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Tambling Strolls His Way To Five Goals At Villa

Bobby Tambling, Peter Osgood, John Hollins and Marvin Hinton were each arguably a bit unlucky not to be in Alf Ramsey’s final 1966 World Cup squad of 22, but certainly did not let any disappointment get to them. They started the 1966/67 season positively, as did their Chelsea colleagues in a much-changed Chelsea side, with Terry Venables, Barry Bridges and Bert Murray all having left the club in the Spring. Mercurial, supremely talented new signing Charlie Cooke was already a supporter favourite.

Three wins and four draws in the first eight League games meant Chelsea went into the trip to Aston Villa on 17th September in third place and full of confidence. Their away form, two wins and a draw, was actually better than their home League form of one win and three draws, manager Tommy Docherty’s counter-attacking style maybe better suited to away games. Villa had just been thrashed 6-1 in the League Cup by local rivals West Bromwich so must have approached the game with trepidation, especially as Chelsea had breezed past Charlton Athletic 5-2 in the same competition.

Having disposed of Bridges, The Doc realised he might need another centre-forward for his squad. He and his scouts had a look at a few players, including Villa’s Tony Hateley, a highly-rated big old-fashioned centre-forward, great in the air but more limited in other aspects of his play.

At Villa Park, Chelsea lined up :- Bonetti; Kirkup, Ron Harris, Hinton, McCreadie; Hollins, Boyle, Cooke; Graham, Osgood, Tambling. Sub. Alan Harris.

The game was televised on Match Of The Day and remains indelibly printed in the memories of the large throng of Chelsea supporters who made the trip, as well as those Blues watching that evening. MOTD had just moved from BBC2 (which very few people had) to BBC1, so the audience had increased massively. A reported 3.5 million viewers therefore got the chance to enjoy Chelsea thrashing Villa 6-2 in ‘an incredible rip-roaring goal feast’ as the News Of The World aptly described it.

Bobby Tambling's opener

Tambling, with just one League goal that season to his name to date, scored a remarkable five goals and John Boyle the other. 4-0 up at half-time and ‘strolling’ (see below), Chelsea conceded two goals in a minute before refocusing and creating two more chances that Tambling converted.

John Boyle nets the second

Looking at the TV footage a couple of things strike home. The quality of Chelsea’s accurate, incisive passing (particularly Osgood and Cooke) and speedy breaks, and the sheer inability of the home players to shut down their breaking opponents. Docherty’s side utilised their brutally effective away counter-attacking tactic which a desperately poor Villa simply could not cope with.

Tambling's second

Tambling, who took his goals with astonishing nonchalance, almost went off injured with a pulled thigh muscle but, happily, carried on, eventually being taken off with ten minutes to go. Cooke, Graham and Tambling all missed sitters so the margin could have been much greater.

His third

An extra joy of the TV footage being available to watch 58 years later is that it is possible to clearly hear the wide range of songs raucously sung by the travelling support, in the early days of such vocal support. When the slow-handclapping Villa fans in the 18,300 crowd started leaving after Chelsea’s fifth goal, delirious visitors serenaded them with ‘Ee-aye-addio, you’re all going home’. ‘Strolling’ can also be clearly heard on television, commentator Ken Wolstenholme referring to it. ‘Mr. Tambling Man’, an adaptation of the Byrds classic, was also sung, along with then-favourite ‘Blue Submarine’ and ‘Sha-La-La-La-Docherty’.

The bulk of the Chelsea support unfortunately could not be seen on TV, as they were positioned under the camera gantry, but it could most certainly be heard, long and loud, throughout much of the game as they joyously went through their songbook. Wolstenholme observed that from the noise ‘you would think that everybody here was a Chelsea supporter’. The MOTD highlights, well worth watching, are available here

The Daily Sketch interviewed a down-to-earth Tambling. ‘It was so easy. We should have got into double figures. Villa were pretty poor. I didn’t get the ball, some supporter snitched it.’ Tambling’s fifth was his 120th League goal for Chelsea, behind only Roy Bentley and Jimmy Greaves. Boyle, who had an excellent game, worked his socks off in a deep-lying role but found time to get forward, scoring himself and setting up one of Tambling’s goals.

His fourth

Hateley scored for Villa, also hitting the bar, caused Chelsea ongoing aerial problems and after the game promptly put in his sixth transfer request. Meanwhile, outside the ground, as the visiting support started their happy journey back to London, fifty police plus a couple on horses were required to move on an angry 500-strong mob demanding that the Villa board quit.

The News Of The World stated ‘Chelsea, the team that could run away with the League title if they didn’t have to play at Stamford Bridge, lead the First Division this morning’. They were top of the League for the first time since April 1965, when the wheels had come off their title bid. Docherty was naturally delighted, telling the Daily Mail ‘We are top. A bit earlier than I would have liked. Still, from the way we’ve played away I think we’ve deserved it’.

Ten days later George Graham had gone to Arsenal, with Tommy Baldwin travelling the other way. A week after that Osgood had broken his leg and, in a decision still hard to fathom half a century later, The Doc replaced him by spending £100,000 on Hateley, a totally different sort of player. This necessitated a change of tactics focussing much more on crosses, which contributed to a slow slide down the table over the rest of the season. Hateley scored just six goals in 27 League games for Chelsea, though to be fair he did, crucially, score the FA Cup semi-final winner against Leeds. The side finished the season ninth. Villa, unsurprisingly, were relegated.

Jubilant Chelsea supporters escort a limping Tambling from the pitch

Tambling, a modest man, had scored four goals on three occasions but it was Chelsea’s first five-goal haul since Greaves did it five years earlier. In 1969 I saw him, in the autumn of his Chelsea career, score four against Sunderland. He still seems genuinely pleased when supporters from that era approach him to thank him and to reminisce. Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill once pointed out to me that Tambling never scored for Chelsea after the age of 28. But for the injuries which dimmed his powers and allowed Dave Sexton to sell him to Crystal Palace in summer 1970, one wonders how just many goals he could have scored for the club in addition to the 202 he netted. A great player and a much-loved key figure in the club’s history.

This is an extended extract from Tim's book 'Diamonds, Dynamos and Devils' which covers Tommy Docherty's six years in charge of Chelsea. It is available on eBay and Amazon.

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