October 18th 1986 – Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1
A short collection of masterly midfield string pulling from Micky Hazard’s Chelsea days. The Spurs video has long been consigned to the bin. Warning – crowd celebrations may contains traces of celery.
I maintain that I have only let Chelsea down three times in nearly half a century. Not good but let’s put things into perspective. Peter betrayed Jesus three times in one night. They made him a saint.
My long exile from Stamford Bridge following the Abramovich takeover is not included in the list of dishonour. Chelsea didn’t need the likes of me by 2004. They don’t need me now. Whether the club liked to admit it or not things were different in the good old bad old days, & I fell short on three occasions. I’m at ease with the first aberration, which took place in December 1985, when as Chelsea played at Oxford in the Full Member’s Cup I was sat in a pub half a mile away trying to impress a woman. Even in younger, marginally prettier days, finding a winkle free member of the human race prepared to watch me quaff bottled Guinness, smoke Marlboros & talk drivel was not that common an occurrence. The Full Member’s Cup was also a joke tournament entered largely by clubs not good enough to win a proper competition. Chelsea won the match 4-1 & ultimately the trophy. My amorous misadventure? Suffice to say that Kerry Dixon scored three times more than I did that night.
Like Peter’s day of shame my other two failings also involved the crowing of a cockerel, mine from the markedly less biblical surroundings of White Hart Lane. Sainthood, sadly, will never be bestowed on me, but unlike poor old Peter at least I won’t be crucified upside down, merely left to live with my days of ignominy, one of which will undoubtedly haunt me to my grave. Not being canonised at least meant I avoided falling under the radar of great art works like the glorious Denial Of St Peter. Thankfully Caravaggio was not around to depict my worst aberration (reportedly he was browsing in Our Price instead) in the early months of 1990, when I wandered into my local HMV, strode purposefully into the Video section & purchased the artefact featured below.
I know, I know. It’s criminal conduct on a par with OJ Simpson popping round for a word with the ex, Gary Glitter hitting PC World with a faulty laptop, or the entire punditry career of Jermaine Jenas. Pleas for clemency will undoubtedly & deservedly fall on deaf ears. In my youth one of the local vicars would visit a local newsagent to buy pornography under the mistaken impression that if he wore a scarf to conceal his dog collar he would be preserving his anonymity as he shuffled to the counter, a trusty copy of Razzle discreetly tucked inside that day’s Times. This feeble effort would certainly not have fooled the big boss man upstairs. Neither did it fool Mr Hathaway, the aforementioned newsagent. You can’t fool yourself either, & had I donned a Phantom Of The Opera mask while wearing a Dusty Springfield beehive wig before entering HMV on that fateful day, the intent behind my visit remained the same. Needless to say they didn’t peddle hardcore pornography in HMV, but the burning sense of shame experienced when procuring a copy of Spurs – Greavsie’s Six Best Matches Of The ’80’s would not have been greater had I been caught snaffling up a copy of Cum Guzzlers 5 in a dank, darkened room in a Soho side street. Even less had it been Vol 4 which in fairness I understand to be something of a classic of the genre.
There is plenty of revisionism these days about the man whose recent departure from Stamford Bridge had inspired this act of apparent folly. Micky Hazard’s Twitter page nowadays is awash with a tireless (& to Chelsea fans tiresome) tidal wave of love towards the club he began & ended his professional career with, spats with supporters of rival clubs, usually Arsenal, punctuating the steady stream of gushing Tottenham love, the COYS (Come On You Spurs) acronym decorating his homepage as freely as lies from the lips of Boris Johnson. Micky is something of a Twitter tart these days, refreshingly happy to engage with fans in a way few football luminaries do. He even spared some time for me, as reproduced above, & despite this happening on a day of great pain for me (Spurs winning at Chelsea for the first time in 28 years) I remain rather chuffed he took the trouble. Sadly he can also be extremely thin skinned & in the aftermath of the infamous 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge that killed Spurs title hopes for good in 2016 he joined fellow Spurs loyalist (& ex Chelsea player of the 1980’s) Graham Roberts in a mass blocking spree of Blues fans goading them about Eden Hazard’s crucial & glorious equalizing goal. It had been a game of unparallelled ugliness & spite, the Twitter fallout for the next 48 hours picking away at its many scabs with relish. Some of those squabbling with Hazard doubtless viewed him quite differently in the 1980’s. For a couple of seasons this most gifted of midfield playmakers was the man most likely to alleviate the gloom descending on Stamford Bridge as the John Hollins/Ernie Walley coaching regime alienated the dressing room & slowly strangled the life out of all the advances made in the John Neal/Ian McNeill era preceding this unhappy time.
I followed the 2016 Twitter feuding at a distance & with some sadness, not at the generally high level of distress emanating from White Hart Lane, which was joyous to behold, but at the growing mutual bitterness between gloating Chelsea fans & Hazard. Roberts throwing his toys out of the pram I could live with. He had one great season playing a major role in getting us back to the top division in 1988-9 but had left under a cloud with the club later being investigated for illegal payments, one of which involved Roberts himself. The man currently betrays no affection for either Chelsea or its supporters. He had added some much needed steel & swagger in that promotion season, but I was always happy to view him as a footballing mercenary providing a welcome means to a desired end. He did a job and moved on but always came across as arrogant, boorish & unpleasant. I couldn’t care less which football team he waves his dick at these days. It was different with Micky Hazard. It always was different with Micky Hazard.
A few years ago I listened to a Spurs podcast. Normally a handjob from Edward Scissorhands would be a more enticing prospect but this was spying mission rather than betrayal as Micky Hazard was the guest. I was intrigued to hear how he would talk about Chelsea in the company of men routinely referring to my club & its supporters as ‘the scum’. Love you too darlings. He reminisced about scoring twice for The Blues on his first return to White Hart Lane a few weeks before this 1986 Manchester City game, & how he had felt he was scoring the goals in the wrong net & playing for the wrong team. Nonetheless Micky celebrated those two goals with relish. Pretending not to enjoy putting one over on your old club was not de rigueur in the 1980’s like it is now. He recalled Spurs boss Peter Shreeves frantically trying to buy him back very shortly after his £300,000 transfer to Stamford Bridge in September 1985. His love for Spurs was evident, he had originally joined them as a schoolboy from Sunderland & after Chelsea days he returned there from Swindon in 1993. The Spuds podcast boys he was talking to did not get the dirt they might have wished for though. His unbecoming 2016 Twitter meltdown aside Micky has always been steadfast in acknowledging the love & support he recieved from the Chelsea fans during his time in West London & to the possible chagrin of this audience (bar one interloper!) he reiterated that here. The only jarring note was a confession he had joined the North London parade celebrating Tottenham’s last FA Cup win in 1991 & allowing the podcast bozos to promote the lie that he was still a Chelsea player at the time. By 1991 Micky was at Swindon via a short stint at Portsmouth. Chelsea was already two moves away. The overall impression was that Micky had enjoyed playing for the Chelsea fans but had never fallen in love with the club. Chelsea was a sporadically unhappy place during the 1980’s so this is hardly a crime, & the fact remains that on a rabidly pro Spurs platform he declined to denigrate a hated rival to score cheap points with their devotees. This was pleasing. I retain a fondness to greater or lesser degrees for most Chelsea players of the last 50 years. Those that lose it have usually worked hard to mislay my affections. There are only a small, select band who fall into the category of special players, who for a combination of reasons have lifetime elite status, an indestructible hold over my heart & mind when assessing the football I’ve watched at Stamford Bridge. Micky Hazard remains one of those players, despite the fitful nature of his Chelsea career, the sublime moments of brilliance being frustratingly fleeting.
I needed him back then. Having missed so much of the Neal years to distance & poverty I was out of kilter with certain prevailing attitudes from many fellow fans, & an interloper on existing bonds formed between terrace & dressing room. Of course I loved Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon & Eddie Niedzwiecki too. Even if I did not buy into the adoration of David Speedie to the same extent I could still love the talent & desire, but only when it rose above the endemic arsiness, which now seemed to be undermining rather than enhancing his performances, as had previously been the norm. Fiery to the last, Speedie was always the boy who would have been kept well away from the paper guillotine at school. Returning to the match going fold I needed a player less firmly established to think of as my own.
Why Micky Hazard? What was it that led me to disgrace myself so publicly in HMV all those years ago? Well, he was hugely skilful, with great ball control & a sweet touch. Two footed, with a full range of unerringly precise short & long passes, along the ground or in the air, stroked, chipped, lofted, or driven. A top golfer requires a caddie to carry a full bag of top of the range clubs to achieve on fairway & green what Micky Hazard could conjure up on a football pitch with his left & right feet.He could shrug off opponents with a shimmy or a swivel & leave them for dead. He was capable of scoring great goals & would have scored far more in a better team. Pat Nevin astutely compares his passing ability to Cesc Fabregas, & he certainly shared a similar long ball radar to the Frenchman, famous for his seemingly telepathic penchant for finding Diego Costa from distance without even looking. An astonishing inch perfect forty yard lofted through ball for Kerry Dixon to latch on to against Coventry in October 1987 could have been a prototype for the immaculate 21st century Fabregas long ball model. Like Cesc he was less keen on tracking back, & liable to let an opponent leave him for dead if possession was lost, which in fairness usually was not that often, although for a small man he was always good for a few headed goal line clearances a season. At Spurs he had developed a reputation for lacking stamina & a liking for junk food had been mooted as the reason. Either ‘too many Mars Bars Hazard!’ or ‘too many burgers Hazard!’ was a frequent cry in response to any drop in standards from this delightful footballer, although one West Stand comedy visionary did once amend it to ‘too many kebabs Hazard!’ after rumours of a potential move to Olympiakos had been circulated in the press. Unlike some of the other talented recent Chelsea arrivals he had a certain style & charisma. On his day Gordon Durie was an accomplished & dynamic striker but there was scant evidence of an on pitch charm or personality that lent itself to hero worship as well as admiration. Hazard was a distinctive figure who loved to both bask in & acknowledge the loud affection he inspired in the crowd, with a mop of fair curly hair & a habit of not tucking in his shirt. This often obscured those tight, minimalist ’80’s shorts the team wore back then & sometimes left Micky’s shirt resembling a Kings Road Mary Quant ’60’s mini, our own Sandie Shaw tribute act. Sandie had better legs though. The tongue of his boots were generally raised in a way that led someone near me at one match to constantly compare them to floppy bunny rabbit ears. He wasn’t the tallest but he always stood out did Micky.
The Manchester City game in 1986 was my first glimpse of Micky Hazard & in many ways represents his entire Chelsea career in microcosm. I thought manager John Hollins needed to play him more regularly before the game. Afterwards knew it. I had been away from Stamford Bridge for too long but the timing of my return was inauspicious. In the 1983-4 Division 2 Championship season I was still at university, in my final year. The only game I saw, an early season 2-1 win over Cambridge United, was in some ways the last gasp of a previous era. The team had been radically transformed with excellent signings but the winning goal that day came from Clive Walker & Colin Lee remained up front alongside one of the new boys, one Kerry Dixon. This was Walker’s last goal at Chelsea before he returned with Sunderland 18 months later & scored twice against his old team in an infamous League Cup semi final. He broke his jaw shortly after the Cambridge match & Pat Nevin replaced him for good. David Speedie soon joined Kerry Dixon up front to forge a fractious but profitable partnership. Lee stayed at the club as a successfully converted full back. By the time my final exams loomed Chelsea had sealed promotion with a thumping 5-0 win over Leeds. Dirty Leeds. The championship was sealed with a last day win away at Grimsby. Despite being a manageable trip from Hull I still missed it, choosing to swot over my exams instead. While Kerry Dixon’s first half header was clinching a Div 2 title win my head was trying to get round the role of the Soviet Union in determining American foreign policy in China between 1941 & 1946. Reliving history while Chelsea were making it. Not the first or last person to have done that. One of the girls in my house went with her boyfriend who turned out to be the cousin of former Chelsea centre forward Trevor Aylott, a Bermondsey boy whose name was briefly in lights when he scored the winning goal in both of his first two first team appearances at Stamford Bridge. Sadly he never scored again & went off on a nomadic career journey including Barnsley, Luton Town, Birmingham City & Oxford. His cousin kindly brought me back a programme after the Grimsby game & informed me it was a terrible game. Not that anyone cared, Kerry’s header ensuring the blue half of a dangerously over crowded stadium went into the summer with permanent smiles on their faces.
I not only missed almost all the 1983-4 but the entire campaigns in the following two seasons. My northern tenure was followed by a lengthy spell on the dole in a record year for graduate unemployment. When I eventually started a job I had to work every Saturday for the best part of the first year. These were largely successful & quite exciting years for the club, marred by the Heysel tragedy in 1985 leading to a blanket five year ban for English clubs. A disastrous Easter in 1986 killed any lingering title hopes, but the trajectory for the club seemed very much on the up, & the 1985 signing of Micky Hazard from Spurs was a coup. He had played a major role in FA & EUFA Cup wins in 1982 & 1984 without ever truly nailing down a guaranteed starting place. Spurs had the most gifted English midfield player of the age in Glenn Hoddle, & the 1978 World Cup winning Argentinian duo Ossie Ardiles & Ricky Villa were also around for large parts of Micky’s first spell at the Lane. Exalted company but by 1985 Chelsea were able to swoop as the player became frustrated at being left on the bench & sought a move.
After a year even the most devout Chelsea fan would have forgiven Micky for wondering why he had bothered. For sentimental reasons I forked out the princely sum of £6 to sit in the West Stand for the Man City game. My first match in 1970 had been viewed from there. After a couple of years absence, witnessing the continuing decay of the stadium was a poignant moment. Chelsea had started the season badly & were without a home win in the league. The previous week had seen a 5-3 defeat at Upton Park & the mood around the club was gloomy. Rumours of behind the scene dissension were rife, & the departure of John Neal, architect of the on pitch revival that now seemed to have stalled, was imminent. John Hollins had taken over the management of the team after Neal stood down following ill health. Hollins had not felt the need to sound out his predecessor for advice. Neal now had a general manager role that increasingly seemed a merely ceremonial title, & grew increasingly resentful at being excluded from any active, constructive part in matters. He eventually went public in expressing his frustration & was sacked. A mere 12,990 turned up for the match on a suitably bleak afternoon, the paltry attendance reflecting both the poor start the team had made to the season & the generally straitened circumstances English football now found itself in following the Heysel disaster. Back in the 1970’s Rodney Marsh had left Man City to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies inthe NASL, lamenting that English football was now a grey game played by grey people on grey days. It seemed a harsh assessment in 1975 but acutely prescient now. Even Manchester City’s traditionally strong away presence was depleted.
Despite all this I was thrilled to be back. The view from the West Stand was pretty unbecoming to the impartial eye. There were weeds on the terraces, more obvious given the sparsely occupied status of the latter throughout much of the ground. Grotty refreshment kiosks still sold the standard fare of poor quality hot dogs, undrinkable coffee, weak tea & Wagon Wheels to tempt the rows of pasty English faces quickly finding themselves watching rank, sub standard, footballing fare. The giant East Stand, still only 12 years old, cast its giant shadow over the other side of the pitch, looking relatively grand & modern. It was completely out of keeping with the rest of the stadium, the folly of its construction a large part of the reason for the piss stained squalor of the other three sides of the ground. The money had run out in 1974 & next to nothing had been spent on the rest of the ground since. Behind The Shed remained the old buildings with ancient fading adverts still embossed to the brickwork. One was for Gordon’s Gin but my favourite bore the following pre-decimal legend – Blue Star Batteries £2 18/6. I get dewy eyed thinking about it to this day, doubtless unfathomable to the neutral but Chelsea fans of a certain vintage know. The nerves & excitement I felt on childhood visits to the Bridge had not abated. Deconstructed logically the surroundings I was returning to was little more than a glorified dump but love is blind. I was home again. The football for the first 60 minutes was abysmal, so bad that the reignition of my love affair with Chelsea football club might have stalled eternally then & there had I been a less hardy & masochistic soul. The much travelled Imre Varadi was making his debut for City & opened the scoring with a goal from an unlikely angle that nonetheless deceived the admirable Tony Godden in goal, probably helped by a deflection. Varadi unwittingly became a standard bearer for a lightening in terrace mood towards the end of the decade, as the ecstasy generation ushered in a mellower vibe & some City fans’ habit of mispronouncing Imre’s surname as Banana rather than Varadi (no, me neither) led to them turning up at matches with inflatable bananas. This craze caught on everywhere & gave the matchday ‘scarves & badges, wear your colours’ hookey merchandise sellers on the Fulham Road a fresh line to tag on the end of this mantra for the first time in decades. ‘Get your celery!’ For Chelsea’s plastic inflatable of choice was, of course, celery. I didn’t mind. The real stuff hurled around at some velocity could sting. Inflatable celery? Do your worst lads.
There were no inflatables to lighten the mood in 1986 however. Chelsea were woeful. At one point two of the bigger players in the team (John McNaught & Kerry Dixon I believe) went to head the ball at the same time, crashed into each other & ended up in undignified heaps on the floor. Left back Doug Rougvie was an undoubted character who tasted European glory under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, but too often appeared to have been plucked out of the crowd to make up the numbers during his Chelsea career, displaying the touch & timing of a house brick in the gob. At the time Channel 4 had issued a special discretion warning device on its screen while showing a series of oddball Friday night arthouse films usually failing to supply the anticipated acres of naked flesh. Or so I’ve been told. The warning was supplied by an omnipresent red triangle on the screen. One match report after this game suggested big Doug’s archetypally cumbersome & thuggish performance had been deserving of a red triangle all of its own. Midfielder Keith Jones was a focal point for crowd displeasure. Jones was a local boy & black. The fond desire to see home grown talent flourish at Stamford Bridge these days frequently emanates from a generation that forgets how little patience it showed in the days when local lads stood more chance of getting a game. The colour of Jones’ skin clearly didn’t help him either. His Chelsea career had started well but fell away against a consistent background of barracking from his own team’s followers. I won’t dignify them with the word fans. This was not the Man City we know now, not Aguerro, Silva, Mendy, Laporte & De Bruyne but David White, Andy May, Neil McNab, Kenny Clements & Mick McCarthy. Good honest pros but not world beaters who probably could not believe their luck at the shapeless, incoherent, apparently disunited rabble that formed the opposition line up for most of the game. The myopic romantic in me was thrilled to be back at Stamford Bridge but the realist could not avoid the unpalatable truth that this was a Chelsea team hurtling back towards mediocrity. It desperately needed some creativity, poise & flair, a player with vision who could pick a pass & alleviate the gloom of the dank, grimy, hungover London afternoon, mirroring the quality of the football with a precision that was sorely lacking in the home side’s game play.
It needed Micky Hazard.
For hunched up in the cramped home dugout was the one substitute allowed back then. Micky Hazard had escaped the mighty shadows of Ardiles, Villa & Hoddle only to find himself once again benched, only now at the expense of the markedly more prosaic talents of John McNaught, Keith Jones & Darren Wood, the latter once Malcolm Allison’s golden boy at Middlesbrough, rather less ensconced, putting it mildly, in the affections of the Chelsea faithful. Mercifully Hazard eventually replaced the lumpen McNaught halfway though the second half to dramatic effect. Within 10 minutes the game had been transformed, a one man rebuttal of the fetid hideousness of the previous hour. Split seconds are everything in football & the greater the quality of player the more time they appear to have, along with the ability to use it to optimal effect. Having previously huffed & puffed without remotely looking like breaking the City defensive door down Chelsea got back on level terms as Micky collected the ball for a free kick wide on the right hand side, played a short one two with Wood, ran at the opposition defence with purpose & hit a lovely 25 yard left foot drive which curved past the previously untested Perry Suckling in goal, a hint of prime Ian Botham outswing sending the ball past his right hand & into the far corner. For the first time all afternoon a player in Chelsea blue seemed to want the ball at his feet, regarding it as a friend & ally rather than a Semtex laden suspect device. For once the shot was taken on early & to stunning effect, the mood change it inspired instant & dramatic. Stamford Bridge was once again a place of wonder & mystery, the gloom & drizzle a mere meteorological irritant, the weeds, rust, piss, horse shit & Wagon Wheels mere details. The braindead sheep within the Stamford Bridge faithful were distracted from pursuing their alternately latent or explicit racism & the unfairly maligned Keith Jones finally caught a much deserved break. In one short, decisive moment of brilliance Micky Hazard had lifted a turgid mess of a game & elevated it into a different sphere. He wasn’t finished either. Picking up the ball in a similar position to the free kick he floated an enticing cross on to Kerry Dixon’s head on the left hand side of the box. Dixon steered the ball into the middle of the area where the wonderful John Bumstead ended his run into the box with a perfectly timed diving header. Poor Perry Suckling. Having previously had time to get measured for a new suit, eat a three course meal & complete the Times crossword he now found himself picking the ball out of the net for the second time in a matter of minutes. Three years later he played at Anfield for Crystal Palace & conceded nine so there were worse days ahead. Micky’s cameo had been brilliant & decisive & I left the ground with a spring in my step replacing the weary trudge that would have sufficed had the last twenty minutes of the game mirrored the first seventy. All was well & everyone lived happily ever after?
Mmm. Not quite. Life is not generally like that, & certainly not Chelsea life in the mid 1980’s. By Christmas the team were rooted at the bottom of the table. Micky appeared only sporadically, injury playing a role but weird team selection often proving the order of the day. In Kelvin Barker’s masterly Celery! Representing Chelsea In the 1980’s the author recounts a miserable 1-3 home defeat to Newcastle, the Geordies propping up the table themselves at the time, a defeat all the more infuriating for the likes of Hazard, David Speedie & Nigel Spackman putting Reading Reserves to the sword in a 9-2 rout on the same day. Colin Pates was apparently a preferable option to Hazard, Spackman & Bumstead in midfield at this time. Pates was a centre half. A very good one too. Perhaps playing him there might have stopped three goals being conceded at home to a poor outfit like Newcastle. Micky expressed his disquiet publicly, & Speedie appeared to give up the ghost around this time. Clearly neither were renewing their subscriptions to the Ernie Walley fan club. Hollins’ number two was widely cited as the unpopular enforcer of a style of play that favoured blood, sweat & tears over style, flair & imgination.
I started going to Stamford Bridge regularly again, negotiating my way through staff rotas wherever possible, but did not see Micky play again until February when Sheffield Wednesday, managed by the charmless Howard Wilkinson, graced us with their muscular presence. 12,403 hardy souls turned up this time. Bumstead, Speedie & Spackman had been returned to the first team fold though the latter was about to decamp to Anfield. A short while ago apparently only fit to play in the stiffs at Reading, now good enough to sign for Kenny Dalglish’s Double winners from the previous season. Madness. Only at Chelsea. The absent Kerry Dixon had also been transfer listed, Tony Godden wanted away & by now Hazard was also up for sale. Speedie’s attitude & general demeanour during this match reeked of dissatisfaction laced with extreme boredom, like a wayward teenager halfway through an especially dull detention. I remember one particularly feeble air shot at the ball that came closer to a kick up the arse of a Wednesday defender. Normally you might suspect that to have been the intention of the famously combative Scot but he didn’t even seem to be out for a tear up, & a David Speedie who doesn’t fancy a tear up has to be part of a demotivated & dispirited dressing room. He would gain his freedom at the end of the season, moving to newly crowned FA Cup winners Coventry City. As the West Stand had seen victories against Man City & QPR superstition led me there again. Once again Micky Hazard was substitute & there was an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Sheffield Wedneday favoured returning the ball all the way back to goalkeeper Martin Hodge whenever possible. Goalkeepers could still pick up backpasses in 1987 & the more negative teams would endlessly play the ball back to the keeper, who then spent an inordinate amount of time cradling the ball in his arms before releasing it. Not only did Hodge do this but he also then favoured pumping the ball high & seemingly aimlessly into the sky. Chelsea’s tactics were equally unimaginative. After 5-10 minutes of footballing garbage the die was cast. The person sat in front of me turned to his mate saying ‘this will be 0-0 for 70 minutes then we’ll bring Hazard on & win 2-0.’ Telepathy was subsequently married to deja vu as that, dear readers, is exactly what happened. Shortly after Micky’s introduction for Darren Wood he sent Gordon Durie away & the future White Hart Lane traitor won a penalty. Hazard grabbed the ball & gleefully struck it high into the net to Hodge’s right. The celebration was passionate & pointed. He was happy in the moment but clearly not generally satisfied with his Chelsea lot. He also started the move for the second goal, with a typically deft shimmy & swivel past a Wednesday midfield lunk & a neat pass that leads to a left side attack & cross that Lawrie Madden slid into his own goal. Afterwards he gave the press a field day with a fabulously indiscreet pop at the club hierarchy, fending off questions about his transfer listed status by facetiously suggesting the club would probably demand umpteen millions or a swap deal with Diego Maradona. Messrs Bates & Hollins ears must have been burning but just as it appeared Micky was doing the same with his boats the tide turned.
Hollins picked him to start against Oxford three days later, he scored another penalty early on & then ran the show completely as the U’s got drubbed 4-0. He further cemented his already warm relationship with the crowd, wallowing in the love & playing to the gallery with claps, waves & thumbs up at every opportunity, at one point conducting the crowd with his right hand as they sang his name, the ball at his feet, seamlessly controlling both the game & its audience simultaneously. There were very few others players interacting with the crowd during this largely undistinguished season. Sadly there were only 9,546 there that evening, those absent doubtless put off by the icily rainy midwinter weather & the for once unfounded fear that Darren Wood would be picked ahead of Hazard as usual. Oxford’s manager in those days was Maurice Evans, an eminently decent man who won the Milk Cup with Oxford, & who Chelsea fans have plenty to be thankful for due to his mentoring of Kerry Dixon during the blonde bomber’s Reading days. He lacked the PR licks of more media savvy managers & usually looked uncomfortable in post match interviews, partly because he was not a born raconteur & possibly because the top of his head was decorated with a strange hairstyle that resembled a well trampled on cow pat. ‘Hazard took the mick’ is the only quote I saw attributed to him after this game. Don’t give up the day job Maurice. The hair’s hilarious but leave the one liners to Cloughie. Having said that Oxford legend has it that he once stood mute while his assistant Ray Graydon angrily tore dressing room strips off the players after one dismal first half showing. In a pleasingly cliched manner there were tea cups flying around the room as the former Aston Villa winger, scorer of the winner in the 1975 League Cup Final, vented his spleen. Finally running out of steam he turned to the ever implacable Oxford boss saying ‘Maurice, is there anything you want to add?’ There was a slight, silent pause before Evans replied in the affirmative. ‘Yes. Would anyone like another cup of tea?’
If Hollins was applying a similar good cop bad cop approach via the dreaded Walley then it was significantly more heavy handed. Hazard stayed in the team for a while though, starring in a home win over West Ham & scoring a neat equalizer against Man Utd after some lovely interplay with Pat Nevin. There was also an impressive win at Forest. Only an abysmal performance in a 3-0 gubbing at Highfield Road queered the pitch as Chelsea rose to the heady heights of mid-table mediocrity. An Easter Monday home game against Southampton saw Ken Bates begin the Save The Bridge campaign as the club stepped up its battle to fend off property developers trying to evict them from their home of 82 years. Micky remained in a team heralding another apparent new dawn by featuring teenage goalkeeper Roger Freestone, who went on to be a long serving legend at his next club, Swansea. He was always a big fella & was later memorably if cruelly derided by the Chelsea Independent as Roger Forty-Freestone. I liked Roger but seemed to be in a minority. The Chelsea Independent comparing Micky Hazard with Charlie Fairhead from Casualty was less insulting, both sporting a generous mass of curly, fair hair back then. Charlie’s clipboard was omnipresent with him on the wards back then, along with a quizzical frown. Micky passed on the clipboard but can be forgiven for wearing a similar frown given the way the hierarchy at the club managed both his Chelsea career & the team’s fortunes generally. Most fans were keen on Micky though, & he ran out second to Pat Nevin in the supporter’s player of the year at the end of the season despite a paltry sixteen starts. We all hoped for better things for the 1987-8 season. Better had other plans sadly.
Micky played 28 times the following season but the behind scenes bickering spilled over on to the pitch even after John Hollins & Ernie Walley had departed. Bobby Campbell’s first game in charge saw a disjointed performance at home to Southampton, matchwinner Graham Baker relaying to the press just how much disunity the Chelsea players had displayed as they openly squabbled amongst themselves to opposition disbelief. Yet again it was a story of promise unfulfilled with a sad ending, Micky’s four & a half year stint at the Bridge encapsulated in one topsy turvy season which culminated absurdly in relegation via the play offs. It started well enough as Micky slid a tidy pass through to Kerry Dixon for the opening goal four minutes into the first match of the campaign, at home to our old friends Sheffield Wednesday. Early on in the second half he was substituted to a crescendo of boos, aimed not at him but Hollins. Generally the team made a decent start & Kerry Dixon was the main benificiary of Micky displaying his expansive range of passing. There was a stabbed left foot ball under pressure from a defender to set up the winner against Norwich. Canaries keeper Bryan Gunn’s agility was the only barrier to a second for Dixon after another unerringly accurate left foot Hazard pass. This was long range & lofted akin to a Seve Ballesteros short iron, landing a mere couple of feet in front of the big striker from 40 yards away. A few weeks later an almost gentle chipped ball was carressed on to Kerry’s head against Newcastle. At times like this it was baffling to think that both Hazard & Dixon were not appreciated more by Hollins, & the aforementioned Coventry goal was from the top drawer, Hazard turning a wrong footed Lloyd McGrath deep in the Chelsea half & this time the right foot set Dixon free with a 40 yard lofted pass of exquisite perfection, Steve Ogrizovich in the opposition goal left helpless as a left foot thunderbolt crashed into the top corner. Sadly Dixon was stretchered off shortly after & didn’t score again at home until a play off game against Blackburn the following May, by which point injury had also seen to it that Hazard’s season was over. Dixon ended his Chelsea career on 193 goals, nine short of Bobby Tambling’s club record at the time. A quick viewing of the video montage at the top of this page offers a persuasive argument that had Micky Hazard played the dozens of extra games in a Chelsea shirt he really should have then Kerry would have smashed that record quite comfortably.
1987-8 ended with relegation via the playoffs against Middlesborough, Micky standing behind the goal at The Shed cheering his team mates on alongside goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki & a fan in a wheelchair. Eddie’s season had been curtailed with a knee injury sustained at home to Oxford in October. He never played again & was a massive loss. Micky was injured during the May Day Bank Holiday 4-1 defeat at West Ham, ironically in a challenge with future Blues colleague Alan Dickens. This catastrophic result against fellow strugglers had left the team needing to win their last home match against Charlton to avoid the play offs. Chelsea’s away form was pathetic but there were only two home defeats that season, both by a single goal. It was the draws that proved costly at Stamford Bridge & did so again against Charlton, yet another 1-1 result. A flash of Hazard brilliance had seen off Derby a few weeks earlier, leaning back on a half cleared free kick & striking a gorgeous left shot past Peter Shilton. Micky then gloated to the press that he had also successfully picked out Daring Destiny as the Grand National winner that day. Pleasingly, Chelsea’s first league win since Halloween had also coincided with my birthday, cementing my belief in Micky Hazard as the Chelsea talisman of the age. He had also benefitted from a moment of creative brilliance by Pat Nevin to sidefoot home & rescue a point against Arsenal the week before. Despite wee Pat’s presence one moment of inspirational guile to overcome Charlton was not forthcoming & even three wins from four in the play offs failed to save the team from the dreaded drop. As a fan you recall individual moments that helped tip the scales the wrong way. One of them was the failure to overcome future Hazard employers Portsmouth at home in January. I’m not sure what was the bigger abomination that afternoon, the abysmal standard of football or the away team’s repulsive tight fit salmon pink shirts, striving to defy all sane prediction & contain the ample bellies of two of Pompey’s better players, Micky Quinn & former Chelsea playmaker Mike Fillery. Deep into the second half salvation had beckoned as Hazard broke through for a one on one with Alan Knight, rounding the veteran keeper only to sidefoot the ball tamely into the side netting as an empty net beckoned. The angle was tight but not so tight it should have foiled a player of such quality. This vied with Paul Miller’s flukey equalizer for the opposition in the Charlton game as the nearly moment that I most rued after the season had ended. Nearly moments in isolation fail to tell the whole tale though. This is a Chelsea team that not only blew a three goal half time lead at Oxford but can count themselves mighty fortunate to have escaped with a point. Away defeats were frequently comprehensive & betrayed the desperate absence of team spirit that always lend the lie to any public utterances of unity & commitment to the cause. Dressing room tittle tattle had continued to leak to the press, notably Nigel Clarke in the Daily Mirror, throughout the Hollins-Whalley era, emphasising the discontent that lay within its walls. Was Micky Hazard, always amenable in his dealings with the media, one of the sources of this gossip? It seems highly possible but however unhelpful & disruptive such leaks were, they surely served largely to illustrate a deeper malaise within the club. If there is a widespread tendency for employees to air grievances to a third party rather than directly to the management within any organization then there is an inherent failing within that organization. External whingeing was surely a symptom rather than a cause of the team’s plight.
There was clearly rather more than one player using the media in this way at the time. It was hardly surprising. The reliably magnificent turnout of travelling support for a 4th round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford were rewarded with a limp, pallid, poorly executed defensive display. An untroubled United won 2-0 at a canter & only a fine penalty save from Roger Freestone stopped the scoreline being worse. Back then clubs were allowed two outfield substitutes in the FA Cup. Instead of going for it at a ground where Chelsea frequently tended to thrive Hollins revealed his hand before kick off by naming Pat Nevin & Micky Hazard as his bench dwellers. The thousands of away fans would see their boys vainly try to do no more than cling on for a replay. The FA Cup mattered then, really mattered, so for the game but seemingly inferior Kevin McAllister to be preferred to Pat Nevin just seemed wilfully perverse. Eleven days earlier Chelsea had been trounced 4-0 at Swindon in the Simod Cup & Hollins ruefully remarked that this marked the first time both sets of supporters had sung Hollins Out in unison. Perhaps he thought that a low scoring defeat at Old Trafford would serve his future prospects better than another hammering but to the fans it looked like the white flag had been hoisted as soon as the team sheet had been pinned up. This view was supported by a quote from United’s new signing Steve Bruce, who confirmed the widespread delight in the opposition dressing room on hearing Hazard had been left out of the starting line up. If you have a player that opponents fear it is surely a potent weapon best employed. Instead Micky was left kicking his heels alongside Nevin on the sidelines. By the time they entered the fray the die was cast, the team too entrenched in negativity for their two most talented players to assist in turning the tide. The following week Chelsea entertained Man Utd in the league. Bruce scored his first United goal as Chelsea suffered their first home defeat of the season. Hazard was omitted again. Whether it was loyalty or plain obstinance on the part of Ken Bates (he had confidently asserted that Hollins would prove to be a managerial great) he appeared to twig much later than most that a change was needed. Despite the Swindon & Man U debacles however, it remained clear that this Holly was not going to go lightly. It would be the 4-4 draw at Oxford in March that signalled the end of the road. Having taken a late 4-3 lead at the Manor Ground John sank to his kness in double clenched fist gratitude at the emphatic Kerry Dixon finish, somewhat ironically as the striker loomed large on the list of players he was poised to shift out of the club. Oxford still had time to equalize & have another effort ruled out for offside before the game ended. By this time Ernie Walley had already been removed as coach by chairman Ken Bates, against the wishes of John Hollins, & replaced with Ken’s friend Bobby Campbell. From that moment the writing was surely on the wall for Hollins, a well liked man & a great Chelsea player seemingly undone by both his loyalty to Walley & penchant for bizarre team selection & gameplans. Holly may not have gone lightly but finally, mercifully, he & Walley were both out. Two drifters off to see the world. Or Rochdale, Swansea & Crawley in John’s case, who sadly never did attain the stature of managerial greatness still being predicted for him by Ken Bates even as he was showing him the door. Hollins was trying to sell both Dixon & Hazard at the time of his sacking, maddening & obtuse to the end. I was not sure what became of dear old Ernie, who may well have been as much of a fall guy as he was an ogre, but there would appear not to have been such a lot of world for him to see either, at least not in the football sense. Bangor City in 1992 is all Wikipedia report him rolling up at after his stint at the Bridge, though doubtless scouting opportunities would have come his way.
Nobody was shocked when Campbell was named as Hollins’ successor, but I can’t pretend I was thrilled either. The manner of his arrival, a cuckoo in the Hollins nest, seemed like a sneaky move on the part of Bates to force a resignation & shoehorn in a boss who had not set the Thames or Solent on fire, at Fulham & Portsmouth respectively, in previous management roles. He had been at Craven Cottage when George Best & Rodney Marsh were at Fulham in 1976 which at least suggested an aptitude for giving flair its head. Sadly, on closer inspection he had not been manager when they first rolled into town & Marsh disappeared from first team action swiftly once he did take over the reins. On Campbell succeeding Alec Stock the team prompty went three months without a win. Getting Portsmouth promoted as champions from the old Division 3 was the only real notable high prior to nudging Hollins out of the Stamford Bridge hot seat.
Micky started regularly under the new boss until the injury at West Ham but Bobby would ultimately prove to be yet another apparent advocate for brawn over brains. Like Hollins his treatment of Hazard devotees like me reminded me of my grandfather teasing our first dog with peanuts when I was small. He would get the dog, a crossbreed with a lame front left paw, to beg, offer up a peanut & then swiftly remove both his hand & the nut just as she went to claim her prize. This would happen several times before he would relent & allow her the treat. She had to beg 3-4 times per peanut. Hollins had once been interviewed by Neil Barnett on Chelsea Clubcall the day before a home game against Luton Town. He was asked about Luton’s impressive striking duo of Mick Harford & Mike Newell, sidestepping the question by saying he would rather talk about our Mike, Mike Hazard, instead. The interview finished without the name Hazard being mentioned again even once, & almost inevitably he was then completely missing from the lineup the following day. Campbell taunted us by expressing delight when it was announced that Micky was staying at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 1988, offering a gushing endorsement of Micky’s abilities in the process. Surely Division 2 would be a breeze & promotion a formality with a creative talent like that orchestrating the midfield? Yes & no it transpired. 99 points & 96 league goals tell their own story, & after a spluttering start there was a pleasing reverse of the previous season with only one league defeat occurring after October, a 2-0 defeat at Filbert Street on the awful day of the Hillsbrough disaster. Micky Hazard remained in absentia for most of the season however, making just four league appearances in February. He became largely a forgotten man, the only squad member not to be paraded in front of the fans during the end of season celebrations following the last game at home to Bradford City. Bobby was now keeping his peanuts firmly in his pocket & Micky’s Chelsea career seemed set to slip away unheralded & largely unnoticed. I am hopelessly loyal to my footballing favourites & was pretty despondant about the situation. I was delighted & relieved by Chelsea’s promotion charge, the thought of another lengthy stint outside the top flight was unbearable. Nevertheless it was an efficient rather than joyous brand of football, a definite case of ends justifying the means, & I missed the chance to enjoy the deft, classy midfield touches that had shone much of the light into the murky tunnels of the previous two seasons.
Prior to the 1988-9 season there were very few doubts circling in my mind that Micky Hazard was the victim rather than perpetrator of activity undermining his Stamford Bridge career, aside from the suspicion he may have possibly aided & abetted the spreading of anti Hollins/Walley intelligence through sympathetic media contacts. The pre-season signings of Graham Roberts & Peter Nicholas were a clear indicator of the new manager’s desire to add some defensive steel. Roberts had shared early ’80’s domestic & European cup glory at Spurs with Hazard before his move to Ibrox Park. He was reminded of this during his first Chelsea Clubcall interview on the day his transfer was announced but came across as less than pumped when questioned about the forthcoming reunion. ‘Yeah. Funny lad Micky,’ he said, with a tone & emphasis that suggested peculiar rather than ha ha. They work together as Spurs ambassadors these days. On this occasion though, on a club platform where banal platitudes about colleagues were the more usual order of the day, this hardly represented a resounding thumbs up for his past & future team mate.
Peculiar was also an appropriate description of an evening of reserve team football at Oxford United in mid-December 1988. Following a slow recovery from the injury at West Ham Micky had come no closer to a first team return than a solitary, non-playing appearance on the bench for a home match against Shrewsbury Town in November. Living a short walk away from the Manor Ground I braved the bracing midweek winter weather in the hope that the name Hazard would be among those entertaining the geeky, library ticket, footballing trainspotter types frequently found at Football Combination games in those days. Oddballs who believed themselves morally superior to other fans by mere virtue of attending second string affairs like this were commonplace. The sort of people who would advise me as a young autograph hunter to collect the signatures of the unknown players because they were the future, rather than out of favour first team players who represented the past. Taking this advice might lead you to miss out on Charlie George for someone who might be struggling to get a game at Enfield in 6 months time but they always knew best these weirdos, shaking their heads sorrowfully as excitable ten year olds ignored their supposedly sage advice. Fifteen years earlier I would have been happily seeking Chelsea signatures for this game, as Kevin Hitchcock, John Bumstead, Colin West &, yes, Micky Hazard, took their places in a line up facing a decent U’s team including a teenager who would become a celebrated part of footballing folklore in Oxford, rather less feted elsewhere, especially in East London & Wiltshire. Step forward Joey Beauchamp. The weirdos already loved him & for once they were right, he was the future. Sort of. Manager Bobby Campbell ominously chose to grace the Chelsea dugout. Despite the foul weather & even more foul jade green away strip, mercifully now abandoned by the first team I stood near the player’s tunnel at the Beech Road awaiting a bird’s eye view of the forthcoming Hazard masterclass. In vain. Oxford’s former Spurs striker David Leworthy scored the only goal of an ill tempered game, an ill temper seemingly largely inspired by one man. Micky Hazard. Struggling to recover from his ankle problem & doubtless frustrated at the direction his career was heading at this point, he cut a simultaneously angry & depressed figure. Four years earlier he had been playing a leading role in Spurs EUFA Cup Final win at White Hart Lane. Now he could be heard in front of a small Manor Ground crowd snapping at fellow Division 2 reserve team mates. An earnest, rather gauche young full back fell foul of his displeasure at one point as a move broke down & a futile attempt at explanation fell on stony Hazard ground. ‘Micky! Micky! Micky’ the full back implored like a spurned lover. ‘I’m not fucking interested, just give me the fucking ball’ was the less than amicable response. Further debate discouraged, the brash young defender slunk back to his defensive position. Whatever did happen to Graeme Le Saux? Conversations like that are naturally ten a penny on football pitches, just usually lost in the crowd. This audience could hear the exchanges & began to revel in Hazard’s ill temper. In the second half, clearly rattled, he eventually scythed down an opposition player in the centre circle & was sent off. Some sad freaks ran towards the tunnel to goad Micky as he trudged off, waving & gesticulating as they indulged in the oh so English pursuit of revelling in the sight of someone better than them being dragged down to their pitiful level. Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel as the great poet Alexander Pope would doubtless have said if he had been watching alongside me on the Beech Road terrace instead of being dead for the past 200 years. Even a butterfly as spectacularly mardy as our Micky was that evening. I got into an undignified spat with two smartarses as they tut tutted away in the most irritating & sanctimonious fashion imaginable. It was a frankly ludicrous effort to justify Micky’s behaviour, I was simultaneously furious for & with him. Rowing with rival fans at a reserve game is about as uncool as it gets. How low we were all falling by this point! The challenge was entirely untypical of Micky Hazard’s standard footballing template but utterly representative of the toxicity that had burned off him all evening. One onlooker looked less than impressed. Stood on the touchline, Bobby Campbell’s face was a picture. Micky’s only first team action for the rest of the season was as short term replacement for the injured Clive Wilson. Fine player Clive Wilson but no Micky Hazard. Suspension for the red card was not the real punishment. 25 games in the reserves that season was. In mitigation though, he did speak to the Daily Star at one point ( I suppose someone has to) openly acknowledging his poor behaviour at Oxford in injuring a fellow professional & expressing despair at his lack of first team action. The piece implied he was near suicidal. I hoped this was a gross distortion. It was the Daily Star after all. Whatever the future held it seemed destined to be played out away from Stamford Bridge.
As things happened, in a manner entirely typical of the stop/start nature of the previous four years, the late summer & autumn of 1989 brought us an all too brief but hugely enjoyable Indian summer chapter for the Hazard at Chelsea story. Returning to the top flight after a year long hiccup, the unnecessary long Division 2 mystery tour that Hollins built, the season started well. Four games in though, a 3-0 defeat at Charlton ushered in both the standard Chelsea reality check & the cavalry. If you can have a horseless, one man, Sunderland born, 5 foot 7 inch cavalry, which on reflection you can’t. No matter, Micky was back, greeted with predictable warmth from the Stamford Bridge faithful for a 2-2 draw with Brian Cough’s reliably competitive Nottingham Forest team. A la Graham Roberts the year before team mate Peter Nicholas was rather less effusive when questioned about the return of my midfield messiah. ‘Yeah, well, the crowd love Micky….’ was the airy gist of it in an ITV inteview that evening (Match Of The Day was off air at the time) on their highlights programme. ‘But I/we don’t’ or ‘but they don’t love me, why?’ seemed to be the subtext of this apparently snide & sour observation. Once again there is a lot of reading between the lines here, but it was hardly a rallying war cry endorsing the return to the fold of a man whose abilities vastly dwarfed those of the interviewee. Peter Nicholas was what Eric Cantona once unfairly derided Didier Deschamp as, a water carrier, there to win the ball & relinquish it to somebody more gifted as soon as possible. An important role that actually should not be belittled, but if footballers were drugs nobody would ever have got addicted to Peter Nicholas. Were they foodstuffs he would be a brussel sprout or swede, a winter hardy cropper representing a winter hardy crop. Worthy & reputedly good for you but oh so very dull. Defensive midfield may not be a glamorous role but it can also delight. Think Mikel in Munich. Think Makelele & Kante. Perfectly timed interceptions & tackles. Crisp & excellent close passes. Impressively coordinated speed of thought & movement. Nicholas clearly did a good job for Chelsea in the promotion season but all I can really remember is one paced movement & ball distribution, allied to lots of pointing & shouting & some calculated foul play. He did get booed on occasions. Not by me, I have never booed a Chelsea player in my life, but after this interview no tears were shed when others gave him the bird. A typically pathetic League Cup exit at lowly Scarborough aside, all was well for a while & Micky held down a regular place as the team lost only one of the next ten league games following the Forest game. This included a spectacular 4-1 win at Spurs & a 4-0 home win over Millwall. Following a Hazard inspired 1-0 win at Everton in November goalscorer Steve Clarke lavished praise on his colleague to the press as Chelsea briefly went to the top of the table. They then slipped to fourth after consecutive draws, one of which was at Old Trafford, where Dixon was denied a late winner by a last ditch Steve Bruce goalline block following yet another precise Hazard through ball. Three points were denied against a Matt Le Tissier inspired Southampton courtesy of a brilliant Tim Flowers save from a late Hazard volley after a frenetic second half comeback from two goals down. Peter Nicholas scored one of them, proving he did hobble over the halfway line occasionally, slotting home after a goalmouth scramble as two fans behind me were noisily fighting over whether or not he was shit! All looked well going into December. Sadly Winter was coming. With a vengeance.
Were I a believer it would be tempting to believe the gods were dabbling in a spot of divine intervention to prevent me making the home game against Wimbledon on Dec 2, 1989, Micky’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt at Stamford Bridge. A heavy mist descended from early morning onwards although sadly it was not heavy enough to obscure the game itself. The traffic conditions entering London were horrendous & eventually I had to beg to be let off the coach in the middle of a sizeable tailback. The driver would not be allowed to do this any more. It would have been a blessing if he hadn’t this time. Having sampled the delights of Chiswick & found my way to the nearby station I arrived at Stamford Bridge just in time to take my seat & see the murky but unmistakable figure of Kerry Dixon fire Chelsea into an early lead. There were to be six more goals. Unfortunately five of them were scored by Wimbledon, two of them for a man who would be lining up for Chelsea eight months later. Signing players who perform well against Chelsea has long been a popular ruse & frequently a recipe for disaster (see Fleck, Robert & Sutton, Chris) but regardless of his public enemy no.1 status elsewhere I think we can say Dennis Wise did okay in a blue shirt. One of Wisey’s goals was a header, as was one of the two scored by the equally vertically challenged Terry Gibson. Goalkeeper Dave Beasant took the visit of old friends a little too far by unfathomably fumbling a harmeless looking high ball & allowing a grinning & incredulous Alan Cork to wheel away in triumph having capitalized on such baffling incompetence. In fairness big Dave did make up for it with a point saving display of brilliance at Hillsborough the following month. Wimbledon were often maligned but they were great on the day, spreading the ball out wide at every opportunity & crossing accurately into dangerous areas that troubled leaden footed Blues defenders all afternoon. With a bit more luck at the other end, & minus Beasant’s howler, it could easily have finished 4-4 on another day but the suspicion that Chelsea had hitherto been (once again) flattering to deceive, had been laid bare for all to see. The following week saw a 4-2 reverse at Loftus Road. The wheels off, heads were bound to roll. Predictably the visit of Liverpool saw Micky Hazard bombed out of the squad completely by Campbell. He never played for the club again. Liverpool won at a canter, another 5-2 zipping though the Scousers could have doubled their goal tally easily had they chosen to break sweat. That team change worked well then Bobby. I seethed throughout the game & for the first time ever at a Chelsea match didn’t even celebrate a home goal, Gordon Durie’s thunderous free kick, which briefly raised hopes after Liverpool had scored twice in the opening five minutes. The fuming subsided, but only to make way for an extended sulk. Another comprehensive three goal defeat took place when high flying Aston Villa came to town on Boxing Day. There was the requisite flirtation with FA Cup disaster at the hands of lower division opposition in early January where a late Steve Clarke equalizer spared our blushes against Crewe Alexander. It proved a short lived reprieve however, as the team capitulated in insipid fashion to Bristol City at Ashton Gate in front of a hostile home crowd in the next round.
A couple of days after the Crewe game, a week into the new decade, Micky Hazard had finally been sold to Portsmouth for a modest £100,000, scoring on a winning Pompey debut away at Stoke the following weekend. Chelsea were at home to Charlton the following weekend but this marked my third betrayal as I ducked it to travel to Fratton Park for Micky’s Portsmouth home debut, a comfortable home win against Bradford City. Another former Chelsea Micky, Mr Fillery, opened the scoring with a neat header, looking less constrained in a home blue shirt after the salmon pink abomination a couple of seasons earlier. Chelsea won too, but still in high dudgeon I missed a few home games immediately after the Hazard transfer, which was highly unusual in the long period between the Man City game in ’86 & me eventually giving up my season ticket in 2004. A bald appraisal of the stats question my judgement. Chelsea slowly got back on course for the rest of the season, finishing in fifth place & even winning at Highbury for the first time since 1974. Having taken over the reins too late to take much blame for the 1988 relegation, Bobby Campbell had followed up a runaway promotion season by securing the club’s highest league placing since 1970. They also won the ZDS Trophy at Wembley, though I missed that for idealistic reasons rather than as part of my prolonged strop, adamant that Wembley visits should be saved for a trophy that really mattered. Plenty enjoyed the day out & the win, as they had the Full Members victory in 1986. For me it was like visiting the National Gallery to view a Rembrandt & finding it had been replaced with one of those pictures of large, sad eyed Sicilian children that used to be sold upstairs in Boots when I was a boy. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, & I didn’t want to dilute the pleasure of that experience when, IF, it ever came. I got that right at least.
It may have seemed ungrateful but I’m not sure my slightly lukewarm response to Bobby Campbell lifting the club to relatively heady heights was entirely unmerited either. It was great not to be permanently looking over our shoulders at a looming relegation battle but Kerry Dixon’s last 20 goal season, capped on the last day of the season with a fabulous perfect hat trick at Millwall, covered a multitude of sins. Flair & invention took a back seat to a direct, muscular approach which suited the style of the English game at the time. Micky Hazard was not the only player to fall foul of Campbell’s preferences. Alan Dickens also fell by the wayside after Christmas & rarely featured again before the manager was eventually shunted upstairs at the end of the 1990-91 season. Dickens ended up dropping down the divisions at Brentford & Colchester where the more subtle elements of his talent, once so evident at Upton Park, were even more laid to waste. My last memory of him is seeing him warm up on the touchline at Griffin Park in 1993 with another ex-Blue, striker Joe Allon, both substitutes & thus forced to watch a truly dreadful game in freezing cold weather against Peterborough. Unlike the rest of us they were at least spared the indignity of having to pay to get in. He ended up drifting out of the game far too early & joined Micky Hazard in learning the knowledge & becoming a cabbie. In his autobiography Dennis Wise makes clear his lack of enthusisam for the managerial abilities of Bobby Campbell & recalls Dickens being berated & belittled by the boss in training. Coming from a key member of the famously brutal & unsympathetic Crazy Gang dressing room at Wimbledon it must have been quite some abuse for Wisey’s eyebrows to have been raised. It also begs the question why he was signed by Campbell in the first place when Wise & Andy Townsend, both signed in the summer of 1990, were much more suited to the physical, blunderbuss type of football the manager clearly favoured. Like Micky Hazard his Chelsea career may have borne greater fruit had it begun a few years later under Glen Hoddle. By then English football was recalibrating in the wake of the Taylor Report, the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the inception of the Premier League & the arrival of scores of overseas players lending their silky skills to supplement the frenzied pace & muscularity of the domestic game.
The mountain may have failed to come to Mohammed but Micky managed to hook up with Hoddle anyway, at Swindon, having originally arrived at the County Ground in 1990 courtesy of another Spurs compatriot, then manager Ossie Ardiles. The Pompey honeymoon period had been brutally short & Micky never played there again after being substituted at half time during a home match against Wolves. His mojo swiftly returned under Ardiles & continued to flourish under player manager Hoddle despite him strongly challenging the latter’s tactical briefing in a training session during a tv documentary. By now he was a senior professional & clearly never backwards in coming forward with his opinions anyway. He also appeared to be right! After a thrilling 4-3 play off victory over Leicester Premier League status was finally achieved, helping to lay the ghost of the promotion denied to them a few years earlier due to financial irregularities. Hoddle was swiftly poached by Ken Bates as an on & off pitch reconstruction of the club began at Stamford Bridge. Ardiles had vamoosed to take the Spurs job & somewhat incestuously lured Micky back to White Hart Lane during the 1993-4 season, where he stayed until hanging up his boots in 1995. I would have loved to have seen him in a Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit or Carlo Ancelotti Chelsea team. As Pat Nevin says he would have been better suited to modern football in many ways, & the vastly superior playing surfaces, not least at Chelsea, would definitely have been to his liking. He came back a couple of times to play at Stamford Bridge, acknowledging the polite ripples of applause that came his way rather than the universal acclamations of love that used to greet him. Both games were low key, the first a 1991 ZDS tie against Swindon settled by a last minute header from Vinnie Jones. Micky looked crestfallen, standing at the goalpost as the ball flew in. Not many shared his dismay, the game had been poor & it was a cold night that was unlikely to be improved by the extra time that loomed before Jones put the rest of us out of our misery. The other appearance was in Kerry Dixon’s 1995 testimonial, another cold night & low attendance, where he appeared alongside Jason Cundy & a collection of young colleagues in an otherwise star free makeshift Spurs eleven. Both he & Dixon deserved better for a last Stamford Bridge hurrah.
Some while after Micky Hazard left for Portsmouth an interview in the Chelsea club newspaper with Steve Clarke appeared. His talent was acknowledged but the pay off was the last line of the quote saying that the move to Fratton Park had been the right move for both Micky & the club, once again a colleague appearing to hint at my favourite player of the era being a possibly divisive & disruptive dressing room presence. Maybe the genial, media friendly Hazard presence displayed in public masked another side, perhaps nearer the one showing itself at the reserve game at Oxford. Maybe. No fully rounded personality is ever depicted via TV, radio or print media, it can only ever be a snapshot. There are plenty of fakes who come over as likeable for the cameras when fans or those within the game tell a different tale. I don’t believe this to be true in this case as Micky always seems to have time for supporters, & I recall seeing him happily chatting to people on the concourse at Stamford Bridge back in the day. Given the often farcical way the club operated in the 1980’s I am not inclined to be too quick to condemn players who expressed their disquiet, & given his immense if mercurial talent would argue that this should have been better utilised & managed irrespective of whether or not the player was a difficult character. Furthermore, if he was that much of a problem, & I have no concrete evidence he was, why did it take more than four years to get him off the books? He was never short of suitors.
I missed Micky Hazard enormously when he went, hence the regrettable video purchase. Nowadays I could take sneaky YouTube peeks of his Spurs days to my heart’s content, but available footage of your departed favourites was thin on the ground in 1990 unless you could afford £15 a time for poor quality VHS full match highlights tapes. I had some of those but there were only so many hours of watching endless clips of Darren Wood taking throw ins a man could take. Those oddball feral Willian haters on Twitter today really do not know how lucky they are. Earlier this year his performances against Hull City in the FA Cup, & Barcelona in the Champion’s League offered up enough smatterings of brilliance on their own to have kept all but the most ungrateful, immature & impatient Stamford Bridge regular happy for weeks in the late 1980’s. I wanted much more than we got of Micky Hazard’s guile & invention, but when Chelsea did escape from the clutches of mediocrity, as in the ’86 Man City game, it was frequently down to the quick thinking & feet of this hugely underused, enigmatic & beguiling footballer. He’s definitely Spurs through & through again these days but ignorance was bliss three decades ago regarding that grim but now unavoidable fact. He may or may not have been a pain in the arse to manage or play with on occasions. Ultimately I’m happy to judge him on the enormous pleasure he gave me wearing the blue of Chelsea.
And for me there definitely was only one Micky Hazard.