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Greenaway's petition and Ossie's First League Goal

Chelsea centre-forward Barry Bridges played for England at Wembley in an October 1965 3-2 home defeat by Austria that had critics pointing out that England were a long way from being a team capable of challenging for the World Cup the following summer. Two days later the player woke up to read a ‘Chelsea Axe May Fall on Bridges’ headline. Manager Tommy Docherty opined ‘It’s Bridges or Osgood for centre-forward against Leicester (on Saturday). I’m quite sure in my mind who the centre-forward will be. It would be wrong to delay over a thing like this. The problem is there. It must be faced.’ Bridges had scored just four goals in twelve Chelsea games so far that season, and had missed a few chances in recent games, but to read that story thirty-six hours after playing for his country, and with realistic hopes of a World Cup squad place, must have been shattering.

Anyone reading those comments would not have been surprised when Osgood duly made his League debut as centre-forward at home to Leicester, with Bridges relegated to the substitutes bench. The Daily Mail headlined their preview piece ‘Osgood For Goals’ and claimed that ‘he will be given ten games to establish himself as Chelsea’s centre-forward.’

Bridges’ speed, non-stop effort and record of eighty-four goals in 176 games for the club had made him immensely popular with Chelsea supporters, especially the more vocal ones. Chelsea lost 2-0 and, according to the Daily Mail, there were ‘hoots and howls from this curious Chelsea crowd whenever the young forward (Osgood) failed in the many skillful moves he was attempting’. There were chants of ‘Bridges, Bridges,’ the loudest cheer was when he came on as substitute for McCreadie with ten minutes to go, and the team were jeered off. On Match Of The Day, commentator Ken Wolstenholme called Bridges ‘the darling of the crowd’ and a huge cheer can be heard when he comes on. In a later interview with Football Monthly magazine, Osgood said the crowd at that Leicester game ‘took the mickey out of his size’ and cheered Bridges loudly.

Docherty went into overdrive about the supporter reaction after the match. In a Daily Mirror article headlined ‘Doc Slams the Fans’ Docherty claimed he was ‘sick and disgusted’ by the Chelsea supporters. ‘They are a waste of time. Useless. I wish we could play all our matches away. A crowd can make a team, can inspire a side. Ours are either silent or critical. There are about two hundred who follow us home or away. They are worth their weight in gold. I wouldn’t give tuppence for the rest of them.’ 

This outburst was clearly heartfelt but given the team’s poor home form, one League win all season,  was hardly designed to win friends among the supporters, who duly wrote letters to the national press and the Chelsea programme criticising his stance and pointing out that if the team played better football the crowd would have more to get behind. The Kensington Post responded strongly. ‘Perhaps Mr. Docherty should be sick and disgusted at his eleven men rather than the fans. So how about some value for money, then maybe the fans will cheer a little more.’  

The manager had a track record of dropping the player after a couple of bad results so, fed up with again becoming Docherty’s whipping-boy and with the reports that Osgood had been given ten games, Bridges promptly put in a transfer request. He was clearly extremely frustrated at being dropped by Chelsea days after playing for his country, especially with George Graham and Bobby Tambling injured. ‘I don’t care where I go but I must have first team football’ he told the Daily Mirror.

Bridges’ significant popularity with supporters led to an early, and unusual, demonstration of supporter opinion. The Daily Mirror reported that up to 1,000 Chelsea supporters would join a student Rag Week procession in Sheffield, with ‘Bridges Must Stay’ banners, before the Sheffield United away game the following weekend. Peter Osgood’s biography mentions legendary supporter Mick Greenaway as being behind the demonstration and related petition, and Greenaway was interviewed by the Evening News. ‘We appreciate that Tommy Docherty is a brilliant manager and that he has a difficult and lonely job. But we object to him criticising the supporters so strongly and to the fact that Bridges may be sold.’

Greenaway clearly spoke for a lot of the younger, more vocal supporters.

Mick Mears from the Chelsea Supporters Club, whose joining details and away travel arrangements were regularly promoted in the match programme, quickly moved to distance himself and his club from Greenaway. ‘Don’t blame the petition on us. We have a policy never to criticise the club.’

Local students had marked their rag week by breaking into Bramall Lane and painting the goalposts red, causing stress for the ground staff pre-match. Somewhat bizarrely, the News Of The World reported that Docherty was involved in a ‘humorous item’ played pre-match over the Bramall Lane loudspeakers that afternoon. His co-conspirators in this skit were the allegedly comedic brothers Mike and Bernie Winters. The mind boggles.

Bridges was recalled, on the right-wing, and Bert Murray dropped to substitute. Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Shellito, Hinton, Young, Boyle; Hollins, Venables; Bridges, Graham, Osgood, Fascione. Sub. Murray. 

United were unbeaten at home that season, tested Bonetti on a number of occasions and went ahead through a John Docherty penalty. The hosts adopted a physical approach which led to captain Terry Venables limping off just before half-time, Bert Murray taking over. Osgood dropped back, Murray went on the wing and Bridges moved to the middle, clearly his favoured position. George Graham equalised with a free-kick from outside the area and the visitors continued to press. Osgood’s ‘superbly volleyed’ winner, ironically made by Bridges, was his first goal in League football.

Peter Osgood's first League goal

When the Chelsea party arrived at Sheffield station after the game, a surprised club chairman Joe Mears was surrounded by Chelsea supporters and given a 500-signature petition demanding Bridges stayed. The club party was mobbed again at Kings Cross station. Mears commented ‘The board will decide. I have never known anything like it’ and passed the petition to the player.

Bridges and supporters arrive back at Kings Cross station.

Bridges was, understandably, very moved by this show of support, and by the shoals of letters of letters begging him to stay sent to his Eastbourne home. ‘The fans demonstration at Kings Cross really moved me. I could have burst out crying. It makes my decision a lot harder. You don’t really appreciate the fans until something like this happens.’ There is an irony that many of the devoted away fans Docherty praised the previous week were the ones responsible for organising, promoting and signing the petition.

In the end, bids of sufficient size were received for the club to let Bridges go and an uneasy peace descended. He stayed at the club for another six months, in and out of the side, before leaving for Birmingham City. He did not make the World Cup squad.

Public displays of support for players were rare in those days, and attracting press coverage on supporter issues was rare indeed. For Greenaway and his friends to attract such publicity and present the petition to the chairman in front of the travelling football press, was extremely astute. They got their message onto the breakfast tables of the nation, gave Mears and Docherty food for thought and clearly struck a chord with the player. In the end he left the club but meeting him in 2017 I was struck by how much Bridges still loved the club and the supporters, an affection shared by those who watched him play.

Tim Rolls. This is an expanded version of a section from Tim's 'Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils' book, covering Tommy Docherty's six years as Chelsea manager.

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