Home and Away: Frank Blunstone

Ahead of a huge home game against Manchester City tomorrow, we caught up with former Chelsea winger – and title-winner – Frank Blunstone who provided some of his recollections from playing in big matches at Stamford Bridge…

The Blues have been crowned champions of England on six separate occasions, but what must it have been like to be a part of the first of those triumphs?

Frank Blunstone, one of the youngest members of the 1954/55 championship-winning side, knows and when asked to pick out some of the home matches which stick in his mind from his 11-year Chelsea career, he immediately plumps for two from that historic campaign when we won the first trophy in our history.

As the season drew to a close it was tight at the top, reflected in the final standings with only six points between champions Chelsea and seventh-placed Manchester City. The biggest threat to the Blues was coming from Wolverhampton Wanderers, who visited Stamford Bridge on Easter Saturday for a game which was likely to decide the destination of the First Division title.

‘I was living in digs at the time and my place was right by the ground, no. 11 Britannia Road,’ Blunstone recalls. ‘In those days we never had pre-match meals, you just ate at home before you left for the game. That day I left my house at around 2pm, as I was only across the road, and the streets were absolutely heaving, you couldn’t move.

‘I think there were over 70,000 supporters in the ground that day. I eventually managed to get in but the preparations for our games back then were a world away from the way it is now. Can you imagine the current players walking through the packed streets with fans to get to a game? It just wouldn’t happen.

‘Earlier that season Wolves had beaten us 4-3 and the year before we lost 8-1 against them. They were a great team in those days and in 1954/55 they were our rivals at the top of the table, so there was more to the game than just going for the title, we still wanted revenge for that hammering.

‘We were all over them in the game and kept missing chances. Then Seamus O’Connell went through, he had a shot and this hand came out of nowhere and punched it over the bar. We knew it was the defender Billy Wright, rather than the goalkeeper Bert Williams, and we told the referee who had initially given a corner. Fortunately for us the linesman had spotted it was a handball and eventually we were awarded a penalty which Peter Sillett scored to win us the game.’

While the victory over Wolves put us in a strong position, it was followed by a goalless draw at Portsmouth, meaning there was still work to be done in order to ensure we finished as champions.

We went into our next home game, against Sheffield Wednesday, knowing a victory would guarantee us the title if Portsmouth failed to beat Cardiff City.

‘It was a really important game for us and the atmosphere was incredible,’ says Blunstone. ‘There was a huge crowd again and we won the game 3-0 with Eric Parsons scoring two.

‘I remember going back into the changing room and as we started taking our kit off we were told to go back outside. In those days it took a while for the results from other games to filter through, so at first we didn’t know Portsmouth had drawn.

‘It wasn’t until about 20 minutes after the game we realised we’d won it, so we put our tracksuits on and went back out. The Chelsea fans were over the moon because they’d never experienced the feeling of being champions. They’d had a lot of disappointment in the past so to be able to win the title for them was special.’

Eight years later Blunstone, by now one of the more experienced figures in a younger side, was involved in another pivotal fixture at the Bridge, but on this occasion we were attempting to secure promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking having been relegated the previous year.

Tommy Docherty’s side had topped the table by six points on Boxing Day but didn’t play a game for almost two months due to adverse weather conditions. A run of just five victories in 15 matches when the action resumed meant we fell away before an away win at Sunderland, who were in second place, left the door ajar once more.

Three days later, in our final game of the season, we welcomed Portsmouth to Stamford Bridge. Three points would guarantee promotion.

‘I remember it was a night match and we went up after winning quite comfortably,’ says Blunstone.

‘Because the games kept being called off, when the fixtures started up again it was like coming back in for pre-season and we struggled a bit.

‘In our final two games we played Sunderland away on the Saturday and then Portsmouth at home a few days later. Sunderland only needed a point against us to go up, and we would have stayed down, but we beat them 1-0 with Tommy Harmer scoring for us.

‘We knew we had to beat Portsmouth to secure promotion and we won the game 7-0, it was such an easy victory even I scored! I think Bobby Tambling got four that day.

‘Because we’d won at Sunderland, and there was so much riding on the game, there was a huge crowd. I think it was over 50,000, and it wasn’t even a weekend game. It was a great night to be a part of and we went up in second place behind Stoke. I have some fantastic memories of those big games at the Bridge.'

The stadium has changed considerably since the days when Blunstone advanced up and down the left wing, and he explains what it was like to play at our home in the 1950s and 1960s.

‘It was a completely different stadium to the one we see now and there was only one proper stand when I played,’ he remembers. ‘As well as that, with the racing track around the pitch you were so far away from the fans which made it quite difficult. You had to get used to it and it took a while.

‘The fans were great with me, I can only remember one time when I got any stick. It was shortly after I joined. I can’t remember who we were playing against but I wasn’t having a very good game and this real cockney voice boomed down from the stand, saying: “Come on Blunstone, you’ve not come down here for nothing.”

‘But the fans were great to me during my time at the club and they still are. The best thing I ever did was sign for Chelsea. I’ve been on the pitch at half-time in recent years but I haven’t been down for a while. I’m 83 next week so it’s harder for me now.’

As ever, Blunstone will be watching the Blues in action on the television tomorrow when we face Manchester City in the weekend’s standout fixture.

‘Man City were up and down in my era but they had some very good players like Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and the German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann. Bill Leivers was the right-back I used to play against and he wasn’t afraid to give you a good kick,' laughs Blunstone.

‘They’re a very good side now but Chelsea are playing really well. Antonio Conte’s a brilliant manager. We won the league last season and we’ve started this one very well even though we lost a couple of important players. He’s very passionate and it’s great to see.’