no disgrace there) and defeats at West Bromwich and Sheffield Wednesday.

By the end of the season Newcastle had scored 86, conceded 109 and were relegated. Chelsea were relatively parsimonious, scoring 98 and conceding just 100, finishing a comparatively lofty twelfth, though only five points off relegation.

Greaves played just seven more games for Chelsea before departing for AC Milan at the end of the season, breaking clear of the restrictive maximum wage applied to professional footballers in England. Typically, in his farewell game against Nottingham Forest he scored all four goals in a 4-3 win. He scored 41 goals in 40 League games that season, including two hat-tricks, four goals twice and five against West Bromwich, a wonderful record. Tindall did his bit, with 16 goals in 25 League games, a very decent return but inevitably overshadowed by Greaves. Bobby Tambling scored nine in 24 League games, a portent of several years of consistent scoring ahead. It was just a shame their hapless defensive colleagues were rather less effective.

It was clear that Greaves could never have hoped to satisfy his ambitions, either footballing or financial, at Chelsea. Later that year he gave an interview to the Sunday People, where he was scathing about Chelsea’s pettiness and helped explain his desire to leave. The club would not let him have a car park pass for over a year (Greaves’ father had to intervene) and more seriously, a couple of years earlier, they apparently promised him a club house, then reneged on the promise and gave it to Stan Crowther, a man who played just 51 League games for the club in nearly three seasons and was sold to Brighton for £3,000 the week of the Newcastle game. He was also subjected to a long lecture on loyalty from Vice-Chairman Charles Pratt, a man who Docherty famously fell out with. The unavoidable impression given was one of an unambitious club unable, or unwilling, to nurture and accommodate one of the great talents of post-war English football.

Without Greaves’ almost-guaranteed thirty goals a season, the side inevitably struggled. Despite replacing Drake with Docherty that Autumn, the latter quickly sweeping out most of the old brigade and replacing them with youngsters, relegation was inevitable.

Greaves' spell at Milan did not work out and at one stage it looked like he might return to Stamford Bridge, the maximum wage having been abolished, but in the end signed for Tottenham, where his prolific scoring exploits continued for several years. He should always be remembered as one of Chelsea’s very greatest forwards, with a phenomenal record of 124 goals in 157 League games in a less-than-sparking side.

Tim Rolls

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