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'Oh we're all pi**ed up and we're going to Molineux' - Wolves away 1977

Saturday 7th May 1977. One of the most memorable days in my decades watching Chelsea. A point at table-topping Wolves would mean promotion back to the First Division after two seasons. Chelsea were in severe financial trouble, and needed gates of 40,000 to break even, so promotion was essential. Some of the talented young players, especially charismatic captain Ray Wilkins, already an England international, would almost certainly leave if promotion was not achieved. So, no pressure then.

Wolves had been promoted the previous week and needed a point for the title whereas Chelsea needed to win to keep slight championship chances alive. All in all, as tough a challenge as Eddie McCreadie’s side could have had and clearly one which their thousands of loyal away fans would eagerly queue at Stamford Bridge to buy tickets for. Well, they would except for a slight hitch.

Following incidents at a number of away games that season, including Cardiff and Charlton, the  Minister of Sport, Denis Howell, decided the Wolves game should be all-ticket with none on sale to Chelsea fans apart from a small number of seats to season ticket holders. (According to a letter in the Hull City match programme the next week, it was also decided that fans should be banned from away games in Division One, though was clearly overturned as there were thousands of us at The Hawthorns the first day of the following season).

The Chelsea v Sheffield United match programme the week before made the perhaps naive request that “IF YOU HAVEN’T GOT A TICKET DO NOT TRAVEL NEXT SATURDAY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES” (their capitals). They also regretted that “we shall not be organising a rail special to Wolverhampton.”  Those making these blindly optimistic statements must surely have realised Chelsea fans were a resourceful lot, and a ban was not going to prevent thousands of devotees, including ourselves, making sure we were at Molineux.

As it happened, and the club/police/Wolves must surely have anticipated, a major and extremely successful ticket buying operation had already swung into action among Chelsea fans. We had a friend of a friend in Wolverhampton who got seven tickets for us on the South Bank, the normal ‘away’ terrace. On the special train to Burnley two weeks before, two guys went through the carriages taking orders for Wolves tickets. One of these two was a very well-known Chelsea face and they were 100% confident of getting as many tickets as were required. As we already had a source of tickets, we didn’t take up their offer but loads of fans did. I believe those tickets were then picked up by the buyers from Fulham Broadway one evening, in what was a highly well-organised and extremely effective way of getting tickets to away travellers. In the Nell Gwynne pub before the Sheffield United game the chant “We’re all pi**ed up and we’re going to Molineux” was heard, so as we sang along we knew we wouldn’t exactly be alone.

It became clear that the Wolves Box Office was not stopping Londoners buying tickets, or multiple tickets being sold to individuals. Given this, and the fact that touts were selling fistfuls of Wolves tickets outside the Sheffield United home game, our expectation was that maybe 2-3,000 Chelsea fans would have tickets for the game. Whether we’d get in was another matter, as there was a fear the police might turn Chelsea fans away (though in retrospect that would have caused a huge problem outside the ground and in town so was never going to happen).

We took two car loads up from Canterbury, our car going up the night before and staying with the family of one of our group outside town. The following day we went to a pub on the outskirts of town for lunch and a few drinks then drove to Molineux early and parked up fairly close to the ground. We were worried we might get turned away at the ground as Chelsea fans, so the seven of us broke up into smaller groups. At a number of away games that season I wore the classic red and green away scarf, but for that one it was left at home.

As we crossed the main road to go to the ground, to our right was an amazing sight. What was clearly at least one train load of Chelsea fans singing their heads off, being heavily escorted to the ground. It later turned out that British Rail and the police had the previous day accepted the inevitable and laid on two special trains on the day, in an attempt to control travelling fans.

Chelsea supporters herded outside Wolverhampton station

We were searched, but not challenged, by police as we entered the ground and went onto the South Bank terrace, and we didn’t see anyone being stopped from entering. We were in the ground quite early, and it wasn’t clear immediately how many Chelsea fans were in the end, and where they were. The police were very sensibly attempting segregation and we were eventually directed through a line of police to the far side (to the right as you look from the pitch) where the Chelsea fans were being congregated.

There were so many Chelsea fans entering the South Bank the police lines kept having to move across to give them all room – they obviously didn’t know how many to expect. We kept well away from the police line and although it was clear there was some trouble as Chelsea fans entering the ground were filtering through Wolves fans to get to our section, it wasn’t obvious to us exactly how much. The Chelsea section ended up being enormous and a Wolves fan later told me he thought there were at least 7,000 Chelsea there, but obviously it is difficult to be exact. There’s a photograph in the Hull programme which in the background shows a line of police right down the middle of the South Bank.

No matter what the number, it was an unbelievable turnout given that Chelsea were banned and tickets were not being sold on the day, and the result of a determined and widespread push to get hold of tickets. In the end, the crowd was announced as 33,465, which, given that Wolves got 50,000 for a cup tie against Leeds United six weeks earlier, was well below capacity, and, to be honest, probably an under-representation. It is interesting to wonder exactly how many Chelsea fans would have gone, or tried to get tickets, if the ban had not been in place. 12,000? 15,000? 20,000? More?

Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Locke, Wicks, Harris, Sparrow; Cooke, Britton, Wilkins (Capt.), Lewington; Finnieston, Langley. Wolves team included John Richards, a striker with a track record of scoring against Chelsea.

The game itself was scrappy. Ray Lewington and Tommy Langley had early chances before, after 16 minutes, skipper Ray Wilkins played Langley in with a superb pass and the young striker netted from an angle. Chelsea dominated much of the rest of the first-half, Finnieston twice going close.

After half-time, and in pouring rain, Chelsea hung on until Richards, almost inevitably, equalised with 11 minutes to go, hitting home the rebound after Peter Bonetti had saved from Frank Munro. The sides then played out the final minutes almost at walking pace, both content with a draw.

Brief ITV match highlights can be found at this link  . You can see footage of loads of Chelsea fans on the South Bank celebrating Langley’s goal, and it is worth remembering that not one of those terrace fans was supposed to be in the ground.

At the end of the game, euphoria for everyone, players and fans of both teams. Promotion. First of all a few, then hundreds, then thousands of chanting and celebrating fans of both teams went on the pitch. On the highlights clip you can hear “We all agree, Wolves and Chelsea are magic” right at the end, a song I am prepared to bet has not been heard before or since. We went on the pitch along with hordes of others and for a while everything was fine, chanting and clapping.

Celebrating Chelsea supporters make their point to the Minister Of Sport

Steve Wicks hugged by a celebrating supporter

After taking a bow in the main stand, the Chelsea players celebrated with champagne, McCreadie observing ‘all hell has been let loose in the dressing room.’ He boldly predicted to the Daily Mirror ‘give them (the players) a couple of years and these players will terrorise the First Division…English football is going to be proud of these kids.’

Chelsea players celebrate in the main stand

Then the away dressing room celebrates

Outside, it started to get a bit heavier and sporadic fighting broke out on the pitch and in the corner of the South Bank, so we decided to leave and go back to the car. Leaving the ground there were groups looking for and finding fights, the police not helped at all by the fact that fans of both teams were leaving by the same exit.

We had to go under the famous subway, where inevitably bricks were thrown at us (this was a regular occurrence for away fans leaving Molineux at this time). Luckily, we weren’t hit and managed to get out of the main crowd and back to the car. There was apparently serious trouble at the station, probably unsurprisingly, and it must have taken ages for all the Chelsea fans to be put on trains out of town.

Amazingly, we drove all the way back to Canterbury before having a drink, but it was a happy group that got back to college, I guess about 11.00.  The title would have been nice, but promotion was the main thing.

According to the Hull programme the following week, there were an astonishing 111 arrests, mainly from London, of whom 86 later appeared in court. The trouble didn’t seem as bad to me as some other away games that season (Forest, Cardiff) but then we didn’t go into town before or afterwards. The Birmingham Evening Mail called it the ‘Battle Of Molineux.’

There was much press talk of Chelsea supporters getting round the ban, ‘Fans Beat Howell’s Plans’ being a typical headline. The Hull programme, possibly slightly missing the point, called for the government to make it an offence to sell tickets above face value (implicitly blaming touting for the problems) and says it proves all-ticket games were not the answer. Given that Chelsea had just formed an official Supporters Club, which you had to join to buy away match and special train tickets, the club clearly realised all-ticket away games were going to happen anyway. My memory of the following season is that all-ticket away games were certainly the norm, but not enforced everywhere. Anyway, every time Chelsea were banned away in the next few years many fans still found ways of getting tickets, almost as a point of honour.

Given the success Chelsea have had over the past 30 years it is often forgotten what a superb achievement promotion (in second place) that season was. A mostly young team of almost exclusively home-grown players performed magnificently against a backdrop of a totally skint club with a real threat of going under. The inexperienced kids, and the smattering of experienced players, deserved enormous credit, especially for their attractive football and fighting spirit. Much of the credit of course, should go to the dynamic, decisive and charismatic Eddie McCreadie, whose faith in his young team was amply repaid.

Sadly, ludicrously, McCreadie left the club two months later after a dispute with chairman Brian Mears. Continuing financial problems meant many of the young stars were sold and two years later Chelsea were back in the Second Division.

Tim Rolls

I have read accounts of this day, and the build-up, which differ slightly from mine, perhaps unsurprising given that it was 47 years ago today. This is as I remember it, aided by contemporary newspaper reports.

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