If any Chelsea fans reading this think that their current problems are bad (and undoubtedly they are), they might find this week’s jog down (bad) memory lane helps put their current travails in perspective. Neil Evans recalls the story…
After a promising beginning to their league campaign, with six wins from their opening nine fixtures, the Blues welcomed north London rivals Arsenal to Stamford Bridge on November 3rd 1987. The events of that day were to trigger the most unwanted of Chelsea club records – one which survives to this day.
John Hollins (former Arsenal and Chelsea player and father of TV’s Chris Hollins) was in the hot-seat at Stamford Bridge, and had guided the Blues to sixth place. Chelsea had spent during the summer bringing defender Tony Dorigo in for £475,000 (which was a lot of money back then!), and included the likes of Pat Nevin and Kerry Dixon, who had helped the club escape the Second Division in 1984. They were owned by the controversial Ken Bates – who had taken over Chelsea for a nominal sum as the team faced financial ruin, and who would remain at the helm before selling the club to current owner, Roman Abramovich in 2003. Arsenal, meanwhile, arrived in west London, top of the First Division and keen to keep their own excellent form going.
The 3-1 home defeat that day began a downward spiral that saw Chelsea fail to win in the league for another 20 matches (half a season), a run that would end with a 1-0 home win against Derby on April 9th 1988. Now that is one serious slump! In today’s football management world, such a run would have cost the manager his job after a few games. Chelsea, however, showed commendable loyalty to Hollins – only finally dismissing him in March 1988. Scoring had not been the problem – Gordon Durie would end the season with 20 – but defending was, with 68 goals conceded (only bottom club Oxford let in more).
This run was, thus, forever enshrined as Chelsea’s ‘Blue Period’; worth remembering for those fretting about whether Jose will stay or not, why Ivanovic is so out of form, and whether Diego Costa can stay fit or avoid getting sent off. And in spite of an improvement in results following Hollins’ departure, Chelsea became the first club to be relegated from the top flight of English football via the play-offs.
Yes, Chelsea fans, the club record winless streak was bad enough, but nine defeats and 11 draws was the sort of form that was always bound to have more severe consequences.
And, sure enough, it did. Chelsea ended the season inside the bottom four, having failed to beat relegation rivals Charlton on the final day of the regular season. The 1-1 draw meant that the Blues were drawn into the newly devised play-offs on goal difference (four goals shy of the Valiants). This meant that they had to play a relegation semi-final, over two legs, against second division Blackburn Rovers. They easily overcame the Lancastrians over two games to face Middlesbrough, home and away, for a chance to save their First Division lives. A 2-0 away defeat at Ayresome Park couldn’t be overcome back at the Bridge, and Chelsea were condemned to the Second Division 2-1 on aggregate. That nightmare run would cost Chelsea dear, though they would bounce back at the first attempt as champions of Division Two the following season. Just as well, given the way that the early 1990s would forever change the face of English football. Chelsea, at least to date, have never been relegated since that disastrous 1987/88 campaign.
Just to rub a little extra salt into Chelsea wounds, Millwall were promoted as champions of Division Two that season, alongside Aston Villa (by right) and, of course, Middlesbrough. Liverpool were crowned champions of England (again), with a resurgent Manchester United, under new manager Alex Ferguson, finishing nine points adrift in second. Of course, the tectonic plates of English football would soon shift, but that, as they say, is another story.
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