THE BBC recently published a story in 2021 highlighting how rarely some clubs’ iconic line-ups actually played together. It showed that football carries many myths in its rich heritage, but also confirmed that our perception of the component parts of great teams rarely takes into consideration injuries, suspensions, loss of form or just being “out of favour”.
On the other hand, 50 years ago, football was less of a squad game, therefore it was arguably far easier to name a “regular” side. It helped that collectors cards, and there were a lot of them, fuelled the misconception that most clubs had relatively static teams. It was easy to name the best elevens of most top division outfits – or at least how we saw them.
The Leeds United team of the 1970s supposedly had an XI that never altered. However, what we consider to be Leeds’ regular side of the Don Revie era – Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Terry Cooper, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, Johnny Giles and Eddie Gray – only lined-up once. It is hard to believe, but apparently true. This is all the more surprising given Leeds had a relatively small squad compared to some clubs, but they also had a player who could fill-in across many positions, Paul Madeley.
Similarly, Chelsea’s “classic” team from 1969-70, which was denied its big day in the FA Cup final due to the injury of Alan Hudson, also had a limited lifespan – just nine games. That team comprised: Peter Bonetti, David Webb, Eddie McCreadie, John Hollins, John Dempsey, Ron Harris, Charlie Cooke, Alan Hudson, Peter Osgood, Ian Hutchinson and Peter Houseman.
Chelsea had a few decent players in reserve such as John Boyle, Tommy Baldwin, Alan Birchenall, Bobby Tambling, Marvin Hinton and Stewart Houston, so it is likely that manager Dave Sexton stumbled across this side after trying several permutations and overcoming a lengthy injury list.
This combination had its first game on December 6, 1969 at Old Trafford, a 2-0 win for the Blues. Two goals from Ian Hutchinson against opposition that included George Best and Bobby Charlton underlined Chelsea’s quality and moved some reporters to declare that Dave Sexton’s side could make a bid for the league title – “What price these Southern Softies now?” asked Harry Miller of the Daily Mirror.
The team won eight of its nine games, their only defeat coming at Wolves on December 13. The last time they lined-up was the FA Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane on March 14 1970 when Chelsea secured their place at Wembley with a 5-1 win against Watford.
After that success, the team started to encounter problems: Alan Hudson missed the last league games and the two FA Cup final meetings with Leeds; Ian Hutchinson had a series of injuries that eventually brought his career to an end in 1976; Eddie McCreadie had a troublesome stomach injury; Peter Bonetti was ill with pneumonia; and Peter Osgood endured a lengthy suspension in 1971. New players like Keith Weller, Chris Garland and Steve Kember were added to the squad over the two years.
In 1970, Brazil won the World Cup with a team that became household names across the globe: Felix, Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Pele and Tostao. This team appeared as one body just four times, three occasions during the World Cup and once more on September 30, 1970. This is not totally surprising as World Cup teams normally disperse once a tournament is over, the competition is invariably the end of a build-up process rather than the start of something.
England, at Mexico 1970, looked to have a team to compare with their 1966 World Cup winners. Sir Alf Ramsey named his squad and gave the 1 to 11 shirts to: Gordon Banks, Keith Newton, Terry Cooper, Alan Muller, Brian Labone, Bobby Moore, Francis Lee, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. Ramsey had fielded this team for the first time on May 10 1969 when England beat Scotland 4-1 in one of their best post-1966 performances.
On June 1 1969 this group of players faced Mexico in the Azteca Stadium and drew 0-0 in a pre-World Cup tour game. By the summer of 1970, it was widely regarded that this team was Ramsey’s best selection but he could only play this side twice in the actual World Cup, the last game being the ill-fated Quarter Final against West Germany. The team played together six times and lost just once and kept four clean sheets. The German side that beat England in Leon, incidentally, was never fielded again. Not one of the England team would see a World Cup beyond 1970 – it wasn’t until 1982 that they qualified for the finals again. It’s unlikely anyone would describe some of the teams that wore the white shirt in the intervening years as “iconic”.