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Nevin Runs Geordies Ragged As Keegan Suffers Twisted Blood

Next Monday, Newcastle United visit Stamford Bridge. 40 years ago, the sides met in Division Two under vastly different circumstances. Then, as now, Chelsea had a young side, many recruited just months earlier. Unlike the absurdly profligate 2024 Clearlake regime however, the signings made by manager John Neal, with the full backing of chairman Ken Bates, were relatively cheap, players hungrily making a step up from lower divisions.

In November 1983, Chelsea were a side reborn. After flirting with relegation the previous season, Neal had cleared out a chunk of the squad and had brought in a shoal of promising youngsters, including striker Kerry Dixon, midfielder Nigel Spackman and, least known of all, diminutive winger Pat Nevin from Clyde for £95,000.

Coming into a home game with Newcastle United Chelsea were in fourth place in the table (p12, pts 25) behind Sheffield Wednesday (P 14, pts 34), Newcastle (p13, pts 29) and Man City (P13, pts 28). Wednesday had only drawn at Fulham the night before, which gave both sides meeting at Stamford Bridge a chance to close the gap.

The weekend before Newcastle, Chelsea drew 1-1 at a freezing Oldham Athletic and had lacked consistency in recent weeks. There were concerns in the press that maybe the side so quickly, and relatively cheaply, assembled by Neal may not stay the course. Newcastle, on the other hand, had won six league games in a row and their manager Arthur Cox observed that it would take an ‘extra special team’ to beat them. The game was seen as a real test of Neal’s new Chelsea. They had lost 2-1 at Hillsborough two months earlier, in Nevin’s first start for the club, but had yet to play any of the other leading contenders.

This was Nevin’s twelfth start for the club and the one that first brought him significant attention outside the Chelsea faithful. His performance in the previous month’s 5-3 victory at Fulham had already got supporters purring. Chelsea were knocked out of the League Cup by Division One side West Bromwich Albion three days before, Neal complaining that his players had failed to feed the ball to Nevin, who he described as ‘a brilliant player who can unlock defences.’ Dixon had fifteen goals already that season but with just one in the last six games was going through a comparative drought.

The game would have been on Match Of The Day but for a technician’s strike. As it turned out, that industrial dispute was to be the cause of much relief in the North East.

Neal’s side lined up :- Niedzwiecki; Hollins, Pates, McLaughlin, Jones; Bumstead, Spackman; Nevin, Dixon, Speedie, Rhodes-Brown. Sub. Lee. Winger Peter Rhodes-Brown came in for his first league game of the season, replacing Paul Canoville.

The Newcastle side was a strong one, including serial medal winner Terry McDermott and future England stars Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley. Their undoubted star, though, was ex-England captain and ex-European Footballer Of The Year, Kevin Keegan. Past his best, maybe, but still a charismatic, energetic force of nature capable of lifting teammates and supporters alike.

The crowd of 30,628, by far the biggest of the season so far at Stamford Bridge, included King Olaf of Norway. The atmosphere was electric, as though the crowd expected something very special. They were not to be disappointed.

The hosts started the game in attacking mode, and basically stayed there. Goalkeeper Martin Thomas had to push a glancing Dixon header over the bar in the first minute and the match continued in much the same vein. Spackman netted from twenty yards after a Rhodes-Brown pass in the eighth minute and the home side doubled the lead when Spackman returned the favour for the winger to drive home ten minutes before half-time.

Spackman celebrates his goal

Nevin was causing hapless visiting full-back John Ryan nightmares and just after half-time crossed for Speedie to volley a third. Speedie then fired a fourth after the bamboozled visiting defence presented him with the ball.

Speedie celebrates with Dixon

In addition to the four goals, Speedie had a goal disallowed, Spackman hit the bar and Dixon the post as Chelsea basically ran riot. Newcastle had lost 6-0 at Stamford Bridge a couple of years earlier and were probably fortunate not to suffer a worse fate. Dixon, for once, failed to score, despite four shots on target. Newcastle rarely threatened the Chelsea goal, for all Keegan’s endeavour.

Nevin bamboozles

The talking point, one remembered by those lucky enough to have been present some 40 years later, was an extraordinary, mazy run by Nevin. He beat five men (some accounts say six, one says four) but instead of shooting he ran onto the by-line and crossed. Sadly, nobody could get on the end of the cross and the chance disappeared. Had he scored, it would have been one of the very greatest goals scored at Stamford Bridge.

Nevin bamboozles (again)

It remains one of the iconic Chelsea moments of that era, and such a shame it was not captured on MOTD for posterity. The crowd loved it, and loved the way he tortured Newcastle’s defence throughout the game. The level of noise during the game, and the roar of appreciation at the end, showed, again, the bond between that side and the supporters, something that was to be repeatedly demonstrated that season.

Keegan tries to stop him

The press identified the Scot the architect of Chelsea’s dominance and he received the sort of unanimous praise that took supporters back to the club’s previous star winger, Charlie Cooke, also Scottish and also hugely talented. Neal rightly observed ‘isn’t it obvious he (Nevin) has the skill to bring the crowds back?’

Geordie talisman Kevin Keegan was mortified. ‘No team has ever done that to us…it’s back to the drawing board.’ He was effusive in his praise of Nevin. ‘I was very impressed with him. He keeps the ball so close…I hope he’s ready for the attention he’s going to get from now on.’ The Fulham Chronicle observed ‘in full flight he (Nevin) combines genius with a touch of comedy’ but the bewildered Ryan and his hapless colleagues did not see the joke.

Nevin is one of the most naturally talented men ever to pull on a Chelsea shirt and this was the day he really announced himself on the national stage. Some of those lucky enough to be there that day consider it one of the very best individual Chelsea performances they have ever seen. He became a firm supporter favourite and is still hugely appreciated four decades later by those who saw him play.

The team’s ‘witty, inventive’ team performance also drew praise. The Guardian, who enthused about ‘sparkling rhythms, compared Nevin with Charlie Cooke, Dixon with Peter Osgood and ‘fanatic’ Joey Jones with Eddie McCreadie. Possibly getting a bit carried away, but it was a genuinely impressive performance across the team and certainly demonstrated that Neal had, almost overnight, built a team well capable of winning promotion. Six months later that potential became fact as Chelsea stormed to back to Division One, winning the title in the process. Newcastle finished the season third, eighteen points behind.


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