The Leader Board
feature Wed 1 Mar 2017
On St David’s Day, we recall the Chelsea career of a Welsh cult hero...
‘I happen to believe, quite honestly, that the supporters are the most important people at any club. Without them, there is no game and no job.’
No words better epitomise Joey Jones’s approach to the game of football.
This was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and rare for those days, a number of tattoos just below it; a man who overcame a debut red card to quickly win over Chelsea supporters enduring the worst season in our history; and a man who had First Division and European Cup winners’ medals with Liverpool to his name when he arrived at Stamford Bridge in the autumn of 1982.
Chairman Ken Bates reported the right-back cost £75,000 net from Wrexham, Jones’s hometown club. It was when joining Wrexham as a schoolboy a decade or so earlier that Jones first met John Neal, by 1982 in charge of the ailing Blues.
He knew exactly what Jones could offer. A tenacious tackler, brave and with an exemplary attitude to hard work, Neal hoped Jones could lift spirits, on and off the pitch. The team was struggling, badly, in the lower reaches of the old Second Division. Many of the squad were unhappy, while Bates and Neal were forced, with worrying frequency, to accuse some of not giving their all.
Jones’s commitment to the Chelsea cause was never in question. Perhaps trying too hard to make an impact in his first game, he was sent off for collecting two yellow cards in a defeat at Carlisle in October 1982.
‘The referee didn’t get it right at all,’ Neal fumed afterwards. ‘Joey’s first booking was for a very mild obstruction, and the sending off was for a foul in which he hardly touched the other player.’
His love affair with the Shed faithful was by no means instantaneous, therefore, but before long his ‘brand of zeal and enthusiasm met with every fan’s approval’, as one newspaper put it.
So did his thrilling pre-match ritual of clenching his fists to all corners of the Bridge, rousing the supporters to back their Blues even in times of unprecedented lows.
‘I feel very sorry for the Chelsea fans because we are not giving them enough to shout about,’ Jones said midway through 82/83.
‘We take as many supporters away from home as Liverpool, and we should be giving them more.’
Thankfully, relegation to the third tier of English football was avoided on the final day of a largely dispiriting season, helped in no small part by Jones’s never-say-die attitude.
The Welsh international, who played 72 times for his country, found a place in Neal’s revamped and rejuvenated 1983/84 team on the left-hand side of the defence, following the return of John Hollins who was given the right-back shirt and an injury to left-back Chris Hutchings. On average less than a goal a game was conceded as we lifted the Second Division title on the final day of the season, at Grimsby, promotion having been secured a fortnight earlier with a glorious 5-0 thrashing of old rivals Leeds United.
Jones played 34 of our 42 games that year, scoring once in a derby win at Craven Cottage. His only other Chelsea goal came the season before, against Cambridge. It was the moment his manager pinpointed as the start of his great rapport with the Blues support, which endures to this day.
Micky Droy and then Colin Pates were the club captains during Jones’s time in west London, but, as a player of considerable presence and experience, he unsurprisingly led by example when called upon by Neal to skipper the side on the odd occasion.
The signing of Doug Rougvie in the summer of ’84 relegated him to the role of understudy, but he still managed 21 appearances in his final season across the defence as we finished in an impressive sixth position and made the League Cup semi-finals. The club had come an awful long way since Jones’s arrival two-and-a-half years earlier, when he had stated:
‘I am here to help get Chelsea out of the Second Division and I will not be satisfied until we have succeeded.’
That he did, cementing his status as a true cult hero despite the fact, at 91 appearances, his Chelsea career was much more fleeting than our supporters in the 1980s would have liked.
After Hollins took over as manager, Jones left for Huddersfield and then returned for a third spell at Wrexham, the club he works at to this day as a youth team coach.