SEPTEMBER 1970. Chelsea, FA Cup holders, had started the season reasonably well, although not with the swagger of the previous campaign when they were London’s most compelling team. There had been an air of expectation at Stamford Bridge that in 1970-71, the Blues could make a genuine challenge for the Football League Championship. Even the likes of Bobby Charlton, in his Goal column, predicted that the great unpredictables could have a say in the title race. They had finished third in 1970, won the FA Cup and had pulled off a decent close season signing in Keith Weller, from Millwall, a £100,000 capture that was effectively funded by the £140,000 picked up from the sale of Bobby Tambling and Alan Birchenall to Crystal Palace.
To add some spice to Chelsea’s season, they were back in Europe – as winners of the FA Cup, they would play in the European Cup-Winners Cup. Things couldn’t have been much better for the club, an attractive team, talented players like Peter Osgood and John Hollins in their prime and youngsters Ian Hutchinson and Alan Hudson coming to the fore.
They embarked on 1970-71 respectively, perhaps a bit sloppy, but showed their comeback skills in grabbing draws in the face of defeat. They were unbeaten in their first six games, but it was clear that Peter Osgood, who was literally “on fire” in 1969-70, was not quite at his best.
Chelsea started their European journey where they finished it – in Greece. They faced Aris Salonika, the Greek cup winners in round one. Osgood missed a penalty and had a difficult evening. A few days later, Chelsea hosted Ipswich Town, then managed by Bobby Robson. On paper, the game should have been a fairly comfortable two points for Dave Sexton’s side.
I certainly thought so as I made my way to Stamford Bridge with an older school mate from the fourth year. He offered to take me, a first year pupil, to Chelsea and after my parents gave their permission, I was allowed to travel to London for the game. Chelsea v Ipswich Town, September 26 1970.
Stamford Bridge looked so huge in those days, with its vast terracing and hot-potch assortment of stands. Our vantage point was to be the paddock at the lower tier of the old Archibald Leitch designed East Stand, which required a transfer once you were inside the ground. We stood by the players tunnel on the north side, where the smell of linoment wafted up from the dressing rooms that were just below you. You could lean over the tunnel wall and ask for autographs and slap players on their back. I once manhandled David Webb and my palm was sodden with sweat – nobody could accuse Webby of not giving 100% for his team.
The paddock was a perfectly acceptable area to stand and it was very safe. It was mostly old boys smoking their cigars and betting with each other who would score the first goal. Against Ipswich, a well-dressed fellow with a hip flask, quite bohemian, cigarello held in high camp style, asked me if I wanted to partake in their pre-match sweep to see who scored the first goal. I paid my shilling and picked out none other than Peter Osgood! My hero.
Just before kick-off, George Antiss, the club’s groundsman, came out of the tunnel and started looking intensely into the crowd. “Ball boy…we need a ball boy…anyone interested?”. A sea of hands were raised as we all appealed to be selected. “I need someone with a bit of height,” said Antiss. That ruled me out, but one of our party was chosen and he disappeared into the dressing rooms and emerged just before kick-off in a purple track suit and…..Tambling’s old boots.
The game started with Chelsea playing more fluidly than they had for some time. Ipswich struck the woodwork through Peter Morris, but then, in the 16th minute, Peter Houseman sent over a trademark cross and Osgood powered a superb header past David Best, the Ipswich keeper. The crowd, who had been urging Ossie to open his account for the season, went mad behind the goal and Osgood, as always, acknowledged their affection. “About bloody time,” said the bohemian. “He’s not had his mind on the game this season.” I was delighted, not only had my idol scored, but I had also won a pound.
The game became very average and Chelsea seemed to be lacking in adventure. The crowd were getting frustrated, urging the Blues to attack. Slow handclaps started to emerge from the terraces and stands. “Come on Dave [Sexton], push them forward,” came the cry.
In the 63rd minute, Houseman played the ball inside to Alan Hudson and he shot from more than 20 yards. It went inches wide of Best’s right hand post and struck the metal stanchion and bounced back into play. Houseman and Hutchinson, following up, gestured in exasperation, knowing that the ball had just missed the target.
But referee Ray Capey awarded a goal, much to the disgust of the Ipswich Town players and their manager, Bobby Robson, who left his seat in the stand to join the protests. There was some confusion as the yellow-shirted Ipswich team milled around, hands on hips, swearing and finger pointing. Chelsea’s players were equally mystified, but the goal stood.
Ipswich scored through Jimmy Robertson to pull a goal back and in the final seconds, Ian Hutchinson put the ball in the net, but apparently the full-time whistle had blown. “As far as we know, Chelsea won 2-1,” said the man on the tannoy.
Naturally, the press was full of the incident the next day. Referee Capey, without the benefit of today’s wall-to-wall TV coverage, commented: “I was amazed when the players queried it. My two linesmen agreed it was a goal.”
But there was no doubt that it was not. While Hudson refused to comment at the time, Sexton acknowledged the error. Sam Bartram, the former Charlton goalkeeper turned journalist, called it the “daftest decision I have seen in 36 years of football. The match should be ruled null and void.”
That could not be done, though, and Chelsea won 2-1. If Ipswich had been relegated in 1970-71 – they finished fourth from bottom, seven points off the drop – by a single point, the consequences of Capey’s decision would have been catastrophic. But 1970-71 was full of controversial refereeing incidents – such as the Leeds United v West Bromwich Albion game in April.
Obviously, on the tube train from Fulham Broadway, all the talk was of Hudson’s “goal” and whether Hutchinson’s added time effort had counted. By the time we got back to Fenchurch Street station, the late classified editions of the Evening Standard and Evening News confirmed the scoreline. The inquest would be reserved for the Sundays.
We complain today about referees and they do make mistakes, but arguably less than they used to. We shall never really know, however, because unless you were there, most erroneous decisions in the distant past may never have been recorded. Today’s high-tech referees may get lambasted to a greater degree when they make a mistake, but I would wager they are far more accurate than they were in the 1970s.