Chelsea legends recall Cup Winners' cup win over Madrid 50 years ago

‘We played two finals in three days to win our first European trophy’: Chelsea legends recall Cup Winners’ Cup triumph over Real Madrid 50 years ago, ahead of this week’s Champions League semi-final clash

  • European football was a new frontier when Chelsea and Real Madrid last met 
  • European Cup-Winners’ Cup final in 1971 made a lasting impact at the Bridge 
  • Chelsea legends recall their two-game triumph over Real Madrid in Athens 

European football was a fresh and exciting new frontier when Chelsea and Real Madrid last met in genuine competition.

Roman Abramovich was toddling around in darkest Siberia, Florentino Perez was pursuing wealth and influence via an engineering career in Franco’s Spain, and neither Zinedine Zidane nor Thomas Tuchel were even born.

But the European Cup-Winners’ Cup final in 1971 made a lasting impact at Stamford Bridge. It was the club’s first European trophy and it was claimed with two games in three days in Athens against Real Madrid, for years the undisputed kings of international club football and the team Chelsea face in the Champions League semi-final.

Chelsea legend have recalled their two-game triumph over Real Madrid 50 years ago in 1971

‘Nobody had stopped to think what might happen if it was a draw,’ recalled Chelsea’s captain Ron Harris.

‘Penalties hadn’t been thought of and there wasn’t a coin toss. When the game ended, nobody knew what was going to happen and then UEFA told us to stay in Athens and there would be a replay on Friday.’

Chelsea had come within seconds of winning the trophy in a more routine fashion, but Ignacio Zoco’s goal in the last minute wiped out Peter Osgood’s opener and extra time was goalless. ‘I was coming on as a sub just as they were putting out a table on the running track and were placing the cup on it,’ said Tommy Baldwin. ‘They were arranging the medals, ready to be presented, then they equalised.’

The silverware had already been paraded around the pitch by a military procession.

‘They appeared from behind one goal,’ said Dave Webb. ‘Greek soldiers doing a slow walk around the pitch with the cup as the game was going on. They’d just set it all up and disappeared when they scored and they had to come back out and take it away again.’

Manager Dave Sexton gave his players permission to go out after the match. ‘We always went for a drink,’ said Baldwin. ‘You have to get some fluid back into your system, don’t you?’

The European Cup-Winners’ Cup final in 1971 made a lasting impact at Stamford Bridge

In Athens they settled into a bar and after a light training session in the hotel grounds the following morning, were free to relax.

‘Some of us ended up by the harbour,’ said Webb. ‘My feet were sore and I can remember paddling in the water. I looked up and there was Dave Sexton and his wife in a restaurant by the sea. Some of the lads ended up in a bar. It was like being on a summer holiday.’

Many Chelsea fans flew home but others slept rough on the beaches to witness the end of the campaign.

‘They had no money and didn’t know what to do but they were determined to stay,’ said John Dempsey. ‘The players had a whip-round to help them out and we all gave our spare tickets to Ossie and he went and handed them out to fans. There was a real close bond with the fans.’

Baldwin recalls spending part of the day by a pool at the Hilton near the Acropolis. It was not the team hotel but some players settled in for a beer and a swim.

‘Alan Hudson was by the pool and asked Ossie how he was feeling,’ said Baldwin. ‘Ossie said, ‘I’m feeling great. I think I’m going to score the winning goal tomorrow’. That’s probably why he never gave me the ball back.’

Baldwin started in the replay, replacing John Hollins who was injured in the first game and recruited by television for a co-commentary shift, which might have made him the first in the role.

Osgood, as he predicted, did score what proved the winner, created by Baldwin.

‘I came short for a pass from Ron Harris and ran at their defence,’ said Baldwin. ‘I tried to play a wall pass with Ossie. I gave it to him and went for the return and about three Real Madrid defenders went with me. Ossie went the other way and slotted it in the far corner. I said to him after the match, ‘Why didn’t you give it back to me? I was free’. He said, ‘Oh Tommy, I knew you wouldn’t score’. It was a great goal.’

That made it 2-0, centre half Dempsey had scored the first with a sweet volley.

‘You don’t forget a goal like that,’ said Dempsey. ‘Charlie Cooke took the corner and I headed it towards goal. The goalkeeper punched it out and I just thought, ‘I’m going to hit this’.

Chelsea’s players were rewarded with a small bonus and a pair of cufflinks from the club

‘Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it would have missed but luckily enough it flew into the roof of the net. As a defender, you don’t even dream of scoring a goal like that. I caught it perfectly on the volley.’

Chelsea had started the competition in Greece with a victory against Aris Thessaloniki, whose president told Sexton’s team he thought they would go on to win it. They were 2-0 down after the first leg of a quarter-final against Club Brugge, fighting back to win the second leg 4-0 after extra time.

‘That was one of the great nights at Stamford Bridge,’ said Baldwin. ‘The support and noise was fantastic.’

They beat holders Manchester City home and away in the semi-final. The last four of the competition were almost identical to the last four in this year’s Champions League. The other team was PSV of Eindhoven rather than PSG of Paris.

Real Madrid’s illustrious heritage did not daunt Chelsea and, by the replay, the Londoners knew they could beat them.

‘I made a blinding tackle on Pirri, their captain, in the first game,’ said Webb. ‘He’s gone round Peter Bonetti to put it into an empty net and I made a tackle, it would have been a penalty today.

‘I got the ball and slid it out and my follow through took him and we ended up in with the photographers at the side of the pitch. It turned out he broke his arm and played the second game in a splint.’

Two games in three days proved too much for Francisco Gento, veteran winger of the glorious era of Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, and appearing in a record ninth European final.

At 37, Gento started on the bench for the replay, sent on as Paraguayan Sebastian Fleitas reduced the deficit and Real searched for another equaliser.

‘He came on wearing his watch,’ chuckled Webb. ‘We were all laughing and pointing. He laughed as well, undid it and threw it off the side of the pitch.

‘To me that was a geezer who had finished his career and wasn’t expecting to play.

‘They threw him on hoping for some magic but we were on the rise. We had youthfulness on our side, and resilience. We’d won the FA Cup against Leeds by coming through in the replay and we were more than comfortable.’

Chelsea’s players were rewarded with a small bonus and a pair of cufflinks from the club, and a heroes’ reception on their return to London.

‘We flew into Heathrow and travelled down the M4,’ said Dempsey.

‘It was a Saturday, no one was working so there were crowds with banners and flags on all the bridges and thousands of people were on the streets as we drove down High Street Kensington and the King’s Road to Fulham Road and to the Town Hall.

‘Even 50 years later, it gives me goosebumps.’

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