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Chelsea FC: in the Swinging '60s
Football's First Rock 'N' Roll Club
By Greg Tesser
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Greg Tesser
All rights reserved.
At the tender age of seven years and seven months I fell in love. Not some kind of pre-pubescent romance with a girl, but with a football club – Chelsea Football Club.
This was many years before I started to knock back chardonnay or Barolo al fresco with all the aesthetes and 'beautiful people' under a gaudy Martini sunshade at a table of an ultra-modish King's Road eatery in the company of Charlie Cooke, or munch shellfish in his cosy Mini or visit Scottish international Stewart Houston in hospital with the King of Stamford Bridge himself, Peter Osgood.
When I was a boy in the embryonic years of the austere 1950s, we had a housekeeper. Her name was Mrs Brooks, and she was all contentment and geniality and old-fashioned reverence. She was large and she waddled, and she had a husband called Percy, who was a dustman, and she was proud of him and the fact that he wore a bowler hat to work. She always called me 'Master Gregory', and in the manner of some Edwardian nanny, spoilt me rotten. She voted Conservative and was a staunch monarchist. She was the archetypal working-class snob.
She knew nothing of football, or soccer as it was always called at my prep school, an establishment where the masters in charge of sport regarded rugger as the real football. Yet there she was on a dank December day in 1954, handing me a hot drink, as I watched Ted Drake's Chelsea on our 9in 'Ekco' TV, purchased by my father in 1949.
I was reclining languidly, almost ostentatiously, in a 1930s Chesterfield with a cup of tea at my side – Mrs Brooks was an ardent advocate of strong, sweet tea as a cure for all ills – for, following a little bit of vomiting just before breakfast, my mother had decided I was too unwell for the rigours of school.
The BBC were broadcasting the second half of Chelsea's friendly with crack Hungarian outfit Red Banner, captained by the legendary Nandor Hidegkuti; his deep-lying centre-forward play had so tormented England twelve months before at Wembley in the Hungarians' 6–3 demolition of the game's founders.
The result was 2–2 in a contest most notable for some of the poorest penalty kicks ever witnessed at Stamford Bridge, but I didn't mind – I was hooked.
Now, I was born in Hornsey Lane Highgate, just a goal-kick away from Arsenal's home of Highbury; yet despite my North London beginnings, I soon latched on to Chelsea. It was the exploits of Roy Bentley that did it, a Roy of the Rovers-style centre forward who banged in the goals with feet and head, and was the archetypal English sporting hero of those monochrome days of rationing, reserve and stiff upper-lip.
Bentley was about thirty years old, but he looked years older. His roughly chiselled face was lined and his forehead contained deep furrows. But these were special men – men who had survived the Second World War and all its many deaths and deprivations and heartaches.
Even for me, a mere child, the Second World War was still all around us, what with the bombsites we played on, still littered with the detritus of the Blitz, visits to the Food Office on Archway Road with my mother, and the ration books and the gas masks that were tucked away on a shelf in the sitting-room, seemingly waiting for action. I had just missed it. I had been conceived just a few weeks before the guns went silent, but it was still everywhere.
At Stamford Bridge, they were getting excited. Never before had the club, so often the butt of music hall jokes for their lack of success, been League Champions. But by the spring of 1955, when Teddy Boys were ripping up the cinema seats to Bill Haley's 'Rock Around The Clock' and James Dean lookalikes were emerging from suburban front-doors, only champions Wolverhampton Wanderers – or Portsmouth – it seemed, could deprive the Blues of the coveted top-flight title.
By this time I was living in an Art Deco block of flats called Brook Lodge in north-west London, on the junction of Brent Street and the North Circular.
Neither of my two best friends was a Chelsea fan. There was Anthony van Straten, whose father was a leading light in the Edmundo Ros Rumba Band. Anthony was quiet and reserved, and his dance-band-dad mirrored his son; certainly not the archetypal Mayfair musician of the time.
But what a man Edmundo was! Thickset, but extremely stylish, he was the personification of suavity. So much so in fact, that he became a favourite of the Royal Family. In fact, the-then Princess Elizabeth danced in public for the very first time to his band at the fashionable Bagatelle Restaurant. Later he performed regularly at Buckingham Palace.
Despite his extravagant and hedonistic lifestyle, Ros had tremendous staying power, and in 2011 he became a centenarian, only to pass away later that same year.
I think I was about eight when I first encountered Ros. He seemed massive, to such an extent that he rather frightened me. He once asked me a question about football – I can't remember why – and I answered rather sheepishly that I wanted to go to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea. He just smiled, and said nothing.
Then there was Geoffrey Levy, whose mother had been a fashion model, and whose father, Leslie, owned La Strada restaurant in Hampstead Garden Suburb in partnership with comedian Charlie Chester (another favourite of the Royal Family, he died in 1997).
Incidentally, Charlie was also a fan of the round ball game, with the iconic 'Wizard of the Dribble', Stanley Matthews, being one of his closest friends. I never managed to discover his favourite football team, but three of his contemporaries, fellow comedians Arthur Askey, Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris were all committed Chelsea supporters.
Geoffrey broke my arm once. We were re-enacting scenes from the Walt Disney film Davy Crockett, King of The Wild Frontier – it was all the rage then – and as we fought out the Battle of the Alamo in Brent Park, my arm suddenly snapped like a twig. It wasn't Geoffrey's fault; the doctor said later it could have happened at any time. It had something to do with calcium deficiency in my young bones.
However, his mother took a different view. She was a strict disciplinarian, and she caned him with a long curved thing she kept in a cupboard. She even thrashed him once in my presence. But Geoffrey was brave, for he never shed a tear. This is how it was back then. Cruel by today's standards, but sixty-odd years ago children knew what to expect and existed within strict parameters. As normal boys we realised that if we transgressed, the outcome would be a painful one!
Anyway, Geoffrey was a dab hand with a cricket bat and a budding footballer, and, just days before my father's thrity-seventh birthday, it was suggested that all three of us make the pilgrimage to Stamford Bridge for the Football League Championship-decider with Wolves.
It was 9 April 1955. The weather was mild; almost balmy, and my head was full of the Bill Haley record 'Crazy Man, Crazy', which my father had bought for me from a record emporium in Hendon. It wasn't a new release, for Haley had hit the charts two years before with this ditty that contained the immortal lines: 'Strauss discovered waltzing, the handyman found the blues, crazy man, crazy, crazy news.'
I kept singing the words out loud, and it must have been really irritating for those around me. Maybe that's why my dad inadvertently sat on the disc, smashing it in two. For as the psychiatrists say, there is no such thing as an accident!
At the eleventh hour, Geoffrey decided he couldn't make it, so it was just Tesser senior and junior. How my father managed to make sure we got seats, I don't know, but he was always a supreme fixer.
My father, Victor, a child of the East End, was born during the dying embers of the First World War. He was what is commonly referred to as a 'self-made man'. He had socialist principles, and in fact had been at the front line when Oswald Moseley's odious Blackshirts had goose-stepped their way into Cable Street, a primarily Jewish area, on 4 October 1936. Known as 'the Battle of Cable Street', it was a day that East Londoners still regard as their own personal victory against Fascism – the day that Oswald Moseley's thugs were driven out of their cosmopolitan domain forever.
Ironically, in later years one of my father's closest friends proved to be the late Clem Mitford (Lord Redesdale), a nephew of Moseley's wife Diana. An elegant, easy-going chap, he later helped me with the launch of my very own football magazine – but more of that later.
Fast-forward nineteen years and by this time my father was a successful businessman, owning a silk screen-printing works in Belsize Park, 'Studio Torron', just a stone's throw away from Hampstead Heath – plus a photographic studio in Dean Street, Soho.
Despite his humble beginnings and rudimentary education, and the fact that his parents – his father from Poland, his mother from Odessa in Ukraine – spoke in Yiddish, my father learned as a young man to cultivate and develop what used to be termed a 'cultured voice'. He was also a serial name-dropper, having at a comparatively early stage in his life somehow managed to befriend actors, aristocrats, politicians and writers.
Both actor Richard Burton and Welsh writer Dylan Thomas – he of Under Milk Wood – were his regular drinking companions, mainly at the Cruel Sea, a far from prepossessing pub in Heath Street, Hampstead, where a diverse bunch of bohemians and polymaths would hold court as the alcohol-fuelled voices rose to a crescendo and every ill of society was addressed and cured. They were, by the standards of the 1950s, long-haired young men, many wearing corduroy jackets with leather patches.
It was certainly a far-cry from the likes of Hoxton and Stepney in the East End, but my father's roots were to hold him in good stead when chatting and fraternising with the likes of Rodney Marsh and Bobby Moore. Marsh in particular was proud of his Stepney heritage, and my father and he, despite being of different generations, would revel in comparing nostalgic notes.
So back to the big day itself – 9 April 1955. There were 75,000-plus crammed into Stamford Bridge and many thousands locked out. Flat caps covering Brylcreemed bonces and fags everywhere. Just a shame the game itself was as dour as a Sunday afternoon in January in an English country town, but it didn't matter a jot because Chelsea won 1–0, courtesy of a Peter Sillett penalty. Champions Wolves were but a pale shadow of the side that had advanced so imperiously to the title the previous season.
The 1955 Championship-winning celebration party at that Art Deco monument to good taste, the Dorchester hotel on Park Lane, was indeed a glittering occasion. As former boss Tommy Docherty so aptly put it many years later, 'Chelsea has always been a showbiz club'. On that spring night nearly sixty years ago, the gathered players, wives, girlfriends and club directors and officials danced until the wee small hours to the music of the suave Victor 'Slow-Slow-Quick-Quick-Slow' Sylvester, a diehard Chelsea fan since boyhood.
As an aside to this, many years later I found myself discussing the fortunes of Chelsea during the immediate post-war years with scriptwriter extraordinaire Alan Simpson, he of Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son fame.
In a twist of fate that had serious It's a Wonderful Life overtones, he told me how if in his youth he hadn't been dealt a particularly dud card, it could well have been Simpson between the sticks during that title-winning season and not the Scottish goalkeeper Bill Robertson.
Simpson's story is one that, in terms of cinematic licence, would be deemed too 'far-fetched'. It all starts on a bleak Boxing Day in 1946. Alan is in goal for crack amateur outfit Dulwich Hamlet at their – by the standards of the time – palatial home of Champion Hill. A senior Chelsea scout was in attendance, his brief being to check on this young up-and-coming 'keeper.
Let Alan himself tell the story: 'My first touch of the ball was to retrieve it from the back of the net. But we did win the game 8–3, and the scout must have been impressed because before I knew it I'd received a letter offering me a trial at Stamford Bridge in June 1947.'
His idol was Blues custodian Vic Woodley, a member of the hellraising team of the 1930s that included the pocket dynamo Hughie Gallacher, known for his size 6 boots, white spats and forty-a-day Woodbines habit, who later tragically committed suicide. Another member was the elegant Scottish international winger, Alex Jackson, who soon immersed himself in the nightlife of London's West End.
'I wanted to be another Vic Woodley,' he admitted to me. 'So, when the opportunity arose to actually play in a game, you can imagine how excited I felt.'
But fate took a hand for the young Simpson in the shape of tuberculosis, a disease that spread its malignant tentacles throughout Western Europe during the aftermath of the Second World War.
Deprived of his Stamford Bridge trial, Alan found himself hospitalised in one form or another for three solid years, during which time he befriended Ray Galton and the legend that became Tony Hancock was created.
So, my Chelsea 'debut' had been and gone; a highly satisfactory one at that. Okay, so the Blues had clinched the Division One crown for the first time, with the lowest number of points ever accrued from 42 matches, but that didn't bother me because by this time I was besotted with the team from Stamford Bridge, and there was still my boyhood idol Jimmy Greaves to come!CHAPTER 2
JIMMY GREAVES AND THE NO. 28 BUS
Golders Green station, London NW11, circa 1957. It's autumn; the conker season is in full swing and a young boy is waiting by a bus stop, looking resplendent in his pink blazer and cap, both adorned with the black Maltese Cross.
He's waiting for the No.28 bus, and despite his overt prep school uniform and its obvious class associations with the ruffians' game played by gentlemen (otherwise known as rugby), he's soon to be on his way to Stamford Bridge to cheer on Chelsea, and in particular their new seventeen-year-old wunderkind James Peter Greaves.
The first time I saw Jimmy Greaves was on television. It was a youth international involving England and Luxembourg in 1957, and the precocious Greaves and his equally intoxicating Chelsea sidekick winger Peter Brabrook were tormenting the Luxembourg defence in the manner of a cat with an unusually submissive mouse. Commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme – he of 'They think it's all over – well it is now!' – was in raptures.
England netted seven goals with just one in reply. Jimmy helped himself to five of them – a unique star was indeed born.
Later, I regularly used to hop on a bus at Golders Green and make my way to West Hendon to watch the Chelsea youth team in action in the South East Counties League. These were the first occasions that I saw the precocious Greaves in the flesh, and he didn't let me down. When he was around it was always backache time for opposition 'keepers!
So, there I was waiting for my bus. I got on, and the long trek to the Bridge began. West End Lane; Kilburn, and then through the sad streets of Westbourne Grove, where the newly arrived West Indian population had created this wondrous world of speciality shops, selling such food items as capsicums, chilli peppers and plantains.
As we drove through Westbourne Grove into Notting Hill Gate and then Kensington, the atmosphere changed. It was 1950s London again, not this new burgeoning cosmopolitan creation. Twelve months later the peace and tranquillity of this new part of the West Indies was going to be temporarily destroyed by yes, you've guessed it, the odious Oswald Mosley and his Union Movement organisation, founded in 1948, for the ignorant and warped, the bitter and twisted.
Preying on the disaffected youth of the time – mainly ill-educated Teddy Boys – Mosley and his cohorts cultivated a hatred of all human beings who were not white, to such an extent and with so much 'success' that eventually in August 1958, it all boiled over, and racial violence, previously unseen in Britain, took hold for at least a fortnight.
Excerpted from Chelsea FC: in the Swinging '60s by Greg Tesser. Copyright © 2013 Greg Tesser. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The Beginnings,
2 Jimmy Greaves and The No.28 Bus,
3 Snowdrifts and Tommy's Stomach,
4 The Yardifying Yardbirds and not Forgetting Chelsea,
5 More Soho Adventures and Chelsea's Treble-Chase,
6 Chelsea 'Alone in Europe' and 'They Think It's All Over' and All That,
7 A First Final for The Blues and Ossie's Nightmare,
8 I Tell Ossie About Eric Clapton,
9 1969-70 – Ossie Hits The Highspots and Shamateurism is Exposed,
10 Endorsements and that Cup Final,
11 Euston Station and Beyond,
12 Communists and Fascists and Fashion,
13 Film Stars – Flim-Flam and Rock 'N' Roll,
14 European Glory and the Athens Trio,
15 Austerity and the Big Break Up,
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