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Dave Sexton (1967-1974)


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Dave Sexton (1967-1974)

Written by Bluebeard in February 2008

sextonpitch.jpg Dave Sexton was born in Islington, London, on 6 June 1930, the son of boxer Archie Sexton.

Dave played as inside-forward at Luton, West Ham, Leyton Orient, Brighton and Crystal Palace before taking up coaching at Chelsea, where manager Tommy Docherty promoted him from Assistant Coach to First Team Coach. He left Chelsea in 1965 to manage Orient, then the following year he joined Arsenal as First Team Coach working under Bertie Mee. When Tommy Docherty left Chelsea in October 1967, Dave Sexton came in as the new manager after Ron Suart had been in charge for a very brief spell.

His arrival was largely due to his popularity with the young Chelsea players who had worked under him previously. Sexton was tough, but a very quiet man who wasn’t happy in the spotlight, in complete contrast to his predecessor, Docherty. Sexton inherited a very good side which Docherty had built over the years, including Peter Osgood, Charlie Cooke, Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Johnny Hollins, Eddie McCreadie, Marvin Hinton, Bobby Tambling, Tommy Baldwin, Peter Houseman, and Johnny Boyle.

There were, however, weak points in the squad, and Sexton brought in Alan Birchenall (Sheffield Utd) and David Webb (Southampton) in his first season. Webb in particular proved to be an excellent signing, as Sexton switched from man-to-man marking to zonal, making big improvements in the defence. When he took over, Chelsea were struggling alarmingly after an awful start to the season – losing 1-5 at Newcastle, 2-6 at home to Southampton, 0-3 at Nottingham Forest, and 0-7 at Leeds.

Things didn’t improve immediately, and it was November before Sexton got his first win as Chelsea manager – 3-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday. The following week he must have wondered what he’d let himself in for, as the Blues lost 2-0 at Tottenham amidst the infamous “Battle of White Hart Lane” when Chelsea fans stormed the Park Lane end of the ground during which the game was stopped before order was restored.

sextonsigns.jpgChelsea’s form remained very patchy until early 1968, but despite a lot of tinkering with the side by the manager, a surprising string of good results culminated in us finishing sixth in the league, with Osgood & Baldwin scoring 31 league goals between them. We also reached the sixth round of the FA Cup, before losing 0-1 at Birmingham City.

During the summer of ‘68, there were two key signings – Ian Hutchinson arrived from non-league Cambridge Utd for £2,500, and Alan Hudson was brought in from the youth team.

1968/69 was a decent season for Sexton and Chelsea, and saw the Blues competing in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, albeit briefly – after despatching Morton 9-3 on aggregate in the first round, we lost to DWS Amsterdam on the spin of a coin after two lame 0-0 draws.

Osgood found himself playing in midfield, as Sexton seemed to prefer Birchenall up front alongside either Tambling or Baldwin. He also started playing Peter Houseman more regularly.

In January 1969, Irish international centre-back John Dempsey was signed from Fulham in a cash plus player (Barry Lloyd) deal. Dempsey’s partnership with David Webb proved very successful and really shored up our defence. One memorable result of the 68/69 season was a resounding 4-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Even so, Sexton wasn’t too pleased – some of the Chelsea players had been unprofessional and gone out on the lash the night before the game – who knows what the result might have been if they’d been sober!

Indeed, the drinking habits of some (or most) of the players was a constant source of irritation for the manager. His disciplinarian ways only caused the situation to deteriorate, with the players feeling that he was too strict and that he was trying to organise their lifestyles too much, wanting them to all be fine upstanding citizens. The players also tended to drink in the same pubs as the fans, therefore creating a bond which made things difficult for Sexton. Some players have admitted since that a lot of bad results were a result of their being out on the piss the night before! Indeed, Alan Hudson made his Chelsea debut in February 1969, taking the place of Charlie Cooke, who was dropped for going on the piss whilst injured - Chelsea lost 0-5 at Southampton.

Chelsea finished the 68/69 season 5th in the league, but lost 1-2 at home to WBA in the FA Cup 6th round despite a heroic penalty save by Peter Bonetti. Tambling was top scorer with 17 league goals & Baldwin got 16.

1970facup.jpg 1969/70 proved to be a historic year for Sexton and Chelsea – our best season since the 54/55 league title. We finished third in the league (something we didn’t manage again until 1998/99!), but more importantly, we won the FA Cup for the first time in our history.

The season didn’t start off all that well, losing 1-4 at Anfield on the opening day, but it picked up after that. There were some memorable league games, winning 2-0 at Old Trafford, and 3-0 at Highbury, plus of course the 5-1 victory at Crystal Palace, when the ref threatened to call off the game if we didn’t stop throwing snowballs at the Palace ‘keeper.

Right-back/wing-back Paddy Mulligan was brought in from Shamrock Rovers in October 1969, and proved to be an effective and popular player. Alan Birchenall was sold to Crystal Palace in January 1970, along with the unfortunate Bobby Tambling who had suffered a spate of injuries and whose place had been taken by Ian Hutchinson. Hutch had earned his place alongside Ossie (now restored to the attack) at the expense of Tambling, Birchenall and Baldwin. Tommy Baldwin and Sexton didn’t get on at all well, with ‘Sponge’ putting in a number of transfer requests after being frequently dropped.

Osgood finished the season with 23 league goals, as well as 8 in the FA Cup, scoring in every round (the last man to do so), and 3 in the League Cup.

Following an impressive FA Cup run consisting of beating Birmingham 3-0, Burnley 3-1 (after a 2-2 draw), Palace 4-1, QPR 4-2, and Watford 5-1, we were back at Wembley! After a hard-fought 2-2 draw, Chelsea beat Leeds 2-1 in the replay at Old Trafford – a result which launched us into the following season’s European Cup Winners Cup.

Sadly, Alan Hudson missed both games due to an ankle ligaments injury he sustained at WBA two weeks before the Wembley game. Ron Harris was also injured and needed three cortisone injections before the game – Marvin Hinton had to replace him in extra time. In May 1970 Chelsea signed Keith Weller, an experienced midfielder/forward from Millwall and John Phillips, a young goalkeeper from Aston Villa. Sexton switched Weller to the right-wing, which seemed to suit him well and he became very popular with the Chelsea fans.

Having won the FA Cup, Chelsea played Everton in the Charity Shield at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of the 1970/71 season, but lost 1-2. Chelsea finished sixth in the league, but got knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round 0-3 at home to Manchester City – bloody awful game! After the match Osgood was banned for six weeks for getting three bookings, as the FA tried to make an example of him. Ossie appealed the decision, and the ban was extended to eight weeks and a fine of £150! The ban included Chelsea’s training ground, so he had to train by running across Epsom Downs on his own.

hudsoncwc.jpg However, the Blues did well in Europe, beating Aris Salonika 6-2 on aggregate, CSKA 2-0, Bruges 4-2, and Manchester City 2-0 – and went on to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in a replay after a 1-1 draw – both games played in Athens.

The Bruges game in particular was special – 0-2 down from the first leg, Chelsea went hell for leather in the second leg and after 90 minutes we were winning 2-0. Extra time, and we won 4-0 on the night, 4-2 on aggregate – the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at a match at the Bridge, absolutely brilliant even though the attendance was only 45,558 (apparently).

Ossie got two of the goals despite being exhausted – he was far from match fit after his ban! During the ban he’d managed to acquire an afro hairstyle, but we didn’t mind so long as he did the biz. The drawn final in Athens’ Karaiskakis Stadium caused minor problems too – some of the players thought the game would be replayed the following week and so went on the lash after the game, only to find out in the morning that it was to be replayed the following day. Luckily it didn’t matter, as Chelsea won their second trophy in as many seasons – who can forget the images of Chopper Harris being carried shoulder high and holding the Cup Winners’ Cup aloft?

In September 1971, Keith Weller was sold to Leicester, supposedly to fund the purchase of Chris Garland from Bristol City for £100,000. Sexton later admitted that selling Keith Weller was the biggest mistake he ever made as a manager. Strangely, the board then made money available for Sexton to buy Steve Kember from Crystal Palace for £170,000. Why they didn’t do so for Garland is a mystery, as the loss of Weller hit the team hard.

These transfers didn’t seem to make a lot of sense at the time, but looking back it seems that Garland was brought in because Hutch was getting injured on a regular basis largely due to his extreme bravery, and Sexton clearly didn’t rate Baldwin – but that can only have been down to Tommy’s drinking, as he was always a very good player. Kember was more of a mystery, even to this day. Johnny Hollins was Chelsea’s engine room, while Alan Hudson was one of the most creative players in the country. Looking back, I can only imagine that Sexton had already made his mind up to get rid of Hudson because of his drinking, and replace him with Kember.

Even that doesn’t make sense though – Kember was a decent player, but never in the same class as Hudson, or even Hollins. Alan Hudson was far from happy having to play right-midfield to make way for Kember. Chelsea finished seventh that year, with Ossie hitting 18 league goals. Even so, Sexton continued to find fault with him, inevitably due to his drinking and his attitude. Osgood was a character, and Sexton couldn’t handle it. Once, when Peter Osgood got a bit gobby with him, Sexton asked him quietly if he’d like to step outside and settle it there. Ossie screwed his loaf and backed down – he knew that Sexton had been trained as a boxer, and was pretty handy with his fists!

sextonhrow.jpg 1971/72 saw Chelsea create a new goal-scoring record in the Cup Winners’ Cup by beating Jeunesse Hautcharage of Luxembourg 21-0 on aggregate. In the second round, however, we were knocked out by Atvidaberg of Sweden on an away goal – bloody typical! We also got sent packing out of the FA Cup with a shock defeat at Orient, losing 2-3 after leading 2-0. The following week Chelsea were at Wembley again, this time in the League Cup Final against Stoke City. We lost 1-2 in a disappointing match, with Ossie scoring our goal. The season just kind of fizzled out after that…

Dave Sexton put Peter Osgood on the transfer list after the 2-3 home defeat against Manchester United for “lack of effort” – this was the same game where George Best got sent off for throwing mud at the referee! Three days later Chelsea played Man City at home and the Shed end was full of banners proclaiming “Ossie Must Stay”, and throughout the game that sentiment was sung to the tune of ‘Give Peace A Chance’. Sexton caved in when he saw the crowd’s reaction, and took Ossie off the list.

Ian Hutchinson returned from injury only to break his leg in his comeback game for the reserves at Swindon, and was out for a season and a half – definitely one reason why we didn’t do so well. Meanwhile, Johnny Hollins had one of his finest seasons for Chelsea.

The following season (1972/73) saw a big change at the Bridge – the old North and East Stands had just been demolished, so the ground capacity had dropped from 60,000, with a huge gap on the east side where the cemetery could be seen behind the building site. Chelsea beat Leeds 4-0 in the opening game in front of 51,000 fans, with 9,000 locked out, but after a crush barrier collapsed causing eight fans to be taken to hospital, the capacity was reduced to just 36,000 for the rest of the season. After pitch invasions by kids during the Leeds game Chelsea became the first English club to erect wire fences behind the goals to keep the fans off the pitch. The ground lacked atmosphere throughout the season, and to me it felt that a part of Chelsea had died.

Despite the Leeds result, and the defeat of champions Derby County away a week later, the good times didn’t last and we finished the season in twelfth place, our lowest league position since returning to Division One in 1963. During a run of 25 games between October and April Chelsea won just three. Sexton started looking for scapegoats, and he stripped Ron Harris of the captaincy, making Eddie McCreadie skipper. To his credit, Ron Harris still defends most of Sexton’s decisions to this day.

Charlie Cooke and Paddy Mulligan were sold to Crystal Palace in September 1972. Johnny Hollins was made to play right-back in order to accommodate Steve Kember in midfield – the system was never really effective. Chelsea got to the semi-finals of the League Cup, but were beaten 0-3 by Norwich over the two legs. We were knocked out of the FA Cup in a sixth round replay at Highbury after a brilliant 2-2 draw at the Bridge.

webbbonetti.jpg 1973/74 was an awful season for Chelsea – we finished seventeenth in the league, just one point off relegation (this was the first season of three up, three down), and were knocked out of both domestic cups in the opening round. Sexton was rapidly losing the dressing room and the respect of the players, with some of them either too tired or too hungover to train. Brian Mears gave Sexton his full backing, when he really should have taken a step back and tried to understand exactly what was happening. Something was terribly wrong, though whether the blame lay with Sexton or the players was debatable. The players clearly should have behaved in a more professional manner, but Sexton lacked the managerial skills to deal with the problem efficiently. His stubbornness cost Chelsea dearly.

Things were beginning to get a bit nasty behind the scenes. Chelsea lost 2-4 at home to West Ham on Boxing Day after being 2-0 up – Sexton blamed Osgood and Hudson, they blamed the defence, then Sexton accused Hudson of having whisky on his breath. Three days later we lost 0-1 at home to Liverpool, and this match proved to be the last time that Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson played together at Chelsea. The following two games saw Osgood, Hudson, Baldwin and Bonetti dropped.

This was followed by a big training ground bust-up which ended with Osgood & Hudson demanding transfers and being placed on the transfer list. A club statement read “Hudson & Osgood both refused to train with the first team squad this morning and have been suspended by the club for one week. Both have expressed a wish to move and Chelsea are making them available for transfer immediately”.

On 10 January 1974, Chelsea accepted a £175,000 (plus Roger Davies) transfer bid from Derby County for Osgood, but Ossie, ever a man of impeccable taste, turned down the opportunity as he didn’t want to move up north. Sexton brought Charlie Cooke back from Crystal Palace at this time in a desperate attempt to appease the fans who’d turned against him. It didn’t work.

Hudson went to Stoke City for £240,000, and at a subsequent board meeting, when Mears asked Sexton his motives for selling one of the best players we’d had for many years, Sexton got up and walked out. Unfortunately for Chelsea Brian Mears had no bottle, and refused to sack Sexton. When Hudson joined Stoke they were fifth from bottom of the league – such was his impact, they finished in fifth place.

Ossieleaving.jpg Peter Osgood left next, being sold to Southampton who were relegated that same year along with Manchester United and Norwich. Ironically, Chelsea lost their last game of the season at home to Stoke City 0-1 – the scorer? Have a guess…..

After the sale of Osgood & Hudson for a total of £515,000, Sexton was told there was no money available for players due to the costs that the new East Stand was incurring. Ian Hutchinson returned from his lengthy injury, but his career was now blighted by knee injuries, suffering from torn cartilages and inflamed ligaments. At one point he was on eight anti-inflammatory tablets a day plus cortisone injections.

John Dempsey missed the entire season with achilles tendon and ankle injuries, paving the way for Micky Droy to stake his claim for regular football. Chelsea also lost two key players at the end of the season - Webb asked for a transfer and left for QPR, while McCreadie retired through injury. So within a year, Chelsea had lost Osgood, Hudson, Webb, and McCreadie – things were looking far from good for the Blues.

As if the season wasn’t bad enough, Sexton introduced a new Chelsea away kit – replacing the stylish yellow / blue / yellow strip with the bloody awful red, white and green. Apparently he thought that if we played in the same colours as the 1950’s Hungarian national team, we’d play like them – he should have been sacked for that act alone.

The beginning of the 1974/75 season saw the arrival of David Hay from Celtic for £225,000, a great signing, but sadly in his first season a cataract was found in his right eye. Two years later he got a whack on the head which displaced his retina, thereby finishing his career. Sexton also brought in former West Ham winger Johnny Sissons from Norwich City – a signing that was so bad his contract was terminated less than a year later.

In the first game of the season, the new East Stand was opened with great ceremony – and Chelsea celebrated by losing 0-2 at home to Carlisle United - the writing was on the wall. Although Ian Hutchinson made a return to the side, Chelsea were a mere shadow of the team that had won a European trophy just four years previously. On top of everything else, Hutchinson, Bill Garner and John Dempsey were discontented, and understandably so.

With the side struggling desperately, Sexton was finally sacked on 3 October 1974 (officially he resigned, yawn) after we lost 0-1 at home to Wolves. Ron Suart took over initially, and then Eddie McCreadie was installed as manager – but it was too little too late, and Chelsea were relegated at the end of the season. So, after inheriting an exciting young team from Tommy Docherty at a club with an excellent youth system, Sexton began by making some good transfer signings, won a couple of trophies, and then systematically destroyed the side that gave him that success.

mears.jpg During his last two years at Chelsea, Dave Sexton’s relationship with certain players reached an all-time low, though admittedly Brian Mears didn’t help matters much. Sexton seemed to lose the plot completely at times, going on a personal crusade by laying down the law and implementing a total drinking ban on the players which he must have realised would never work. He also dropped players for personal reasons, put players on the transfer list, including Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson, Tommy Baldwin and Ian Hutchinson, and stripped Ron Harris of the captaincy.

At one point Peter Osgood was made to train alone or with the youth team, in an attempt to humiliate him, while both Alan Hudson and Johnny Hollins were made to play out of position in order to accommodate an inferior player in Steve Kember.

On the plus side, Dave Sexton was a brilliant coach, and had great success in that field wherever he went. However, his record as a manager was a different story. He proved to be fairly erratic in the transfer market, bringing in Birchenall, Webb, Hutchinson, Dempsey, Mulligan, Weller, Phillips, Droy and Hay. Then again, he brought in the likes of Kember, Garland, Garner and Sissons, who despite being decent players (apart from Sissons), were never as good as the ones they eventually replaced. He also sold players because he simply didn’t know how to deal with them - his man-management was appalling. He alienated players, harboured grudges, and put petty grievances before the good of the club.

Though despite his faults, he was at that time Chelsea’s most successful manager ever, and was to remain so for another 25 years. After leaving Chelsea he went on to manage QPR, Manchester United, England U-21’s, Coventry City and England U-21’s (again).

I for one will never forgive him for getting rid of Charlie Cooke, Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson – if he’d handled the situation properly, Chelsea could have gone on to achieve great things in the 1970’s.

Managerial Record

Highest League Position 3rd (Div 1) 1969/70

Trophies - FA Cup (1969/70), European Cup Winner Cup (1970/71)


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