LONDON’s top clubs had a mixed start to the 1971-72 season. Not everyone was surprised, however, for despite the capital city scooping all the domestic prizes and a European trophy, the football establishment still looked to the north of England as the hub of the game in the early 1970s. “I wonder sometimes if the London lads are as dedicated,” commented Huddersfield Town manager Ian Greaves when asked about the rise of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, while Stoke City boss Tony Waddington added that he felt Leeds United had deserved to win the title in 1970-71.
Yet London, which was considered to be representative of the “soft” south of England, won more trophies between 1960-61 and 1970-71 than any other part of the country. Although there were only two league titles in that period (compared to four from Liverpool and three from Manchester), a total of 14 major prizes were won by London’s clubs.
There could be no denying that 1970-71 had been a phenomenal campaign for Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, but the league and cup winners from Highbury never really got the credit they deserved for securing only the second “double” of the 20thcentury. Leeds United’s Jack Charlton, denied the title by the dogged determination of Bertie Mee’s team, commented: “I admire the way they did the double – but I think it must have been their luckiest-ever season. And I can’t see them repeating their league success.”
London clubs went into the 1971-72 season brimming with confidence, perhaps too much self-assuredness. Only Spurs out of the big three added to their squad when they signed Ralph Coates, but in a few weeks it was clear that both Arsenal and Chelsea needed some fresh impetus. Arsenal eventually went for Alan Ball at the turn of the year, but Chelsea – who had started the season abysmally, added Chris Garland (Bristol City) and Steve Kember (Crystal Palace), spending around £ 270,000 on the pair.
Arsenal lost some of their home ground invincibility in the opening weeks of the campaign but made progress in Europe, reaching the quarter-finals of the European Cup. Chelsea, who had won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in May, created a scoring record in beating a team of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers from Luxembourg 21-0 on aggregate in defence of their cup. But disaster was to follow when they were surprisingly beaten on away goals in round two by Sweden’s Atvidaberg.
This was a wake-up call for Chelsea, who had been slopping around for weeks in the league and had even placed their talismanic striker, Peter Osgood, on the transfer list. It was a game of double bluff involving the temperamental but much-loved Osgood and silent-but-deadly manager Dave Sexton, who accused Osgood of lacking effort. The fans were in uproar, staging a placard-waving protest outside Stamford Bridge, but Sexton had no intention of letting Osgood go, although at one stage, “Ossie” said in the press that “perhaps it is time to move on”. They kissed and made up.
Spurs, meanwhile, were relishing their European sojourn, getting past Iceland’s Keflavik and France’s Nantes in the UEFA Cup and facing Romanian hard men Rapid Bucharest, whom they beat 5-0.
On the domestic front, Chelsea – now seeking some consistency and the need to revive their season – Tottenham and West Ham all mounted a serious assault on the Football League Cup. Arsenal, distracted by the huge challenge of the European Cup, had gone out of the competition in the fourth round, losing to newly-promoted Sheffield United for the second time since the start of the season.
West Ham, now without Jimmy Greaves, who had retired at the end of 1970-71, had beaten Cardiff in the second round, but then pulled off two very impressive wins against Leeds United (1-0 away) and Liverpool (2-1 at home) to reach the last eight. The Hammers had seen the emergence of a bustling striker with a habit of scoring powerful goals – Bermuda international Clyde Best. The 20 year-old was one of the first black players to make a mark on the Football League. Ron Greenwood, the West Ham manager, was so enthused by the prospect of Best’s future that he predicted that he could “have as much impact on the game as Pele and Eusebio”.
Best scored the goal that knocked out Leeds at Elland Road, but in the quarter-final, he scored twice as the Hammers trounced Sheffield United 5-0, with underated forward, Bryan “Pop” Robson also netting a hat-trick. People were starting to take notice of West Ham and Geoff Hurst, now 30 years of age, claiming that the team had acquired a harder edge and was more organised than in the past. West Ham had been a club that was respected for its footballing principles, but opponents always saw them as an easy touch. Jack Charlton, for example, said that after Martin Peters left for Spurs in 1970, “we stopped worrying about West Ham.”
Peters had flourished since joining Tottenham and the club’s early 1970s revival was partly due to the development of his partnership with Martin Chivers into a dynamic force. Spurs were more of a cup team rather than a consistent title-chasing outfit and they were keen to keep the Football League Cup, which they had won by beating Aston Villa in the final at Wembley.
They laboured their way through the competition, beating West Bromwich Albion, Torquay, Preston and Blackpool to reach the semi-final. Spurs were very strong at home, but their away record left much to be desired. Chivers, considered to be the best striker in Europe by team-mate Alan Mullery, was in top form once more, but the Spurs skipper himself was missing through a worrying stomach injury. In truth, Mullery’s absence was the beginning of the end of his career at White Hart Lane.
Like Spurs, Chelsea’s Football League run started tamely. Plymouth Argyle were beaten 2-0 in the second round and Nottingham Forest were only overcome after a replay. Before going out of Europe, Chelsea had drawn 1-1 in the fourth round at home to Bolton Wanderers, who included England 1966 star Roger Hunt and were managed by Jimmy Armfield. The replay could have been a disaster for Sexton’s side, who were still tender after cheaply relinquishing the Cup-Winners’ Cup.
But this was the night their season started proper. Tommy Baldwin score a hat-trick as Chelsea won 6-0 at Burnden Park. In the next round, the last eight, Chelsea had to travel to second division Norwich City, who would win promotion at the end of the season. Peter Osgood, who was now running into the sort of mood that yielded 31 goals in 1969-70, scored the winning goal to put Chelsea in the semi-finals.
Three London clubs and Stoke City made up the last four. Stoke, a team that had won nothing and usually had old men playing for them. That’s how people saw the team from the Potteries. Stoke had old-timer George Eastham, pipe-smoking Peter Dobing and of course, England keeper Gordon Banks.
The pundits were predicting an all-London final with West Ham being too good for Stoke, but it was anyone’s guess who would come through in the Chelsea v Tottenham clash.
West Ham won the first leg 2-1 at Stoke’s Victoria Ground, adding fuel to the argument that the Hammers were bound for Wembley. The second leg was played on a cold, December evening with slight mist in the air.
In the Evening News that night, England skipper Bobby Moore had urged the Boleyn Ground to get behind the team, something the West Ham crowd never had much trouble doing, and when he took the field, he gestured to the all sides of the ground to make some noise.
In the first half, West Ham created chance-after-chance, but Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking and Clyde Best were all generous to Stoke. There was a degree of frustration setting in, West Ham couldn’t kill-off Stoke and with 17 minutes remaining, a cross by Dobing was shot low into the net by John Ritchie to give Stoke the lead and level the aggregate: 2-2.
West Ham were gifted the chance to equalise with three minutes to go as Gordon Banks brought down Harry Redknapp. A penalty – with Banks defending the North Bank end. Hurst picked up the ball, puffed his cheeks as he was prone to do and smiled at his old England mucker. He shot with force, his customary approach to spot-kicks, but Banks stopped it, pushing the ball into the glow of the floodlights. Final score 0-1 and a third game was arranged.
The semi-final became something of a saga, with two more attempts at getting the tie solved. The teams met again on January 5, drawing 0-0 at Hillsborough before Stoke finally won through 3-2 at Old Trafford. West Ham were hampered by an injury to goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson, forcing Bobby Moore to act as emergency keeper. Moore saved the penalty in the 25thminute, but Mike Bernard followed-up to score. By half-time it was 2-2 and then early in the second period, Terry Conroy grabbed the winner. Stoke were at Wembley for the first time in their history.
Chelsea and Tottenham served up a classic two-legged encounter. Three days before Christmas, the first leg was played at Stamford Bridge, and was a typically hard-fought local derby. A scruffy goal from Peter Osgood, after a defensive mix-up, gave Chelsea the lead after 38 minutes which the Blues’ number nine followed up with a two-fingered salute to Spurs fans on the north terrace. Spurs came back with goals from Terry Naylor and Martin Chivers at the start of the second half. The tie had swung, dramatically, Spurs’ way, frustrating Chelsea and in particular, Osgood, who engaged in something a running battle with Mike England.
Chelsea levelled after 75 minutes when Chris Garland headed home at the near post from Peter Houseman’s corner, his first goal for the club. There was more drama to come in the 86thminute when Naylor handballed in the area and John Hollins scored from the penalty spot to give Chelsea a slender 3-2 lead.
Two weeks later, the teams reconvened at White Hart Lane, with Spurs favourites to go through. It was another tense evening and a minute before the interval, Chivers volleyed the home side ahead. Garland made it 1-1 in the 62nd minute when he hit a 30-yard effort past Pat Jennings. Garland’s two displays in the semi-final marked him as one to watch for the future – sadly, injuries and the decline of Chelsea meant he never really fulfilled his potential.
Spurs were not finished, however, and in the 81stminute, they were awarded a penalty after Alan Hudson gave away a penalty. Peters scored to put Spurs back in control. But, true to form, the game twisted again and in the 90thminute, Chelsea were awarded a free kick for a foul on Osgood by England. Hudson took the kick, a low, awkward ball across the face of goal that Cyril Knowles missed and a packed area appeared to disregard until it rolled into the net off the post. Nobody could quite believe what they had seen, a seemingly innocuous dead-ball situation that had fooled everyone. Chelsea had their equaliser and their place at Wembley, where they would start as firm favourites. London would regain the trophy, that was the narrative.
Chelsea had been in good form for a couple of months and were chasing the FA Cup, a place in Europe in the league and the Football League Cup was the ideal way to emphasise their credentials. “We expect to get into the UEFA Cup after beating Stoke City at Wembley,” said Chelsea captain Ron Harris ahead of the game on March 4.
Stoke were nobody’s mugs, though. They had gone very close to knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup in 1970-71 at the semi-final stage and players like Jimmy Greenhoff, Terry Conroy, John Mahoney and Mike Pejic, along with Banks and Dobing, were highly respected. Were Chelsea over-confident? Perhaps.
Chelsea had received a setback a week before the final, throwing away a two-goal lead against Orient in the FA Cup and surprisingly losing 3-2 at muddy Brisbane Road. Not the best preparation. And neither was conceding a goal after five minutes, Conroy heading past Peter Bonetti after a long throw by Dobing had caused problems. Chelsea chased the game incessantly and finally equalised just before the half-time whistle through Osgood, his first and only Wembley goal. Surely, Chelsea would stamp their authority on the game in the second half?
Stoke’s defence adopted a tough, stubborn approach and thwarted Chelsea’s attack. Banks, reminding everyone of his excellence, saved from Garland, Baldwin and Osgood. Then, in the 76thminute came the mortal blow to Chelsea’s hopes of completing a hat-trick of trophy wins. Greenhoff’s shot, following a knock-down by Ritchie, was parried by Bonetti and Eastham, the 35 year-old former England international, left-footed the ball into the net. Chelsea kept going, dominating the midfield, but it just wasn’t their day.
Chelsea’s season was effectively derailed at that point. All they had left to fight for was a UEFA Cup place, but it would require consistency and focus. They had 14 games remained and managed to win only six, drawing three and losing five. The campaign ended with two defeats, 4-0 at West Bromwich Albion and 2-0 at Leeds. After four consecutive seasons in the top six, they had to be content with seventh and no European football in 1972-73. It was the beginning of the end for Chelsea, but the start of something exciting for Stoke City.