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My Blue Days. John Dempsey


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My Blue Days: John Dempsey




John Dempsey, a member of our cup-winning teams of the early 1970s, is the latest of our former players to answer a selection of questions about his Chelsea career.

Dempsey’s lasted nine years and was included for over 200 appearances in our defence. He played in our maiden triumphs in the FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, and represented the Republic of Ireland at international level. Here he recalls his many happy memories from his time at Stamford Bridge and picks out some highlights…

Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?

I was playing for Fulham at the time and Johnny Haynes had taken over temporary charge of the club for about six months. Chelsea and Nottingham Forest came in for me but Haynes wouldn’t let me go. Then Bill Dodgin took charge of Fulham, and when Chelsea came back in I didn’t want to talk to anyone but them. As a young boy my father used to take me to Chelsea one week and then when they were away, I’d go to Fulham. They were my two clubs. So I was really happy to join Chelsea.

Dempsey winning a header against Southampton soon after joining the Blues in 1969

After I signed, I was told Bill Nicholson, the Tottenham manager, had rung up and offered more money for me. Even though it was too late anyway it would have made no difference. Chelsea was the only club I wanted to join.

What were your immediate impressions of the club?

When I used to watch Chelsea they had Roy Bentley, Jimmy Greaves. I remember seeing one game when he scored five goals against Wolverhampton, who had Billy Wright, the England player.

I would think of that history and then as soon I arrived as a player you just knew it was a big club with the quality of the players that were there and the size of the ground.

What about Stamford Bridge itself?

Well it was a lot bigger pitch to play on than at Craven Cottage. There was still the greyhound track round the outside and some weeks there would be 60,000 there, the gates would be shut, and there was a noisy atmosphere. The whole thing was completely different to Fulham.

When I went to Stamford Bridge with my father when I was younger, I used to always be in the West Stand benches opposite where the players came out. My father and I used to get there early and hold me on the barriers at the front so I could see! They were exciting times.

The West Stand pictured on the right with the Shed in the background

What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away, during your time at the club? Any particular games stand out in terms of atmosphere?

It was tremendous. As well as huge numbers at home we would take thousands away, really good support. At that time, it was the Shed where the main support was. When your name was read out before the game, you would give the fans a wave and they would cheer, which brought a tingle to you, your hairs would stand on end.

There was always a great atmosphere when we played Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham. Those games would reach 60,000, but Manchester United was the main game. They had Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best, Paddy Crerand. The noise used to be really loud. That was a game we always particularly looked forward to.

Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?

Dave Sexton because he was a really outstanding coach. He’d been at Fulham as well as a coach when I was there. He was an individual who was years ahead of his time. He used to go abroad, particularly to Holland, and look at training methods and techniques the coaches used there, and then he would come back and try and implement these new things he had seen. We tried zonal marking for example but we didn’t like it, so we went back to man to man. Dave Sexton made that Chelsea team what it was to be successful.

Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…

When I was young I was hoping that if I was ever to be a football player, I could play in a cup final, and to actually win was a dream come true. It was a big thing in those days. Everyone watched the FA Cup final, from about half-nine in the morning until about seven at night. So those two games against Leeds really stand out. Then to play in the Cup Winners’ Cup final and beat Real Madrid - I was lucky to get one of the goals - also stands out. 

Dempsey (pictured right) celebrating with the Cup Winners' Cup in Athens

Getting my first goal for Chelsea against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge was memorable. The ball came in, I headed it, it was stopped on the line and I put the rebound in. And then when we beat Manchester United 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in a mudheap in 1969, we completely outplayed them and that was a really exciting game to play in and such an outstanding team to beat.

Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?

David Webb and John Hollins I was really close to. I still speak to them occasionally. As well as team-mates they were really friendly people. David Webb was such a strong defender, and John Hollins would run all day, non-stop. He would be unbelievable in today’s game. He covered so much ground, especially when you consider how hard that was on the pitches we used to play on.

Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and, if so, why?

I didn’t dislike playing against anyone. Obviously there was a lot of rivalry with Leeds United. They were a big, physical side and they were skilful as well. They would go over the top all the time, and up front they were a real handful with Mick Jones and Allan Clarke. It didn’t matter where their elbows went!

The best player I came up against was Georgie Best. He is very similar in some ways to Eden Hazard, with his trickery, running at people, going one way and then the other. Best wasn’t very tall, but he would glide past people effortlessly. One drop of the shoulder and he was gone, similar to Hazard.

George Best and Charlie Cooke vie for possession at Stamford Bridge in 1970

What about opposition fans, were there intimidating stadiums to play at?

No, not really. I remember when we played the first leg against Aris Salonika in Greece, that was a really noisy atmosphere. I got sent off in that game for doing absolutely nothing!

Generally, though, once you kicked off I found I forgot about the atmosphere, I just got on and played. I shut it out.

How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?

Overall, I am really thankful that I switched from Fulham to Chelsea, even though I really loved Fulham. I knew I was joining a bigger club with the hope of winning things. So I am pleased to have won the FA Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup. We should have won the League Cup but we lost to Stoke that day – if Gordon Banks hadn’t been in goal for them we probably would have won it.

I was really lucky to play with the quality of players I did at Chelsea. They were all very friendly people as well. That part of it was really, really good.

Dempsey clears the ball against Derby in 1970

The unfortunate thing was that I picked up one or two injuries, which didn’t help towards the end of my career at Chelsea, otherwise I would have played a lot more games than I did.

But when I look back at my career at Chelsea, I really enjoyed it and we won things. I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity!

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