28/09/1974 – Spurs 1 Middlesbrough 2
Rodney Bewes died last week. This is a huge source of sadness for me as he appeared in the wonderful film Billy Liar (starring his friend & fellow Stamford Bridge regular Tom Courtenay) & also the most beautifully written & performed British sitcom of all time, the peerless Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? My sister once saw him making his way to the ground during the show’s heyday, prior to the yuletide match/punch up versus West Ham in 1974. ‘He’s going very grey’ she said. Watching Chelsea regularly had that effect on many back then. Knowing that he & co-star James Bolam didn’t really get on & hadn’t spoken for 41 years ( a fact that has made Bolam’s recent, belated rebuttal of any suggestions of a rift rather unconvincing) can make you feel art is imitating life when watching certain episodes. One of my favourites is Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? in which Rodney’s alter ego Bob & his social-climbing wife Thelma drag a reluctant Bolam’s doggedly working class & proudly Northern character Terry to a dinner party hosted by an old school friend & her affluent husband, who is quickly revealed to be both a Southerner & a Chelsea fan. The latter revelation leads to a swift, spiteful burst of invective from Terry. Was there a certain relish in relaying those lines from Mr Bolam given that Rodney Bewes was himself a Chelsea supporter? I guess we’ll never know. The day after this sad news broke I worked late & got home having succeeded in avoiding the score of that afternoon’s Qarabag game rather more fruitfully than Bob & Terry’s more strenuous (& much, much funnier) efforts at avoiding the England result in Bulgaria during the now legendary No Hiding Place.
Bob & Terry were always partial to wistful conversations about the loss of their youth & the people & paraphernalia that had helped decorate it, so I shall honour them by remembering a rather melancholy day from my dim & distant past. The aforementioned West Ham game in 1974 was my first trip to Stamford Bridge that season, but as far as I am concerned it should most certainly not have been. It should have been the Wolves game three months earlier. But in what Bob & Terry would doubtless have described as one of life’s bitter ironies I was both several miles & a world away, reluctantly & sulkily popping my White Hart Lane cherry.
There were a few false starts for my 12-year-old self in 1974. I had purchased my first packet of cigarettes, parting with 13 & a half pence for ten Players No.6, then the fag of choice for most aspiring delinquents. The thrill of the purchase threatened to turn sour immediately, as I ran into my ardently anti-smoking mum on leaving the shop. A narrow escape, but she doesn’t know to this day. Like most people she won’t read this. I smoked a couple but gave the rest away, leaving the real nicotine party to start as a dopey, doom laden student sometime in the early part of the next decade.
I also took to the dance floor for the first time. A slow dance at that no less. Hesitant & inept, & also not repeated for some years after, or indeed very often since. She was 13. Perfect. A much older woman, guiding my faltering feet around the floor as the heady combination of her perfume & nicotine tinged hair gloriously attacked my senses. I was rather smitten. The song? Given it was a disco for the recently pubic it was not going to be achingly cool. The DJ didn’t have any Can bootlegs to hand. Instead it was that lovely, yearning & evocative slice of Philadelphia cheese When Will I See You Again? by The Three Degrees. The title begs a question. In the case of Mrs Robinson & myself the answer was simple. Never. I do hope she’s well. Probably a granny now. Tomorrow’s almost over. Today went by so fast.
Being taken to Spurs was the lamest false start of all though. It happened during a weekend visit to my dad’s cousin Ann & her family in Kent. This usually signified a trip to Chelsea in my eyes, though my luck had run out in February 1969 when the snow came hurtling down on the way to Stamford Bridge for a FA Cup 5th round tie against Stoke. Ann’s husband Alan bravely battled the elements in trying to get us there but common sense prevailed & Alan, my dad & a brattish & extremely disappointed 6-year-old returned to Kent for a snowy, late afternoon kick about as darkness descended. The match was postponed anyway & in Scott Cheshire’s Illustrated History Of Chelsea there is a picture of a snowbound, empty Stamford Bridge from that afternoon. I still wince when I see it. It would have been my first ever Chelsea game. I managed to catch up with both teams in the same tournament the following year, seeing Stoke, with the magnificent Gordon Banks in goal, at Oxford in Round 3 & Chelsea at home to Burnley three weeks later. Alan went to that game with us & on our next trip to Kent in 1972 we saw two Tommy Baldwin goals rescue a point in a knock about end of season 3-3 draw with Newcastle. Tommy’s second goal was the first I ever saw Chelsea score at The Shed, end as I stood there. I also recall my dad smiling indulgently as I enthusiastically waved my blue & white woollen scarf (knitted by my Nan of course, everyone had a football scarf knitted by their Nan back then) as Peter Bonetti led the lads towards us for the pre-match warm up. ‘He’s been waiting all day to do that’ he said to Alan. All day? More like three years.
So Dad & Alan announcing we were going to Spurs in 1974 instead was a shock, causing my head to fill with a one word mantra. Bollocks. Bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks bollocks. Double & indeed triple bollocks. With hindsight it is not difficult to see that Chelsea do not entice the neutral fan by 1974. Finishing the enormous East Stand has at least seen the end of the joint sight of cranes & West Brompton Cemetry sucking the atmosphere out of the entire ground. Sadly this construction has also crippled the club’s finances & the team is crap. However, I am 12 years old & not remotely neutral. The bollocks do not cease. There will be plenty more bollocks before this day is done. I don’t actually say bollocks of course. Everyone in Kent is far too nice. I merely resort to whingeing all the way to White Hart Lane. Nearly all the way. Eventually, Alan enters a newsagent & returns with a football magazine. ‘Have a read of that & cheer up’ he says. I feel mildly ashamed & manage a mumbled thank you. At least I have something to distract me when the game starts.
I wouldn’t have minded but Spurs were rubbish in 1974 too. Actually, that’s a lie. I would have minded. Very much indeed. Nevertheless, they WERE rubbish. Their legendary manager Bill Nicholson had just departed, a man who had served with distinction as a player & then led them to The Double, leaving with ten grand in his back pocket & minus the obligatory Testimonial. He lived in a house near the ground & had lived, eaten & breathed Spurs since 1938. Forgive me if I spared my tears when Mourinho left Chelsea with millions on two separate occasions. Happily, Nicholson did return to White Hart Lane later but football clubs really have been run by some charmless slimeballs over the years haven’t they? There is a core of the team that has brought them various domestic & European trophies in recent years, but it is a team composed of players largely past their best. Mike England, Martin Chivers, Cyril Knowles & Phil Beal have all peaked. Goalkeeper Pat Jennings & Martin Peters will both have better days when they move on, down the road at Arsenal in the case of Jennings to the eternal chagrin of Spurs fans. The Gunners themselves are also a pretty miserable outfit in 1974 though. The only London team to shine is West Ham, who pluck a couple of strikers from the lower divisions in Billy Jennings & Alan Taylor & enjoy a buoyant season, with the former thriving in the league & the latter scoring twice in all the last three rounds of the FA Cup to bring the Hammers home a trophy at the end of the season.
There is every chance Spurs will lose on this day as I fervently want them to. The opposition is Middlesbrough, a new, brutally efficient addition to Division 1, as it was called then & should be now. They had visited White Hart Lane less than three weeks earlier in the League Cup & won 4-0. They have one of Celtic’s legendary Lisbon Lions in Bobby Murdoch, a fine player even if he appears to have a spare match ball stuck up his shirt. Alongside him in midfield is the best Leeds player never to play for Leeds, the young Graham Souness, gifted & nasty in apparently equal measure. They have two of the country’s most promising attacking midfielders in David Armstrong & David Mills. In keeping with the times they have the obligatory portly striker, Alan Foggon, who would seem to be no stranger to a pork pie & a pint. He later joins Man Utd & sinks without trace. The real brutal efficiency lies at the back though where they have a frankly terrifying defence. Craggs. Boam. Maddren. Spraggon. These names to mutton chopped strikers of the ’70’s are akin to those of Ronnie Kray & Eddie Richardson to miscreant smaller time villains in London’s gangland areas in the 1960’s. They may not have carved tram lines into your face with knives or tortured you by attaching electrodes to your genitals but God alone knows what they dip the studs of their boots in. In another Likely Lads episode Terry ends up in court for a pub brawl which begins when he refers to Middlesbrough as ‘a bunch of cloggers’ to one of their fans, played by James Bolam’s future New Tricks co-star Alun Armstrong. Later on, Armstrong appears in Porridge, another vehicle for the brilliant comedy writing duo Dick Clement & Ian Le Frenais, as a con called Spraggon. Given some of the on pitch tackles performed by the ‘Boro left back of the same name it is not likely to be a coincidence. Prison was the least some of them deserved.
Middlesbrough are managed by Jack Charlton. I am hugely conflicted about Big Jack. Resolutely working class, fond of a ciggie (as was his more extravagantly gifted brother Bobby, who played his last game for Man Utd at Chelsea & was presented on the pitch with a silver cigarette holder by the hosts!) he was a World Cup hero & always an endearing commentary box presence, forgetting names & foregoing the usual media niceties with his blunt appraisals of matches & the participants within them. He once gave my dad an autograph in the toilets at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Hopefully he had washed his hands. Metaphorically, they remain eternally filthy to many, due to his being a devout lifetime member of, & apologist for, the detested Revie era Leeds. Dirty Leeds. He gave the Irish nation the footballing ride of their lives but it was ghastly to watch at times, & the 1-1 draw with England in Italy in 1990 remains comfortably the worst international football match I have ever seen.
Spraggon takes out football’s original Baldy Man, Ralph Coates, within seconds of the match starting at The Lane. Coates spends the entire match switching wings having been walloped by either Spraggon or right full back Craggs. Referee Jack Taylor gives him zero protection & poor Coates appears to give up in the end. Being bald in this most hirsute of decades means Ralph spends a lot of time sweeping up the hugely long strands of hair he has cultivated in a vain attempt to cover up the glaringly obvious gleaming dome at the top of his head. He looked great at Burnley & had been in the provisional 28 man England squad for the 1970 World Cup. He scored a League Cup Final winner for Spurs against Norwich in 1973 but never seemed to fulfill his potential there. The late, great DJ John Peel was a huge fan & used to bemoan the fact that he had joined Spurs rather than Liverpool. His bustling endeavour would surely have worked a treat in a Shankley or Paisley era Liverpool midfield. His future Leyton Orient colleague Stan Bowles was less complimentary however. Years after retirement he talked to style magazine Blitz from his local while leafing through a scrapbook of photos & clippings from the ex QPR’s scallywag’s career. ”There’s me wi’ that cunt Ralph Coates! He was fucking useless!” Bit harsh Stanley.
Ralph does at least have a hand in the Spurs goal, floating in a nice ball to the back post which Jimmy Neighbour knocks in. ‘Boro had taken the lead prior to this & retake the lead before the first half is out. The bollocks mantra in my head gets replaced by another after we get in the ground, namely ‘I don’t like Spurs, I’ve never liked Spurs & I never will like Spurs.’ It remains there to this day. Their fans prove to be the moaniest old bunch of bleating ingrates I had ever encountered up to that point. They are particularly keen on berating one of Big Jack’s ’66 colleagues, the enigmatic but brilliant Martin Peters, eternally linked with Alf Ramsey’s description of him as ‘ten years ahead of his time.’ Frankly, I would have killed to have a World Cup hero playing for Chelsea. The nearest Chelsea player to him in my memory is Gus Poyet, also great in the air, blessed with the ability to time a ghost like run into the opposition box unannounced to score vital goals, & liable to go missing for lengthy periods of the game on occasions. Peters once scored all four Spurs goals away at Old Trafford. As a midfielder! You might think the Spurs ‘faithful’ would cut him some slack after that. Apparently not. A year earlier I had seen England beat Scotland 1-0 at Wembley. After the game, autograph hunting with my friend Richard, we spied a figure hunched under a shelter in the car park. By his feet was an Adidas bag, a bit posher than the ones we usually had at school but not hugely different. Nobody but us took a blind bit of notice of this unassuming figure as he stood there, seemingly waiting for his lift or a taxi. It was Martin Peters. An hour earlier he had scored the winning goal, heading in an Alan Ball cross in front of 100,000 people. Seven years earlier he had scored here in a World Cup final. Spin on a couple of decades & people are queuing at Stamford Bridge for autographs from suits like Ken Bates & Peter Kenyon, the egotists truly having taken over the asylums by then.
There are no second half goals & Middlesbrough win, though even I am forced to admit that the overriding memory of the day is being privy to that most odious of footballing spectacles, the celebrity ref pushing himself to the forefront at the expense of the match. Jack Taylor is fresh from refereeing that year’s World Cup Final, famously awarding Holland a penalty against hosts West Germany in the first minute of the game, but his failure to protect Coates is at best a symptom of sloppy complacency, at worst an indication of huge arrogance. This era heralded the dawn of referees becoming personalities in their own right, from moustachioed Gordon Hill, crowing in his book how he allowed ‘honest clogger’ Norman Hunter to boot Bowles up in the air because the latter moaned too much, to the Dickensian Roger Kirkpatrick, who even took to the tannoy at half time at one game I went to lest we be allowed to forget his glorious existence for ten minutes. Worst of all is Clive ‘The Book’ Thomas from Treorchy. Thomas was such a refereeing genius that he decided he could time a game to the nearest split second, infamously blowing the final whistle while a Brazil corner was in the process of being headed into the Sweden goal by the fabulous Zico in the 1978 World Cup Finals. Anyone with the mildest hint of brain might think that if there wasn’t time for meaningful action to arise from the corner then time might sensibly have been called before it was taken. Not Thomas. Still, his name got plastered all over the sports pages from Rhyl to Rio which is presumably exactly what he craved. These self adoring berks ruined many a game. Face it chaps, referees are glorified traffic wardens, the best you can do is concentrate on quietly letting a match flow & interpreting the rules sensibly & fairly. You should be like the ideal small child I failed to be for Dad & Alan on this day. Seen & not heard. Actually, scrub that. Ideally you should be practically INVISIBLE.
Chelsea lose limply too, the excellent John Richards scoring the only goal of the game there for Wolves. This is apparently supposed to appease me in some way. It doesn’t. Having a passion for a football team is not a passive pastime, you want to feel you have participated in the event, & there are always consolations to be found in having witnessed even the most dismal of defeats, through the knowledge that you cheered, shouted, groaned, laughed & finally despaired along with all the other fellow sufferers. There is a lot of suffering that season & in another of those bitter ironies Chelsea’s relegation is all but sealed with a 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane in April. The ghastly North Londoners avoid the drop by a single point but go down themselves two seasons later. Arsenal finish 16th. Chelsea win at Highbury on Boxing Day thanks to a Chris Garland brace. At that point it looks bleak for them, but Chelsea generously sell Garland to a main relegation rival in Leicester City. He immediately goes on a terrific scoring run of 8 goals in 10 games, easing Leicester out of trouble & his former club deep into the brown stuff. Their plight enables The Gunners to clamber to safety too. The top London team that season are QPR. They finish 11th. The following season they come within an inch of pipping Liverpool to the title under the leadership of Dave Sexton, sacked by Chelsea not long after the Wolves match. By this time the Blues are in the bottom half of Division 2.
I only ever returned to Spurs with Chelsea after this particular afternoon, & am delighted to say that I have never, ever, seen them win a football match, 46 years after I first saw them taken apart at WBA due to a barnstorming hat trick by the splendid Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, witnessed with delight by my Uncle Bert, a Baggies season ticket holder for many years. Two years after the White Hart Lane debacle we visit Kent again. This time there are no arguments. Spurs are away at Derby as we stand on the North Terrace & watch a Ray Wilkins inspired 4-3 win over Oldham Athletic. Spurs lose 8-2. Dish best served cold & all that. I don’t laugh. Not much anyway. Perhaps the odd titter. On our last family visit in 1978 both teams are away & we go to Craven Cottage where I have the pleasure of being spat on by Stoke fans leaning over the terraces before I have even got past the programme sellers. Why why why Delilah? Because I’m there presumably. Cheers fellas. You & Ryan Shawcross deserve each other.