Half-a-century after Chelsea’s first significant run in European competition, the official Chelsea website talks to two of the main men involved in those memorable big nights – Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges…
Let’s begin by setting the scene.
Chelsea had competed in European competition prior to 1965/66 but that had been seven years earlier with a largely unremarkable team (the young Jimmy Greaves definitely excepted) and against Frem from Denmark and Ville de Belgrade from Yugoslavia, hardly glamour names on the world stage.
They certainly did not compare with the likes of Roma, AC Milan and Barcelona – three clubs among our opponents when a vibrant, youthful Chelsea side made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup with many big stories to tell along the way. This Swinging Sixties adventure was the first Chelsea European run of the type we have become accustomed to over the past two decades.
It was also a time when there was much excitement in England about football in general and plenty of interest in opposition from overseas. The country was only months away from staging the World Cup.
At club level, Chelsea the previous season had been serious challengers for the league title, eventually finishing third behind Manchester United and Leeds, and we had won the second piece of major silverware in our history and our first knockout competition – the League Cup.
However we opted not to defend the three-handled trophy and the reason was our entry into Europe and the Inter-Cities Fair Cup, a competition with idiosyncratic qualification requirements which is now generally considered the forerunner of the UEFA Cup/Europa League although it was not organised by UEFA.
For Bobby Tambling, who had been topscorer in the successful League Cup campaign, there was initial disappointment the trophy was relinquished without a fight although that was quickly forgotten as the new challenge picked up momentum.
‘We enjoyed winning the League Cup,’ he tells the official Chelsea website.
‘It was only in its early stages in that period but it was nice to get our hands on silverware because we had been threatening so much to win something, but you could also see the forward thinking of European competition so this was a chance to test ourselves in that.
‘We were young and we played good stuff. We were certainly entertaining.’
First up were Roma in the autumn of that season and to listen to the recollections of Tambling and his colleague in the Chelsea attack, Barry Bridges, these 50 years on, it is a wonder the whole club was not put off European football for good by the two-legged tie.
The home leg came first and featured a Terry Venables hat-trick and a goal from George Graham in a 4-1 win, plus some bruising challenges. Eddie McCreadie having been grabbed round the neck threw a retaliatory punch and was shown a red card. Added to that was a row between Chelsea’s effervescent manager Tommy Docherty and his Italian counterpart.
‘I always recall the match for just one goal,’ says Tambling. ‘Often nowadays with free-kicks around the box it is all down to shooting ability but back in the 1960s there was more thought put into how you could outplay and outwit the opponents. There wasn’t the television coverage so if you had a good free-kick it was only written about and not seen by other teams, so there was a lot of invention.
‘This one was down to Terry Venables and it went like a dream. He counted out the 10 yards to the wall making out they weren’t 10 yards back and as he got to the line of defenders, he wheeled around the end one and the ball was played alongside him and suddenly we had scored. Everyone was so surprised. The game went into a period of being a little nasty and Roma had someone sent-off. It was reported over there that he was subjected to crowd trouble. I think all it was was that he was booed off down the tunnel.’
The players later found out the press in Italy made a huge deal out of that incident and the argument between the managers, and as soon as they arrived for the second leg it was clear it had gone down badly in the Eternal City.
‘At the airport we got so much stick going through customs we knew we were in trouble,’ recalls Barry Bridges.
‘Then we went training the first night and there were quite a lot of people there and you could feel the atmosphere, it was dreadful, there was so much abuse. Then they changed the venue for the match to a smaller, tighter one.
‘Docherty said to us to go out and feel the atmosphere before we changed, we didn’t warm up like they do today, and we went out there and within five minutes the pitch was covered with rotten tomatoes, cabbages, hard little potatoes. They had to clear it up. We all had blazers on and when we came off we looked a right state.’
For Bobby Tambling who was injured and sitting the game out, there was plenty of dodging needed too as he walked to the other side of the pitch from where he watched what he describes as a truly good Chelsea performance, and that despite midfielder Johnny Boyle being knocked down by one missile.
‘We had a good lead from the first game and we played with a sweeper for the first time. That suited Marvin Hinton down to the ground – cool, calm and collected – and he played it perfectly. Peter Bonetti in goal didn’t have much to do, apart from try to avoid the tomatoes!’
‘We drew 0-0 and we got through but that was only the start,’ says Bridges, taking up the story.
‘At the final whistle, Docherty said grab one of their players and walk off with them, so we got into the dressing room and thought that was fine but our interpreter, who was the guy responsible for bringing players like John Charles to Italy, came in and said now you have to get out of this place.
‘There was a door into the car park and the coach was backed up so the doors were adjacent. On the coach he came on and said get under the seats. There were six police motorbikes, they revved up, the gate opened and we went. Coach windows were smashed, our driver went for it and we got out. That was the only time I have felt really scared.’
It’s no wonder the next round against Wiener Sport-Club pales in comparison when it comes to memories but Bobby Tambling, who was back from injury, recalls the Austrians as a quality side. Goals from Bert Murray and a young Peter Osgood at Stamford Bridge overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit
The reward was another tie against Italian giants, this time AC Milan who contained in their team future Italy manager Cesare Maldini, father of Paolo, and Gianni Rivera, an all-time Serie A great.
‘We knew the names and their skill level was unbelievable,’ says Tambling.
‘While we would hit a straight ball when making passes, they would curl the ball around people and when it reached their player it was on the furthest side away from the defender. We learnt a lot from the Italians.
‘Milan kept the ball a lot better than we did,’ concurs Bridges. ‘Our game was more about pace. We were quite like Leicester at the moment in our type of play. Milan’s game was slower and they may have found our way hard to play against as well. We were a young team full of running.
‘We had already been to Milan that October and played a friendly game against AC Milan’s defence and Inter Milan’s forwards and we barely had a kick. That was an eye-opener.’
Bridges still managed to score against the combined AC/Inter side, as did George Graham in the Fairs Cup first leg in Italy in February 1966. The game ended 2-1, a score reversed at the Bridge by another Graham goal and a superb strike from Peter Osgood in front of a bumper 60,000 crowd. That meant a third meeting with a toss of a coin sending the sides back to Italy.
‘The three Milan games were very competitive and in the first two each home side went for a win,’ notes Tambling, ’but in the third one it seemed Milan decided if they go for a draw they might knock us out on the toss of a coin too.’
This was four years before penalty shoot-outs were introduced as a football tie-breaker so having played out a 1-1 draw, this epic contest would indeed be decided by another call of heads or tails.
‘We were so tired, we had only about nine fit men in the second half and in extra-time and there were no substitutes, so the players stayed in the dressing room waiting while our captain Ron Harris went to the middle of the pitch for the toss,’ says Bridges.
‘I remember at the San Siro we came out onto the pitch from underground and I walked up these steps and saw Ronnie jump into the air. I ran back down this long passageway and told everybody we won, but what a stupid way after three games to decide it.’
‘Whoever came up with that idea must have been crazy,’ agrees Tambling. ‘There are so many ways you could decide matches. A couple of years later we had the reverse and it was a terrible way to go out.’
We continue to look back on Chelsea’s first major run in European competition with the help of Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges…
‘Chelsea tried all the moves – short passes, long cross-field passes, decoy running, overlaps, individual breaks, short corners, long ones, wall passes. In those early, breath-taking minutes they overran Milan and their grim defensive scheme and forced them to give away more goals than they had in any previous match that season.’
So wrote the London Evening Standard after one of Chelsea’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup matches against AC Milan in February 1966 (described in part one of The Weekend Interview).
From those words it is clear Tommy Docherty’s side had no problem at all adjusting to the demands of European football and facing unfamiliar opposition styles. As well as the Serie A giants from the San Siro, our young side from Stamford Bridge had knocked out Roma and Wiener Sport-club and were now in the quarter finals.
The next hurdle was TSV 1860 Munich who were on their way to being crowned Bundesliga champions that season. This was a tie between top clubs from the nations that would contest the World Cup final four months later and the away game came first. Bobby Tambling hit the target twice in Germany.
‘That game was played on snow and we thought it would not be played,’ Chelsea’s second all-time topscorer remembers.
‘They were a good side, one of the stronger Germany teams and they had a brilliant goalkeeper. Petar Radenkovic (a Yugoslav international). To go over there and get a 2-2 draw was a tremendous performance.
‘The Germans were hard to break down and played man-for-man so the full-back would stick with you all the time.
‘Peter Osgood scored the winning goal at home. He was making a tremendous leap and he was such a good player. He was only just coming into the side regularly that season and it was as if he had written his own script in that competition. It was a marvellous tournament for him, and for us all because it taught us how to play against continental sides and in completely different types of games.’
Another round negotiated brought another new test, this time from Spain with Barcelona awaiting in the semi-finals. However what has become one of the big recent rivalries in European football was, back in April and May 1966, played at a time when it became clear cracks in Docherty’s Chelsea were growing ever wider.
For the second season in a row the Blues had lost an FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park, this time to a Sheffield Wednesday side they really should have beaten despite a dreadful pitch, and the manager took it badly, as did Barry Bridges to his boss’s reaction.
‘The next league game I was the only one he dropped,’ recalls Bridges, who earlier in the season had been moved from centre-forward to a wide positon to accommodate Osgood’s emergence.
‘We were flying out to Barcelona on the Tuesday that followed and that morning I went and asked Docherty if I was going to be playing and we had a terrible argument. I walked off even though my cases were on the plane. That became a big story which was awful just before the game. It was the beginning of the end for me at Chelsea and I left in the summer.’
As did Docherty’s former captain Terry Venables who had watched as his intended replacement, the freshly signed Charlie Cooke, was brought into the changing room for the first time just before he went out to face the Catalan giants in the first leg. The manager’s influence on the tie did not stop there. He later admitted to asking the Chelsea Fire Brigade to flood the Stamford Bridge pitch to earn a brief postponement of the second leg, allowing worrying injuries time to heal.
‘In the first game away we had done quite well defensively but not done a lot going forward. Then we conceded two late goals,’ reports Tambling.
‘When we played at home, the pitch was waterlogged and it didn’t suit Barcelona at all. They never looked as comfortable as they had in their home ground and we did a lot of the attacking but didn’t score. Then in the last 10 or 15 minutes they scored two quite incredible own-goals (one pictured at the top of the page). They must have been cursing like we had out there.’
Another coin toss took the tie back to Spain in late May, nine days after the end of the English league season. The 40,000 spectators in Camp Nou were added to by 9,000 at Stamford Bridge who watched the first European game beamed back to England and shown on six big screens. Unfortunately Chelsea lost 5-0.
‘Although it had a disappointing end we thoroughly enjoyed the run in that competition,’ says Tambling.
‘Every round seemed to be against a top team and that is what made it exciting for us and for the fans. They were seeing players they had only read about so the crowds were massive. We loved playing at Stamford Bridge, especially under lights. It made it more exciting and the Chelsea fans were fantastic and really made themselves heard. We had played friendlies in pre-season against foreign sides but they weren’t competitive. This was a different experience.
‘There was a lot of press at the time about the World Cup coming up and about whether players would be in the squad or not and these games made a great advert.’
Tambling earned his last England cap in May 1966, shortly before two of the three Barcelona games were played. Bridges, Venables, Osgood, Hinton, Bonetti and John Hollins made the 40-strong group initially named by Alf Ramsey but only our goalkeeper survived when that was cut down to the 22-man squad for the World Cup.
For Bridges, the Fairs Cup remains his outstanding experience of competing against players from overseas.
‘I was disappointed not to be in the final squad as I played four games in 1965 and it was a shame in some ways that Bobby, Terry and I never played together for England as that would have worked better.
‘But it was still a good year. I enjoyed those European games. We hadn’t played many night games at Stamford Bridge and normally you could have 60,000 people in and still not have a great atmosphere because of the size and the running track, but when it was dark and you had the floodlights, those evenings were superb because they made the atmosphere and it lifted you. And playing in huge stadiums like the San Siro, you should be thrilled rather than intimidated. You have to take it all in your stride.
‘It was the only time that young team played in Europe and I loved playing in those games.’