Green Barmy: A case of the Blues as Argyle snatch late leveller at Bridge
AS PLYMOUTH Argyle are without a game today, rather than our weekly nostalgia trip courtesy of this season's opponents, let's take the opportunity to go back in time to an era when football – and the club itself – were very different.
Fifty years ago inDecember, 1962 Argyle were competing in the second tier of English football, and under manager Ellis Stuttard, were attracting crowds of just under 20,000.
The Second Division was not short of attractive opposition, and on the opening day of December, Argyle travelled to west London to face Chelsea.
The Pilgrims went into the game on the back of a single goal win over Swansea Town, as they were then known, thanks to a goal from a player who only spent five months at Home Park.
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Micky Lill was signed from Everton, but after failing to settle in the South West, he soon departed for Portsmouth.
Playing in the Swansea side was Barrie Jones, a regular in the Welsh under-23 team and with a century of club appearances who would be snapped up for a record transfer fee by Argyle.
However, fresh in the memory will be Argyle's previous away game two weeks earlier.
A 6-1 drubbing against Leeds United at Elland Road saw Alex Jackson provide the Greens' consolation. The former Birmingham City frontman was in a rich run of form, but was to suffer a broken leg in January 1963 which ended his season.
So, it was off to another of the big names in the division, and one of the landmark stadiums.
The Chelsea side, one point ahead of Bury at the top of the table, was managed by Tommy Docherty.
Docherty finished his playing career with Chelsea, albeit for just four appearances as player-coach after performing with distinction for Preston North End and Arsenal.
But with relegation from the top-flight looming, he took over from manager Ted Drake, although he was unable to save the club from the dreaded drop.
Chelsea have always been blessed with household names on the field.
The side that Docherty sent out to face Argyle contained not only a future World Cup goalkeeper, but a player who would go on to be an England manager lining up alongside a defender who would later in his career join Argyle.
In goal was 21 year-old Peter Bonetti, already in his third season of first-team action with the Blues.
Playing in front of him was another youngster who was showing much promise, Terry Venables.
The Argyle link was provided by one of two brothers in the Chelsea side that day, Allan Harris. The former England schoolboy and youth international pulled on the blue shirt in the same defence as brother Ron 'Chopper' Harris.
With six teenagers in the Chelsea line-up, it seemed a team for the future was being assembled.
The original Stamford Bridge, complete with The Shed End, was the venue which attracted and attendance of 29,829 for the visit of the Greens – the majority of whom could have been forgiven for expecting a comfortable home win.
The first half saw a pattern of play that underlined that expectation.
The defence, goalkeeper Dave MacLaren apart, seemed to be caught up in the occasion and did not get off to a confident start.
It was no surprise when, with 11 minutes having elapsed, the home side took the lead.
Confusion in the Argyle back line saw Gordon Fincham attempt to clear the ball from a congested penalty area, only for the ball to strike the onrushing figure of Frank Blunstone.
Even MacLaren, who was flatfooted, could not avoid the ball from ricocheting past him and over the line.
The relentless pressure on the visiting goal continued.
When the ball was cleared downfield, the striking potential was frail. Not a shot on target was registered during the first 45 minutes.
Somehow, Argyle managed to reach the sanctuary of the dressing room trailing by just one goal.
The Argyle goalkeeper, signed from Leicester City where he was understudy to Gordon Banks, was called into action on many an occasions, pulling off some fine saves in the process.
But it can also be said that the hosts failed to hit the target with a number of great opportunities.
After the break, Argyle came more into the game.
So much so, that for all their hard-working endeavours, an unlikely draw would have been deserved.
A few hundred travelling supporters were in the crowd, and they were making themselves heard as there seemed a glimmer of hope.
The reward came just three minutes from time courtesy of a new name in the Argyle ranks playing at inside-left.
Scorer of the goal – according to the record books – was debutant Alan O'Neill. But that wasn't the name with which he was christened.
As an 18-year-old, then playing for his first club, Sunderland, he changed his name by deed poll from Alan Hope.
Transferred to Aston Villa in 1960, he signed for Argyle two years later, just in time for the encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Scoring on his debut was not a new experience.
Wearing the Villa shirt for the first time, he was thrown into the first team in what promised to be a hotly-contested local derby against Birmingham City.
O'Neill arrived in style, scoring after just 20 seconds of the match.
But his name in Villa folklore was confirmed when, in 1961, he scored the extra-time winner in the inaugural League Cup final, then played over two legs, against Rotherham United.
The draw for the Pilgrims saw the first point dropped by Chelsea in seven matches. In those days, just two points were awarded for a win.
For a club of Argyle's size and stature, spending £8,000 on a forward was no mean feat, but the acquisition of O'Neill seemed money well spent.
Stuttard's men rose to the heady heights of sixth in Division Two with 23 points from 20 games, six points behind Chelsea.
Chelsea went on to win promotion to Division One in second spot, one point adrift of champions Stoke City. The Blues pipped third-placed Sunderland to promotion on goal difference.
Chelsea: Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Dennis Butler, Allan Harris, John Mortimore, Graham Moore, Terry Venables, Frank Blunstone, Bert Murray, Barry Bridges, Jimmy Mulholland
Argyle: Dave Maclaren, Mike Reeves, Bryce Fulton, Johnny Williams, Gordon Fincham, Johnny Newman, Dave Corbett, Wilf Carter, Alex Jackson, Alan O'Neill, Micky Lill