12 games that shaped a football club: Chelsea

CERTAIN games can mould the history of a club. Chelsea have had many high points in recent years, but it is not just success that influences the culture of a club. These 12 games have all played their role in shaping the Blues. Of course, the list will prompt debate, but these have been selected for their overall importance to the club’s development, from the first game to the first title, to a disaster-avoiding victory and finally, champions of Europe.

The start of the dream

September 2, 1905: Stockport County 1 Chelsea 0 Football League Division Two, Edgeley Park.
Formed just a few months earlier, Chelsea’s first game was at Stockport County. Stamford Bridge had been a hive of activity in the summer as a first team squad was created, including Sheffield United’s giant goalkeeper Willie Foulke, Rangers’ John Tait Robertson, who at just 28 years of age was named player-manager, and the Tottenham Hotspur duo, Davie Copeland and Jack Kirwan. Foulke was the headline maker, though, and before the game, a young lad said to him, “you’ll get licked today,” to which the keeper said, “then it will be for the first time”.  Wearing what the press called “dainty light blue and white jerseys”, Chelsea’s presence attracted 6,000 to Edgeley Park. Robertson didn’t line up and the newspapers speculated that this may have been due to the FA’s ruling over player-managers and wage limits. At the interval, the game was scoreless, but Kirwan – one of Spurs’ 1901 FA Cup winners – struck the woodwork. The goal that decided the game came midway through the second half, Joseph Schofield’s penalty being saved by Foulke but George Dodd (who would later play for Chelsea between 1911-13) followed up to score. Chelsea gave a “scientific exhibition” of football, but contemporary reports suggested there had been too much finesse, although they did not deserve to lose. In 1905-06, they didn’t lose too often and finished third in the second division. They were, however, well underway.

A joke no more

April 9, 1955: Chelsea 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Football League Division One, Stamford Bridge.
This was the day that Chelsea put one hand on the Football League Championship trophy for the first time. It was not a vintage league campaign and Chelsea emerged as unlikely champions after an Easter period that saw them draw at home to Sheffield United and overcome their nearest challengers, reigning champions Wolves. Over 75,000 people crammed into Stamford Bridge to see a game that would effectively decide the championship. Chelsea were on top for most of the 90 minutes and Wolves had to thank England keeper Bert Williams for making important saves from Eric Parsons, Roy Bentley and Seamus O’Connell.  With 15 minutes remaining, O’Connell sent a shot towards the top corner of Williams’ goal, but Billy Wright dived spectacularly to punch the ball over the crossbar. Mr Malcolm, the referee, signalled for a corner, much to the disgust of the crowd. Malcolm then consulted a linesman, who made him change his mind. A penalty to Chelsea and full back Peter Sillett calmly slotted the ball past Williams. A week later, Chelsea drew 0-0 at Portsmouth and moved closer to confirming the title. On April 23, they beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 at Stamford Bridge and the championship was won. It didn’t signal a bold new era, for they made poor work of defending their crown in 1955-56, but nobody could take it away from them – Chelsea were champions!

The beginning of the end of Docherty

April 24, 1965: Burnley 6 Chelsea 2 Football League Division One, Turf Moor.
Why this game when there were so many important performances in the 1960s? A week before this game, Chelsea were top of the league, although Manchester United and Leeds United were arguably better placed to win the title. On Easter Monday, they lost 2-0 at Liverpool and then Chelsea had a double bill in Lancashire, at Burnley and Blackpool. Manager Tommy Docherty took his team to Blackpool for the duration and insisted on a strict regime with a continental-style training camp. The players got bored and a group of them, led by the likes of Terry Venables and George Graham, went out to a night club. Docherty was livid and sent seven players home ahead of the vital Burnley clash. A below-strength Chelsea side was thrashed 6-2 at Burnley, with Andy Lochhead scoring five goals. It killed the club’s title hopes. A few days later, with the group of bad boys re-instated, Chelsea lost 3-2 at Blackpool. They had imploded at the crucial stage of the season, something which characterised Chelsea under Docherty. If they had kept their nerve, they might have been champions. The bad feeling between “the Doc” and key players never went away and the nucleus of the team was sold over the next year. It was, in effect, the beginning of the end for Docherty, although it would be two years before he would depart Stamford Bridge.

Sexton’s triumph

April 29, 1970: Chelsea 2 Leeds United 1 FA Cup final replay, Old Trafford.
Two of the three best teams in the country met in what became a classic FA Cup final. In January 1970, Leeds trounced Chelsea at Stamford Bridge by 5-2, underlining the power of Don Revie’s side. Chelsea had a reputation for being cup-fighters throughout the 1960s, but they always just fell short. Having beaten Birmingham, Burnley, Crystal Palace, QPR and Watford, Chelsea had enjoyed a trouble-free path to Wembley. Leeds had to endure a three-match saga with Manchester United in the semi-final. The first meeting between Chelsea and Leeds saw the Yorkshiremen dominate but struggle to overcome a defiant Chelsea. The 2-2 draw meant that the two teams travelled to Old Trafford for the replay. Again, Leeds set the pace and went ahead through Mick Jones in the 35th minute. It was a brutal game, with some very blatant and cynical fouls committed by both teams. Leeds could not kill-off Chelsea and it was noticeable how Dave Sexton’s side grew in confidence as time passed and Leeds became increasingly frustrated. It wasn’t until 12 minutes from time that Chelsea equalised, though, Peter Osgood diving to head home a Charlie Cooke centre. In the 104th minute of a pulsating two-game series, Chelsea took the lead for the first time, David Webb heading the ball home from an Ian Hutchinson long-throw. That was it, Chelsea had won the cup for the first time in their 65-year history. The Kings Road went wild, thousands welcomed the team back the following day when the team arrived at Euston and took an open-top bus back through London SW6. Dave Sexton told the fans: “I promise all of you, this is only the beginning.  Chelsea are going to bring a lot more prizes back to Stamford Bridge.”

The talismanic striker

March 24, 1971: Chelsea 4 RFC Bruges 0 European Cup-Winners’ Cup Quarter-final, second leg.
Chelsea’s 1970-71 season had deteriorated into a mediocre run of games not helped by injuries and the absence of Peter Osgood, who had served an eight-week ban. After starting the season well, with high hopes and the FA Cup locked away in the trophy cabinet, they were struggling to keep hold of their place among the front-runners. Recent home games, against Blackpool and Huddersfield, had been uninspiring and a first leg defeat in this ECWC tie, by two goals in Bruges, set them a real challenge to keep their season alive. With the FA Cup lost in round four, at the hands of Manchester City, Europe was now the club’s only chance to end the season with something tangible. Peter Bonetti and Ian Hutchinson were both missing from the team that faced the Belgians in the second leg, with a two-goal deficit to make up. Osgood was reintroduced, but he had been inactive for two months and what’s more, he returned with a quasi-afro haircut! Chelsea opened the scoring in the 21st minute through Peter Houseman, a goal created by the head of Osgood. It wasn’t until nine minutes from time that the all-important second goal came, Charlie Cooke setting-up Osgood, who leapt the barriers to celebrate with the fans. Into extra time, the Stamford Bridge crowd urged Chelsea on and in the 114th minute, Alan Hudson created a second goal for the Blues’ talismanic number nine. The comeback was completed two minutes from time when Hudson and Cooke combined to set-up Tommy Baldwin for a fourth goal. Job done and a semi-final place secured. Everyone had been worried that Osgood, after his enforced period away from the game, would last the pace. He admitted to me some years later that he was “dead after 45 minutes, but the crowd kept me going, and I had a point to prove.” In the final in May, he would be the key man as Chelsea went onto win the ECWC, their first European prize. This tie was, however, the pivotal game of the club’s season.

Catalyst for doom

February 25, 1972: Orient 3 Chelsea 2 FA Cup Round Five, Brisbane Road.
Everything looked good for Chelsea when they visited little Orient over in east London. They had been on a tremendous run after starting the season well, were climbing the league table, already in the Football League Cup final and were favourites to beat Stoke City, and they looked to have a place in the last eight of the FA Cup under control. Their two big signings of the season, Chris Garland and Steve Kember, were settling in nicely and Peter Osgood had regained his form of 1969-70. But then it all went wrong. For more than a decade. By the 35th minute, Chelsea led 2-0 with headers from David Webb (27 mins) and Osgood (35). The game looked done and dusted and it seemed only a question of how many goals Chelsea would rack-up. On the stroke of half-time, Phil Hoadley pulled one back for Orient just before the interval with a long-range effort that gave Peter Bonetti no chance. Chelsea were complacent and four minutes into the second half, clumsy defending by Webb – pushing a back pass wide of Bonetti – allowed Mickey Bullock to nip in and score. Chelsea still had the upper hand and Alan Hudson was superb in midfield, running the show, but the Orient goal led a charmed life, with Osgood heading inches over the bar and goalkeeper Ray Goodard pulling off some spectacular saves. At worst, a replay? But no, Orient had other ideas and a long ball by Tom Walley put the Chelsea defence in trouble, Ron Harris should still have been able to clear, but Barrie Fairbrother and Ian Bowyer raced in on goal. Bowyer collided on route, and the ball rolled to Fairbrother who slid his effort into the net. Chelsea could have saved the day, with a John Hollins shot parried by Goodard and Webb, who was a former Orient player, blasting over the bar from close range. It wasn’t to be and Orient won 3-2, pulling off a major shock. A week later, Chelsea’s season was derailed, Stoke City winning the League Cup and the league form soon lost momentum. Chelsea, despite having a stronger squad, ended without a trophy and didn’t even qualify for Europe. They finished seventh. Two years on, Osgood and Hudson had departed and by 1975, they were in Division Two. The decline could be traced back to the 44th minute at Brisbane Road.

Starting to believe again

October 30, 1976: Chelsea 3 Southampton 1 Football League Division Two, Stamford Bridge.
The summer of 1976 was not a good one for Chelsea. The club’s financial problems were well publicised and suddenly, there were genuine fears about its long-term existence. After finishing in mid-table in 1975-76, the new season was a vital one for Chelsea and Eddie McCreadie’s young side had an awful lot riding on them. Promotion back to the first division was a necessity. They have started the 1976-77 campaign well and the crowds were steadily building back to a respectable level. Southampton had won the FA Cup a few months earlier and were a team packed with top names, including former Bridge favourite Peter Osgood. For some reason, a crowd of 42,654 turned up to see a vibrant team take on one of the favourites for promotion. Ted MacDougall gave the Saints the lead 18 minutes from the end of a tight game, but then Chelsea’s youngsters sprung to life. Three minutes later, a Gary Locke cross missed the head of leading scorer Steve Finnieston and Kenny Swain headed the ball home for the equaliser. Then on 81 minutes, Finnieston put Chelsea ahead, Ian Britton creating the goal for his fellow-Scot. Finally, it was left to impressive skipper Ray “Butch” Wilkins, still only 19, to score a third with two minutes remaining. The home crowd went berserk, it had been a grim few years for the club and promotion would help save the club from bankruptcy. That’s why the team built by Eddie McCreadie still retains the affection of long-time Chelsea fans. On October 30 1976, people started to believe that the dream of promotion could become a reality.

Desperate times

May 7, 1983: Bolton Wanderers 0 Chelsea 1 Football League Division Two, Burnden Park.
Chelsea’s relegation back to Division Two in 1979 was the start of a gloomy four-year period in which crowds slumped, performance became very mediocre and the club became too accustomed to fielding below-par players. By 1982-83, the average crowd at Stamford Bridge was less than 13,000. The unthinkable was started to look like reality – relegation to Division Three. After beating Carlisle in mid-March, Chelsea failed to win their next nine games and they travelled to Bolton after a lack-lustre Easter in which they drew two home games, needing a win to save their second division lives. Eighteen minutes from time, Clive Walker, who had not had a good season, received the ball from Paul Canoville and shot home the winner to all but secure the club’s status. “How I needed that,” said manager John Neal. Ken Bates, the club’s owner, had seen enough and vowed that things would improve. In the close season, Bates worked with Neal to build a new Chelsea team. In 1984, promotion was won in style, but it could have been so much different if Walker had not been the match-winner at Burnden Park.

26 years of hurt

May 17, 1997: Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0 FA Cup final, Wembley Stadium.
It had been 26 years since Chelsea had won a major honour and 27 since the FA Cup had been lifted. Chelsea had made good progress under Glenn Hoddle but in 1996-97, Ruud Gullit was manager and the team was playing a delightful brand of football. Chelsea were now a top six club for the first time since the early 1970s. The FA Cup had seen them beat West Bromwich Albion, Liverpool (a classic comeback), Leicester, Portsmouth and Wimbledon. Playing against Middlesbrough, a team that was bound for relegation, gave them the best chance since the halcyon days of the 1970s to win some silverware. Surely, this was the end of the 26-year drought? From the first minute, this was Chelsea’s day, Roberto Di Matteo scoring after just 43 seconds with a fierce drive. It wasn’t a great game, but Chelsea were never in too much danger of losing. They scored a late goal from Eddie Newton to clinch victory and then enjoyed the moment. Some 15 years after the club had been bought for just £ 1 by Ken Bates, the fans had something to cheer about. It began a period of success that involved winning the Football League Cup and European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1998 and the FA Cup again in 2000.

The billion pound game

May 13, 2003: Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1 Premier League, Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea were going through another financial crisis that was ultimately solved by Ken Bates’ sale of the club to Roman Abramovich in the close season of 2003. It was the final game of the season and Chelsea and Liverpool were gunning for the fourth UEFA Champions League slot. At the time, involvement in the premier European competition was worth some £ 20m. It was important to Chelsea to secure that position and it may well have been a deal-clincher for Bates – who knows? This was a Chelsea team that didn’t have the galaxy of stars that would arrive over the following three or four years, but it did include World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Emmanuel Petit, as well as Frank Lampard, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola. Liverpool went ahead on 11 minutes, but within a minute Desailly headed an equaliser from a cross by Jesper Gronkjaer, and then the mercurial Dane scored a second on 26 minutes which proved to be enough to win the game. Liverpool lost Steven Gerrard in the closing minutes when he was shown a second yellow card. A bad day for Liverpool, but Chelsea went on to reach the last four in the Champions League in 2003-04. As for Gronkjaer, he will always be remembered for creating what proved to be “the billion pound goal”, for within weeks, Abramovich took over and life was never the same again at Chelsea.

True champions

August 15, 2004: Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 Premier League, Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Chelsea in the summer of 2004. He was, to quote, “not one out of a bottle…I am a special one”, given he had led FC Porto to the 2004 Champions League. Chelsea had dispensed with the services of Claudio Ranieri and looked to replace him with a dynamic young manager with a track record of success – in Mourinho they got their man. Added to their new manager, Chelsea also spent heavily in the close season – Petr Cech (Rennes), Arjen Robben (PSV), Paulo Ferreira (Porto), Mateja Kezman (PSV), Tiago (Benfica), Ricardo Carvalho (Porto) and Didier Drogba (Marseille) also arrived at Stamford Bridge. But it was an old face that won the first league game under the new manager, against Manchester United. Eidur Gudjohnsen took advantage of a tame challenge by United’s goalkeeper, Tim Howard to scramble the ball into the net after just 14 minutes. It wasn’t a classic start, but it was enough for Mourinho in his first game. By the end of the season, Chelsea were celebrating their second title and the Mourinho legend had been launched.

1997 – and the day it started to go right again. Di Matteo scores in the FA Cup final. Photo: PA

He did it

May 19, 2012: Chelsea 1 Bayern Munich 1 UEFA Champions League, Allianz Arena.
Ironically, it wasn’t the best Chelsea side of the Abramovich era that lifted the Holy Grail of the UEFA Champions League. Roberto Di Matteo had already won his place in Chelsea folklore with his Wembley goals, but he was the unlikely manager when the club finally won the trophy. Di Matteo was appointed manager after the Andres Vilas-Boas project was aborted in March 2012. Most people assumed he would only be a stop-gap, but with Chelsea’s league campaign going wrong, he had the task to rescue the season. Di Matteo stabilised the league form, eventually taking his side to sixth in the table. In the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea turned around a 1-3 deficit in the first leg against Napoli to win 5-4 on aggregate. Benfica were beaten in the quarter-finals before they pulled off a dramatic win against Barcelona, 3-2 on aggregate, despite losing skipper John Terry to a red card. At the same time, Chelsea won through to the FA Cup final, beating Tottenham 5-1 in the semi-finals. From being in poor shape early in 2012, Chelsea had the chance to win two major prizes. Liverpool were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup final before Chelsea travelled to Munich to face Bayern on their own ground in the UEFA Champions League final. Bayern were favourites and when they went a goal ahead in the 83rd minute, it looked as though Chelsea were beaten. But then, in the 88th minute, Drogba sent a powerful header past Manuel Neuer to level. In extra time, Bayern missed a penalty and by the end of 120 minutes, Chelsea now fancied their chances in the penalty shoot-out and it was Drogba who settled it, stroking the ball past Neuer to clinch the ultimate prize. Di Matteo, celebrating with his employee, Abramovich, could be heard shouting, “I did it…I did it.” But Di Matteo was not the man the Russian owner wanted in the long run. Chelsea made a mess of their Champions League group and were eliminated after losing 3-0 at Juventus. Di Matteo was sacked, just six months after claiming Chelsea’s greatest triumph.



One thought on “12 games that shaped a football club: Chelsea

  1. Might have had the triumphant come back FA cup third round 2-0 at half time deficit to triumphant 4-2 comeback 1997 although the Middlesbrough Wembley final was great. The Liverpool comeback is a very significant game for us Chelsea fans.

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