As the Three Degrees asked ‘When will I see you again?’, the answer for me was 17th August, Carlisle at home.
Donny and Marie Osmond said they were ‘Leaving it (all) up to you’ and I agreed, leaving it all up to the lads on the pitch, hoping nobody would ‘Rock the Boat’ and it wouldn’t turn out to be an ‘Amateur Hour’. Kevin Keegan (Liverpool) and Billy Bremner (Dirty Leeds) had been ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’ during the Charity Shield at Wembley, while Man U fans were doing the same over at Orient in the Second Division. Don Revie had taken the England job instead of the FA giving it to the people’s choice, one Brian Clough. Bill Shankly had announced his retirement and Bob Paisley settled in while Cloughie took over at Dirty Leeds, well for 44 days anyway.
So, Carlisle United made the long journey to SW6 for their first game in the top flight, 31,268 of us present at The Bridge to see Chelsea rip them apart and spit them out afterwards. The First Division would be a step too far for The Cumbrians, surely?
I jumped off the number 14 bus at Oxford Street from Euston and popped into Woolworth’s prior to the game to get my now traditional pre-match burger with fried onions in a bun. Absolutely delicious and plain, it must be said, compared to those of today with their pickles and gherkins and sauces, etc. I can almost smell and taste it even now.
Watching my heroes in blue get beat 0-2 later that same afternoon was enough to have me bring the whole ruddy thing back up again. With its three tiers and in-roof floodlighting, our new East Stand was a sight to behold, although the emergence of it almost crippled the club from its conception to its eventual delivery. It was a turbulent pregnancy and the baby, although beautiful, caused the delivery team more than a few sleepless nights.
By the time Newport County arrived at The Bridge for their League Cup tie one September evening, Chelsea had managed to rack up two victories, away at Burnley and Coventry respectively. My mate had promised to go to the game with me, didn’t turn up and so I went on my own, only to see 13,321 others had done the same that night although not necessarily on their own. Such was my determination to do everything to get to see the team, nothing would stop me seeing a Charlie Cooke opener and three from Chris Garland as England beat Wales 4-2 to progress to the next round.
What month it was I’m not sure but Mum and Dad announced we were moving house and would leave our Chelsea HQ deep in the heart of north London, in Arsenal/Spurs country, moving away to pastures new. Where would it be, this new promised land, this oasis of all-things Chelsea? Fulham Road itself? Fulham? Battersea? Putney? Somewhere in a Chelsea-mad community?
No son, Barking.
Barking? The only Barking I knew was in east London, on the edges of Essex. West Ham country. The ‘Appee ‘Ammers.
Surely not? Not that one. Not amongst that lot?
Yep, that’s the one, son. Sorry about that.
I couldn’t Adam and Eve it.
I nearly wet me Alan Whicker’s. Were Mum and Dad having a giraffe? It was proper Radio Rental.
Despite my protestations, Barking became our new home and I got me nut around the new journey to home games: get on at Barking, District Line to Fulham Broadway. Blimey, that was nice and easy, lemon squeezy. Just needed to sort out getting through Upton Park and Mile End whenever those cheeky cockney chappies were at home.
Blimey, Mum and Dad, why don’t you just move us to Cold Blow Lane and be done with?
Losing to a four-goal margin away at Stoke in the League Cup in October (6-2), we realised we could go one better than that, promptly losing 5-0 away at Newcastle before even beating that by losing 7-1 away at Wolves.
11th January ‘75 would see a 1-1 draw away at Luton Town, Steve Kember scoring ours, only for Chelsea fans to make the headlines on the way back from Kenilworth Road. Our train got delayed on its journey to St Pancras and word went along the carriages that Chelsea fans had been fighting with Leeds in the tunnel further down the line, only for someone to refute the claim as Leeds were actually at home to West Ham that day, more than a couple of hundred miles away. No, it was untrue, Chelsea fans had in fact set fire to a train and had jumped off near West Hampstead, leaving the carriages to burn out before the Met’s finest could remind them that it was, in fact, a non-smoking train. I wanted to see the Big Match that weekend and, in a strange way, I did.
All of this followed one of the season’s few bright moments as we came from two goals down in the FA Cup to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 at The Bridge, Micky Droy deciding to stand tall and chip in with two goals either side of Chris Garland’s one. Three weeks later we went out to Birmingham 0-1 at home. Could things get worse? Only time would tell but we were worried to say the least.
Well, Micky once again gave us all something to cheer when he scored the only goal of the game down the road from me on 29th March at West ‘Am. Following the game, I watched awkwardly as fellow Blues fans were herded onto a westbound District Line train while I slipped onto an eastbound one and headed for Barking, something deep inside of me suggesting that I deserved that win in my new surroundings. Thank you, Micky. Thank you.
19th April approached and the Football God’s proved they had a wicked, heartless sense of humour as two rivals fought to stay up and fend off relegation to the Second Division; Tottenham v Chelsea. Really? You couldn’t make it up, you really couldn’t. I won’t dwell on it; suffice to say we didn’t get the win we needed and it would later lead to us being relegated from the First Division for the first time since 1961/62. Chelsea had got down from English football’s elite table and dined downstairs instead.
I got in at White Hart Lane, unlike many of my fellow blue’s fans who were stuck outside as the gates were locked on those of us fortunately or unfortunately already inside. It was a dark, dark day in Chelsea’s history and the unthinkable had happened by the end of the season. The soundtrack to my life had now been replaced with Status Quo and ‘Down, Down’ and I was completely and utterly devastated. Following Chelsea over many years, one often asks the same question: How can it get worse? Well, as I sat in my room contemplating life in the lower league, the Football God’s hadn’t finished giving me a good kicking just yet, they managed to get West Ham to actually win something too. The ‘Ammers beat our near-neighbours Fulham 2-0 at Wembley and won the FA Cup. The summer was going to be excruciating for a young Chelsea-mad boy growing up in the company of celebrating West Ham neighbours and school friends. Defiantly, I gritted my teeth and decided that we were the boys in blue in Division Two but we wouldn’t be there for long.