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If West Ham were World Cup winners, then what were Chelsea?

It was August 1966. England had just won the World Cup or as some East Enders would have it, West Ham had just won the World Cup. They were still basking in the glory generated by Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.

That spring, manager Tommy Docherty, hugely frustrated by two FA Cup semi-final defeats in successive seasons, had sold stalwarts Terry Venables, Barry Bridges and Bert Murray and bought mercurial dribbler Charlie Cooke. The opening game of the 1966/67 season, on 20th August, brought the teams together at Upton Park.

The Chelsea team that lined up that day was the strongest The Doc could put out, in a 1-4-3-2 formation with Marvin Hinton as sweeper, a tactic he regularly used in away games that season, utilising Hinton’s talents on the ball and the side’s ability to win the ball and quickly counter-attack :-

Bonetti; Hinton; Kirkup, Boyle, R. Harris, McCreadie; Hollins, Osgood, Cooke; Graham, Tambling.

Press coverage was all about West Ham and asked whether the trio could turn the World Cup glory into a side competing for the title (Spoiler – they could not). It was the first Match Of The Day game shown on BBC1 after the programme was switched from BBC2, and footage shows a packed Upton Park cheering the three World Cup winners onto the pitch on a gloriously sunny day. There were plenty of vocal Chelsea supporters in the ground before the gates were locked, and the Kensington Post referred to hearing two new chants ‘Blue Submarine’ and ‘Charlie Cooke, Charlie Cooke.’ The Cooke chant was the response to a quite brilliant winner scored by the Scot after a mazy run, after Ronnie Boyce had equalised John Hollins opener, which followed a well-rehearsed free-kick routine. Blue Submarine is, to my mind, one of the great early Chelsea songs, and the 'Yellow' version had gone to No.1 just days before the game, so it was extremely current.

Brief Pathe News highlights here . Longer MOTD highlights here

West Ham may have had three World Cup winners, but Chelsea had the two best players on the park that afternoon. The ‘News Of The World’ raved about Cooke and Peter Bonetti, asking the pertinent question ‘What chance has Stepney got of replacing Bonetti?.’ What indeed. Docherty had bought the Millwall keeper believing Bonetti was on the way out, and, indeed, he could have signed for West Ham. Bonetti then changed his mind and The Doc then decided, ludicrously, to play them in alternative games. In the end Bonetti stayed and after one first-team appearance Alex Stepney was sold to Manchester United where, ironically, The Doc became his manager six years later.

Docherty sold George Graham and bought Tommy Baldwin, in late September. At that point Chelsea were top of the League, having won at The Dell, Villa Park and Maine Road as well as Upton Park. The Villa and City games were on Match Of The Day. Chelsea were supreme in both games, Bobby Tambling scoring five in the former and Peter Osgood imperious in the other, and they were seen by many as favourites for the title. Then, in a League Cup game at Blackpool, the fortunes of the club and their most exciting young player were dramatically impacted when Osgood broke his leg. He played no further part in the season.

Prior to the return West Ham game on 17th December, Chelsea had drawn four successive games. The Doc announced that he had ‘told Ron (Harris) to look after World Cup hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst. I believe that if we can take Hurst out of the game it will reduce West Ham’s scoring potential by half.’ Harris was duly booked and Hurst indeed failed to score. Unfortunately, his team-mates did. Five times.

One of the most topsy-turvy games ever seen at Stamford Bridge, the match was a 5-5 cracker which stays in the mind of those present five decades later. It was supporter Martin Horne’s first game and is one he will never forget. Chelsea were 2-0 down, 3-2 up and 5-3 down so in the end were happy with a draw. Tambling equalised in injury time from Cooke’s cross, to break Roy Bentley’s Chelsea League goal scoring record. Baldwin, Hateley, Cooke and Tambling with two were the goalscorers as both defences regularly capitulated. I remember highlights of the game being on ‘Star Soccer’ on ITV but sadly I have never seen the footage since.

Tommy Baldwin scores Chelsea’s first

Docherty, unsurprisingly, commented ‘I am never happy when there are so many defensive errors.’ Bonetti, the hero at Upton Park four months earlier, was affected by a first-half rib injury he suffered while making an astonishing save from a Peters drive (below).

Bonetti injures himself making a remarkable save

Doc was something of an innovator. Harris wore a captains’ armband against West Ham, the first skipper to do so in a League game but took it off at half-time after being his booking as he ‘felt it marked him with the referee.’ The manager had asked him to wear the armband to reinforce the club policy that only the captain should approach the referee, in an effort to reduce sendings-off and bookings.

Without Osgood, Chelsea’s title prospects gradually fell away, though they did reach the FA Cup. Chelsea eventually finished a disappointing ninth, West Ham a dismal sixteenth. They have never won the League and in the 1960s never finished higher than eighth, despite the presence of Moore, Hurst and Peters.

As a tragic aside, a loyal Chelsea supporter, Christopher Head, had spent his lunchtime on Friday 12th August discussing Chelsea’s prospects in the West Ham away game eight days later. Three hours later DS Head was tragically dead, one of the three police officers shot by Harry Roberts and his associates in the notorious Shepherd’s Bush Murders. At Hammersmith police station, a plaque still hangs on the walls. ‘A thick and thin supporter…Whenever his duties would allow, he followed Chelsea come fine weather or foul, not only to the four corners of this country but also abroad.’ RIP.

*Addition* Chelsea sage and scribe Neil Smith wrote this piece for the match programme some time ago, on the subject of the 5-5 draw.

This piece contains expanded extracts from Tim Rolls’ book ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’ about Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea. It is available from eBay and Amazon. The information about Christopher Head’s support of Chelsea comes from ‘The Shepherd’s Bush Murders’ by Nick Russell-Pavier.

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