Derby days: Chelsea, Tottenham and the 1970s slump in London football

THREE suedeheads sat on the London tube train at Tower Hill station chanting: “We’re the Tottenham, we’re the Tottenham, we’re the Tottenham, from the Lane.” There I was, with a Chelsea scarf tucked into my coat, on my way to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea play Manchester City on October 10, 1970. I had just seen Keith Weller quickly jump onto the next carriage, also on his way to Chelsea, dressed in a smart tan leather jacket and drenched in a very pungent after shave. He didn’t want to be recognised, but he had been spotted.

The Tottenham fans were probably looking for Liverpool fans that day, possibly taking the Circle Line round to Euston, as the scouse army was visiting White Hart Lane. The Spurs fans sneered at our Chelsea scarves and, for a moment, I thought we might have some difficulties. Their Crombies and Dr Martens boots looked especially menacing. But we were 11 years old, they were in their 20s. We posed no threat. But as we moved carriages, I heard one of the Spurs fans shout: “I ******* hate weedy Chelsea fans”.

The 1970-71 season was good for both Chelsea and Spurs, although it did represent the resurgence of the latter and the slight under-achievement of the former. That campaign was arguably the greatest in London football’s history – Arsenal won the double, Chelsea the European Cup-Winners Cup, Spurs the Football League Cup, and oh yes, Fulham won promotion from the third division.

The 1967 FA Cup final demonstrated that Chelsea and Spurs did not like each other a great deal. And the rivalry went on from there. Spurs, naturally, hate their North London rivals, Arsenal, but in the 1960s and early 1970s, Chelsea liked to get one over on Bill Nicholson’s team. Spurs were the media’s favourite club in London at the time, thanks to the period between 1960 and 1963 when they won the double and then followed that up with another FA Cup and a European prize. They played cultured football and that made the press purr with delight. Spurs could do little wrong, but they had trouble following-up on those early 1960s triumphs.

There were signs in the early weeks of the 1970-71 season that Spurs had a good side again. Chelsea, meanwhile, had started reasonably well, but there was a feeling that they could do better. When the two teams met at Stamford Bridge on November 14, 1970, their form and the healthy buzz that had been building up in London football attracted over 61,000 people to London SW6.

The league table on the morning of the game was good news for the capital’s football fraternity:

    P W D L F A Pts
1 Leeds United 16 10 5 1 25 10 25
2 Arsenal 16 10 4 2 34 14 24
3 Tottenham 16 9 5 2 27 10 23
4 Chelsea 16 7 7 2 23 18 21

Chelsea should have won the game, but Pat Jennings kept them at bay. The skies were positively Wagnerian and the pitch energy sapping. “Spurs, dripping mud and chasing almost to breaking point in the second half, snatched victory from Chelsea with the determination and luck that marks champions.” Spurs scored twice in added time, through Alan Mullery and Jimmy Pearce. Chelsea could not quite believe their bad luck – “After this crazy win, it must be Spurs’ title win,” said one contemporary report.

Spurs didn’t win the title in 1971, that honour belonged to Arsenal. But they were on the march again and into 1971-72, they were chasing a number of prizes. Chelsea had started poorly, with Peter Osgood being placed on the transfer list in the opening fortnight. By the turn of the year, Chelsea had found their mojo again and, although they had crashed out of European very cheaply – against Swedish part-timers Atvidaberg – they were lining-up to meet Spurs in a two-legged semi-final of the Football League Cup.

The first leg had ended with a 3-2 Chelsea win, but at White Hart Lane, Spurs fancied they could overturn the deficit. It looked grim for Chelsea as Martin Chivers levelled the aggregate scores before the interval. After the break, Dave Sexton’s men played superbly and Chris Garland netted a spectacular equaliser. In the 81st minute, Alan Hudson handballed and Martin Peters restored Spurs’ lead from the spot.

Extra time loomed, but with less than a minute to go, Hudson took a free kick from an acute angle and rolled it across the area. While the Spurs defence expected a high cross aimed at the likes of Osgood and David Webb, the low kick caught them off guard with Cyril Knowles deceived and Pat Jennings allowing the ball to creep in off the post. “A freak goal,” said one scribe, with Harry Miller of the Daily Mirror claiming that the semi-final had been a story that “Agatha Christie could hardly have bettered.”

Chelsea lost the final, but Spurs won silverware again in the form of the UEFA Cup. At the start of 1972-73, though, Chelsea were among the front-runners again, although the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge meant that, at home, they had to contend with some hurdles. Away at White Hart Lane, though, Chelsea won 1-0 – their first victory at Spurs for nine years. Chris Garland, who had opened the campaign well, won praise for his “restless initiative and muscular enthusiasm” in setting up the goal that was scored by Spurs defender Phil Beal.

Chelsea had lost just once in 14 games, but the press felt that they were “carrying a fair bit of luck”. Chelsea luck ran out, however, and they finished 12th in 1972-73, while Spurs were in eighth and won the League Cup again.

Two years on and the decline of London football had really set in. In 1973-74, Arsenal were 10th, Spurs 11th and Chelsea – who had a particularly troubled season – ended in 17th. A year later it was even worse – 16th Arsenal, 19th Spurs and 21st Chelsea. To make matters worse, Spurs hosted Chelsea on the penultimate Saturday of 1974-75 with the losers almost certainly bound for relegation. Chelsea had appointed Eddie McCreadie as manager, and in a typical move for a poacher turned gamekeeper, the former Scotland full back removed his old team-mates and replaced them with easy-to-handle youngsters. He made Ray Wilkins skipper at the age of 18. Spurs won the game 2-0 in front of more than 50,000 people and 10,000 locked out – myself included. The goals came from Steve Perryman and Alfie Conn. Chelsea should have scored through Wilkins, but he missed an open goal when it was 1-0. He was disconsolate afterwards. McCreadie was, as ever, defiant, claiming that his “kids” had done him proud. They were relegated and took two seasons to come back.

All over London, though, football was in trouble. Crowds at Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs were falling, trouble blighted most Saturday afternoons and money was tight. What’s more the old guard was changing – Sexton had gone from Chelsea, Nicholson had called it a day at Spurs and Ron Greenwood had stepped aside at West Ham. And in 1975-76, Bertie Mee decided it was time to go.

If you look at the composition of the Chelsea and Spurs sides, it is easy to see why success eluded them as the decade progressed:

Chelsea’s team 1970-71: Bonetti, Mulligan, Harris, Hollins, Dempsey, Webb, Weller, Hudson, Osgood, Hutchinson, Houseman
1974-75: Phillips, Locke, Sparrow, Britton, Droy, Harris, Hay, Wilkins, Maybank, Hutchinson, Cooke

Tottenham 1970-71: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, Mullery, England, Beal, Gilzean, Perryman, Chivers, Peters, Neighbour
1974-75: Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles, K.Osgood, Naylor, Beal, Conn, Perryman, Jones, Duncan, Neighbour.

Arsenal’s team had also changed, with Terry Mancini at the heart of the defence and Brian Kidd and Alex Cropley replacing the likes of Ray Kennedy and Charlie George.

Average crowds at London’s top clubs – 1970-1975

  1970-71 1971-72 1972-73 1973-74 1974-75
Arsenal 43,776 40,500 40,246 30,212 28,315
Chelsea 39,545 38,783 29,722 25,983 27,396
Tottenham 35,650 38,833 32,318 26,124 26,458
West Ham 29,962 30,005 30,174 28,394 29,872

When you consider the numbers lost between 1970-71 and 1974-75, it really is very significant – Arsenal had dropped by 15,000 per game, Chelsea 12,000, Spurs 9,000 but West Ham barely at all. It reflected the declining fortunes of the clubs. Relegation came to London four times in five years: 1975 Chelsea, 1977 Tottenham, 1978 West Ham and 1979 Chelsea again. In 1976, it was revealed that Chelsea were on the brink of bankruptcy, the bold ground plan was ill-timed and coincided with financial crisis in Britain. At the same time, their team imploded. It was, to use a well-worn modern cliché, “the perfect storm”. London had enjoyed a cycle of success that had suddenly come to an end:

1966-67 FA Cup winners – runners-up
1967-68 FL Cup runners up
1968-69 FL Cup runners-up
1969-70 FA Cup winners – Fairs Cup winners
1970-71 FL Champions, FA Cup winners, FL Cup winners, ECWC winners
1971-72 UEFA Cup winners, FA Cup runners-up
1972-73 FL Cup winners
1973-74 UEFA Cup runners-up

This was now the age of Liverpool, who dominated the next decade and a half. Furthermore, Manchester United, who had also slumped following their European Cup win, culminating in a shock and painful relegation in 1974, were back, drawing huge crowds and playing exciting football once more. The power had certainly shifted back to the north.

Tottenham’s relegation in 1976-77 gave them a chance to rebuild and in the summer of 1978, with promotion won, they signed Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricard Villa from Argentina’s triumphant World Cup squad. If you want to pinpoint the start of the foreign influx of players, it really started with Keith Burkinshaw’s ambitious move.

Chelsea, however, were in the mire financially and in 1978-79 were still reliant on a young, home-grown squad. The two rivals met at the start of the season with Spurs still looking for a win after drawing at Forest and losing 1-4 at home to Aston Villa on the night that Argentina came to White Hart Lane.

Ardiles and Villa showed off a box of tricks for 90 minutes and created goals for Spurs to take the lead twice, through John Duncan and Gerry Armstrong. Each time, Kenny Swain levelled for Chelsea, but their 1978-79 ended in another relegation, one that consigned them to the shadows for five long years.

Chelsea and Spurs would not meet again in league action until 1984-85, but the old rivalry was still there. As it is today.

4 thoughts on “Derby days: Chelsea, Tottenham and the 1970s slump in London football

  1. We are Tottenham from the lane is 100% based on sailing which came out in 75 and we nicked it from Millwall after we played them 77-78 season

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