Monday, July 25, 2011

Speaking of losers. Since Second Division was the place to be in 1975, Carlisle United and Luton Town rushed to join the excitement. No big surprise in their relegation, though – both clubs were more at home down in Second then up in First Division.
Luton Town finished 20th, just a point bellow lucky escapee Tottenham Hotspur.
Carlisle United dead last.
Both clubs were promoted in 1973-74 and lasted only a year among the best. Except for pretty kits nothing else can be said about them. Their fans may disagree with ‘nothingness’, but the final table of the season pretty much ends arguments.

Just between Luton and Carlisle was sandwiched Chelsea – 21st, second from last, and down.
On one hand, nothing strange – in highly competitive England everything was possible. On the other hand, it should have been alarming: Manchester United was relegated in 1974, and now – Chelsea. A momentary slip? May be… Manchester United recovered in a year. May be Chelsea were just jinxed by their unusual away kit:
Red and green – may be that’s the reason. Or may be not… Chelsea was not Manchester United. First of all, they were never really big club. Chelsea became trendy club in the 1960s, largely by location. Yet, the link between rock’n’roll, alternative culture, hippies, and football was tangental and tentative at best – apart from Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, and Elton John, there were hardly other close relations. The new Chelsea fans supported the club more as fashionable expression: the club was in the hub of the ‘flower’ culture and was just right – not very big and representing alternative to the traditional London rivalries between West London (Arsenal, Totteham) and East London (West Ham United, representing working class somewhat). Chelsea seemed suitable for counter-culture rejecting tradition: not exactly class-representative, modest club, hardly successful, yet fun, and located right where the new culture flourished. Laid back club, entertaining, not aggressively ambitious and yet capable of winning as a underdog. However, supporters flocking because it was fashionable to do so, are not supporters who really care. Chelsea was generally middle of the road team and as the 70s marched forward, problems piled up as well.
In purely sporting terms, the team declined sharply – starting the decade with decent squad, including Peter Bonetti and Peter Osgood, the team somehow messed up… new players were, as a rule, disappointments. Big promises and expectations, but never fulfilled. Ian Hutchinson perhaps is the best example: the player, who was to start playing great the next match. Ever the next match… and never ‘this’ match… sure, he was constantly injured, but excuses eventually run out. Instead of getting better, the team was gradually getting weaker and by 1974 it was clearly lesser team than the one in 1970. In five years Chelsea went from beating Real Madrid and winning the Cup Winners Cup to finishing in the relegation zone and disappearing in the Second Division.
The other reason was financial and represented wider problem. By 1975 English clubs were accumulating dangerous debts and there was rising concern about the future. Most criticism was directed to players’ salaries and transfer fees getting out of hand. It was right criticism, but hardly suggesting way out, for at the time the major part of clubs revenue still came out of the gates receipts. Cheap tickets and declining crowds versus higher and higher salaries and transfer fees – deadly mix. Chelsea was a prime example, for it was managed exceptionally badly – so badly, that dark years to follow 1975, ending eventually with bankruptcy in the 1980s. Those were the years, summarized best by Mickey Droy:
Droy clearing the ball and looking great on picture.
Who the hell was Mickey Droy? Well, the guy, who played during the dark years… young Chelsea fans think him a hero nowadays, and to a point he was – at least he was loyal to the club. In real time, however, Droy was mediocre player and his loyalty was largely due to the simple facts of Chelsea not able to buy better players and Droy not good enough to attract better clubs. He is voted 13th in the list of the 50 worst ever footballers playing in England… Lack of money, lack of vision, lack of talent – Chelsea was going down not temporary, but for a long, long time. Hippies went down by 1975 and Chelsea went down – it may be put this way too.