The tortuous trek to Turf Moor and a great FA Cup game, told through the eyes of one away fan in 1970

The tortuous trek to Turf Moor and a great FA Cup game, told through the eyes of one away fan in 1970

As LP Hartley famously proclaimed, “The past is a different country.” Behaviours that were once considered the social norm when I was negotiating the minefield of my formative years would nowadays elicit disapproving responses from the present-day arbiters of contemporary morality. Yet, there is one tradition associated those days of yore which modern football would benefit from reviving: the now seemingly defunct concept of going to a match to watch a team that your friend supports but you don’t.

Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s, my dad and his friends, who were massive Evertonians, regularly attended Liverpool fixtures at Anfield. Others from his entourage who were rabid Reds would turn up to see Everton games. This behaviour probably stemmed from most peones having to work on Saturday mornings, which made attending away fixtures a real struggle.

A dearth of other entertainment options, especially with the pubs closed between the afternoon hours of three and five, meant that visiting either Goodison or Anfield was the most tempting option on offer – unless watching Pathé news in the cinema was your thing.

As a teenager, I continued this tradition. If Everton were playing away south of Birmingham, I would go with my Liverpool-supporting friends to their stadium and vice versa. It was simply what you did. The prospect of a Saturday afternoon without a live game was simply too painful to bear. An alternative was going along to cheer on Everton Reserves in the Central League, but nothing could beat the thrill of top-flight football.

The Old School Yard

I was fortunate enough to have passed my 11+ exam which meant I was enrolled at a rugby union-playing grammar school, situated in the prosperous leafy suburban setting of Crosby, a totally different environment to my utilitarian council estate in Litherland three miles away. There were some unexpected footballing benefits, though.

The school intake encompassed a wide catchment area and pupils travelled in from different parts of Merseyside and Lancashire. This meant that in addition to Everton and Liverpool, there were contingents of boys who followed Manchester United, Manchester City, Preston and Southport. As a consequence, if I was unable to attend an Everton fixture, I was often able to meet up with friends and watch their teams instead. 

During the 1969/70 season, when I was in year 10, I started to associate with a lad called Rob Conway, a Chelsea fan. Chelsea were the glamour outfit of the period with film stars such as Terry Stamp and Steve McQueen regular visitors to Stamford Bridge. Also included in this coterie was the uber sex goddess Raquel Welch, who was purportedly trying to ensnare Chelsea striker Peter Osgood with her charms. Their players seemed to operate in a milieu of high society sophistication that us grimy northern wastrels could only dream about.

Rob often went to London by himself to watch Chelsea games, aided by the fact that his dad worked on British Rail and so was able to procure cheap tickets. I’d listen fervently to his accounts of his trips to the capital. As fate would have it, Everton crashed out in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1970 away at Sheffield United, which meant I faced the prospect of no cup football for another season. It was then that Rob came to my rescue.

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During the Monday morning break-time football forums in our school yard, Rob casually mentioned that the previous Saturday, he had been present at Stamford Bridge in the notorious Shed End viewing the fourth-round tie between Chelsea and Burnley. The fact he was in the Shed End produced gasps of awe from the younger urchins who used to love listening to these tales of footballing jaunts.

Rob recounted how Chelsea had been cruising 2-0 up with just ten minutes remaining when, unexpectedly, Burnley rallied. Inspired by the imperious Martin Dobson, they scored twice to level the tie, which meant the daunting prospect of a replay at Turf Moor on Tuesday. Rob was desperate to go but his parents insisted that he couldn’t go by himself. He asked me to join him: it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. My footballing and playground credibility were at stake. Nevertheless, I underestimated the level of subterfuge and logistics that would be involved.

27 January 1970: AWOL

It was time for the final lesson of the day – except I wouldn’t be attending. Rob feigned a bout of illness at lunchtime, so he was now at home changing out of his uniform. My exit wouldn’t be quite as simple. As my classmates trudged off for their biology lesson, I gathered my school bag and walked towards the school gates.

The fearsome Mr Highton, the gym teacher, directed a questioning glance towards me as I convinced myself that my adventure was over and a thrashing with the school strap at the hands of the Jesuits awaited. Momentarily, I feared the worst as guilt was written all over my face, but fortunately he returned to cajoling another ten press-ups from his class and the danger passed. I met Rob at the bus stop at 2.30 and our trip to Turf Moor was about to commence.

Although Burnley were no longer the power that they were at the start of the 1960s, they still constituted formidable opponents on home territory, as they demonstrated when they brushed aside the challenge of Wolves with an emphatic 3-0 victory in the third round. Harry Potts, the manager who led them to the title in 1960 and almost pulled off the double in 1962, was still in charge but only John Angus remained from the title-winning side.

Nevertheless, another crop of promising youngsters, such as Dave Thomas, Geoff Nulty, Steve Kindon, Frank Casper, and future England internationals Ralph Coates and Martin Dobson, were now regulars in the side. The squad also featured defenders Colin Waldron and Jim Thomson who, having been released by Chelsea, were determined to put one over on their old side.

Neither Chelsea nor their fans were particularly relishing a trip to Burnley on a freezing cold January night. Turf Moor held painful memories for the denizens of the Shed as it was here on 24 April 1965 that Chelsea blew their chance of winning a close-fought title race by crashing to a 6-2 defeat. 

The previous evening, Chelsea’s hopes were dealt a hammer blow when the manager, the irascible Tommy Docherty, sent eight players home from the Blackpool hotel they were staying in for a breaking a curfew that he had imposed. Blues fans struggled to believe that he could allow their title hopes to be crushed by this rash action as they headed north for the match whilst their star players were returning south.

Docherty was no longer in charge having left the club in October 1967. His former assistant, Dave Sexton, returned from Leyton Orient and set about applying his meticulous tactical and physical routines to finally fulfil the boundless potential of Docherty’s Diamonds, the best crop of young players in a generation.

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He brought in defenders such as David Webb and John Dempsey to add solidity to the team and a streak of intimidatory steel, which combined nicely with the crunching tackles of Ron “Chopper” Harris. He paid £5,000 upfront to non-league Cambridge for the hitherto unknown forward Ian Hutchinson. It was an inspired purchase: he became the battering ram who tormented opposition defences and created opportunities for flair players such as Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke.

Yet the true favourite on the terraces was 18-year-old Alan Hudson, born a stone’s throw away from Stamford Bridge, whose sublime skills and dazzling technique combined with his indefatigable work rate was a joy to behold. With his flowing locks and his cockney lilt, Hudson was the name on everybody’s lips and was as likely to appear on the cover of Jackie as well as Goal or Shoot!.

Most Chelsea fans left Stamford Bridge bewildered after the first game wondering how their team contrived to throw away a two-goal lead with suchlittle time remaining. The players also knew that this was going to be a titanic battle, with most punters convinced that home advantage would prove decisive for Burnley.

Fever Town

Our bus arrived and, after convincing the driver that we were really only 13 and therefore qualified for the cheaper fare, we boarded to commence the first stage of the journey. It was now 2:45pm and if all went to plan, we would be arriving in Burnley at about 6:30pm for a 7:30 kick-off.

For some bizarre reason, the first bus, the X27, displayed Barnoldswick on the indicator board. To this day, I still don’t know where that place is nor why anybody thought that there was a demand for a direct bus service from Liverpool to Barnoldswick. Nevertheless, this route was pivotal to our planning. We eventually reached Preston Bus Station at about 4:30 and managed to stuff our faces with sausage rolls and crisps to keep us going. In those days we thought vegans were Kirk’s enemies on Star Trek. 

Later, we climbed aboard a bus to Burnley and, as we approached our destination, more and more Burnley fans clambered on excitedly talking about their prospects for the evening. Many clutched their copies of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph to gather the latest news about the possible team selection.

Burnley in 1970 was a town that was apparently frozen in time. Cobbled streets surrounded Turf Moor and the streetlamps looked as though they were erected in Victorian times, still powered by gas. A cloying fog was enveloping the environs and the spooky towers of the mill factories poking through the gloom only added to our sense of eerie foreboding. Even the manner in which the locals conversed in their languid Lancastrian drawl sounded like a foreign tongue to our scouse ears. My dad, who used to work all over the north-west, often claimed that going to Burnley “was like going back in time”. I finally understood what he meant.

Nevertheless, Turf Moor, in contrast to many aspects of the town, was a thoroughly modern arena. The autocratic and seemingly much-maligned chairman, Bob Lord, was quite prepared to unleash funds to improve the facilities at the ground. At the start of this season, a brand-new stand was constructed at the Cricket Field End which housed 4,500 spectators and boasted the novelty of underfloor heating. This meant that just like Manchester City fans at Maine Road, the vocal Burnley contingent congregated on the cavernous Long Side terrace, which was located at the side of the pitch.

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Burnley last reached a Wembley final in 1962 and their fans were desperate for a cup run. The dramatic comeback at Chelsea which was featured on Match of the Day (the first time the Clarets were included that season – Chelsea had already featured four times) raised expectations and a larger-than-expected crowd were already queuing at the gates 90 minutes before kick-off.

We took our places on the open terraces of the Bee Hole End behind one of the goals and eagerly awaited the start of proceedings. If all went to plan, we would be able to catch a bus from Burnley to Preston after the match and make the last connection to Liverpool. However, if the match went to extra-time, we were scuppered. We steadfastly resolved to leave on 90 minutes, whatever the state of play.

One Ralphie Coates

As a Pennine mist descended onto Turf Moor, the floodlights beamed through the gloom, and with long lines of punters still outside the stadium clamouring to gain entrance, the game kicked off. By then the club were forced to close the turnstiles, leaving thousands of Clarets distraught. The official attendance was later confirmed as 32,000 but to our eyes that seemed a rather generous underestimate. 

Roared on by the most vociferous home crowd of the season, Burnley tore into Chelsea from the start, determined to show the glamour boys from the Kings Road that they would take no prisoners in this Burnley bear pit. Nonetheless, Sexton had instilled a new solidity into his charges and his side knew how to handle themselves.

John Hollins, Eddie McCreadie and Chopper Harris targeted the Burnley dangermen such as Steve Kindon and Frank Casper with a serious of blood-curdling challenges that only succeeded in raising the antagonism and ire of the Burnley faithful to ear-piercing decibel levels. Eventually, a game of football emerged from this maelstrom and Burnley started to impose their style on Chelsea. Despite that, the best chance still fell to the visitors when Hudson hit the post after 24 minutes. It was to prove a costly miss.

Ralph Coates was running the midfield and no Chelsea player was able to get close to him. After 35 minutes he received a pass from Dobson and bore down on the Chelsea goal, unleashing a howitzer with his left foot which left Bonetti grasping at thin air to give Burnley a well-deserved lead. The roar that greeted the goal could be heard echoing across the Pennine hills.

Chelsea appeared to have no answer to Coates and a desperate McCreadie and Harris were booked for resorting to intimidating tackles to stop him. Coates was a mercurial player who also seemed to delight in being the only other footballer to conspicuously flaunt a Bobby Charlton-type hairstyle with long strands of solitary locks failing to disguise his obviously balding pate.

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Burnley had now effectively scored three times without reply and a fifth-round home tie against Crystal Palace was edging closer. As the half-time whistle blew, Burnley manager Harry Potts looked delighted with his outfit’s performance. Unless Chelsea could curtail the threat of Coates, they were out. 

As the second half started, it was obvious that Sexton had implored his players to seize the initiative and take the game to Burnley. They had no alternative: failure to score would signal the end of their cup dreams. Nevertheless, Burnley, urged on by their fans in the deepening mill town gloom, looked thoroughly capable of protecting their lead as the Stakhanovite Merrington and O’Neill closed down every threat. Chelsea would need to summon something special but the likes of Hudson, Cooke and Osgood were struggling to make an impact. It was difficult to see where an equaliser would coming from.

From a selfish point of view, and with Chelsea not being my side, I was satisfied with this outcome as it meant we would be able to reach home that evening. I felt for Rob, but the evening looked like ending in disappointment for him. Personally, I thought the Clarets played well and would deserve the victory. I sympathised with their supporters whose visages were etched with tension as the minutes seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to tick away.

Houseman’s Half-Hour

One member of the Chelsea side, the unheralded Peter Houseman, was still pushing and probing, trying to inveigle an opening that would level the tie. Whereas most members of that ensemble were fully paid-up subscribers to La Dolce Vita, Houseman stuck out like a sore thumb. Whilst the likes of Osgood and Cooke would often be found stumbling out of local bars such as the Lord Palmerston or the Markfield Arms at four in the morning after a home game, Houseman would be safely tucked in bed with his wife after drinking a hot cup of Horlicks.

With his short hair, national service side-part and strait-laced lifestyle, he was the polar opposite of the Champagne Charlie members of the squad. He was the regular target for abuse from the Chelsea loyalists from the Shed who showed their contempt by christening him with the sobriquets “Mary” or “Dolly”, although he was known to his teammates as “Nobby”. The majority of Chelsea fans couldn’t fathom how he kept his place in the side. They were about to find out.

Docherty never rated Houseman and rarely offered him a first-team role. In contrast, Sexton knew that Houseman could always be relied upon to deliver consistent performances, indefatigable effort and contribute a vital goal when needed. It’s why he was the first name that Sexton wrote on the team sheet and the reason why he selected him for every game that season. His faith in the boy from Battersea was about to be rewarded.

With just under 20 minutes remaining, Hudson dispossessed O’Neill near the halfway line and released a pass to Houseman, who ran unchallenged through the middle towards the goal as the Burnley defenders retreated. As he approached the penalty area, he delicately curled a left-foot drive that went in off the post, just escaping the grasp of Mellor. It was a goal worthy of winning a final, never mind a fourth-round tie. 

Suddenly, Chelsea’s superior fitness was turning the game in their favour. An obviously wilting Burnley were hanging on grimly as the Blues went for the winner. Hutchinson headed against the bar just before the end – much to my despair – but extra time would be needed to settle the tie. It was a fascinating encounter and the result was still too close to call. Somehow you felt that the game was now Chelsea’s to lose.

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Nevertheless, extra time was an unanticipated complication for Rob and I as quite simply it meant there was no way we could get back to Liverpool that night if we stayed to watch. We had to make a decision. In fact, there was no decision to be made: we were staying. Nobody in the crowd was leaving.

Just as Coates dominated the first half, Houseman was now the player in ascendancy and in control of the game. Just four minutes into extra time, he cut in from the byline and delivered a precise cross that the Burnley defence failed to deal with, culminating in Tommy “Sponge” Baldwin nodding Chelsea into the lead. Only one side was going to win the game now and Burnley were struggling to cope with the Chelsea onslaught.

The crescendo of noise from the travelling London fans in their pork pie hats, Ben Sherman shirts and bovver boots grew. With just a few minutes remaining, Houseman burst into the Burnley area and, brushing off the challenge of two defenders, calmly bent another shot into the corner of Mellor’s net. Game over. 

As the despondent Clarets trooped off the pitch, Chelsea, in their resplendent yellow shirts, celebrated, enveloped by the midst in front of their fans. As defender John Dempsey later recalled: “I think we really believed that we could win the cup after that game.”

Last Bus

Rob and I were unable to witness the revelry because as soon as the referee Mr Burns blew his whistle, we were hurtling towards Burnley Bus Station to commence our return odyssey. As we saw the last bus to Preston leaving, with an Usain Bolt-type sprint we managed to jump aboard before it left the bay, much to the driver’s chagrin. Still, at least the possibility of sleeping on a park bench in Burnley was now removed.

We reached Preston just after 11, still a long way from home. A forlorn glance at all the bus timetables confirmed what we already knew – there was no bus back to Liverpool. However, the last service to Southport was on the verge of departing and we scampered across the building to catch it. As the journey continued, we discussed our possible options for getting home. It was at times like this that you really resented your parents for not having a car.

Just after midnight, we were now wandering along the main street in Southport, Lord Street, totally clueless. We could have conceivably walked home from here, but it would take about three hours, assuming we could stay awake. As we walked past a red phone box, a moment of unexpected inspiration entered our brains.

We knew several of our school friends lived in Southport – perhaps if we rang one of them, they would let us stay the night. In this pre-digital age, phone boxes still possessed the old-fashioned telephone directory book which allowed you to check other people’s numbers. We swiftly found the number of Tony, a Southport and Manchester United fan from our year group, who I knew lived within walkable distance of Southport centre.

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We rang his house praying that somebody would answer. Eventually, Tony’s dad picked up the receiver. I explained who we were and outlined our predicament. He remembered me as I had visited the house a few weeks previously when Tony and I went to watch a Southport game together. After a 20-minute walk, we reached their house in Birkdale where Tony and his mum were waiting for us with hot drinks and toast. Even better, Tony’s dad said he would drive us back home. Mr Johnson, I never did thank you enough for your altruistic actions on that evening.

By 1:30, I was back in bed and six hours later getting ready for school again. Somehow, I made it through the school day without nodding off in class, although double Latin was a particular struggle for me. At break time, Rob and I were the centre of attention as everybody swarmed around us. “How did you get out of school?” “What time did you get back from Burnley?” “Did the Shed take the Burnley end?”

It is often forgotten how important the oral tradition was in recounting football matches in the days before every game was shown live on wall-to-wall television. You were able to create your own landscape of what happened without fear that somebody would contradict you. Happy days.

The print press often struggled to deal with extra time in midweek cup games, with the added 30 minutes receiving scant coverage. Nevertheless, the papers bore headlines such as ‘Hero Houseman’ and ‘Houseman hits two’. One headline, though, would never be accepted today: ‘Houseman’s a Bender’. The 70s were so different. 

In all the accounts of Chelsea’s FA Cup win in 1970, the importance of that crucial replay victory is often underplayed. Yet, that was arguably the most difficult fixture Chelsea played and was also the closest they came to exiting the competition. It was also the only tie that they played outside London. Osgood rightly drew plaudits for the fact that he scored in every round, but this overlooks the fact that Houseman scored six goals in that campaign, including two in the semi-final. He might not have been the darling of the Shed End but without Houseman there would have been no FA Cup win. 

Rob left school at the end of the fifth year whereas I stayed on for sixth form. Strangely, as girls and alcohol started to play an increasing role in our lives, we never crossed each other’s paths again. Similarly, I have lost touch with Tony as well. I have since heard that Rob is living in Aberdeen so if you ever read this, do get in touch.

Addendum

Peter Houseman made a total of 343 appearances for Chelsea before departing for Oxford at the end of the 1974/75 season. Ironically, his last goal for Chelsea was against Burnley in August 1974. Within three years he was dead, killed in a road crash with his wife whilst travelling home from a charity event. He was just 31.

By Paul Mc Parlan @paulmcparlan

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