By Jason Grant
Eddie McCreadie was born in Glasgow in 1940. He signed professional forms with East Stirling at 18 in the Scottish second division and stayed 3 seasons before catching the eye of a certain Tommy Docherty, who had just taken over as Chelsea manager. Young Eddie had been playing upfront and a year before had turned down the opportunity to join Fulham.
The Doc was on a scouting mission in Scotland and after watching McCreadie play, knew that he would be part of the rebuilding process at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea were then in the second division and switching to full-back, he went straight into the first team, making his full debut against Rotherham in 1962. Chelsea were promoted that season and they soon established themselves in the first division.
Eddie was one of the great pioneers of the free flowing overlapping play which made him such an asset to both Chelsea and at international level for Scotland. He credits this to Docherty and Dave Sexton who developed this into the Chelsea system after a trip to Germany. Many Chelsea goals occurred from his famous sorties up the left flank.
In 1965, Chelsea won their first major trophy since the celebrated championship of 1955. In a two-legged league cup final, Eddie scored a magnificent individual goal in the first leg after a run of nearly 80 yards before calmly putting the ball in the net past Gordon Banks. This proved to be the difference between the two sides and finally they had some silverware to show for their efforts.
His most memorable match was the famous Scotland victory over England 3-2 in 1967, less than a year after England had lifted the World Cup. Chelsea continued to play entertaining football and with the likes of Osgood & Hudson upfront, Hollins, Cooke, Hutchinson and McCreadie and Chopper Harris at the back, they were a perfectly balanced side of genuine flair, creativity and steel.
1970 was Chelsea’s year in the F.A. Cup and after disposing of Watford easily in the semi-final at White Hart Lane, they faced arch rivals Leeds United in the final at Wembley. Leeds had been crowned champions in 1969 and in January had destroyed Chelsea 5-2 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a masterful display by Clarke & Jones. Leeds were firm favourites as the two teams took to the famous Wembley turf for the final. Heavy rain had made the pitch into a quagmire and the game proved to be an endurance battle.
Leeds took the lead when big Jack Charlton headed home from a Lorimer corner. Chelsea equalized as Houseman’s shot squeezed under Gary Sprake. Late in the second half, Clarke hit the post and predator Mick Jones made no mistake with the rebound. However, with just minutes remaining, Chelsea were awarded a free-kick on the left, Harris floated it into the box where Hutchinson rose to head home to the delight of the Chelsea fans.
So a replay was required and that took place at Old Trafford. Once again, Leeds were favourites and dominated the early exchanges. Clarke made a 50 yard run before passing to Jones who scored a magnificent goal past the despairing dive of Bonetti to give Leeds the lead. In the second half, Chelsea got back into the game and Hutchinson found Charlie Cooke who beat a couple of players before chipping it to the unmarked Osgood who headed it home for the equalizer.
This brought new impetus to Chelsea and after a good move involving McCreadie up the left flank, they won a throw. Hutchinson, with one of his famous long ones hurled the ball into the crowded box, after being nodded on at the near post Dave Webb got on the end of it to score the winner. Ron Harris lifted the cup to the cheers of the Chelsea fans and Dave Sexton’s men had every reason to be proud of their achievement.
They continued to impress in the 1971 European Cup Winners Cup, and reached the final against the much fancied Real Madrid. After the first match ended in a draw, the replay took place in Athens. First half goals from Dempsey and Osgood were enough to win their first European trophy, however McCreadie was forced to miss the final through injury.
In 1972 Chelsea reached the final of the League Cup and this time were themselves firm favourites to beat Stoke City at Wembley. However, the men from the Potteries had other ideas and goals from Conroy and Eastham meant disappointment to Chelsea. After 328 games for Chelsea over 11 years and 23 caps for Scotland, Eddie retired from the game. The end of a magnificent playing career, where he played with an outstanding team during the greatest era of the modern game and often found himself having to do battle with such football attacking luminaries as Best, Law, Charlton, Heighway, Thompson, Jones, Clarke. Eddie had a reputation as a hard player, but always fair in the challenge.
He joined the coaching staff at Chelsea and after a year stewarding the reserves suddenly found himself appointed first team manager, taking over from Ron Suart after an indifferent period which saw relegation to the second division. Many of his team mates were coming to the end of their careers and it was a difficult task to have to let them go and start rebuilding from the youth ranks.
Eddie’s first bold managerial move was to hand the captaincy to Ray Wilkins at just 18 and with such talented players as Ken Swain, Tommy Langley, Steve Fineston and the ubiquitous Ian Britton, Chelsea made a successful assault in 1977 which saw them promoted back into the top flight.
However success on the field was not matched by their disastrous financial position and the club were within days of the receiver being called in. Eddie had saved the club by steering them back into the first division but just weeks later was ousted in diabolical circumstances by the then Chairman.
In the late 70s many of the games top players and managers made their way to the razzmatazz of the NASL and Eddie was appointed manager of the Memphis Rogues. He later joined Cleveland and became general manager, staying until 1985. After retiring from professional coaching he moved back to Memphis and coached the youngsters.
Today he lives north east of Knoxville with his wonderful wife Linda, plays plenty of golf and enjoys the Premiership games on television. Last year Alan Hudson came out to see him and the two had a great time reminiscing about their playing days at Chelsea.
Eddie is true blue Chelsea and undoubtedly one of the greatest servants in the club‚s history, a very modest man, he says he was proud to play his part both on the field and as manager and like many of us will be watching the new boys with keen anticipation this season.