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Tambling, Bobby (1958-1970)


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Bobby Tambling (1958-1970)

Written by bar24rat in February 2008

tambling%201.jpg What makes a footballer into a legend? Notoriety – Chopper? First championship winning captain – Bentley? The Menace – Wisey? Genius – Franco? Roy of the Rovers – Kerry? Kingliness – Ossie? The Cat – Bonetti? King of the dummy – Cooke? Magician – Greavsie?

Everybody who has trod the path to ‘the Bridge’ as long as I have will inevitably have their choices. I certainly have mine and one of them is the Blues greatest ever scorer. So what that it took 12 years to amass 202 goals in 370 games and Greavsie scored 132 goals in only 169 and has a far better average. Only Roy of the Rovers has got close to Tambling’s tally and his 193 goals came in 420 games.

So how did it start?


In 1957 a 16 year old Tambling arrived at Stamford Bridge. Spotted at schoolboy level by the legendary Jimmy Thompson, he played in he blues youth team who won the youth cup in 1960. In the same team were other to be legends in Bonetti and Venables and the team considered it a bad day if they didn’t notch 5 or 6.

In his first season in the youth team Tambling’s record was 33 goals in 25 games including seven hat-tricks. His first team debut came in February 1959 in a 3-2 victory over West Ham. The forward line that day was remarkable - Brabrook, Cliss, Bridges, Greaves and Tambling making up an average age of 18.5. In that win the goals came from Greaves, Tambling and Bridges. (The March 2008 issue of the ‘Club Magazine’ has an article on the influence Peter Brabrook later had over Joe Cole’s development when Joe was a kid at West Ham and Brabrook was the youth team coach there.)

Throughout Tambling’s first year he very much played in awe of Jimmy Greaves. Ted Drake was careful not to overplay him and he flittered between a crowd of 50,000 for the first team and a few diehards for the juniors and he’d watch Greaves run round four of five defenders as if they were static cones. His first full season was in 1960/61 - Greaves’ last. Would the long suffering fans have a ready made replacement? Later Tambling himself was known to say that the comparison between himself and Greaves was as a beach donkey to a derby winner.

After winning only one of their first six games of the 1961/62 season (the one being a 2-0 win over Manchester United with Tambling getting on the scoresheet) Ted Drake was sacked and new coach (and soon to be new manager) Tommy Docherty played in a 6-1 thrashing of Sheffield United with Tambling scoring a hat-trick. However by October Chelsea were rooted at the bottom of the table and despite Docherty getting rid of all the ‘old-guard’ and bringing in a lot of young talent – mainly from the youth academy – the second half of the season saw no real improvement. Despite Tambling’s 20 league goals, Chelsea won only four more league games as they nosedived towards the 2nd division.

venables%201964.gif After 32 years of 1st division football it was time for a rethink and a regroup. The obvious aim was a quick return to the top-flight and Docherty led the charge in the 1962/63 season. Tambling, for one, was excited by the challenge especially as The Doc had focused on youth to rebuild Chelsea’s fortunes. A few experienced players remained but the majority were around 21. Very much a side for the future and what a side! Bonetti, Shellito, McCreadie, Venables, Bridges and Murray were all great prospects however it was Tambling that Docherty considered to be the most dependable and he handed him the captain’s armband at the age of 20.

Tambling responded well and, wearing the number 8 shirt, was in deadly form and in their last 11 games of the 1962 calendar year Chelsea notched up 10 wins and one draw and had established a six point lead at the top of the table. Strolling!

tambling%20bonetti%20ramsey%20etc.gif For Tambling international recognition came from Alf Ramsey. In November 1962 he made his England debut playing alongside Greaves against Wales. It was the first of only thee caps that he was to win.

However back to the league campaign – what happened there?

The worst winter known to man did. Polar bears in long johns and balaclavas were seen on the Fulham Road. We lost four games on the bounce, there were no games played at the Bridge until early March (a defeat to Huddersfield), and five consecutive away defeats. After a few scrambled home wins Chelsea were left with just three games to try and snatch promotion. The first we lost at home to Stoke City (Stanley Matthews et al) and the second was a 1-0 away win at Sunderland courtesy of a Tommy Harmer special off his crotch (this was the only goal the late Harmer scored for us). This gave us a chance to seal promotion with a victory on the very last day of the season.

We were up against Portsmouth and the stars of the show were Tambling and Venables. Tambling scored four in front of a delirious 55,000 strong crowd. Promotion was achieved by goal average, Chelsea going up by a margin of 0.401 of a goal! (Worth noting that in the modern day goal difference method we would have had a 10 goal margin).

tambling%202.gif During that 2nd division championship season Tambling scored a massive 39 goals. The despair of relegation and the sadness of Greaves’ departure were despatched to the past. The fans were in raptures whilst understanding that Greaves’ contribution had mainly kept Chelsea in the 1st division, the fans now realised that Chelsea had a team, not a set of individuals. The 1963/64 season, back in the 1st division, went better than expected and the team finished 5th.

One highlight was putting Spurs out of the cup in a replay with Tambling on target. By now Greaves was back at Spurs from Milan but spent most of the game under the tight control of Chopper Harris (read that as you like). This was eclipsed by Chelsea hammering Arsenal at Highbury 4-2 with Tambling notching all four Chelsea goals. The team now labeled ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’ contained a mixture of skill, brawn and pure rough! Summer 1964 brought the arrival of George Graham from Villa, the Blues won the League Cup in 1965 with the team, predominantly, lined up as follows:

positions.gif (Loz note: the positions aren't 100% correct in terms of the way they lined up on the pitch in the old 2-3-5 formation but it is pretty accurate and the closest I could get it)

Some supporters would still back that line-up against any Chelsea team until the Abramovich era.

Tambling became the club’s iconic figure. “Hey Mr Tam-ber-ling Man” echoed around the stands. Chelsea finished in 3rd place in 1964/65 and reached the semi final of the cup losing to those scousers 2-0 at Villa Park. For many fans at that time season 1965/66 was their favourite. Nothing was won but some memorable victories were achieved and Tambling played his full part.

In the Fairs Cup Roma were beaten 4-1 at home, Osgood was introduced to the first team and Liverpool were defeated at Anfield in the 3rd round of the cup. Tambling scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory after Osgood had equalised Liverpool’s early opener before half time. Next up came Manchester United in the league, Law, Best, Charlton et al. Tambling scored, Chelsea were two up early on and that was game over. Then Leeds were defeated in the cup at the Bridge with Tambling scoring again and Bonetti keeping Leeds at bay. February 1966 saw Milan beaten in the Fairs Cup followed by a victory over Munich 1860. However the season ended in tears. Another semi final defeat (this time by Sheffield Wednesday) and a 5-0 mauling by Barcelona in the 3rd game play off in the Fairs Cup semi-final.

april%201967%20tambling%20carried%20off% In September 1965 Tambling became the fourth man in the club’s history to surpass the 100 goal mark. However one year later, was to be in many fan’s estimation, Tambling’s finest hour. 17th September 1966 at Villa Park lives in many ‘older’ fans memory. Villa were top of the table and Chelsea second after six weeks of the new season. Tambling’s display that September day has been described as “imperious”. He scored five times, with goals coming from distance and also box sniffers. Of that day he said ‘I could have stood in my head and scored.’

The feat of scoring five times is made even more impressive by the fact he went off after 70 minutes with an injured knee. As he went off one fan was heard to say “I think he’s declared!” In an interview Tambling recently said; “it’s lovely to remember days like that and its well documented in Chelsea’s history.”

Shortly after Tambling surpassed Roy Bentley’s 150 goal record in the 4-1 demolition of Man City at Maine Road. Season 1966/67 had started well. Tambling was scoring regularly and it looked as if a major trophy could be on its way to the club. Osgood was emerging as a fine goalscorer and Chelsea were top of the league in October. Disaster struck when Osgood broke his leg in a challenge with “Crazy Horse” Emlyn Hughes then playing for Blackpool. Despite 28 Tambling goals Chelsea finished 9th. In the cup a goal from Tony Hateley against Leeds took Chelsea to a Wembley final for the first time in their history but the final was to be a major anti climax. Chelsea froze and Spurs won comfortably 2-1 with Tambling scoring Chelsea’s consolation goal late on after Pat Jennings punched a cross against his head. Tambling was very self-critical describing his own performance as ‘awful, chronic’ and added ’We were too nervous’

oct%2065%20harris%20graham%20venables%20 Things were going badly. After a row with Docherty, George Graham left to join Arsenal however on the bright side we signed Tommy ‘the sponge’ Baldwin as part of the deal and he later played a huge part in the 1970 cup triumph against Leeds. He became a legend.

By this time Docherty had lost the dressing room. League form suffered, Chelsea finished 9th and Docherty’s six year reign came to an acrimonious end in October 1967.

Osgood seemingly not fit was back in the side but took another 18 months to show any real form. An abdominal injury caused Tambling to miss virtually the whole of the 1967/68 season but in 1968/69, Tambling’s last full campaign, he finished top scorer with 18 goals. New boss Dave Sexton used Tambling more as a left winger and whilst goals still flowed injury problems cut short appearances. He spent 10 weeks out with a cartilage problem and when he returned the era of Hudson and a young Houseman had begun.

april%2069%20tambling%20against%20burnle He went on loan to Crystal Palace in January 1970 and signed a permanent deal at the end of the season. He missed the epic 1970 FA Cup final against Leeds meaning Chelsea won the cup without their greatest ever goalscorer. A man of modesty, Tambling once said ‘Greaves was an individual who could be playing crap but still score wonderful goals. However I needed the whole team to be playing well if I was going to do well.”

We all hope Chelsea will be a top team for years but will anybody ever stay long enough to beat his record? There have certainly been players good enough to beat it but who stays 12 years at the same club in modern football? Abramovich’s zillions may contrive to buy the world’s eminent goalscorers but footballers are too nomadic nowadays.

march%2068%20against%20leicester%20city. 202 goals will take some beating and it could have been more. Tambling scored his last goal for Chelsea at the age of only 28. Amazing really to think what might have been, 250 perhaps, and for one club only. Where did he go? Imagine the West of Ireland, County Cork where the hills are green, the taverns are friendly and the beautiful river flows by. A long way from the King’s Road of the 1960s. His domicile matches the man himself.

An all too rare visitor to the Bridge these days Tambling is always given one of the greatest welcomes. Although he didn’t match the goals per game ratio of Greaves he was far ahead of Osgood, Dixon and Bentley. The quiet, not at all flamboyant, goalscorer was one of the deadliest in the history of the game.

A real legend!

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