Shine On You Crazy Diamonds - The Doc's Only Chelsea Trophy
Most Chelsea supporters will fondly remember beating Liverpool and Arsenal in Cardiff and Middlesbrough at Wembley in League Cup finals. Many will remember the defeat by Stoke in 1972, the last ‘proper’ final Chelsea reached for 22 years. Fewer supporters will probably remember the first League Cup final Chelsea played, and probably even fewer still actually went. In researching ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’, in 2015 I was lucky enough to find four lifelong supporters who went to the final and their memories have made this piece possible. I am very grateful to Barry Holmes, Steve Lloyd, Allen Mortlock and Peter Noah for taking time out then to reminisce. Peter even went to the second-leg at Leicester.
In mid-March 1965, a rampant young Chelsea side had the possibility of achieving a unique treble. Top of the League (in a three way tussle with Leeds and Manchester United), in the FA Cup Semi Final and in the League Cup final. The other two were established competitions every club wanted to win, but the League Cup was seen as the poor relation by top clubs and was not highly regarded by most supporters.
The League Cup had only started in 1961 and given that previous winners were (no disrespect) Aston Villa, Norwich, Birmingham and Leicester it is clear that the top clubs were not that bothered. There was a two legged final and no place in Europe for the winners. Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton Spurs and Arsenal chose not to enter that season. Until it moved to Wembley in 1967 the competition was considered a waste of time by many, especially if your side were competing in Europe. Chelsea had not bothered entering in 1961/2 or 1962/3, and a weakened team had been humiliated 3-0 at Swindon in 1963/4.
As a by-product of this lack of interest in the competition by top clubs, crowds were much lower than for League games. In those days, average FA Cup crowds were generally higher than those for League games, but that love of knock-out football had not spread to the League Cup.
In keeping with this trend Chelsea’s home League Cup crowds that season were significantly lower than the League crowds. The five home League Cup crowds totalled under 59,000 with a low of 5,900 vs Swansea (which I am pretty sure is a club record low for a major competition). Even the League Cup match programmes were thinner, 12 pages as opposed to 16. Admission prices were the same as for League games which may not have helped the crowds, especially as prices had just gone up for the first time in twelve years.
That was the season manager Tommy Docherty’s classic pre-Osgood front five of Bert Murray, George Graham, Barry Bridges, Terry Venables and Bobby Tambling came into their own – a key part of ‘Doc’s Diamonds,’ a vibrant young team that regularly put out eight home grown players, the other three (Eddie McCreadie, Graham and John Mortimore/Frank Upton) costing very little. Graham cost a ludicrous £5,000 from Aston Villa and was described as “Doc’s bargain boy” by the Daily Mirror.
According to one of Docherty’s autobiographies (I have three, there may be more) the team got a basic £40 a week wage that season, plus League place bonuses so were on almost £100 a week when top of the League, which they were for much of the season. The designated League Cup winning players bonus of £25 would therefore have been useful but hardly substantial. He barely mentions the League Cup win.
The League Cup sides were shuffled, so the squad rotation of the modern era is certainly nothing new. Docherty used it to give first team debuts to Ossie, Jim McCalliog, Joe Fascione and John Boyle that season. Chelsea played 56 competitive games in 1964/65, despite not being in Europe, so the rotation was doubtless necessary.
After winning at Birmingham and beating Notts County and Swansea at home Chelsea were taken to a quarter-final replay by then Division Four perennials Workington Town. The replay was notable largely for two second-half goals by debutant Osgood. The highlight of the Workington programme was a letter from legendary supporter Mick Greenaway (RIP) saying Chelsea’s away support was louder and asking fans at Stamford Bridge to shout more loudly, especially early on in games, to inspire the team. 50+ years on, much of football has changed seismically, but some common issues remain....
By the semi-final Docherty was clearly taking the competition more seriously as more regulars were selected. Aston Villa were overcome over two legs 4-3 on aggregate (the 3-2 away first-leg win marked by a Boyle goal on his debut) and a two-legged final against holders Leicester City awaited.
The lack of hype about the final was, in retrospect, remarkable. Club programmes, national and local papers all treated it as a barely relevant sideshow. Both legs of the final were arranged for a Monday two days after Saturday League games, despite the Football League running both competitions, which seems wilfully perverse. The tournament received no TV coverage and no live radio commentary.
Two days before the first-leg Chelsea’s title hopes took a hammer blow. They went to Old Trafford top of the League by three points, but were outfought and outplayed, as Doc admitted to the press afterwards, in a Best-inspired 4-0 thrashing. Chelsea were still top of the League but the air of near-invincibility had gone, although they remained real title contenders for a few more weeks.
The first-leg at Stamford Bridge on 15th March was played in heavy rain and, apart from the lucky ones sitting in the old East Stand, most supporters huddled under the architectural oddity that was the old North Stand or under the roof at the back of the Fulham Road end (not to be named 'The Shed' by Clifford Webb for another 18 months). Steve Lloyd commented that it certainly didn’t feel like a cup final. There were at most a couple of hundred Leicester supporters present. Many away supporters usually sat in the old North Stand. The crowd was only 20,600 which must have disappointed the club, though the weather played a part.
Barry Holmes remembered the game as low key but recalled that “it was one of the first occasions that ‘The Shed' started to chant, much to the irritation of most of the frosty old-timers shivering on the West Bank.” This was the last season before the West Stand was built, so maybe the rain had a beneficial effect in that it got supporters huddled together.
Docherty pulled a tactical surprise, playing full back McCreadie at Number 9, much to the surprise of the crowd when it was announced over the tannoy. Allen Mortlock remembers “Eddie Mac was playing as a makeshift centre-forward, Bridges was injured I think, and Docherty picked him to start there, I think for his pace. Eddie also fancied himself as a bit of a centre-forward.” Doc told the Daily Mirror "I could have played young Peter Osgood, who is so promising. But we want to win this trophy so Eddie Mac will play up front."
Chelsea led twice but the game was heading for a 2-2 draw when what is considered as one of the best goals in Chelsea’s history won the game. There is sadly no film of it, only a slightly indistinct photo from the Daily Mail (reproduced in the following weeks programme), but here is Allen’s account. “With less than 10 minutes to go Peter Bonetti threw the ball out to McCreadie in the right back position and he set off towards the goal at the North Stand end. He evaded a couple of tackles and raced over the halfway line, he pushed the ball forwards, probably too far and sprinted, at the same time Gordon Banks came flying out of his goal but McCreadie slid in and beat him to the ball, and it rolled gently past him into the back of the net.”
Eddie McCreadie's wonder goal, as shown in the following week's programme
Peter Noah recalled that Chelsea played with ten men for seventy five minutes. “Allen Young our centre half was carried off injured (no substitutes in those days). McCreadie then reverted back to defence, which made his goal even more remarkable, and Chelsea held on for a 3-2 win”. The Leicester Mercury talks about McCreadie's goal in glowing terms but point out that Leicester players claimed they stopped due to a 'phantom whistle' in the lead up to the goal and assumed a free kick had been given. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no other contemporary report I have read refers to this incident.
Before the away leg on 5th April Chelsea had an FA Cup semi final against Liverpool and three League games. They beat Sheffield United and Birmingham at home and drew at Everton. In the middle of these games came the 2-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat at Villa Park. Chelsea did not perform well on the day, though they had a ‘perfectly good’ Mortimore goal disallowed, and this result was a real kick in the teeth for Docherty and the club. Many supporters were heartbroken, convinced Chelsea were on the cusp of winning the FA Cup for the first time.
The second-leg at Leicester got little advance publicity in the papers. Peter Noah remembered that only one Chelsea supporters coach went up (he was on it) and many supporters on the coach hung round the players entrance at Filbert Street picking up complimentary tickets from the players. It is not clear how many Chelsea supporters travelled up, though it was probably hundreds rather than thousands.
Peter recalled that George Graham was angry about being dropped for 17-year-old Boyle. “Boyle's role was playing as a sweeper in front of the back four (the Makelele role). We had heard of foreign teams playing a sweeper behind the back four, but this was genius. The Doc was ahead of his time.” Bridges hit the post and Chelsea defended effectively, deserving the 0-0 draw that gave them the trophy. Peter went on the pitch after the team had collected the trophy and their medals and hugged several players, especially Boyle.
The trophy presentation and the happy tankard recipients
Barry Holmes found that “the second-leg was almost impossible to get any news of as on the night it was being played the media decided to blank it. I finally discovered the outcome from the fluctuating voice of a Radio Luxembourg newsreader around midnight.” Steve Lloyd discovered that Chelsea had won the cup on his paper round the following morning.
The Daily Mirror headline the following day was “A Triumph That Came Like The Dawning of a Bright New Day” which has a nice ring to it. The Evening Standard sports pages did not make any mention of the game or the trophy. Other press coverage implied Chelsea went for a draw and deserved it, though there was some criticism of negative play.
The cup was paraded by the team before the final home game that season, against West Bromwich. Venables and Bonetti carried a banner saying ‘Thank You For Your Support.’ To everyone’s lasting disappointment, that trophy was the highlight of the season. Chelsea slipped away in the League, finishing third, five points behind the top two. Manchester United eventually won the title on goal average.
Chelsea did not defend the trophy the following season, electing not to take part as third place in the League meant they qualified for the Fairs Cup. Doc’s Diamonds never won another trophy.
This article is an extended extract from Tim Rolls’ book, ‘Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils’ on Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea, available on eBay and Amazon.