Last year I was asked to contribute to Tales From The She’d, an anthology of 34 Chelsea-related stories which was being published to raise money for the Stoll Foundation. I happily agreed and below is my contribution.

The book is available on Amazon and I’d highly recommend it, there are some great contributions, as well as mine which you can read here for free!

It’s a great concept and I hope that more fans consider producing something similar for their clubs.

So, with thanks to publisher Mark Worrall who had the idea and made it happen, here is ‘The Night The Lights Went Out’

BY Vince Cooper

In January 1969 I was 12 years old and halfway through my first year at secondary school. I had been going to Stamford Bridge regularly with my Dad, Brother, Uncles, Cousins and various friends. We always stood in the same place (just to the right of The Shed as you look down at the pitch – up the stairs, turn right) and I regularly went to Football Combination and Youth Team matches on the weekends when the first team were playing away.

Chelsea 1968-69

The Blues had built a good team, regularly competing near the top of the First Division and reaching the later stages of the FA Cup along with some good performances in Europe, but almost as regularly falling just short (the 1965 League Cup success was the only time we ‘got over the line’ and, to be honest, the competition wasn’t held in great esteem back then).

But Chelsea played exciting football. Peter Osgood was, of course, the hero of the Bridge – and around him, first Tommy Docherty and then Dave Sexton had put together plenty of great supporting players. From Peter Bonetti in goal to the likes of Bobby Tambling, Charlie Cooke, David Webb, John Hollins and many more, there was plenty of talent worth going to the Bridge to watch.

In November 1968 an injury to Hollins saw Sexton try Ossie out in an unfamiliar right-half position with Alan Birchenall leading the attack. The experiment had mixed results and was certainly unpopular with the majority of fans but the manager persisted and when Hollins returned to the line-up it was in the problem position of right-back.

The Blues had already been knocked out of two competitions with Derby County overcoming Our boys in a League Cup 3rd Round replay and DWS Amsterdam winning a coin toss to end Fairs Cup interest. With a nine-point gap to Liverpool at the top of the First Division table, January rolled around with the FA Cup the only real hope left of a successful season.

Second Division Carlisle United were dispatched 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the 3rd Round thanks to first-half goals from Osgood and Tambling and the Blues were rewarded with a 4th Round trip to play another second-tier team, Preston.

We watched World of Sport and read in the following day’s newspapers that Chelsea had outclassed their rivals but failed to find the net, a goalless draw bringing the Lancashire team to London four days later for the replay.

Tricky Dicky fixed it

Whilst the front pages of Tuesday’s newspapers had stories about a dustman’s strike in South London, Richard Nixon’s first day in office as the U.S. President and the cost of a loaf of bread going up by 1d to 1/8 this 12-year-old football – and Chelsea – fanatic immediately turned to the back pages and I was happy to read the news that Osgood would play, despite suffering a thigh injury in the first encounter.

So, on a soaking wet evening we made our way through Battersea Park and over the Thames to form part of the 44,000 plus crowd.

The match that never was

It was plain-sailing. Ian Hutchinson, signed the previous summer from Cambridge United, scored his first goal for the club to set the Blues on their way in the first-half and Birchenall doubled the lead not long after half-time.

Chelsea were coasting and we were already looking forward to a 5th Round tie with Stoke City ten days later. Then disaster struck, although not in the way anyone might have expected.

With 20 minutes to go half of the floodlights went out (apparently caused by a fire in the control system). The referee continued and we peered through the murk as our team made their way to the last 16. Suddenly, more lighting disappeared and one side of the pitch was in almost total darkness.

The players were brought off as staff tried to fix the problem but they failed and the match was eventually abandoned.

With no guarantee that the floodlights would be fit for action in time and the 5th Round looming, it was decided that the match would be replayed on Monday afternoon at 3pm.

In the meantime, the Blues travelled to Southampton and, with Osgood, Cooke and John Boyle on the sidelines and Alan Hudson making his debut along with new signing John Dempsey they were thrashed 5-0.

So, a Monday afternoon kick-off with everyone back to work or school, meagre attendance surely? Well…

The match that was

My school, Battersea County, was probably made up of 75% Blues fans and as soon as it was announced that the rearranged match would be an afternoon kick-off, plans were hatched.

As a 1st Year at the school, the idea of ‘bunking off’ had never crossed my mind. Older kids did it, I was aware of it, but actually doing it myself hadn’t yet crossed my mind.

An enquiry about the possibility of ‘going sick’ was quickly dismissed by my mum so, if I wanted to go, I would have to take the plunge. I weighed it up. I heard of so many who were going that I decided that if I was going to get into trouble for it, I certainly wouldn’t be on my own.

It could be the biggest detention ever!

It was also my first match ‘alone’ – without the family and friends who were my regular co-attendees. So, even though I was in my school uniform it also felt, somehow so ‘grown-up’.

So, after going out for lunch we just… never went back. A group of us made our way to the ground arriving a good hour before kick-off to find – thousands there in various school uniforms. Battersea County clearly wasn’t the only school to suffer low attendance on that Monday afternoon.

And those of us there (the attendance was an official 36,522 which considering many of us would duck under the gate might have been considerably higher) saw some real drama.

My schoolmate and I stood further over than my usual family position, down below the mighty Shed, populated by ‘bigger boys’. We cheered as the team ran out with Ossie, Cooke and Boyle all back in the line-up but Preston shocked everyone when they took an early lead  through Gerry Ingram. Still, there was plenty of time to come back.

But as the match went on the visitors, with future star Archie Gemmill seemingly everywhere (think a Scottish N’Golo Kante) were holding on.

Half time came and went; anxiety levels grew, we tried to help the team by singing louder but it didn’t seem to help.

It turned into a siege on the visiting goal. Ossie was pushed up front, we attacked almost non-stop. Then Preston broke and Gemmill popped up to smash a shot against the bar. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and sang out (probably in a slightly higher pitch than the crowd might usually have sounded with the high schoolboy element present): ‘Score, score, when we get one we’ll get more…’.

Finally, in the very last minute, a hero arrived. David Webb, occasional goalkeeper, popped up in the Preston area and headed home (something he was to do even more famously at Old Trafford a year later). It might have been from a Charlie Cooke cross but my memory isn’t ‘that’ good.

Injury time. No boards from fourth officials, no tannoy announcements so nobody knew how long was left. Long enough though, for Cooke to smash the winner through a crowded penalty area. Cue delirium. All worries about about impending school punishments (or any handed out by my mum if word got back to her) were forgotten as we celebrated as though we’d won the cup.

93 minutes

I don’t think any ‘punishment’ was actually handed out at school and my mum thankfully never found out. I remember our headmaster, Mr Deadman, mentioning it in severe terms at assembly and promising retribution if it occurred again but that was it, we were in the clear. The decision had clearly been reached that it would be impossible to punish what seemed like half the school!

Five days later I was back at the Bridge, back with the family/friends group to see another thriller as we saw off Stoke 3-2, Ossie scoring twice and Alan Birchenall getting the other, to keep the Wembley dream alive.

Sadly that dream died at the quarter-final stage when holders West Brom came to Stamford Bridge and recorded a 2-1 win.

So we had to wait for our cup hopes to be fulfilled, although only for another year before finally achieving the goal on a memorable night at Old Trafford – and that night is another amazing memory.

Chelsea have given me so many but that win over Preston – coincidentally the opposition for my first-ever visit to Stamford Bridge as a six-year-old back in 1963 will always live in my memory.