Fifty years ago today a vibrant, young Chelsea side won promotion to the First Division, heralding an exciting era that would culminate in the club’s first FA Cup and European success with a League Cup won along the way. To celebrate the anniversary, over the next two days the official Chelsea website looks back on the 1962/63 promotion campaign with the help of Tommy Docherty, Bobby Tambling, Barry Bridges, Ken Shellito and Frank Blunstone…
The memory of Chelsea’s first major trophy, the League Championship in 1955, was fading fast when with that ageing team almost all moved on, relegation was suffered just seven years later, but in 1962/63 the Blues, who were now under the stewardship of Tommy Docherty (pictured top right), secured promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
It was a season that will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it for many reasons, including a dramatic swing in fortunes, an unexpected winter break and a crucial goal which came from an unlikely source.
For many years Chelsea were a club renowned for flattering to deceive; magnificent one week, mediocre the next, and that famous unpredictability was evident once more in this fourth promotion season in the club’s history, although there was good reason with the team’s average age just 21, and a dramatic, late revival saw them rescue a faltering campaign.
The previous season, which saw the ’55 championship-winning manager Ted Drake replaced by Docherty at the end of September, had been one of unrest and upheaval. Without the incredibly prolific Jimmy Greaves who had left for Italy the preceding summer, it culminated in our relegation after 25 seasons in Division One. We were the bottom team in the table.
Shortly after being placed in charge, Docherty attempted to prevent our slide with a significant overhaul of the squad.
Experienced players such as Peter and John Sillett, Reg Matthews and Ron Tindall were sold, making way for new signings of limited success, and a young man from the youth ranks by the name of Ron Harris.
With other youngsters having recently emerged, the reshaped side could not be faulted for effort or desire but they were unable to stop the drop, and optimism in west London ahead of the 1962/63 season was in short supply.
‘We were actually just looking to stay in the division, that was the most important thing to us,’ Docherty tells the official Chelsea website.
‘We had a lot of terrific young players at the time and a lot of credit for that must go to Dickie Foss, who was in charge of the youth team and they’d just won the FA Youth Cup for the second time.
‘I inherited seven or eight of the Youth Cup-winning side, so they’d been together for a couple of years. I’ve always believed if you’re good enough you’re old enough. How do you get experience? By playing, that’s the only way, and we got off to a flying start.’
Peter Bonetti, Ken Shellito, Terry Venables, Barry Bridges and Bobby Tambling (pictured top left) were among the youth generation Docherty put his trust in. He signed little-known left-back Eddie McCreadie from his native Scotland.
The season began in the best possible fashion, when Tambling scored the only goal of the game away at Rotherham, a result which was followed by successive home wins against Scunthorpe United and Charlton Athletic.
We had taken maximum points from our opening three matches, scoring nine goals and with our defence yet to be breached.
The first defeat was a 3-0 reverse at Scunthorpe United in the following game, but the team were soon back on track courtesy of wins against Sunderland and Southampton.
Tambling, who was captain of the side at just 21, had been instrumental in our impressive start, with 11 league goals to his name by the end of October, including a hat-trick against Derby County.
‘We were well clear and playing incredible football at the time, beating teams by four or five goals on a regular basis, we were a machine,’ Tambling says.
‘Teams in the modern game could really have learnt from it. We had every free-kick and corner worked out and we often scored from them.’
Another important aspect of Docherty’s method was youthfully energetic, attacking full-back play down both flanks.
‘We came in for pre-season in 1962 and the training was completely different, a hell of a lot better,’ Shellito, who was first-choice right-back, recalled.
‘I’d always been a good passer of the ball and wanted to get more involved but it was always a case of don’t go any further up the pitch.
‘But Tom and Dave Sexton [the future Chelsea manager then a coach under Docherty] opened up the game and it all stemmed from there.
‘Eddie McCreadie and I started it and other clubs in England followed. I know Tommy and Dave went to Spain to watch training and whether it was a Spanish way, I don’t know but it made football more enjoyable.
‘Tommy and Dave were terrific together and they said this is how we’re going to play, and I’ve always believed they opened up football for us and made it very interesting.It wasn’t get the ball and kick it up there. It was get the ball and play it in there and go and get it back. I think they revolutionised football the way they wanted to play.’
After losing 1-0 away at Huddersfield Town on 13 October, Chelseaembarked on a run of 11 successive games in which the only points dropped came in a 1-1 home draw against Plymouth Argyle.
Our attacking players in particular were having a fruitful time, with Tambling scoring 18 goals during that period, Bridges netting six and Frank Blunstone, the veteran of the ’55 championship side but still only 28, also profiting on three occasions (one pictured below) as the likes of Newcastle United, Derby County and Charlton Athletic were ruthlessly taken apart.
It appeared the limited expectations going into the season had been well and truly wide of the mark. On Boxing Day a 2-0 win away at Luton Town put the Blues six points clear at the top of the table.
What followed, however, was a turn of events which left supporters, players and management alike dumbfounded, as our blistering start came to a halt in dramatic fashion, and the good old British weather shouldered at least some of the blame. The Luton match would prove to be our last competitive league outing until 9 February.
A truly atrocious period of weather saw game after game postponed. The freezing conditions and heavy snowfall, which came to be known as ‘the Big Freeze’, wouldn’t subside for well over a month, with London and southern areas worst affected.
As can be seen in the picture below, road burners normally used to melt tarmac were brought to Stamford Bridge in a desperate attempt to thaw the pitch for an FA Cup tie in January, but to no avail. Chelsea headed for sunnier climes…
– Tomorrow, part two of the 1962/63 story recalls warm weather training that didn’t entire pay off, lost form and two crucial victories at the end.