John Hollins Remembered
On what would have been John Hollins' 77th birthday on 16th July 2023, Chelsea Heritage Partner Mark Meehan has reproduced an interview that he and Andy Regan conducted with the great man and published in the Chelsea Independent fanzine in 1994, just after our FA Cup Final. The interview appeared across the September, October and November issues that year.
CI: John can we kick off with your early days at Chelsea over 30 years ago. There was a good group of young players there at the time. Exciting times?
JH: Yes indeed. I joined the club in 1960/1 and they all told me the peg I inherited was belonging to Jimmy Greaves. Jimmy Greaves had not long gone to Italy when I arrived. When I joined I was a country boy from Guildford, five feet four high and they must have thought I was there as a ball boy.
On my first day I spent the day chipping balls at Ewell Training Ground for Ron Tindall to head past Peter Bonetti. That was my first day at training.
Who was there then…..John Sillett, Peter Sillett, Reg Matthews, David Cliss, Frank Blunstone, Frank Upton. All these players and then there were the cheeky lot….Terry Venables, the Harris brothers, Ken Shellito, Bert Murray, Terry Bradbury, Mel Scott, Andy Malcolm. Some really good players and I am there amongst them thinking ….WOW!!
CI: Who was manager at the time. Was Ted Drake still there?
JH: Ted Drake was still manager and I was his last signing. I cannot remember how long after before he left…it could be a month…a few weeks after….it was so long ago I cannot remember but Ted slowly, this super guy in the blazer, with the Chelsea badge was on his way.
Tommy Doc had come over from Arsenal and I think a month after Dave Sexton was there as well and the mixture of these two seemed to work straight away. Dave Sexton was in charge of the reserves and I was in the Youth team and we were up at the Welsh Harp in Hendon. The Youth team used to do their pre season at Raynes Park before moving up to the Welsh Harp once the season had started. Dickie Foss was the manager, Dickie Spence was the physio/trainer and who else was there…Jimmy Scott, Tony Bateman, Johnny Cowan, Eric Mackenzie…he was the first black player to play for Chelsea.
I was up at the Welsh Harp this little kid and after two weeks there, Dickie Foss took me to one side and said to me “How are you about working in an office?” I said “I don’t know” so they sent me to the Club office for about six weeks and I was an office boy assistant to two girls, Alan Bennett and John Battersby who was Club Secretary at the time. I used to sneak out and train with the first team and when I came back John would say to me “right you are in the office for the rest of the afternoon.” In those days the first team players used to play snooker above the offices and although I was supposed to be working every so often one of the players would come down the stairs and say “John fancy a game? “
Every so often I would ask when am I going to play football when one day Graham Moore came into the office. Well my brother used to play for Wales and I can remember watching him play for Wales and this big guy called Graham Moore playing and all of a sudden this great big Welshman walked in to the office. I had to take him down to the dressing room to meet the players and got chatting to him and he said “what’s your name?” “John Hollins” I replied. “No relation to David Hollins.” “Yes he’s my brother” so Graham Moore replies “He’s a bloody good bloke!” So I was in there and I knew that if I went down to the dressing room I could go “alright Graham” and I felt part of the team.
However, I then got a call to go back to the Welsh Harp pre season and we then had a game against Arsenal. I was not scheduled to play and was made sub but we had this guy called Ray Corney who used to play for the youth team who was sick on the coach on the way to the game. I used to play centre forward in those days and Dick Foss said to me “I want you to play right half.” I had never played there before but Dick Foss said to me “you’ve played on the right wing, you’ve played down the middle you will be alright don’t worry.” I marked this six foot bloke called John Holsgrove and Ray Corney said to me before the game “give him a kick early in the game, let him know you are there and then keep kicking him!!”
Well we beat Arsenal (they were the FA Youth Cup holders) and they had some fairly big names playing for them even then and we beat them 2-1. Dick Foss came up to me after the game “you did alright son, you did alright.” I now actually had something to talk about because I had never played a game before. I kept my place in the Youth team before I moved into the reserves under Dave Sexton who virtually taught all of us what we know, how to play, how to pass, what positions to play. Yes, I owe a lot to Dave Sexton as he educated each individual player, then taught them as a unit, and then as a team. No matter what other players say he put the thoughts and shape into everything to do with football. His management style was different as he thought everyone loved football like he hid and wanted to play football, and you did not have to drink or smoke. He loved football and he could sit and talk about it all day and I was someone equally who wanted to sit down and talk with him. I then got a chance to play against Swindon in 1964 in the League Cup..
CI: Sorry John it was 1963 and that one was one of the questions I was going to ask you…
JH: Really ? Well I played in that game and we lost 0-3 and Mike Summerbee and all the top players were playing for them and we got hammered . Right towards the end of the season I then came in against Stoke City and marked Jimmy Mclroy and we lost 1-2 or was 0-2? I did not see much of the ball but I saw a lot of Jimmy Mclroy. And then on Saturday we played Fulham at home with Johnny Haynes so one day it was Jimmy Mclroy and the next day it was Johnny Haynes. As for Jonny Haynes the only time I got near to him was at the end when I shook his hand !
CI: IN 1964/5 you started in the first team. Was it a big step up for you?
JH: Yes, I went away with the first team to Barbados and we played Wolves five times all over Barbados in the space of a couple of weeks. Frank Upton got injured and I got my chance out there and when we came back and the season started I kept my place. The first game was against Wolves (again) away from home and we won 3-0. We were top of the league that year till October when we played Man United at the Bridge and we got our comeuppance. We lost 0-2 with Best and Bobby Charlton scoring in front of 60,000 people.
CI: You referred earlier to the managers you have played for in Dave Sexton and Tommy Docherty. What were their styles of management?
JH: Tommy Doc and Dave Sexton were a good pair together. Tommy Doc was fearless, he would put anyone in the team. I can remember we played someone on the Saturday and won 2-9 and during the week we were going to play Birmingham in the League Cup and he rested four or five players. He brought in Jim McCalliog, John Boyle and a few others and Birmingham were going to report us to the FA but the only trouble was we won 7-0 or 7-1. Tommy Doc brought Alex Stepney so he had two keepers to alternate between but we only used Alex Stepney for about five minutes before he sold him to Manchester United. We were revolutionary under Tommy Doc but behind the scenes you had Dave Sexton’s solidness whose view was you had to keep studying the game, you never stopped learning. You could not play off the cuff in Europe for example.
CI: So, Docherty was an “off the cuff” manager?
JH: Well to have had thirteen or fourteen clubs shows either an inconsistency or a consistency in that he does not manage to hand around for too long.
CI: Maybe he just gets bored.
JH: True, or the people that are playing for him either want something new, a change of tactics perhaps. I have to say that I am eternally indebted to both men. One to Tommy Docherty’s enthusiasm and drive which I like to think has never left me, and Dave Sexton’s thirst for knowledge because even in his early days and if you think about this, not many did this but as soon as our game was over he was on his way to Gatwick or Heathrow flying straight to Milan to watch them play, study them, look at this and that and when he came back to the Club after Tommy Doc had left these trips really began to pay dividends.
Whereas Tommy would go “we can do this” which I have to say did work sometimes but not always consistently, when Dave Sexton took over he said “lets get some good thoughts into our game”. We would try playing Webby a little deeper or Ossie for that matter or he would push him right up front. He would try this with Huddy or Charlie Cooke and he really used players to do different things. We lost players at different times through injury and Dave would bring a player in for one or two games so when you think about it with Dave it was very much down to his coaching. We were coached and trained in the morning in those days, a quick break for sandwiches and in the afternoon, we would go out and walk through our tactics which everyone found very boring but I know if you went there (John points left) I would go there (John points right) and vice versa. And as you know from your history the Chelsea “double” was done with us winning the FA Cup and the Cup Winners Cup under his management. A great manager – that was Dave Sexton.
CI: Talking about the double John, what about the treble? In 1964/5 Chelsea had the chance to win all three major trophies. How close were you to winning all three?
JH: I can tell you that starting that year we got to three semi finals in a row and we got to Wembley with the worst team. We were beaten by Liverpool, we scored with a goal from John Mortimore and how that goal was disallowed, I will never know. The following year against Sheffield Wednesday the pitch was a quagmire and the game was a lottery.
CI: If we could go back to 1965 you were top of the league with ten games to go but in the last few games faded away. What went wrong?
JH: How did we lose the title? I do not know. We had some funny results that year especially early in the season when we went to some places and it was the luckiest two points we ever got. I suppose it was down to loss of form at crucial times both as a team and also our star players not performing when they were most needed. I would like to think that the Chelsea team in 1965 was a fighting team, we never gave up easily, we never gave up the ghost, we fought to the bitter end but sadly the title did not happen for us.
CI: What about the following season and your first taste of European Football. You played Milan, Barcelona and Roma in the same season didn’t you?
JH: Yes, great sides but we did well against them. I know we got hammered by Barcelona when we went back there for the third game against them but what those clubs did not like was the way we competed in their half as opposed to letting them play in our half. They could not understand our forwards taking the game to them…we had Tambling,. Ossie, George Graham and they kept causing them problems. They all looked good on the ball but when we put them under pressure they did not like it. Our best game was Milan away when on the third game we won on the toss of a coin after drawing 1-1. We won 2-1 at home and Ossie and George Graham scored the goals and the guys I was marking, Riviera, scored two in the return game but we got one back and it went to the third game. They knew how to play us but more importantly thanks to Dave Sexton we knew how to play them.
CI: What about the Roma game? Over the years the story has grown with the game so it now resembles a war. What really happened?
JH: We beat them 4-1 at the Bridge but when we went there it was quite peaceful. We went out onto the pitch and it was still quiet but when the game started everything came down on top of us, rotten fruit, tomatoes you name it. But after about twenty minutes they had a chance to score when one of their guys was clean through and Peter Bonetti came out to stop him and he gets with everything, apples, oranges, tomatoes and someone threw something that hit the Roma forward in the face and the ball rolled safely into Peter Bonetti’s hands. They were putting things in cups (no prizes for guessing what) and throwing them, bricks, bottles you name it, they threw it but we got through and went into the next round. We got on the coach after went “thank christ for that” when a big brick came through the window. That sort of thing was quite rare but it was a bit frightening I can tell you.
CI: In the club video Tommy Docherty was asked before the 1967 semi final was he happy going back to Villa Park for the third successive year and he said “I’d go back every until we get through.” How did the players feel at the time?
JH: We had no fear of going back to Villa Park but I have to say it was a totally different pitch the third time and we had for the first time a stroke of luck when that Leeds free kick was disallowed in the last minute after sailing over my head and nearly taking my ear off in the process. We were not nervous or anything like that, you need luck sometimes and that day we got some and got through to the Final. They were a good team Leeds even then, make no mistake about that but we beat them and deserved to as well. Most importantly our supporters would not let us lose that third game. We had to win it for them and we did.
CI: After the struggle over the years to get to a Cup Final you finally got there in 1967, was the Final an anti climax?
JH: I have to confess I have not seen the game myself but if you have a copy of the game on tape you will see that a 2-1 defeat was a very flattering scoreline to us. Tottenham really played well that day, they played us off the park. However, with the same fighting spirit we had shown many times previously we never gave up and got a goal towards the end to make it respectable. Yes, I would say an anti climax but more so a huge disappointment.
CI: And not long after Tommy Doc left. Before we move on to the Dave Sexton era can you tell us what really happened in Blackpool? Did John Hollins get sent home?
JH: Yes. he did. I was wondering when you would ask me about that. If I can remember, the players who were sent home were: George Graham, Terry Venables, Eddie McCreadie, Joe Fascione, Marvin Hinton, Bert Murray, Barry Bridges and yours truly. What happened was we had played at Liverpool on the Saturday and lost 0-2 which really killed off any chance we had of winning the championship. Our two remaining games were both away from home at Burnley and at Blackpool so rather than travelling back to London we based ourselves in Blackpool for the two forthcoming games.
The press at the time made out we had gone on the piss before the game. The truth was yes, we did go to have a drink but everywhere was closed. The idea had been to go out and for the players to talk about how the season had gone and how things had gone horribly wrong and thoughts for next season. Remember we were going for the treble and although we had won the League Cup, Liverpool had knocked us out of the FA Cup and stopped any chance we had of winning the title. We were up in Blackpool for the whole week so it was something that the players wanted to talk about and get off their chests before the season ended and went our separate ways for the summer.
It was not and never had planned to be a booze up. It was group of people with sensible heads on talking into the night about football and Chelsea. Remember many of that group went into management and Terry is now manager of England. We were hardly irresponsible people. The press blew it all out of all proportion. We had broken a curfew and the Doc wanted to flex his muscles so he sent us home.
CI: However, you all played in the Blackpool game which was the last game of the season so what happened?
JH: Well, we were playing Burnley on the Wednesday night and Blackpool on the Saturday. We either went out on the Monday or Tuesday. I cannot quite remember. The Doc sent us home to London straight away. The team that played got beat 6-2 which was our heaviest defeat of the season. Meanwhile we were all back in London having had 48 hours to think about our actions and we all accepted that we were in the wrong. We had learned our lesson and we got the call to return to Blackpool on the Friday.
We played in the final game and lost 2-3. In summary I accept we were wrong and we were punished accordingly but what the press wrote was 100% inaccurate.
CI: And now for the Dave Sexton era and Cup glory?
CI: Firstly, John if I can jump in head first to the 1970 Cup Final and after drawing 2-2 with Leeds and because of the World Cup you had this bizarre situation that you had to play three or four games after the Final before the replay at Old Trafford….
JH: Do you know I cannot remember that. Are you sure?
CI: Yes, we played Stoke the Monday after the Final, Burnley on the Wednesday and we finished beating Liverpool at the Bridge the following Saturday.
JH: As far as I can remember the Wembley game was the last game of the season, and we played the replay the following Wednesday. Didn’t we play them on the Wednesday?
CI: No. The Final was April 11th and the replay was April 29th.
JH: You surprise me….
CI: I was staggered to read it myself.
JH: It’s amazing that …. I was sure we played again straight after the Final.
CI: On the subject of the 1970 Cup Final what were your favourite memories?
JH: Let me first say it was really disappointing that we did not win the cup at Wembley. My favourite memory was looking at the Streford End which was normally red and white but there was this huge sea of blue and white. Did you know that Don Revie was very superstitious. For a start he never liked Chelsea and he always wore this white mac against us. The game itself. I remember we went one goal down and Peter Bonetti got done……but the courage he showed that night was amazing. We had good defence though and we protected him well. We stuck at the task and then we got our reward when Ossie pops up and scores. A super goal was Ossie’s goal.
CI: We would agree with you there.
JH: And then into extra time. Stalemate. And then that long throw from Ian Hutchinson and anyone who can throw a ball over Jack Charlton’s head from thirty yards away is special I can tell you. Then Webby is there on the end of it. WE win the cup. Fantastic. However, if I could say, to me the whole thing at Old Trafford was an anti climax and when we went to pick up the cup we all had white shirts on having swapped ours with Leeds and this FA bloke says to Ron Harris. “You haven’t won” but Ron grabs the cup off him anyway. It was a bit of a shambles at Old Trafford I am afraid. Even back in the dressing room and it was just like we had won there in the league. We always used to win there. It wasn’t Wembley was it?
Yes, a bit of an anti climax but I tell you the best was yet to come. On the way back from Manchester the following morning we had the train to ourselves, just us, the Cup and our supporters. I remember having breakfast with the FA Cup, and all the photographers, and at every station we stuck our heads out the window shouting and cheering that we had won the cup. Then we arrived in London and this bus picked us up at Euston station and took us (don’t ask me where) all over London and then it really hit home. That was the impact on hitting London and I was thinking “Christ we have won it !”
CI: Then you had the Cup Winners Cup the following year.
JH: I did not play in the replay…
CI: I know you were injured but….
JH: I tweaked my knee at Coventry a few weeks before. Then there were two weeks when I could just bend it so I had an injection in it and all of sudden I thought “Yes” and I could do a million sit ups, press ups but I still was thinking in the dressing room, will I make it through the game? I did but I do not know how. The thing I remember most about Athens were the supporters. We had drawn on the Wednesday and we went to see them off at the airport and half the planes went back to England half empty. We kept saying to them “get on the plane” and they would go “We’ll be back tomorrow.” We could not get them to go on the plane and on the Friday there must have still been still 20,000 Chelsea there. Even if there were not that many there it certainly felt like there was.
CI: How good was that Cup Winners Cup side?
JHL We were a good side. Real Madrid were one of the greatest clubs in the world and we beat them. Yes that was a very good Chelsea side.
CI: What about the semi final against Manchester City. Did you find it hard to raise your game over two legs against another English club?
JH: No. Not at all. We had a job to do. We knew we had to do it. At stake was a place in the Final. We won 1-0 at the Bridge. Derek Smethurst scored and then we went to Maine Road and won 1-0.
CI: The following season John saw you score 18 goal in that season, your best ever Chelsea season at the club. What happened that year?
JH: I don’t know I always liked to have a shot at goal…I suppose you are going now to ask me about THAT penalty.
CI: What penalty?
JH: Atvidaberg Ever since then everyone wants to talk about that game. “Do you remember that penalty you missed against Atvidaberg John? “What game was that ?” was my usual reply.
CI: So what happened in the Atvidaberg game?
JH: Well, we done the job in the first leg and were expected to get through easily. But they did a good job on us back at the Bridge and we could not break them down and out we went.
CI: What about the game against that team from Luxembourg when you won 13-0?
JH: We were really professional. We went to their place and won easily there and when they came over for the second leg we went at them straight from the kick off.
CI: Did you score?
JH: Yes, I got a couple of goals but were very professional that night. We had plenty of chances and could have scored even more.
CI: You also had another Cup Final appearance against Stoke City in the League Cup Final.
JH: Yeah, how we lost that game I do not know. We were so sure we would win. After all Stoke were a load of old men. We were so confident but we scored first, no they scored first with Terry Conroy and then…..
CI: Ossie equalised.
JH: Yes, but up then popped old man George Eastham sticking his big toe out and we lost the game.
CI: Changing the subject from Chelsea we were both surprised that you did not play for England more often. You only won the one cap. Was this because Alan Ball played in your position?
JH: I played in 1967 in the Cup Final against Tottenham Hotspur and then played the following Wednesday against Spain. I then got hit in the thigh and the England team went off to play Austria and Czechoslovakia. Alan Ball was already there, so was Alan Mullery, Colin Bell, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton. Some terrible players !! And I used to think what about me?
Colin Harvey, Howard Kendall and Billy Bonds were all good players around that time but I don’t think they got capped. That’s just the way it falls some times. You either fall in an era or your don’t. Remember England had won the World Cup the year before and Alf Ramsey stuck with that team.
What did disappoint me though was when the likes of Peter Storey or Norman Hunter was picked to play in midfield. I’d think am I an attacking midfield player or a defensive midfield player. I thought I could do both. The manager at the time thought differently but I still got picked for the squads. I have got books at home and I was in the squad for 1966 and 1970. I made the forty both times but did not make the final squad.
CI: So, you never played in the World Cup?
JH: No, I never did. That is my one regret. No World Cup. Very disappointing.
CI: Moving on from the glory years at Chelsea to when things started to go wrong, the new East Stand, the pressure on Dave Sexton, the team broke up, what happened?
JH: I think it had a lot to do to with the club investing money in the new stand. If fell in the time of the three day week. We were quite adventurous in saying look at the stand/stadium we are trying to build. Look at it, it would have been a fantastic stadium, it would have looked great even now.
It started to tell, and you could feel it starting to tell on both counts. With the directors we were not winning, with the manager he could come along as keen as he always was but you could tell something was wrong. It was triangle, us, them and the manager and you could feel we were all pulling different ways. Then the sale signs started to appear, then players were sold, the manager went and quickly the club was demoralised. I have to say though the support was always there but there was a lot of indecision art the club at the time and people were not aware who was to blame, it was the manager, it was the players, it was the chairman and in the end it all blew up and Chelsea went down.
CI: The main clash at the time seemed to be between Dave Sexton and Peter Osgood. What can you remember of that bust up?
JH. Well, I cannot speak for Peter Osgood so I would rather you ask him. It had nothing to do with me.
CI: So, the club went down and you were transferred.
JH: Yes I moved to QPR.
CI: That first season in 1975/76 Rangers had a great side. What was it like?
JH: We had some of the best players. We had an international in every position or an “old” player in every position. Dave Thomas and Gerry Francis were the youngsters but the rest of us had “matured” and we had a very good season. That was the closest I ever got to winning the league. I remember listening to Liverpool away to Wolves and Wolves were winning with thirteen minutes left thanks to a Steve Kindon goal. And then Keegan, Toshack and Kennedy scored and I thinking “I don’t want to listen to this.” Yes, that was the closest I got to a championship medal.
CI: Can we now talk about the return of John Hollins to Chelsea?
JH: So we don’t mention Arsenal ?
CI: No, we would rather not!
JH: So I popped over to Highbury for four years and popped back to Chelsea….
CI: Yes something like that……Did you play in any of Arsenal’s Cup Finals?
JH: I joined in 1979. They went all over the world looking for new players and they found me at 33 years of age. They were a young side and they are looking at me thinking “what is that old git doing here?” I remember David O’ Leary saying to me, “I remember watching you when I was seven” so there am I thinking what have they bought me for?
CI: So what brought you back. People say you should never go back.
JH: You should never return with the players that you played with. No one knew me when I came back apart from Micky Droy and possibly Mickey Fillery but he left shortly anyway.
CI: The season before Chelsea had had a very poor season and were almost relegated. Six or seven new signings and for the modern day Chelsea fan 1983/84 (last season permitting) was probably the best side we had in the last ten years.
JH: We played well pre-season, we started off well. I did the coaching as well as playing. All the players were receptive, they were keen, they wanted it, we had a good pre-season at……what’s the place now?
JH: That’s it. It was a good stamina test and a test of people’s character. We started the season, we had fitness and speed, we had good speed up front, we had a good combination with Kerry and Speedie, defensively we were solid, a good goalkeeper, we had a few surprises up our sleeves with his goal kicks, he could kick a ball for miles.
CI: No worries about going back to a club that had been in decline for a number for years ?
JH: No it was a good opportunity. It was made clear what was required and I took it with both hands and feet.
CI: And you played most of the season…..
JH: Yes I played up until Christmas but I was struggling just to get into the bath. I have had a new hip since but I had in the bath for half an hour in a red hot bath and the decision was made to put Colin Lee in at full back. He played right back, he was a good pro and fortunately for me the coaching side was keeping me busy. I was sitting up in the stand, making notes, watching game, changing the side around and it worked a treat.
CI: Was there a job offer with Colchester before you took the Chelsea job?
JH: I would not have taken the Colchester job as it was the coach’s job but I was contacted by Millwall before they gave the job to George Graham. At the time I was still playing and wanted to play. I knew I could not last much longer as I was 37 years of age so I was looking for a job as coach but where I could still play football.
CI: It was a good first season back in Division One.
JH: We also had the problems with John Neal who had a heart problem. It is not a problem now in terms of managers as Don Howe, Graham Souness have had heart trouble but John Neal was one of the first, he was quite a heavy smoker. He still wanted to do the job and he did not want to do it as people around him were saying one day “you can do it” and the next “ you can’t do it.” It was also difficult when you had two people such as Ian McNeil who was Assistant Manager and myself as Coach and someone said “Boss” and two or three people turned around.
CI: Did John Neal want to continue as manager ?
JH: He did but people were still telling him not to because of stress and the strain. Is it a matter of life and death? No, its more important than that. He took a back seat and we went through that season OK and finished in the Top 6.
CI: With John Neal’s serious illness how was the team operated on match days, was it yourself and Ian McNeil on duty and John Neal keeping on eye on things from the stand?
JH: Yes, the team picked itself but it was a three pronged attack with the three of us doing the job together.
CI: Obviously John Neal’s health deteriorated and you became manager in the summer of ’85.
JH: I don’t think his health deteriorated but it just got to the stage where it was difficult for him to carry on and I was offered the job. I could have stayed, I could have gone but I was given the opportunity to stay.
CI: Was there any truth in the rumour that you were offered a job abroad before you got the Chelsea job?
JH: There was a job with Real Sociedad but that was before I returned to Chelsea.
CI: What about the rumour that you give Ken Bates an ultimatum “either make me manager or I leave”
JH: No, I do not work that way.
CI: How did you see the quality of the team you took over?
JH: It was in good shape, but like all teams you always need to strengthen. You need to strengthen in various positions. I think Rougvie had been bought before I took over. I did not buy him (laughter all round). If I remember correctly I think Ian McNeil bought John McNaught and shortly after I took over I picked up Graham Le Saux for next to nothing.
CI: You bought some very good players to Chelsea. Who do you think were your best buys?
JH: Steve Clarke has proved to be a good buy. Also, Tony Dorigo and Gordon Durie. However even if you look at Freestone who I bought for 80,000 and he is still doing a good job at Swansea.
CI: Looking back at that team you inherited it certainly its own “cavalier” style which you mention earlier, were there any similarities between them and 1964/65 side?
JH: We were a very professional side and we had a metal about us.
CI: Better than that early eighties team, you said you had more metal in the 1965 side….
JH: The 1983/84 team had been building nicely, we did not look like losing goals, we scored a lot but we did not let a lot in. The next few years after that we carried that spirit on……
CI: There was a feeling the early eighties team had some of that ‘cavalier’ spirit and needed one classy midfield player to compliment them. Mike Hazard was bought early on in your management reign and you did not play him very often. Why not?
JH: Well whatever position you looked for him to play, he did not want to play there. You see him at Tottenham now and the position he plays there. He does not get into their side much either. Also, when he was at Swindon with Glenn Hoddle playing a roving role, that’s fine but when he is not doing that what does he do? I would have to look to the other ten players in the team to help out.
However, to show my initial faith in him I put him in the team for the first game but his fitness was poor and equally he did not appreciate me taking him off in his first game. I should say that though the he was an extremely talented player but I like consistency and consistency is playing well week in week out and not making the odd flash goal and standing back to admire it. He was a far better coming on as substitute than playing for ninety minutes. However that is only my opinion and yours may be different from mine.
CI: In my opinion I would agree with you I was not a Hazard fan either although there were many supporters at the club who were.
JH: Well its not a bad mistake to make was it, for 250,000, But let me tell you this we did not get many offers for him when we tried to sell him.
CI: In your first season as manager you had a good season and finished up with a Wembley appearance.
JH: Did we?
CI: Yes, the Full Members Cup. From a Chelsea supporters’ point of view it was our first trip to Wembley in years, a good day out. But from a manager or players point of view was it a useful competition or was it strain on the team with the other competitions they were in?
JH: No I believe if you are good enough you will want to play every game and win every game and every trophy going.
CI: You want to play football as often as possible?
JH: Yes I do. In the end that is what the game is all about, you have got more chance to put it right if you have another game three or four days later. They say there is a lot of pressure on players playing now but the 70’s team we played 70-75 games a season non stop, two weeks off in the summer and straight back again season after season. It always kept the momentum going and I want any player who plays for me to want to play every game and want to win every game. Chelsea fans want that as well – they want players who want to win every game.
CI: During the 85/6 season you had a successful season but there was this bizarre period when we could have gone top of the league but lost 4-1 at home to Oxford, drew with Leicester, lost 4-0 to West Ham and 6-0 to QPR but then won at Old Trafford and Upton Park. Why such inconsistency?
JH: What you missed out there was we lost the backbone of the team against Liverpool. We lost Kerry, Joe McLaughlin, Colin Lee pulled a hamstring and we also lost our goalkeeper Eddie shortly after. And I would say to you if Glenn Hoddle lost Kharine, Johnsen, Kdjelberg, Stein or Man United lost Schmeichel, Bruce, Hughes and Ince it would be impossible to replace them. I had the same problem, although I got Tony Godden on a free transfer and he did a good job for us we never replaced Eddie Niedzwicki.
The Oxford game was a mistake. We thought we could play on the pitch and win easily but it was far worse than it looked. There are jobs you do and decisions you make, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it does not work.
CI: So, the main reason was you did not have strength in depth?
JH: Well at the time to lose those players almost in the space of a few weeks, you try and replace them. Also, we had the uncertainty about the Bridge, were we going to keep the Bridge, were we going to leave. Was there money, wasn’t there money, some people say there was, some people say there was not. It suits story whichever version you want to believe. However, what I am saying to you is even though we lost six players we still finished sixth in the League. I remember trying Les Fridge in the last game against Watford and he had a nightmare. On that day I rested Kerry Dixon and got stick in the press for doing so but I wanted to give Gordon Durie a game before the season ended.
CI: Talking about resting players the main criticism that has been directed at you was the lack of communication between you and certain players. You talked about Mike Hazard but along with Hazard there was Speedie, Spackman, Dixon you also had problems with…
JH: No, I spoke to them but if you read the papers at various times there was a lot of money being thrown about for people to say this, say that, do this, do that etc My door was always open, I was always available, I always spoke to people.
CI: But from a fans perspective which is where are we are coming from we saw an attacking and exciting team with star names and the star names were gradually left out each week.
JH: We still had exciting players such as Nevin, Wegerle, Durie. Wasn’t I entitled to change things round? It was just a tester to see what other players could do.?
CI: But didn’t the players who were left out feel snubbed?
JH: Now do you want a team of babies or do you want a football team?
CI: I know what you are saying but what you are talking about are players who had been in the team three or four years. It was not as if they were inconsistent.
JH: Anyone in the team deserved to be in that week. A team is picked every week. Manchester United do not pick the same team every week.
CI: But they keep the same core…
JH: It is the same thing.
CI: But was the same core kept. There were weeks when Dixon was rested wasn’t there?
JH: I think you will find he was injured most of the time.
CI: But there were times when he was dropped and in turn the others were dropped.
JH: But if you paint a picture they were all dropped then there must have been some reasons for it. Look at the results, winning, losing, drawing whatever the result that was down to me. I picked the team each game that I thought would win the match for Chelsea. When we lost 4-0 and 6-0 did I drop anybody?
CI: No you did not.
JH: So what I am saying to you is that I kept team behind at QPR for an hour and I told them “What you done four years ago means sweet nothing to what you did there today.” If anybody is telling me that they did not try then you will be out of the team but I know that you all tried. You all looked crap out there but you tried. “
I am not naming names because the players would not like that but I said “you were as bad as him, he was as bad as you. I’m not looking at you I am looking at all of you.” What were the results after that?
CI: We beat Man United and West Ham away.
JH: You see it can be done if the things are said right you get the response you want.
CI: But in the end….
JH: In the end there are a lot of players you will find who all left shortly after and none of them are at the club now. Sorry one of them has gone back but how many games has he played? And of the ones that left how many gone on to greater things?
CI: What looked to be happening as I remember from 1985 to 1988 was a more disciplined approach seemed to be brought in. Typifying that was Pat Nevin who was brough back from being a winger to play right of midfield. It just looked more of a disciplined approach had been instilled which was A) not as exciting to watch and B) was not as successful.
JH: But you have got to try these things. Pat Nevin was not going past his defender as often as he used to. Remember in the second division when he beat the same man five times, players in the first division used to put up defensive walls against us so we had to find other ways to break them down.
One game I do remember was Notts Forest at home. We were 3-0 down at half time and I took Kerry Dixon off and I put Kevin Wilson on and we won 4-3. The papers the next day were full of why did I take Dixon off and not how the team had come back to win 4-3. We tore them apart in the second half by me making one change but the press wanted to drag up some dirt. I would rather not say any more on what happened in the past. It was seven years ago.
CI: So what about the current Chelsea side?
JH: Chelsea are now a good attractive side playing good football. The first time they win something that is when the pressure is really on. At the moment they are almost there. They nearly won the FA Cup. They came that close. They have now bought some new players so we will see soon what they are capable of. However, that is Glenn Hoddle’s situation and not mine. Look at last year Glenn Hoddle made some strange team selections last season and where were the club at Christmas? Almost bottom. One game one bit of luck and a season can suddenly change.
However, it is the character of the players that he has got working for him on the pitch that will make Chelsea bigger and better. They have got a new strand being built and the ground will be closer to the pitch. It is something we have sadly lacked for the last twenty years. And now he has a situation where he has a free hand and he is doing very well. He has got Europe which is very nice but it is the players who will get him up there and win him that trophy. However if he gets half way up that mountain and gets knocked back down again it will be his decisions that will be highlighted rather than what his players have done on the pitch. Look at Paul Furlong. If he plays a blinder, it will be “he is the best centre forward in the country” and nothing to do with Glenn Hoddle having the courage to sing him, but if he has a nightmare it will be “Why did they buy him? Who bought him – Glenn Hoddle.” That’s football management and that’s how it has always been and always will be.
CI: John, could we finish up at looking at your own situation. Your time at Chelsea finished on a sad note and despite the crap written about you in the press at the time you are still to this day highly regarded by Chelsea fans so on behalf of all Chelsea fans how and what are you doing these days?
JH: John Hollins is doing fine. I really enjoyed my time at Chelsea and I will always have some cherished memories of my time and especially the supporters. The events of seven years ago as I said I have long since forgotten and I see no point in looking back. I still do some coaching wherever I get the opportunity. I was at Eton recently coaching the kids there, I still do some radio work for GLR and the odd TV appearance and work for a promotional company. I keep myself busy.
CI: So have you been back to the Bridge since?
JH: I was at the Man City game last season when we drew 0-0. That was a dire game wasn’t it. That was the last time I was there but I was at Wembley for both games.
CI: Finally John, if Alan Sugar sacks Ossie Ardilles tomorrow and Glenn Hoddle goes back to Tottenham and you got the call from Ken Bates saying: ”John forget the past we need you now” ….would you take the job?
At this moment for some reason as if my Dictaphone was possessed by spirits it stopped taping at that moment so you will never know the answer.
However, I would like to thank John Hollins for taking the time out to be interviewed by the Indie and to wish him the very best for the future.