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Just The One Lump Thanks, Tony

On Thursday, Chelsea play Manchester City in what is likely to be an extremely tough game given the quality of the visitors and our current ineptitude. 54 years ago Chelsea hosted City, then as now champions, in a very tough game but tough in the overtly physical sense, as well as the competitive sense.

It was early November 1968. Chelsea were fifth in the League, three points behind Leaders Liverpool, and had lost just three of their previous sixteen league games. Despite that decent start to the League season, however, all was less than hunky dory. After a replay they had been knocked out of the League Cup by Brian Clough’s resurgent Derby County from Division Two. Worse, far worse, they had been eliminated from the Fairs Cup by rank outsiders DWS Amsterdam after two hugely frustrating 0-0 draws, on the toss of a coin. A huge blow for the club, the manager, and the team. So in the same month Chelsea had been knocked out of two competitions by supposedly inferior sides and had failed to score in their last three matches. The Daily Mirror pointed out that there were no Chelsea players in either the England squad or the Under 23 squad, which was maybe indicative that the squad was not that strong.

Worryingly, mercurial and charismatic star Peter Osgood had been left out of the starting line-up for four games after a string of poor performances. He complained of feeling ‘tired and sluggish’ and was put on a course of iron pills. He was back in the side for a defeat at Stoke and the Amsterdam away debacle but still not back to his supremely talented and confident best.

In the build-up to the home League clash with champions Manchester City on November 2nd, City boss Joe Mercer wondered whether Chelsea would suffer a hangover after their shock European exit three days earlier. Given that City struggling in a lowly twelfth place and had been sensationally ejected from the European Cup by complete outsiders Fenerbahçe, this after City coach Malcolm ‘Big Mal’ Allison had breezily claimed ‘we will terrify Europe,’ it is not clear that Mercer was in any position to talk.

In the event, with John Hollins injured Osgood started the game, but wearing the No.4 shirt, playing in midfield and deputed to look after City danger-man Colin Bell, probably the best midfield player in England at that time. This was certainly an imaginative move by Sexton, though not without risk as if Osgood had been in one of his more lackadaisical moods, the home midfield could have been over-run and City’s star triumvirate of Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee (an old adversary of McCreadie’s) could have run riot.

Chelsea lined up:- Bonetti; Boyle, Webb, Harris, McCreadie; Cooke, Osgood, Houseman; Tambling, Birchenall, Houseman

Mercer was soon proved wrong as Tommy Baldwin gave Chelsea a sixth minute lead from a John Boyle pass. The afternoon exploded into life before half-time when Boyle tackled City winger Tony Coleman hard bringing him down and kicking the ball at him, provoking a ‘wild’ and ‘vicious’ kick from Coleman in retaliation before Ron Harris duly sent him flying.

John Boyle Challenges Tony Coleman

Despite many observers (supporters and journalists alike) thinking the original tackle deserved no more than a booking, Boyle was promptly sent off by referee Rex Spittle as he was on the floor receiving treatment, limping sadly off the pitch with an outsized lump on his knee. Coleman got off scot-free. Spittle and Coleman, who was highly fortunate to receive no punishment for his actions, were roundly booed for the rest of the game and the latter spent much of the time avoiding retribution from Boyle’s incensed colleagues. The normally placid Sexton had an altercation over the matter with the less placid Allison at half-time (broken up in the tunnel by Mercer) and, later in the game, Coleman was the subject of a ‘revenge foul’ by a defender who, interestingly, the papers refused to name.

Mr Spittle sends off Boyle

Despite being down to ten men Chelsea fought hard, particularly David Webb who regularly clashed with Summerbee, and it was to their great credit that they scored a second, a rejuvenated Osgood exchanging passes with Tommy Baldwin before steering the ball past goalkeeper Harry Dowd. Chelsea hung on, with the defence standing resolute, to keep a hugely creditable clean sheet. This was a magnificent performance against the champions, cheered to the rafters by the home support, in need of a pick-up after the bitter disappointment of Amsterdam.

Osgood coolly nets Chelsea's second

Boyle was ordered to make no comment to the press and Sexton said he intended to ask for a personal hearing after the sending off. Chelsea said they might use the Match Of The Day television pictures in his defence, an idea that attracted much controversy, the suggestion being that if that TV footage was used retrospectively then not only the errant Coleman but also another Chelsea defender ‘seen by millions of tele-viewers to have kicked an opponent’ might be investigated, according to the Daily Mail. Those BBC pictures were the first time football highlights had been shown on British television in colour, not that most viewers had colour TV at that point.

The move of Osgood to midfield had worked, he took to it like a duck to water, helping to subdue Bell and finding and using space to significant effect until he had to go off with a pulled muscle. The move certainly gave Sexton interesting options. The role seemed to utilise Osgood’s manifest talents effectively and he ended up playing in that role for another eighteen games that season, with the fit-again Hollins moved to right-back for a dozen games.

There was some good news for Boyle and the club in early December when the FA Disciplinary Committee held a personal hearing, where they found that his controversial sending off against Manchester City was ’sufficient punishment.’ He used the Match Of The Day film to successfully argue that no further action should be taken against him. A host of Chelsea representatives attended the hearing in support of Boyle, including Sexton, trainer Harry Medhurst, and Harris. The versatile Scot would have missed League matches against Ipswich Town and Stoke City as well as a FA Cup-tie against Carlisle, so the finding was a great relief to Sexton. The committee was unable to consider whether other incidents in the game, including Coleman’s retaliation on Boyle, were worthy of punishment.

Chelsea flattered to deceive that season and finished a disappointing fifth. City ended in thirteenth, though did have the consolation of winning the FA Cup. Osgood returned up front the following season and scored thirty-one goals as Chelsea followed City in picking up the FA Cup. Coleman won a cup-winners medal the following May but within a year had left for Sheffield Wednesday. Boyle remained at Chelsea for another five years and was a key figure in the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup triumph.

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