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Southall loses his shirt as Chelsea triumph over the Champions

Younger readers may find this hard to believe, but four decades ago Monday night’s opponents, Everton, were the best team in England. In mid-October 1985 they went to Stamford Bridge as League Champions and holders of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, but unable to compete in the European Cup because English teams were banned from Europe in the aftermath of the Heysel disaster.

Chelsea, managed by John Hollins after the inspirational John Neal sadly had to stand down for health reasons the previous summer, had started the season well, with just two defeats in eleven games. They went into the game in joint second place with Liverpool, though ten points behind runaway leaders Manchester United. Everton were fourth.

Pre-match, the press talked up a potential rivalry for an England place between Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon and Toffees marksman Gary Lineker, signed from Leicester City the previous summer. Dixon had started the season slowly but had scored seven in the previous eight games. Lineker had already scored eleven that season. The previous season the pair had won joint golden boots, both scoring 24 First Division goals. Both were in Bobby Robson’s England squad for the forthcoming Wembley game against Turkey.

John Bumstead returned from injury, so John Hollins was able to field arguably his strongest side :- Niedzwiecki; Wood, Pates, McLaughlin, Rougvie; Bumstead, Hazard, Spackman; Nevin, Dixon, Speedie.

Apart from Lineker, Howard Kendall's extremely strong Everton side was filled with international stars including Footballer Of The Year Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Trevor Steven, Graeme Sharp and Kevin Sheedy. They were, however, missing the injured, inspirational, Peter Reid. They had not conceded in their previous four games. The match programme included a feature on Southall, praising his ‘quiet and undemonstrative’ qualities.

Watched by a ‘disappointing’ crowd of 27,634, which seems incredibly low by modern standards but was actually 5,500 more than that season’s League average, Chelsea immediately took the game to their illustrious rivals. After just three minutes Dixon headed the opening goal from a David Speedie cross.

Dixon heads Chelsea ahead

And celebrates....

Almost immediately, Southall saved from Nigel Spackman, or the hosts would have been two-up in five minutes. Southall then saved sharply from Dixon and, shortly after, Chelsea won a penalty after Southall brought down Speedie. Incensed by the decision and not hiding his frustration, the Welsh keeper was booked for dissent by referee Vic Callow. Once Southall had calmed down sufficiently to allow the kick to be taken, Nigel Spackman promptly fired his kick five yards over the bar in the direction of The Shed. This inability to convert from the spot was nothing new. Six Chelsea players had missed penalties the previous season (including Pat Nevin’s classic against Manchester City) and Dixon had missed one against Mansfield Town in the League Cup just four days earlier. As the interval approached, it was no surprise when Speedie headed a brilliant second from a Nevin cross as Hollins’ side dominated.

Speedie enjoys his goal

So on top were Chelsea that it was a real surprise when Sheedy pulled one back for the visitors just before the half-time whistle. After half-time the champions regrouped and pressed much more effectively. Doug Rougvie, under pressure from Steven, kicked him on the knee then, shortly after, brought him down in the box. Sharp missed the chance to equalise, pulling his spot-kick embarrassingly wide of the post.

Three minutes later, on the hour, Southall suffered a brainstorm, charged fifteen yards out of his area to stop a breakaway, misjudged the bounce of the ball as Dixon closed him down and caught it. Callow had no alternative but to dismiss the already-booked and furious keeper, who responded by ripping off his jersey, throwing a glove at the referee and storming down the tunnel, pushing coach Colin Harvey out of the way in the process. Supporter Neil Smith remember that The Shed serenaded the dismissed Welshman with ‘Neville Southall, can you hear us in the bath?’.

Speedie watches Southall indulge in a spot of shirt-throwing

Ratcliffe went in goal, and, to their great credit, Everton fought hard, forcing Chelsea on the back foot for much of the remaining thirty minutes. Three times fellow Welsh keeper Eddie Niedzwiecki had to prevent Lineker equalising, but the hosts held on to win a cracking game. A relieved Hollins praised his side’s attacking abilities and also felt the defence was becoming more organised. An exceptionally good win over the champions, reinforcing what a strong side Hollins had.

Chairman Ken Bates was in middle of a long, and ultimately successful, battle with Stamford Bridge landlords Marler Estates. The Monday after the Everton game, supporters woke to read a story, later angrily denied by Bates, of Chelsea being forced to share with near-neighbours Fulham, because bulldozers would be demolishing the stadium turnstiles the following May to allow an office block to be built in the forecourt. That turned out to be hokum but was one of a series of unsettling stories that regularly appeared in the papers in those days about the future of Stamford Bridge. There was also paper talk that weekend of Bates trying to buy Scottish side Hibernian, another story that came to nothing. Fanciful articles about Chelsea are certainly nothing new.

Chelsea lost their next two Division One games, including a 2-1 home defeat by Manchester United in front of 42,500 spectators, but then lost just one game in three months and in late January were fourth, just two points behind United and with a game in hand. Sadly, they fell away and ended the season in sixth place. Liverpool won the title, Everton were runners-up and United, runaway leaders two months into the season, crashed to fourth.

Tim Rolls


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