Oh I Wish It Could Be Christmas David Hay

 

December 27, 1976  Chelsea 2  Fulham 0

Christmas 1976 footage,  hitherto not so much missing as not known to exist as far as I was aware. I believe Chris Mears, son of Brian, Chelsea Chairman at the time of this game, may have unearthed this murky but invaluable & hugely appreciated 72 seconds of action. If so, top work Chris, & that mighty fine run from David Hay is preserved somewhere more tangible & reliable than my overloaded & increasingly unreliable memory bank. A looping header from  man mountain Micky Droy & a scruffy second from Kenny Swain ensured Chelsea the points, although I would love to know what Ray Wilkins said to Kenny after he allowed Gerry Peyton to palm away that absolute sitter of a chance at 0-0! A happy day in a happy season for the club & its fans.

I was originally intending to report back about my trip to Stamford Bridge for the recent home game against Everton, the first since I missed the 1-1 draw with Burnley, courtesy of an unwelcome encounter with sepsis. News of Matej Vydra’s equalizer for The Clarets that afternoon flashed up on my phone just as I left hospital, my self printed match ticket (bizarrely still incurring a £2 admin fee from the club, sort it out Chelsea) still pointlessly burning a hole in my coat pocket. I therefore hoped the Everton game would involve a jaunty, redemptive after match walk along the Kings Road, enjoying the Christmas lights having witnessed former manager Rafa Benitez & his heavily depleted new charges getting their chestnuts well & truly roasted on a Stamford Bridge open fire. It never happened – his team fought out a commendably dogged, spirited draw against a Chelsea team caught by a flurry of late, positive COVID tests which also left them missing plenty of bodies. Christmassy it was not, despite the presence, a few rows in front of me in the West Stand, of a jovial looking man, replete in full Santa outfit, requisite white hair & beard both present & correct. Good tidings of comfort & joy were thin on the ground, unity between rival fans only achieved once via communal distaste for Rafa, with successive, if raggedy, renditions of one of the more familiar chants deriding the current Everton coach ringing around the stadium briefly during the first half. Benitez has proved to be as little beloved by his new team’s followers as he was by Chelsea fans during his 2012-13 stint as interim coach at Stamford Bridge, & for the same reason, dumb remarks made during his time at Anfield. In more general terms it was the standard fare for Johnson’s Britain in 2021, all masks & Omicron &  being called a Chelsea rentboy by the more dimwitted amongst the understandably jovial Liverpudlians, buoyant at heading home with their hard earned, albeit rather scruffy point. I shall not speak of it again, but instead hark back to the spirit of Christmas past, notably the Boxing Day Bank Holiday fixture of 1976, when myself & most of the 55,003 crowd did stroll out of the same Fulham Road stadium at the final whistle with an appropriate yuletide spring in our steps.

Once upon a long ago professional football was played on Christmas Day itself, frequently with the home team travelling back on the same train as their opponents for the reverse fixture on Boxing Day. How very English. Sadly this quaint tradition ceased before my football watching days, during which it is inconcievable that the likes of Dennis Wise & Roy Keane would have jovially shared a can & a mince pie in a British Rail buffet carriage while preparing to kick lumps out of each other the following day, having only ceased doing the same a few hours earlier. There were some bonkers results back in more innocent days. On Christmas Day 1957 Chelsea beat Portsmouth 7-4 at Stamford Bridge.  Jimmy Greaves got 4. Not bad Jimmy Greaves was he? However, the next day Portsmouth took revenge to the tune of 3-0 at Fratton Park. The following year Chelsea won 3-0 against Blackburn at Ewood Park on the big day. The return fixture at the Bridge took place two days later this time. Blackburn won 2-0. Too much mulled wine & figgy pudding or just Chelsea, an erratic team in those days even by the club’s traditionally eccentric standards, being reliably unreliable? Before my time, as stated, but I would still plump for Option 2 here. By 1960 the Christmas Day game had disappeared but Chelsea played Man Utd at home on Christmas Eve & again at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, losing both matches, 2-1 & 6-0 respectively. If Dennis Wise had been around then you suspect those two results would have ensured NOBODY went near the little scamp in the buffet carriage, either to or from Manchester.

Much as wholesome sporting activity helps to alleviate the traditionally overwhelming national flatulence of Boxing Day, I have come to rather dread the fixtures on that day. Nothing spoils the Xmas atmos more than Chelsea slipping on a yuletide banana skin, & they have done so many times over the years. A half time 2-0 lead at home to West Ham in 1973 was promptly frittered away as The Hammers hit back with four second half goals, sounding the death knell for the Chelsea careers of the increasingly wayward Peter Osgood & Alan Hudson. Another 4-2 defeat, exactly 30 years later in a televised lunchtime kick off at The Valley, soured the cold turkey & pickled onions for all Blues fans, the rest of the nation watching on in glee as Alan Curbishley’s men bloodied the nose of the club now newly enriched by the roubles of Roman Abramovich. Three decades earlier there was a 3-1 defeat at Orient in 1975, & a 3-0 beating at Ipswich three years earlier, albeit two years after a Boxing Day fixture in 1971 against the same opponents, which had renewed the maverick reputation of both Christmas football & Chelsea as a club. Finding themselves without an available goalkeeper at the last minute, defender David Webb found himself donning the green shirt & gloves for the entire game, successfully keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory. Largely though, the victories have faded in the memory quicker than the defeats, although London derby wins at Highbury in 1974 & away on QPR’s monstrosity of a plastic pitch in 1982 were to be savoured, as was a double from the newly arrived Gianfranco Zola at Villa Park in 1996. I’m soon back moping over memories of a 4-1 drubbing at Elland Road in 1990 though, & also some anticlimatic 1-1 home draws in the 1990’s, Eddie Newton cancelling out an Ian Dowie goal to rescue a point against Southampton in 1992, & Frank Sinclair making a hash of a backpass to enable Michael Hughes to give Wimbledon a share of the spoils five years later. A man who we only ever saw smoking roll ups on the Stamfpord Bridge concourse, with something of the nautical cove about him, was still bemoaning Frank’s error before the next match. ‘Ruined my Christmas that geezer Sinclair’ he said in between drags. Living with the knowledge that one error by them can have such a detrimental impact on human morale during the festive season is awfully harsh on footballers, but Barnacle Bill did have a point. We all left that game feeling pretty flat. Wimbledon had also won at Chelsea on Boxing Day two seasons earlier, despite Vinnie Jones getting himself sent off, The Dons once again specializing in their favourite late twentieth century activity. Party pooping. Rotten buggers.

Over the years my friend Bill & I watched Chelsea together, between 1990 & 2004, he gave me many insights into his frequently unique world-view as  we made our way to & from Stamford Bridge, via  Belgravia & the Kings Road. One of his favourite theories was about death, an enticing concept for all but the hardiest of atheists (I almost am but spinelessly prefer to keep my options open just, you know, in case) that involved entering the Pearly gates, whereupon you would be able to request & gain access to filmed recordings concerning either unsolved mysteries occurring within your lifetime, or events that you simply wished to relive or missed at the time to your (hitherto) eternal regret. A sort of celestial, cinematic variant on Jim’ll Fix It though hopefully not with the same presenter, surely now resident at the darker end of Afterlife Street. The real truth behind the assassination of Kennedy perhaps, or, appropriately since The Plumber’s Arms was part of our walk, what fate  ultimately befell the errant Lord Lucan? Being a simple & frequently unimaginative soul, living through times when many football matches were not automatically filmed, I dreamed of revisiting certain incidents at fondly remembered games I had attended in bygone years. One in particular stood out, & involved my favourite Chelsea player at the time.

That second half David Hay run against Fulham during Christmas 1976.

David Hay

Alright, I know it’s seems laughably small beer compared to the potential of possibly unravelling mysteries of science & nature, or finding solutions to unsolved crimes or political intrigues. In my defence Bill wasn’t too adventurous with his planned request either. He wanted to see the elusive episode of Coronation Street during which Ernie Bishop got shot in Mike Baldwin’s knicker factory. In the intervening years I had frequently thought about those electric few seconds when Hay picked up the ball inside the Chelsea half & ,with pace & power, surged through a sea of white Fulham shirts & found himself inside the opposition penalty box with just Cottagers  keeper Gerry Peyton to beat. As he was my favourite player I  built up this moment to anyone I could bore on to about it for quite some time, & have often wondered if the pudding had been somewhat overegged by yours truly. Apart from the conclusion to David’s splendid 50+ yard gallop. I had to come clean about that. For whatever shade of glorious this rare David Hay foray into opposition territory truly deserved to be awarded, the plain, unvarnished truth is that having done the donkey work, presenting himself with a glorious chance to score, this scintillating piece of play culminated in a truly horrible, wayward left foot shot, skewed high & wide, way over Peyton’s crossbar & into the upper echelons of the densely populated Shed. For modern Chelsea fans I can only compare it to Kurt Zouma’s glorious, rampaging run in the extraordinary 4-4 Champions League draw against Ajax in 2019. That also ended  with a hysterically funny, wildly inaccurate shot ballooning into the crowd, but as with David Hay, what the hell? If defenders could regularly finish runs like that with an emphatic finish into the roof of the opposition net then they wouldn’t be defenders would they? On both occasions, 43 years apart, the two men produced moments of pure, wonderful theatre that lingered in the memory. In the case of Hay how accurate was the memory though?

I was 12 years old when David Hay signed from Celtic for £250,00 in the summer of 1974. Chelsea were selling stars rather than signing them by then so I was thrilled. He had played in the first European Cup Final I was allowed to stay up & watch, Celtic’s 2-1 defeat to Feyenoord in 1970. I had seen him in the Scotland line up at Wembley in 1973, my first international. By the time he arrived at Stamford Bridge he had 27 caps & had starred in their unbeaten World Cup campaign in Munich a few months earlier. As part of a serial winning Celtic team, under the management of the great Jock Stein, he had won everything worth winning in Scotland. Over & over & over. To my schoolboy self it appeared obvious that the recently departed Peter Osgood & Alan Hudson were taking the piss at the end of their Chelsea careers. A player like Hay may have lacked their charisma, flair & invention but he was a tough, dependable winner, a serious footballer who seemed a dream signing for the always serious minded Chelsea manager Dave Sexton. Unfortunately, things went wrong from the start. Following the World Cup Hay went on holiday to Cyprus just as a  military coup there was followed up by a Turkish invasion. Not an overly relaxing Mediterranean jaunt all things considered, ending with a late arrival home on a military plane.

David Hay in action on his ominously disappointing home debut against Carlisle United (picture from the programme for the 1974-5 league match against Stoke City)

The 1974-5 season started with the grand unveiling of the new East Stand, the white elephant that nearly destroyed the club & left it with creditors at the gate for the rest of the decade. The grand unveiling was none too grand anyway. Newly promoted Carlisle were the visitors, newly relegated too by a country mile come the end of the season, but victorious by two clear goals on the day. The injury problems that bedevilled Hay throughout his career soon came to the fore, Sexton was sacked  & Chelsea joined Carlisle in Division 2 at the end of the season. A cataract problem left Hay playing with double vision & by his own admission sometimes saw him kicking the wrong ball, which probably explains the horrendous miskick from six yards out I witnessed towards the end of the season during a woeful  0-1 home defeat against Manchester City.  He played in midfield that day, but was in central defence for the next game I saw him play, a home Division 2 defeat to WBA in late January 1976. ‘Still a disappointing enigma’ said The Sunday Express of Hay’s performance that day. ‘TWO ‘UNDRED AND FIFTY FAACCKKINNNG THOUSAND FOR THAT’ roared a exasperated fan in front of me during the game itself, less eloquently but with greater passion. It was a sad day all round on reflection, marking the late Ian Hutchinson’s last appearance in a Chelsea shirt &  incorporating a harrumph of scornful media disapproval at a number of Chelsea players donning gloves on a nippy winter’s afternoon, evidently proof to the many hat, muffler & glove wearing sceptics in the old, unwelcoming press box at Stamford Bridge that the team was a coterie of effete nancy boys. Different times, & not something any of these brave warriors would have said to the faces of Hay, the recklessly courageous Hutchinson, big Bill Garner or the redoubtable, cold blooded assassin Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris.

Stories began to emerge of a possible cut price return to Celtic for Hay around this time, not very convincingly refuted in the press by an Eddie McCreadie quote which was complimentary about the player but ambiguous enough to leave the door open to any approach from Parkhead. Cash strapped & half way up Division 2, the club might well have snatched the hands off anyone offering up to half what had been paid for him less than two years earlier. However, just as he appeared to  have lost the backing of sections within the Chelsea faithful, Hay began to show glimpses of the vintage Celtic & Scotland form he had displayed regularly such a relatively short time before. He missed the game at Oxford the week after the limp defeat to WBA, & was only on the bench for the following week’s FA Cup 5th Round tie against Third Division Crystal Palace. Palace already had rocked the football world by winning at Leeds in a previous round & won an eventful match, on & off the pitch. Chelsea fought back gamely from 2-0 down before being undone by a cheeky free kick by the brilliant Peter Taylor. Maverick, Fedora wearing genius/conman (delete as applicable to your reading of this remarkable man’s reputation for coaching brilliance set against a dismal managerial record) Malcolm Allison had a field day, goading the home supporters before the game & ostentatiously revelling in events during & after it. He had wasted many hundreds of thousands of Palace’s money on overpriced, underperforming players, getting them  relegated from two divisions in the process. Peter Taylor was not one of them though, & started as he meant to go on at Oxford in October 1973, two days after signing from Southend for £110,000, an astronomical fee for a lower division player then. I saw this debut, he was brilliant & scored Palace’s goal in a 1-1 draw. He bagged a couple in the FA Cup match at Chelsea & later became the first Division 3 player to  play for England, making his debut as a substitute, in a Home International against Wales. He duly scored a late winner. Later on his talent never quite blossomed as handsomely as widely anticipated, due to a familiar, double & lethal career killing cocktail during this era. Injuries & a transfer to Spurs. Defeat to Palace left most of the  54,407 crowd crushed, & there was some lively terrrace biffo during the game to set the media salivating, & sharpening their anti-Chelsea pens once again. You thought all that started with Ken Bates &/or Roman Abramovich? Think again! The one bright spot was the performance of David Hay, who entered the fray at 0-2 down & proceeed to play an energetic role in reversing the deficit, running aggressively from midfield with the ball at his feet in a manner that had been seen all too rarely in the blue of Chelsea. He returned to the team in central defence, earning plaudits from Brian Moore on The Big Match for both the cross for Steve Finnieston’s goal & his marshalling of Southampton’s danger man Mick Channon in a 1-1 draw. He also registered his first Chelsea goal in a 2-2 home match with Luton, a match also notable for fiery striker Bill Garner’s entertaining second half cameo in goal. He did join Graham Wilkins (a serial offender in this respect!) in the own goal roll of dishonour at Bolton, where their joint mishaps converted a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 defeat, but generally the 1975-6 ended with things looking up for Hay. Southampton, Mick Channon, Peter Osgood & all, were in even finer fettle, closing the curtains on the season with a shock 1-0 win over Tommy Docherty’s exciting young Man Utd in the FA Cup Final. They beat Palace at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final, Allison’s team, for all  his customary braggadocio, reverting to type & failing to walk it like he talked it, their normal MO under his frankly cataclysmic & absurdly overhyped leadership. There was a pleasing irony about this cup run, Palace’s high point in an otherwise dismal few seasons, coming to a close at Chelsea, even if most of us were not there to witness it in the flesh.

I had reversed the number 9 (for Peter Osgood) originally on my now undersized 1970 Chelsea shirt so it read 6, David Hay’s most common shirt number, on my brand  new 1974 replacement. Signs of a resurgence in his Chelsea career  filled me with an uncharacteristic boldness & I proceeded to write him the only fan letter I have ever written in my life. I gushed a bit about the cameo substitute appearance during the Palace cup tie but otherwise can recall nothing about its contents, written in my sprawling, largely indecipherable 13 year old hand, save for enclosing a self addressed envelope & requesting an autograph. A fortnight or so later, the sae  flopped back on to the doormat on home. It did not contain an autograph but a copy of that season’s fixture list & a cheap, badly folded black & white photo of the previous summer’s pre-season line up. Whether a club employee had intercepted the letter or David Hay had passed it on to them asking that they deal with it I do not know. In fairness they did well to cram it all into the tiny envelope. I was disappointed but not crushed, being well used by now to not getting my hopes up too far on anything where Chelsea were concerned. Showing unusual business acumen for those times, the club shop then situated on the left hand side of the forecourt, further up from ther ivy clad offices  as you made your way out of Stamford Bridge, started selling signed photos shortly after, & for the price of rather than more than a stamp I got the prized signature on a handsome glossy photo reproduced elsewhere in this piece. That definitely wouldn’t have fitted in the envelope so I guess we all won in the end.

The Christmas 1976 fixture against Fulham took place on the 27th December. Boxing Day itself fell on a Sunday that year, & despite a short, not overly popular flirtation a couple of years earlier, football on the Sabbath had not yet taken off in England. As a schoolboy living over 50 miles away I was reliant on the kindness of others to get me to Stamford Bridge & this was my first game of the season. My schoolfriend Nick Bradley & his dad got me to this one, & quite a few more later in the season. Unfortunately, while enjoying a fine run of form David Hay was injured again, caught in the eye with an elbow, I believe by Bristol Rovers’ David Staniforth during a 2-0 Chelsea win at Stamford Bridge in March. I’m dangerously going by memory here, & am not suggesting the elbow was in any way delierate, so apologies to David Staniforth if my fading powers of recollection has lead to him being named incorrectly. The resulting detached retina spelled the beginning of the end for David Hay’s career. Told the injury was serious & required a hospital stay, insult was added to injury when he had to inform non driving best mate Ron Harris, for whom he acted as training & matchday chauffeur, that he would have to make his own way home that day. Brave man! Chopper, benched for much of this season, at least got to take the place of his luckless pal, returning alongside Steve Wicks in central defence for the rest of the campaign. It was a triumphant return  for Ron as alongside fellow veterans Peter Bonetti & Charlie Cooke he helped steady the nerves of  his young colleagues during a sticky patch in April & on to a glorious & precious promotion alongside champions Wolves & Nottingham Forest.

The promotion was a triumph for manager Eddie McCreadie & his energetic, young & largely home grown team.  Hay, Charlie Cooke & John Phillips were the only players to make a league appearance that season who had ever played professionally elsewhere, although John Dempsey was a non-playing substitute on occasions & top scorer Steve Finnieston had played a few games on loan for Cardiff City a few years earlier. Of the other senior players, Harris, Peter Bonetti & Micky Droy had all played their entire league careers at Chelsea & Kenny Swain had come from Isthmian League Wycombe Wanderers. Former Southend striker Bill Garner sat out the season in the Reserves. All the others were recent graduates from Ken Shellito’s youth team & played with a refreshing spirit of togetherness reflecting their shared apprenticeships. David Hay had missed just one game, away at Blackburn, until the fateful Bristol Rovers match in March. He was a composed, calm presence alongside younger defensive colleagues Gary Locke, Steve Wicks & Graham Wilkins, & the team quickly established itself as a leading contender for promotion. He even grabbed a couple of goals, atoning for the headed own goal at Bolton the season before by scoring a neat header from a Steve Finnieston cross against the same opposition at Stamford Bridge in September. A few weeks later he scored again in a spirited 2-1 defeat at Highbury in a League Cup tie. Chelsea were riding high by Christmas, their previous home game before Fulham, a fortnight earlier, having witnessed a thrilling comeback from 1-3 down to grab a point against championship rivals Wolves, on a playing surface seemingly composed equally of sand & ice.

I couldn’t wait for the Fulham game. This was the season that George Best & Rodney Marsh briefly returned to England from NASL football (or should that be soccer? NO!!)  in the USA  & rolled up at Craven Cottage to add to the gaiety of Division 2 life, although by this point of the season Rodney was out of the team, presumably either injured or out of favour with new boss Bobby Campbell. I do recollect him making a pre-match appearance in the players’ tunnel in the obligatory sheepskin coat, the same venue as George Best’s more famous post-match spat with referee John Homewood, leading to an unwise flicking of the v’s at the latter & yet another punitive FA disciplinary hearing for the former. Never one for authority figures our George. Marsh’s loan spell ended shortly afterwards  & he returned to the warmth of Tampa Bay, out of favour Chelsea striker Teddy Maybank filling his boots in the Fulham forward line later in the season rather more impressively than Rodney had himself. Bobby Campbell was still a dozen years away from taking over the managerial reins from John Hollins at Chelsea, but less than a dozen days in as the new Fulham manager, having replaced Alec Stock, who had left the club on December 16th, little more than 18 months after taking the club to an FA Cup Final. Stock is  now immortalised as the inspiration behind Paul Whitehouse’s wonderful Ron Manager character in The Fast Show, based on Alec’s enjoyably mannered style in television interviews.

As I went to The Fulham match with Nick & his dad I have spent forever saying we were the spare three out of the crowd of 55,003. A couple of years ago, during my ill fated, missed by not one person at all stint on Twitter, I posted a picture of George Best & Graham Wilkins during the game, ushering in a host of happy memories & anecdotes from fans of both teams, & a repetitive thread that they had also been there with two other people & were the spare three! It now appears that there were 18,334 groups of three at the game with just one, lone, Billy No-Mates fan sauntering throught the turnstiles on their tod. Embrace it Billy, that’s been me many times. Just not on this occasion.

Inevitably, after 45 years my recollections of most of the game have vanished.  Micky Droy, a newly appointed club captain (with 20 year old Ray Wilkins remaining very much the on field  skipper) made a rare first team appearance alongside David Hay in central defence, in place of  the absent Steve Wicks. Compared to many of his team mates Droy was a veritable veteran. He was 25! Steve Wicks was out until February so big Micky had a little run in the team, & like George Best also managed to fall foul of the suits at the FA, receiving a £50 fine for a very obvious, televised hand gesture simulating the act of masturbation, aimed at Southampton striker Ted MacDougall towards the end of a 0-3 FA Cup 3rd Round Extra Time defeat in January. This crude behaviour may have upset the suits, but, in the midst of a disappointing defeat to the cup holders, proved a welcome diversion as a topic of conversation at school the following day, especially for Nick who was, as usual, present & correct at the game. If we could have raised £50 to pay Micky’s fine we would gladly have done so.

For Fulham a lifelong local boy & fan, 19 year old  Brian Greenaway, was picked by Campbell to make his first team debut in front of this huge Bank Holiday crowd. Their goalkeeper, Gerry Peyton, newly arrived from Burnley, also, like Campbell, eventually rolled up, albeit briefly, on the Stamford Bridge roster. Over 16 years after this game he spent a month on loan at Chelsea, coming on for the injured Dmitri Kharine during an abject 0-2 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in January 1993. Already a goal down when Gerry popped into view, the mood of Bill, my then partner in Chelsea watching crime, had grown ever more foul during this match, not helped by the presence of Chris Waddle in the Wednesday line up, one of his favourite footballing hate figures of the time. He never forgave Waddle for launching the first football into space rather than the West Germany net during England’s famous penalty shootout failure in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. ‘Don’t know how we was allowed back into the country that bastard, should have been tried for treason,’ was the balanced, reasoned response that inevitably fell from Bill’s lips whenever the now de-mulleted one turned up at the Bridge. In the interest of fairness, it must be said Waddle was blameless for the paucity of the Chelsea performance that day, but Bill’s day was capped off by a late second goal by Wednesday from their American international John Harkes. It was a neatly placed shot into the corner but didn’t seem particularly well struck. It still managed to elude a rather arthritic looking dive from the veteran Peyton & nestle into the Chelsea net. As a near 60 year old man, creaking at the hinges , I think of Gerry’s dive often these days whenever bending down to clean the shower. Apoplectic with rage at this final insult, Bill stood up from the cold concrete where we then parked our arses in the inaccurately named West Stand Benches area, & furiously threw his Today newspaper on to the ground. However, a section of this mercifully now defunct organ remained in his hand, which he proceeded to hurl aimlessly up into the sky, not unlike Waddle’s penalty a couple of years earlier, though Bill won’t thank me for the comparison. As it swirled ever onwards into the cold, grey, & yes, windy early evening air I became aware of stewards & policemen sharing my interest in its upward trajectory, perhaps wondering if ejection from the ground was justified for such behaviour, or perhaps finding the following of its journey preferable to watching any more of Chelsea’s desperate, stumbling, fumbling ineptitude on the day. Bill getting that angry always made me laugh, which often meant he got more angry. Which made me laugh even more. So thank you Gerry Peyton, proof perfect that even the briefest, least glorious Chelsea careers can still project some much needed light & humour into the darker tunnels of a long term fan’s experiences.

Gerry Peyton played nearly 600 league games in his career so was obviously no mug, & had announced himself to the world during the 1975 Christmas Bank Holiday season, making a series of impressive saves on Match Of The Day at Old Trafford when playing for Burnley. Until this year I had never given him credit for diverting Kenny Swain’s admittedly feeble close range shot around the post with the score at 0-0 in the Chelsea-Fulham game. I remembered it as a glaring miss only. I also had no memory of Kenny’s misery being compounded by receiving what appears to be an instant bollocking from his captain, the wonderful Ray Wilkins. Kenny Swain went on to win both the League Championship & European Cup with Aston Villa in the early 1980’s. He also scored a belter against Chelsea on my first ever trip to Villa Park in 1979, cancelling out a Tommy Langley opener. There was another familiar name on the scoresheet for Villa still to come though, their winner a neat & tidy finish past Peter Bonetti by, yes, the own goal specialist himself, take another bow Graham Wilkins! Graham, bless him, actually scored in the right net against Middlesbrough the following week.  Sadly I missed that footballing penny black moment. Regrets?  I’ve had a few. Graham Wilkins took some fearful stick from the Stamford Bridge crowd so it would have been nice to have been there for that one. I still feel slightly guilty about getting a cheap laugh at his expense during a Chelsea Fancast podcast in 2015, when presenter David Chidgey asked the panel if Ed Miliband had been Labour’s Andre Vilas-Boas, briefly & miserably Chelsea’s coach in the 2011-12 season. Via the chatroom, where I reside with the rest of the plebs, I suggested that was incorrect. Miliband was in fact Labour’s Graham Wilkins, operating to the left of a significantly more talented brother. A somewhat niche joke in truth. I met Graham Wilkins once. He was lovely, & let’s face it, not being as good a footballer as Ray Wilkins is hardly a crime. Not many people were.

As to the little jogs/amendments to my memories of the Chelsea-Fulham game? Well my Pearly Gates moment may not yet have arrived but YouTube footage of the game has, a miracle in itself to me as I had always laboured under the illusion that no such footage ever existed. I certainly never saw it at the time, although when Fulham took handsome revenge in the return fixture on Good Friday ITN News footage was definitely available. Sadly that has not yet resurfaced. The Christmas game highlights  appear at the top of the page here in all its murky glory, as much a testament to the dreadful floodlights at Chelsea in 1976 as decline in the film stock in the intervening years. A mere 72 seconds but enough to show Kenny Swain’s miss, Micky Droy’s header from a Graham Wilkins free kick for the Chelsea opener, & Swain redeeming himself with the late, welcome, nerve settling second goal. Oh, & that David Hay run……

Unlike the footage age has not withered its 10 second beauty, though my fondly imagined sea of Fulham shirts left in its wake is somewhat fanciful. It is a very long run, starting so deep in the Chelsea half the camera does not pick up its beginning. As remembered it was based on pace & power rather than a mazy dribble, David punting the ball a way ahead of himself around the halfway line through a seemingly deserted midfield area. Of the two players he visibly leaves trailing in his wake the first is the late Bobby Moore, then in his last season & some way past his best. Bobby was never blessed with great pace, in common with two more of the finest English defenders in my lifetime, fellow Barking boy John Terry & Arsenal’s Tony Adams. It is a testimony to the brilliance of all three that positioning, reading of the game & natural footballing ability allowed them to scale the heights they did. By 1976 time was taking its toll though, & deep into his 36th year, on a heavy pitch, deep into the second half of a derby game, the great man was clearly & understandably blowing out of his arse. Hay also shrugged off another Fulham player, who I think, murky footage notwithstanding, may have been Alan Slough. Seeing that run is still a thrill, however tired the opposition, & the finish is as dreadful as I remember, for which thank you too David Hay. Footballers failing to achieve perfection after a glimpse of brilliance is what keeps us coming back. Alan Slough was another redoubtable performer who notched up over 500 league appearances before ending his league career at Millwall in 1982. Like Bobby Moore, Peter Bonetti, Ian Britton & Ray Wilkins Alan is sadly no longer with us, having died earlier this year at the age of 73, apparently following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Gone but not forgotten all of them. Thanks for the memories.

I never saw David Hay play in the flesh again. He made a few appearances at the tail end of the 1977-78 season, & a few more at the start of the disastrous campaign the following year. By then the eye problems were accompanied by a serious knee injury & he retired at the age of 31. Danny Blanchflower offered him a coaching role in the youth set up, which he accepted & enjoyed, but he left abruptly after falling out with new boss Geoff Hurst following Blanchflower’s resignation. Managerial stints in Scotland & Norway followed, most memorably at his beloved Celtic, where he guided them to a famous Scottish Championship success in 1986 after a tense & dramatic last day of the season. He has a brief spell back in England assisting fellow Scot John Gorman at Swindon in the 1990’s, but his most popular appearance south of the border was at the 2017 Stamford Bridge reunion of former boss Eddie McCreadie, which featured a significantly large turnout of his 1977 promotion squad. I believe David was a charming & gracious guest then, & that this is not untypical of the man. In 1983 Celtic played Nottingham Forest in the EUFA Cup & former Blues colleague Kenny Swain, then one of Brian Clough’s team, was both touched & taken aback to be visited & welcomed warmly in the dressing room by the opposition manager. He eventually went blind in his right eye but continues to speak warmly of Chelsea & the way in which the club helped him deal with his many injury issues during his five year stay at Stamford Bridge.

Happy Christmas David Hay, indeed peace & goodwill to all men. And women, to quote the Michael Keaton era  Bruce Wayne in Batman Returns. Even Rafa? Yes, come on Chelsea & Everton fans, even Rafa. Be the better people. The COVID shit sandwich may linger on, but normal life, even under the latest onslaught, keeps threatening to break out. Arriving back in Oxford  after the Everton game the late bus home was, well, late. Opting for a 45 minute walk home over waiting in the cold at the bus stop, I saw three urban foxes separately foraging the streets  & alleyways of  East Oxford, a welcome glimpse of the world as we have always known it, as well as a clearly inebriated & quite unjustly self satisfied student clutching a stolen traffic cone to his thieving bosom. Scavengers all, but in an odd way it was the drunken student  I smiled at most. It is 2021 & students are STILL stealing traffic cones? Really? Lord help us. Like reliving David Hay’s run I am briefly back in 1976. Time to move on though students.

It’s a nice place for a short visit but we don’t want to be stuck there.