Seasiders' memory match: Chelsea 2, Blackpool 2 - 1977

Derek Spence - vivid memories of his Stamford Bridge goal
Derek Spence - vivid memories of his Stamford Bridge goal
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Chelsea 2, Blackpool 2 - March 5, 1977

Striker Derek Spence enjoyed a tremendous career in football and is still going strong in the game - but he could be excused for pondering on occasions about what might have been.

What would have happened, for instance, if he had moved to Nottingham Forest when that club’s manager Allan Brown came calling?

Spence could have gone on to become a fixture at the City Ground and been a part of the Brian Clough era that led to league title and European Cup glory.

And it is clearly still a sore point with him that he missed out an appearance in the 1982 World Cup for Northern Ireland after being omitted from the squad by manager Billy Bingham.

Though there is absolutely no trace of bitterness on Spence’s part - far from it as he is not that sort of bloke - such things tend to be lodged permanently in the memory-bank.

As does his recollection of featuring in this week’s memory match in a season when he was part of a Blackpool strike-force that missed out on promotion to the top flight, being denied by two points by Nottingham Forest.

Spence played a key part in this 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in what was a memorable campaign for the Seasiders.

Spence, still at Bloomfield Road as senior community officer, said: “We were a heck of a good team that year, and we had some great results, including a a 5-1 win over Sheffield United, but we had nothing to show for it at the end and Forest beat us to promotion.

“It’s funny because I could have ended up playing for Forest - and look what happened to them. They went on to win the league title and the European Cup after that. It could have been me in that team and not Garry Birtles!

“Allan Brown had been the Forest manager and he had tried to sign me when he was in charge there before he came to Blackpool.

“In fact, he signed me twice, first when he was manager at Bury and then when he moved to take over at Blackpool.”

Spence passed a fitness test on an injured shoulder and took his place for the Chelsea v Blackpool match played on a diabolical surface that had much more sand than grass.

The Northern Ireland international striker said of the match: “Nothing would have stopped me from playing.

“I remember the match well because over the years I have seen clips of it.

“We got a draw, but I clearly remember that we were the better team on the day and we should have won.”

Blackpool had a future Scottish international in George Wood in goal, while playing in front of him there was the formidable presence of Peter Suddaby and Paul Hart.

Spence was big admirers of those two defensive stalwarts, saying: “As a striker, I would have hated being up against defenders as good as them. I was glad to be on the same team."

In midfield, the Seasiders had the late Billy Ronson buzzing around with purpose and energy, causing Chelsea all manner of problems.

Spence said: “Billy had a fantastic season for us, and he played like he was the new Alan Ball."

That afternoon in 1977, Chelsea included the two Wilkins brothers - Ray (with hair) and Graham - as well as Davie Hay and Ian Britton (later to come to Blackpool) while Ron 'Chopper' Harris was on the bench.

The Seasiders' 12th man was Mike Summerbee.

It was Ronson who put the visitors ahead after 35 minutes as he smashed an unstoppable shot past John Phillips in the Chelsea goal.

Ronson finished the move off with aplomb after excellent work down the right by Micky Walsh.

However, Blackpool’s lead was short-lived, Kenny Swain grabbing Chelsea’s equaliser three minutes later.

The scores were level at half-time, but within a minute of the re-start, Steve Wicks put the home side ahead.

He took advantage of hesitancy in the Blackpool defence to head home powerfully past Wood.

Six minutes later it was time for Spence to strike.

Walsh juggled deftly with the ball and with his back to goal sent it soaring on to the head of Spence - taking the ball at the near-post he guided it inside the far post and past the grasp of goalkeeper Phillips.

The match was reported for The Gazette by London office scribe Mike Morris, who went on to achieve national fame as a presenter on ITV breakfast television.

Spence’s assertion that the Seasiders were the better side on the day is backed up by Morris’ report as he wrote: “Ronson was a real dynamo in midfield - Blackpool's willingness to move up the field at every opportunity caused consternation in the Chelsea ranks.”

Spence was to leave Blackpool the following year when manager Brown decided to change format from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, having a spell in Greece at Olympiakos before returning for a second spell at Bloomfield Road.

He is still there and as well as working for the football community project he is also a co-ordinator for the National Citizen Service, which helps young people build skills for work and life.

Blackpool: Wood, Curtis, Harrison, Ronson, Hart, Suddaby, Ainscow, Spence, Walsh, Hatton, Bentley. Substitute: Summerbee.

Attendance: 27,412