Home and Away: Barry Bridges

In a new feature for the 2017/18 season, the official Chelsea website speaks to some of our former players to get their thoughts on what it was like playing for the club at home and away during their respective eras.

First up is Barry Bridges, a League Cup-winner with the Blues, who discusses some of his favourite Stamford Bridge memories...

Saturday 7 February, 1959. Barry Bridges may have made his Chelsea debut over 50 years ago, but he remembers the occasion as if it was yesterday.

A local derby at home, a debut goal and a precious, dramatic victory. It’s not difficult to understand why the day is etched in his memory all these years later.

‘Myself and Bobby Tambling made our debuts on the same day,’ Bridges recalls. ‘I was 17 and I think he was still 16. It was against West Ham. I’d played for the reserves the week before and Bobby had played for the youth team. We both started, and the fact West Ham were a good footballing side helped us because they didn’t kick us all over the place. We ended up winning the game 3-2 and we both scored.

‘We were young, and naïve in some ways, but that helps you because it means you didn’t have any fear. That comes when you get to 21 or 22 and you start thinking about the game in more detail. We didn’t have much to lose because the team were struggling for results and Ted Drake threw us in.

‘A guy called Ken Brown marked me and he was a lovely man, on and off the pitch. I always remember that any time I played a good pass or had a decent shot he would say: “Well done, son”.

‘In our next game we played Burnley and it was completey different. I remember going past one of their defenders and he said to me: “You can go past me, the ball can go past me, but you won’t go past me together.” The next time I did it he walloped me and it felt as if I’d broken every bone in my body. But what a contrast between those two games.’

 Barry Bridges and his good friend Bobby Tambling attempt to stop a certain George Best in his tracks during a game against Manchester United at the Bridge.

Of course, scoring a debut goal is a guaranteed way of endearing yourself to supporters instantly, and some of the more eagle-eyed Chelsea fans in attendance that day against the Hammers might have felt the man who had given the Blues a 2-1 lead looked rather familiar.

‘The first game was a fairytale,’ he adds. ‘Bobby and I were in digs together out in Motspur Park, which is just outside Wimbledon, and we got the tube to the game with all the supporters. None of them had the slightest clue who we were, it was a totally different world back then.

‘I can’t remember what happened after the game but we were young and we weren’t big drinkers at that point, so there is probably a good chance we got the tube home as well.’

Bridges was part of the youthful and energetic Chelsea team which reached the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965/66, a memorable campaign for players and supporters alike as we faced some of the most illustrious names on the European stage, including Roma, AC Milan and Barcelona, who we were eventually eliminated by.

For Bridges, who scored our goal as we drew 1-1 at the San Siro in a play-off match before progressing via the toss of a coin, the home games during that campaign would take some beating in terms of the atmosphere created inside the stadium.

‘Yes, there were some magical nights during that period,’ he says. ‘We had a very young team who had all come through the youth system together. We all played for the third team, second team and then moved up to the first team and we had an unbelievable spirit. It was a young side, a very good team.

‘We had a great run in the Fairs Cup and the atmospheres for those games was brilliant because it was the first time the supporters had seen us play against such talented European opposition. We used to get around 50,000 at the Bridge for those games, fantastic memories.’

 The Chelsea team pictured in 1966 before a home game. Bridges is furthest on the left in the front row.

During the previous season we had launched a serious challenge for the league title, eventually finishing third, just five points behind champions Manchester United.

One of the key factors in our ability to remain in the hunt over the course of the campaign was our home form, with Tommy Docherty’s side winning 15 matches at Stamford Bridge.

‘It’s surprising we were so strong at home in some ways because back then there was the greyhound track around the side of the pitch, so the fans were never right on top of the away team,’ Bridges remembers.

‘A lot of grounds we played at were quite intimidating but Stamford Bridge wasn’t like that. Plus, because of the way the stadium was designed, you would need a very big crowd to create a really noisy atmosphere.

‘Chelsea have always had a great fan-base and I loved playing there. The pitch always felt bigger, even though it wasn’t and it suited the way we liked to play, with pace, so I suppose that helped us.’