Chelsea have played many important matches away at Arsenal, our forthcoming opponents. The famous ‘Wayne Bridge’ night springs to mind. One of the most controversial was half a century ago and involves a ‘cowardly’ piece of refereeing that caused a huge furore at the time.
It was March 1973. Chelsea had beaten Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Hillsborough in the fifth round of the FA Cup and nervously waited for the sixth-round draw. The club were desperate for all the cash they could get, to help pay for the half-built East Stand, so a home draw with Arsenal was greeted joyously by club executives as well as supporters. However, Chelsea also cursed their luck at hosting London’s biggest game of the season with a restricted capacity because of the rebuilding. The club decided to limit the crowd to 40,000 and make it all-ticket, to avoid potential overcrowding problems of the kind experienced against Leeds at the start of the season.
The game could have sold out twice over, and Chelsea were approached by Jarvis Astaire, pioneer of UK closed-circuit cinema coverage of major sporting events with his Viewsport Ltd. company, regarding showing the game in North London cinemas. Both teams were keen, and the FA and Football League were persuaded that the coverage should be permitted because of the ‘extenuating circumstances’ with the reduced capacity. In the end 12,500 customers paid a steep £1.80 each to watch in one of ten cinemas, with plain-clothes police in attendance to prevent any trouble, and the clubs shared £10,000.
The game started at a frantic pace. Within 33 minutes the score was 2-2. Osgood’s wonderful volley, giving Chelsea the lead, was BBC’s Goal Of The Season and is still shown on television fifty years later, as is his celebratory bow to the crowd. Two mistakes by Phillips let Alan Ball and Charlie George score for Arsenal but Hollins equalised with a thumping right-foot drive to take the game to a replay.
The Highbury replay, three days later, was not all-ticket. Interest was enormous and a massive 62,746 squeezed into a jam-packed stadium paying £35,042 for a game forever tainted by controversy in the minds of the Chelsea supporters rammed into the Clock End. An estimated 10,000 were locked out that night.
For that replay, Chelsea lined up: Phillips; Hollins, Dempsey, Hinton, McCreadie; Kember, Hudson, Houseman; Garland, Osgood, Garner. David Webb was out with a knee injury and Ron Harris was suspended. Gary Locke was injured in the first game and Bill Garner came in, the hope being that his aerial power could unsettle Arsenal. The visiting defence certainly possessed experience but it was feared that pace and mobility might be an issue.
George had a goal disallowed as Chris Garland was still being booked eighty yards away. Peter Houseman, playing down the middle in a surprise tactical switch, headed Chelsea ahead in the 18th minute after Garner headed down Hollins’ cross. Chelsea more than held their own, then three minutes before half-time the game, and crowd, erupted. Steve Kember tackled George Armstrong on the edge of the penalty area. Armstrong went down. TV pictures later showed the foul was in the penalty area, but referee Norman Burtenshaw, thirty yards away, gave a free-kick. After heated protests by furiously animated Arsenal players, with players manhandling him and captain Frank McLintock screaming in his face, Burtenshaw was persuaded to consult his linesman, almost marched there by a phalanx of Arsenal players. He did so and at length changed his mind, pointing to the penalty spot.
Mr Burtenshaw is 'persuaded' to talk to the linesman
Chelsea players, rightly, went beserk, as the clear implication was that Burtenshaw caved in to vociferously complaining players, a point made by commentator Barry Davies on Sportsnight and several journalists the following day. Ball duly scored the penalty. Osgood elbowed Ray Kennedy as the kick was taken, as bad feeling simmered. Chelsea’s players seemed distracted by what they saw as a clear injustice and Arsenal got on top. An unmarked Kennedy headed Arsenal ahead on the hour. Peter Storey appeared to handle a Garland shot but nothing was given, and George cleared a Houseman shot off the line as Arsenal held on. Despite what supporter Geoff Kimber remembers as ‘the best performance by a Chelsea team that season’ they were out of the cup, their season was effectively over, and they were rightly less than happy.
Kember insisted Armstrong ‘dived over the line’ and an incandescent Osgood told the referee to his face exactly what he thought, commenting ‘I have told the referee he is a coward’ to any journalist that would listen. Burtenshaw did not report the incident as he apparently did not hear the comment.
McLintock’s comment ‘There is no doubt that he (Burtenshaw) wouldn’t have given a penalty if I had not protested’ did not help matters. Dempsey clouded the water still further, arguing that the referee originally gave an indirect free-kick for obstruction and even put his arm up to confirm this, though Burtenshaw denied this. The Irishman continued ‘It was ridiculous to change his mind like that when the Arsenal players said it was inside the area.’ The Sun headline 'Penalty Storm As Gunners Go On Wembley Way' summed up the view of much of the media and, even fifty years later, the sense of injustice felt by Chelsea supporters there that night rankles. These brief highlights make me angry even now. https://youtu.be/pazFgQolj48
In his book 'Whose Side Are You On, Ref?' Burtenshaw admitted he 'was conned' as McLintock told him the linesman had told him (McLintock) that it was a penalty when he had not. The referee even appeared on ITV News the following day to discuss the penalty, an indication of the furore the incident caused.
An absolutely pivotal game, a cup classic, in retrospect another step on a downwards journey for a club with financial problems and a declining side. Had Chelsea gone through, they would have played eventual cup winners Sunderland, The Gunners were way off form in the semi-final and lost 2-1, but the thought remains that Chelsea could easily have beaten Sunderland and gone on to face old enemies Leeds United in the final. All of which would have generated much-needed income and, possibly, given manager Dave Sexton squad-strengthening money to spend in the summer. Sadly, it was not to be.
This is an extended extract from ‘Stamford Bridge Is Falling Down’ by Tim Rolls, covering Chelsea’s 1971-75 on- and off-pitch decline. If is available on Amazon and eBay.