A Thriller at Stamford Bridge
Watching Chelsea on the television recently sent me back to the memorable day in October 1954 when my father took me to Stamford Bridge to see ‘The Pensioners’, as they were then dubbed, play Manchester United.
Living in Harpenden in those days, we normally made the short journey to watch Luton Town on Saturday afternoons, but this particular weekend Dad decided that we’d have a day up in London instead. He said he wanted me to see Duncan Edwards play – but I think he was still really a little upset at Luton having just sold his favourite player!
I had just turned nine years old at the time, and remember being very excited at the prospect of such an outing, for I’d never been to a First Division match before. It was a lovely autumn morning when we caught the half-past eight train from Harpenden headed by one of the big locomotives they called ‘Black Fives’ which used to pull those lovely maroon carriages of the LMS.
When we reached St. Pancras Dad said we could go to Hamleys before the game and I could spend the five shillings Aunt Ethel had given me for my birthday. So it was on the Underground to Piccadilly Circus, then a stroll down Regent Street to the famous store.
I’d never been on the Underground trains before – nor had I been to a shop like Hamleys. What a place! I could have stayed there all day, transfixed by all those delights – Meccano, Hornby trains, steam engines that ran on methylated spirits. In the end I chose a little red Dinky van with ‘Esso’ on the sides. It cost half-a-crown, I think – I recall Dad saying later that it cost nearly as much for the pair of us to get into the football.
Eventually he managed to drag me out of the toy shop and we had a bite to eat at a Lyons’ Corner House, then it was back to the tube, and on to Stamford Bridge. I didn’t have clue where I was and the Underground train seemed to get more packed at each station.
When my father said “This is our stop”, everyone else seemed to get out too and I clung on to his hand for dear life. We walked along in that crowd for what seemed ages, then came to an abrupt halt. This was the queue to get in the ground -1 couldn’t see the end of it – and it was only a quarter past one! When we did at last go
through the turnstiles, or at least Dad did -I was lifted over -1 was amazed by the sheer size of the stadium and the number of people in it. I reckon there must have been 60,000 people there that day, and the pitch looked so far away from us. It was light years away from the cramped enclosure at Luton that I was used to in those days.
Although we got as close to the front as we could, the two teams still looked a long way away when the match kicked off to the tremendous roars of the crowd. However,
even at that distance the barrel chest and tree trunk-like legs of Duncan Edwards stood out from the rest. I also recognised United’s Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, who were both England Internationals. The only player that I knew wearing Chelsea’s blue was Roy Bentley, their centre-forward.
United scored first, then Chelsea went in front with goals from O’Connell and Lewis. Dad said they were both amateurs, and that it was Seamus O’Connell’s first game for the club. Manchester United then scored a couple of quick goals just before half-time, the second of which I missed as the crowd surged down the terrace at the critical moment.
The second half was even more frantic with the majestic Edwards stamping his authority on to the game. I remember he sent one superb pass to his winger Johnny Berry which in turn centred for a United forward to score again. By now goals were raining in and I know I had to keep asking what the score was. I think at one stage Manchester were leading 6-3 and looked to have it sown up. However,
rl still vividly recall young O’Connell getting two superb goals, much to the delight of the crowd, which then roared incessantly.
Dad said there were still ten minutes to go, and from then on it was all Chelsea, and I remember the Reds’ goalkeeper having to pull off a magnificent save in the very last minute to ensure his team hung on.
The game just seemed to fly past as I looked on, almost mesmerised by it all. Then it was back through the crowds, past all the never-ending shops in the Kings Road, back to the Tube and eventually St. Pancras once again. It was a very tired little boy, still clutching his Dinky van in one hand and the match programme in the other, who was gently woken up by his father at Harpenden station.
I’ve been to many top football matches since that memorable day, but I can’t remember one with as many goals being scored, and certainly not one where four goals have been registered by amateurs.
Looking back, although I suppose it was not the best football match I ever saw – too many defensive mistakes for that – it was definitely the most exciting!