Chelsea v Stoke City, 1974
Chelsea and Stoke City were First Division rivals in the early 1970s, and took part in the 1972 League Cup final. At the end of October 1974, the clubs met four times in a matter of weeks. Their League Cup Third Round tie required two replays, and was eventually won 6-2 by Stoke at the Victoria Ground on October 22nd, just four days before a league fixture at Stamford Bridge. Ron Suart had recently taken over as Chelsea manager after Dave Sexton’s sacking on October 3rd.
For England under-23 midfielder Alan Hudson, this was a return to his former club after he had left Chelsea in January 1974, moving to Stoke for a then club record fee of £240,000. On his first visit back to Stamford Bridge, at the end of the 1973-74 season, he had scored the only goal of the game. Hudson won his only two full England caps in 1975, after which he moved to Arsenal and then to the North American Soccer League with Seattle Sounders. He returned to Chelsea in 1983, without making a first-team appearance, and then re-joined Stoke in January 1985 before retiring at the start of the 1985-86 season.
Chelsea were in transition from their 1970 FA Cup-winning side, which also lifted the 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Survivors included Charlie Cooke, John Dempsey, club captain Ron Harris, John Hollins and centre-forward Ian Hutchinson, a long-throw expert. Striker Hutchinson’s career was sadly blighted by injury, and he retired from the professional game at only 27, at the end of the 1975-76 season. Hollins had made his Chelsea debut in 1963 and was Player of the Year in 1970 and 1971, but left for Sexton’s QPR at the end of this season. A club-record run of 167 consecutive first-team appearances ended in September 1974. He later moved to Arsenal before returning to Chelsea in 1983, and managing the club between June 1985 and March 1988. Hollins holds the record for outfield appearances in England’s top division with a career total of 714.
At this point in the 1970s, Stoke were in the ascendancy, enjoying a 5th place finish in the First Division in 1973-74 under Tony Waddington. Chelsea struggled in 17th, only a point above the relegation places. Having earned a UEFA Cup place, Stoke only lost to Ajax on away goals, going out after a goalless draw in Amsterdam on October 2nd, 1974. Stoke’s status was underlined when they spent £325,000, then a world record fee for a goalkeeper, to bring Peter Shilton from Leicester City in November 1974. Waddington believed the England keeper would “give the defence that extra confidence to clinch the championship”.
At the end of the 1974-75 season, Stoke again finished impressively in 5th place (though that was not enough for a UEFA Cup spot); Chelsea were meanwhile relegated in 21st, ending an 11-year stay in the top flight. The two clubs enjoyed mixed fortunes for the rest of the decade – in 1976-77 Stoke were relegated, and Chelsea promoted back to the First Division. In 1978-79, their status was reversed as Stoke were promoted and Chelsea relegated once more.
Both owed their struggles at least in part to stadium-related financial problems. Chelsea built a new East Stand in 1973, intended as the first stage in an ambitious redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, but the cost proved a heavy burden for years to come. Stoke meanwhile went into decline after the collapse of the Butler Street Stand during high winds in January 1976 – with repairs to the Victoria Ground not covered by insurance, star players including Hudson, Mike Pejic, Jimmy Greenhoff and eventually Shilton had to be sold as a result.
Match details for Chelsea – Stoke City; Stamford Bridge, Football League Division One, Saturday 26 October 1974:
Chelsea: 1. John Phillips, 2. Gary Locke, 3. Ron Harris, 4. John Hollins, 5. Micky Droy, 6. John Dempsey, 7. Ian Britton, 8. Chris Garland, 9. Charlie Cooke, 10. Ian Hutchinson, 11. Steve Kember. Manager: Ron Suart. Scorers: Droy, Garland, Hutchinson.
Stoke City: 1. John Farmer, 2. Jackie Marsh, 3. Mike Pejic, 4. John Mahoney, 5. Denis Smith, 6. Alan Dodd, 7. Sean Haslegrave, 8. Jimmy Greenhoff, 9. Geoff Hurst (sub Jimmy Robertson), 10. Alan Hudson, 11. Geoff Salmons. Manager: Tony Waddington. Scorers: Greenhoff, Haslegrave, Robertson.
Attendance: 24, 718
After this game, the next Football League meeting of Chelsea and Stoke at Stamford Bridge was over a decade away (coming in December 1984). The 1984-85 season was the last to see both clubs in the top division until 2008-09. By then, Stoke had their own long-throw specialist in Rory Delap, whose delivery was as effective as Hutchinson’s in the 1970s.
The Football League in the 1970s forms part of my book Before the Premier League: A History of the Football League’s Last Decades.