Preston North End: Been There, Done That

Following Chelsea over the years has brought many highs and lows, but one of the strangest set of memories for me goes back over forty years to the 4th round in January and February of 1969.

Over the previous four seasons we’d reached the sixth round, two semi-finals and lost to T*tt*nh*m in the first all-London final.

Dave Sexton was manager having taken over from Tommy Docherty fifteen months earlier. Chelsea were riding high in the top division although January had given a blank return in the league.

Having disposed of Carlisle at home with goals from Bobby Tambling and Peter Osgood, I huddled around the cheap transistor radio on the Monday lunch-time at school … “Preston North End will play … number eight … Chelsea.”

The long train journey to and from that Lancashire mill town were split by a pretty unremarkable game with the Match of the Day cameras balanced on scaffolding over a small grim stand (unlike our palatial Shed!) followed by the rush home to catch the goalless highlights on the box. Well, surely it would be a simple task to dispatch the northerners at the Bridge on the following Wednesday?

It had all seemed so simple, but whilst leading 2-0 with goals from Birchenall and Hutchinson the floodlights failed. Cue the usually offers of ‘two bob’ for the meter while we waited and waited, but no, the match was abandoned. We’d have to re-play the replay.

There was no choice, thousands of schoolboys came to the same conclusion; ‘hop the wag’ – play truant for the Monday afternoon rearranged fixture. But what travesty was happening. Preston scored and despite continual Blues pressure the 90th minute approached and we were on our way out.

“On the pitch” was the whisper, “get the game abandoned – Spurs have done it before, so can we.” Now remember that this was before the advent of “added time” and Fergie’s watch hadn’t even been made yet, but unbelievably in the 94th minute, Webby gets the equaliser – great, it’s going to be extra time!

Yet it wasn’t, because in the 97th minute Charlie Cooke grabs another. The incredible tension transformed in the space of three minutes to unbelievably joy.

What a game in a marvellous season, we didn’t win anything, but we stuffed United 4-0 at Old Trafford, newly promoted QPR 4-0 at the loft and Webby hit his first goals for the club in a hat-trick at Ipswich. Portents of successes were to follow very soon.

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