BY Vince Cooper
Chelsea have had their share of ‘unsung heroes’ over the years. Peter Houseman, a hugely influential member of the great side of the late 60s and early 70s springs to mind as a player who was rarely in the limelight despite crucial contributions and being highly thought of by his teammates.
As Houseman was leaving the club for Oxford United where he spent two seasons before his tragic and untimely death in 1977, a young midfield player named John Bumstead was just starting out his career.
Born in 1958 in Rotherhithe, Bumstead joined the Blues as a youngster and turned pro in 1976. His debut came in 1978, a 2-1 loss against Leeds at Elland Road where he faced up against Tony Currie and acquired himself well. He would make his last start in 1991, a goalless draw at home to Wimbledon and a look at the two line-ups shows how his time at the club straddles three decades and an era:
Chelsea v Leeds United at Elland Road 22nd November 1978:
Bob Iles, Graham Wilkins, John Stride, Ray Lewington, Steve Wicks, Ron Harris, Gary Stanley, Ray Lewington, Tommy Langley, John Bumstead, Duncan McKenzie. Sub: Clive Walker.
Chelsea v Wimbledon at Stamford Bridge 16th February 1991
Dave Beasant, Steve Clarke, Tony Dorigo, John Bumstead, Jason Cundy, Ken Monkou, Alan Dickens, Graeme Le Saux, Kerry Dixon, David Mitchell, Dennis Wise. Sub: Damien Matthew.
In between those two games Bumstead played with 95 different teammates and he remained a constant through some really good times and some really bad ones.
That first start was in a season when Chelsea finished rock bottom of the 1st Division managing a mere five wins and 20 total points. Bumstead made only ten appearances in that campaign including two as a substitute and did manage a goal although there wasn’t much to celebrate in a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of Middlesbrough where the Blues’ other was scored by Peter Osgood – another indication of the midfield man’s longevity.
In the following – 1979-80 – campaign Bumstead worked under two managers with Danny Blanchflower in charge until Geoff Hurst took over. He managed 28 starts on either side of a dislocated ankle suffered against Shrewsbury and scored three times although he wasn’t on the scoresheet in the 7-3 win at Orient that was one of the highlights of a season in which Chelsea failed to secure a return to the top flight, finishing 4th.
In fact the club would spend a total of five seasons in the second division and at one time came perilously close to falling even further. There were few highlights during this period with an F.A. Cup victory over Liverpool which Bumstead missed through injury perhaps the biggest. On a personal note he scored twice against Charlton at the Valley in 1980-81 with one, struck from 30 yards, probably ranking as the best during his Blues career.
On 7 May 1983 Chelsea, with Bumstead in the line up, visited Bolton Wanderers having not won for nine matches, in 19th place in the table and staring another, potentially club-threatening, relegation in the face. With 15 minutes remaining, the game goalless and another nail about to be drilled into the Blues coffin, Clive Walker picked up the ball in an unpromising position, turned and lashed it home. Suddenly fans could breathe out.
During the course of the club’s second flight tenure, Bumstead remained a fixture. He played in 157 of the matches during that run. When John Neal, who had taken the helm in 1981 decided that a clear-out was needed ‘Johnny B’ was one of those that remained, and he performed admirably alongside the new faces.
In the promotion season of 1983-84 Bumstead made 31 starts and scored seven goals. Fitting in seamlessly alongside new faces Eddie Niedzwiecki, Joe McLaughlin, Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman (his new central midfield partner) and Kerry Dixon, he received much less publicity than those five, or a number of other members of the squad. But his play, positional sense and consistency made him an integral member of the team and allowed those others the time and space to play and take the limelight, and headlines.
As usual during his tenure at the club Bumstead went about his work in a methodical way, getting through a great deal of work with or without the ball.
Chelsea began their first season back in the top flight without the injured Bumstead in the line-up but he came into the side for the 1-1 draw at Manchester United and played 25 league games as the team finished 6th in the 1st Division, as well as in six League Cup matches when Chelsea went on an exciting run that ended with semi-final defeat to Sunderland – and former hero Walker.
John Neal retired at the end of the 1984-85 season and ‘moved upstairs’ joining the board. As his replacement the club brought in former star John Hollins. Another 6th-placed finish followed with the added bonus of a first cup success for Bumstead.
The Full Members Cup had been added to the schedule after English teams were banned from Europe following the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster. The Screen Sport Super Cup included the six teams who would have played in the continent’s big competitions that year and the next 32 were invited into the secondary competition. Not all accepted so clubs from farther down the ladder were drafted in and the number of clubs competing dwindled down to 21.
Teams started out in groups of three and Chelsea comfortably saw off Portsmouth (where Bumstead scored in a 3-0 win) and Charlton to progress to the Southern semi-final. After overcoming West Bromwich Albion on penalties the Blues then faced Oxford United in the Southern final over two legs, winning 4-2 on aggregate.
On 23 March 1986 Chelsea faced Manchester City at Wembley in the first final. Just 24 hours earlier they had beaten Southampton 1-0 at The Dell in a league match. Amazingly, Hollins made just one change for the final bringing in Colin Lee for Kerry Dixon.
The Full Members Cup may not have meant much to fans up and down the country but to the many Chelsea supporters among the 67,000 at Wembley that day it meant the World.
The Blues fell behind early but then took over. With Pat Nevin at his inspirational best they scored five unanswered goals through David Speedie (3) and Colin Lee (2) with Bumstead playing a big part in two of them. City tried to mount a comeback but fell short and the final score was 5-4 to Chelsea.
In the 1986-87 season Bumstead recorded a personal high of eight goals, including a spectacular diving header in the final day draw with Liverpool, but the team took a backward step, dropping down to 14th after those successive 6th-place finishes.
At the start of the 1987-88 season the midfield man was awarded a testimonial. A disappointing crowd of 3,545 turned up to watch Chelsea beat Real Sociedad 1-0 thanks to a Kerry Dixon goal. Bumstead, suffering from an ankle injury, managed to play for just 11 minutes.
Despite the addition of Tony Dorigo before the season began and goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock later, campaign was extremely disappointing for the Blues and in March 1988 Hollins resigned as manager and was replaced by Bobby Campbell. They eventually finished 18th forcing them into a four-team playoff for survival. Having missed the first half of the season due to the ankle injury Bumstead was now a regular again and played in both legs of the playoff final but Chelsea failed to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit, with a 1-0 win at home failing to save their top flight place.
The following campaign was a different story. Chelsea weathered the loss of Nevin to Everton. They shrewdly spent some of the money on veterans Graham Roberts and Peter Nicholas and after a poor start quickly climbed the table. They were top by the time Dave Beasant arrived from Newcastle in January to further strengthen the defence and battling for supremacy with Manchester City for a while before drawing away. The title was secured weeks before the end of the season with an eventual margin of 17 points back to runners-up City. Again Bumstead was more often in the line-up than not, making 29 appearances and scoring twice, including, fittingly, the winner in the game against Leeds that clinched the title.
So 1989-90 saw Chelsea and Bumstead back in the top flight in and it was an excellent campaign for both. The Blues finished in 5th, surpassing all expectations, while the player made 25 starts (many at right back) and was substitute on a further eight occasions.
And there was another Wembley appearance as the Blues again reached the Full Members Cup final. By this time Gareth Hall had taken over at right back and Bumstead was back in central midfield as a Tony Dorigo free kick gave the Blues a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.
Bumstead made only 10 starts in the following campaign (with eight more as sub), scoring once, in the 3-2 win over Spurs, as the big money additions of Andy Townsend and Dennis Wise made the competition for midfield places much tougher. The now 32-year-old was allowed to move on a free transfer in January 1991, signing for Charlton Athletic. He spent two years at The Valley before hanging up his boots in 1993 at the age of 35.
Bumstead is now a London taxi driver and still a regular in the hospitality areas on matchdays at Stamford Bridge.
Consistency was the key word of John Bumstead’s long career at Stamford Bridge. He made a total of over 400 starts and scored 44 goals (some of them spectacular). Rarely did he have a bad game and he was tough in the tackle and with good distribution skills. In short, he always ‘put in a shift’. Whilst this list includes many players who won their place on it by showing remarkable skill in either stopping or scoring goals, Bumstead deserves his position for a willingness to fight for every ball and face up to every challenge thrown at him.
He was a great teammate, and many of those 95 colleagues during his time at Stamford Bridge will no doubt have recollection of how he earned the nickname ‘The Slug’ due, as Pat Nevin recalled, to his slightly odd habit, after a few drinks, of going to ground and mimicking one. They will also remember that though they may have been quicker (like the next player on our list) or more talented, few can claim to have been more devoted to the Blues cause than Johnny B.
The next man on our list only made just over a century of appearances for the club, 70 of them alongside Bumstead, but his impact was, in many ways, as strong off the pitch as on it.