First Division

26 November 1977
Attendance 34,345

City G Wilkins (own goal), Tueart (3), Channon, Barnes
Chelsea R Wilkins, Britton (pen)
Ref Kevin McNally

City: Corrigan, Clements, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Power, Barnes, Channon, Kidd, Hartford, Tueart

Chelsea: Bonetti, G Wilkins, Sparrow, Britton, Droy, Wicks, Ayllott, R Wilkins, Langley, Swain, Cooke

By David Clayton

Having missed out on the title to Liverpool by a single point the season before, City were again expected to challenge strongly for the Division One crown in 1977/78.

Tony Book’s side was packed with experienced internationals and only Mike Channon had been added to the squad for a club record £300,000 from Southampton.

But things weren't quite going to plan.

Channon’s arrival meant a change of playing style to suit the new signing and the results – though initially impressive, with an unbeaten run from the start of the campaign ending in the twelfth game – were patchy.

A first round UEFA Cup exit to Polish side Widzew Lodz ended European ambitions and the Blues had struggled to see off Division Two side Luton Town in the League Cup, eventually progressing in a second replay played at Old Trafford.

And there was some dissention in the ranks for Book to deal with.

Both Joe Royle and Dennis Tueart were unhappy with their role in the side, and while Royle was loaned out to Bristol City by the time Chelsea came to Maine Road, Tueart had handed in a transfer request to the club.

Colin Bell was nearing his heroic comeback from injury but was still a month away from playing again.

With just three wins from 13 games in all competitions, City’s title challenge was in danger of being over by Christmas unless the results began to improve – so the expectation to beat the newly-promoted Londoners was palpable in a crowd of just under 35,000 – some 10,000 below the average of 45,000 - on a damp and dark early winter afternoon in Moss Side.

Chelsea fans were still banned from attending away games after a series of crowd trouble issues on the road, but it’s fair to say a few hundred were dotted around Maine Road, sitting on their hands or communicating in poor northern accents!

Those who had taken the trouble probably wished they hadn’t by 4.50pm that day.

It would be a day the Pensioners’ fullback Graham Wilkins – younger brother of team-mate Ray - would remember for a long time and he began his hour of misery by putting through his own net to give City the lead on nine minutes.

Four minutes later and Tueart made it 2-0, with the Blues hardly even breaking into a sweat.

Book urged his side to put Chelsea to the sword, but the visitors rallied when Ray Wilkins pulled one back and on 27 minutes,  Kenny Clements gave a penalty away that allowed Ian Britton to level the scores from the spot and make it 2-2.

It was shaping up to be a minor classic, but if Book was concerned that his players’ fragile confidence might shatter with the Chelsea comeback, it wasn’t long before Tueart restored City’s lead, with his second of the afternoon on 31 minutes.

City then began to pummel Chelsea with Asa Hartford and Peter Barnes outstanding.

“I just remember me and Barnsey were on fire that day,” recalled Tueart. “Asa Hartford was terrific, pulling the strings in the middle and Chelsea just couldn’t cope with us.

Graham Wilkins was being tormented by City’s tricky forward line and just before the break, the Blues went 4-2 up.

Paul Power’s low drive struck John Sparrow and span towards the opposite corner to Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti and the former England ‘keeper could only watch helplessly as the ball trickled over the line to make it 4-2 right on half-time.

Six goals in the first 45 minutes meant the City fans could enjoy their half-time pint or cup of Bovril, with the promise of more goals to come after the break. And indeed they did.

Barnes continued to terrorise the hapless Wilkins junior after the re-start and on 51 minutes the Kippax idol made it 5-2 with a classy finish that all-but secured the points for Book’s men.

In fact, Wilkins, thoroughly fed up with his lot and chasing shadows all afternoon, fouled Barnes repeatedly, eventually giving referee McNally no option but to send him for an early bath on the hour-mark.

“Butch Wilkins’ younger brother was having a torrid time with myself and Barnsey an din the end I just think he’d had enough,” said Tueart.

That left Chelsea down to 10 men with still half-an-hour to play.

Peter Barnes recalls the game , for a couple of reasons.

“Yeah, I enjoyed it that day!” he said

“I remember when Graham Wilkins was sent off, Ray Wilkins – my England room-mate had to go to right-back to replace him.

“He said, if you go past me, I’m gonna have to bring you down. I said, ‘Yeah? Well, you’ll need to catch me first!”

Tueart then completed his hat-trick (his second of the season) on 69 minutes to make it 6-2 and City fans wondered just how big the final winning margin might be, but it would be the last goal of the afternoon as the Blues declared at six.

That same day, Royle banged in four goals for Bristol City in a stunning debut, meaning that Book had two unhappy players in rich form to try and appease – or help them out the door.

Tueart believes the signing of Channon had upset the balance of what had been a well-oiled machine.

“I remember having lunch with Joe Royle and Kiddo after training in the City Social Club and Joe said, ‘It’s crazy this – last season we scored 40 goals between us and this year I’m on the transfer list. Dennis is on the list and Kiddo is playing left midfield’.

“It wasn’t Mickey Channon’s fault – he was a Peter Swales signing if truth be told - Mickey said to me once that he didn’t know why he’d been brought in. My style of player doesn’t suit the sort of players we’ve got.

“One thing I remember about that game is that I was running back to the centre circle after scoring my third, I put three fingers up at the Main Stand and I was asked if I’d been putting two fingers up at the chairman! I said, ‘no – it was three and aimed at a mate in the stand!’

Tueart claimed after the game that his treble changed nothing and he was better finding a new home and though he would score one more hat-trick against Newcastle United on Boxing Day that season, he left for New York Cosmos early in the New Year.

“Nottingham Forest and Manchester United made enquiries after that game, but I’d already spoken to Cosmos so I turned them down – I fancied walking down Fifth Avenue with Frank Sinatra and in January 1978, I was on my way.

“But this game showed what we were capable of when we clicked and I was always happy to leave with a match ball!”