Sports Illustrated produced an insightful short film on the identity of Chelsea this week, looking at how the club has evolved in the modern era.
Grant Wahl's Under the Crest: Chelsea FC makes some interesting observations as to how the culture of success has been transformed under Roman Abramovich’s tenure as owner, namely how success isn’t so much hoped for these days as demanded.
Observe Chelsea long enough and you’ll see that expectation screaming out at you from all four corners of Stamford Bridge.
Yet what Wahl’s film failed to touch upon was how Chelsea’s current position at the top of English football’s pyramid was carved out way before millionaire players from around the world were donning the blue jersey.
Indeed, this weekend’s Capital One Cup final serves as a reminder of that.
When Chelsea step out beneath Wembley Stadium’s illuminated arch, they will be celebrating much more than another appearance in a major cup final—it will be the 50th anniversary of when the club first won the League Cup.
The competition was still in its infancy back in 1965 and, with the final being played over two legs, was far removed from the cup we know today.
Chelsea played Leicester City in the final that year, beating them 3-2 in the first leg before holding out for a goalless draw in the return at Filbert Street. In so doing, they became the first London club to lift the trophy.
Yes—believe it or not, Chelsea did win trophies before Abramovich’s time.
“We were a decade on from when Chelsea had lifted the league title in 1955, and it was the start of something special that we were creating under Tommy Docherty,” John Hollins tells Bleacher Report.
And it was.
In Chelsea’s lineup at Stamford Bridge for that first leg, the Blues featured seven youth products—players who had been nurtured by the legendary Dickie Foss and promoted to the first team under their ambitious manager Docherty.
Like Jose Mourinho is attempting to do now, Docherty used the League Cup as a springboard to give his players a taste of success.
It’s been half a century since, but the principles are the same: Once a player tastes it, he always wants more. Docherty knew that though his young "diamonds" promised so much, they needed that first piece of silverware to send them on their way.
“It was the start of the club being rejuvenated,” Hollins continues, alluding to the fact Chelsea had failed to build on that league success under Ted Drake.
This was different, however; Docherty had built a team that would serve Chelsea well into the 1970s, and the League Cup was laying the foundations.
Docherty created a style of play and culture about Chelsea that is strongly reflected in modern times.
His influence was so far-reaching that he even changed the socks from blue to the white ones Chelsea players still wear.
Alongside Hollins in that first leg of the League Cup final against Leicester were youth products Ron Harris, Bobby Tambling, Peter Bonetti, John Boyle, Bert Murray and captain Terry Venables.
“We had won things together as kids, but this was the first trophy as professionals. It was significant for us as players and as a team,” Harris adds.
“Wherever Tommy Docherty went as a manager, he always favoured the youngsters. When he put us in the side, it was up to us to take our chance, which we did.”
For all the young talent on display against Leicester, an injury crisis meant Chelsea had to take to the field at Stamford Bridge without a recognised striker.
Full-back Eddie McCreadie had featured up front on occasion while he was playing in Scotland, so that was as good a reason as any for the manager to take a punt.
Oh, how it paid off.
“It was pretty simple. The manager just said, ‘I’m gonna play you there tonight,’” recalls McCreadie, who didn’t know it at the time but would go on to write his name into Chelsea folklore.
With the game evenly poised at 2-2 with 10 minutes remaining, the young Scot broke free on the edge of the Chelsea box to evade the entire Leicester City team, running the length of the pitch to score a goal described as being the "greatest never seen."
“He had their whole team running after him,” explains Tambling. “The Leicester players were sliding and slipping everywhere.
“I was running inside of him as I thought he would knock it square, but he just kept going. There weren’t any cameras to film the game, so if you weren’t there, you missed out.”
Harris quips: “Eddie was as blind as a bat, so I reckon he didn’t even see it himself!”
By all accounts it was a wonderful goal, with McCreadie beating England goalkeeper Gordon Banks to the ball, poking it underneath him and watching it trickle into the net.
“I ran from just outside our box,” McCreadie recalled years later in an interview with Chelsea magazine’s Richard Godden.
“It was pretty heavy going. I saw their two centre-backs coming at me and I knew they were going to give me some. I was pretty quick and I hit the ball between the both of them and I just went.
“Before I knew it, I had covered a lot of ground and I could see Gordon Banks coming out of the goal towards me and I dived, I got my toe on the ball and it dribbled over the line.
“It was exciting. I never scored many goals—five in my Chelsea career.”
Tambling and Venables were Chelsea’s other goalscorers that night, with Colin Appleton and Jimmy Goodfellow on target for the Foxes.
Travelling to Filbert Street a few weeks later, Chelsea’s game plan was far different.
Striker Barry Bridges was fit and started the game, but despite their options in attack, Docherty showed his pragmatism. He took the keys to the team's coach and parked it right in front of the Chelsea goal.
“We intended to keep it goalless in the second leg. That’s what the Doc wanted,” says Tambling.
Docherty’s Diamonds did just that, sealing the 3-2 aggregate win, although there were plenty of heart-in-the-mouth moments.
Hollins, Chelsea’s man in the midfield engine room, was forced to watch the game from the stands after picking up a hamstring injury.
“And they put me through the wringer,” he says of his team-mates. “They even threw me in the bath after as we celebrated in the changing rooms!
“It was our first trophy together, and all the boys were elated.”
That Chelsea team and the majority of those players, including the likes of Peter Osgood and Charlie Cooke, would go on to define the club for decades to come.
They were aptly named Kings of the King’s Road, creating a dynasty at Stamford Bridge that, even in these times of unprecedented success at home and abroad, defines the club.
Docherty craved swagger and demanded style—and he got it. His time in west London would come to an end two years later, but Dave Sexton—who had worked under him as a coach at Chelsea—was able to take those players on to even greater victories.
Chelsea lifted the FA Cup in 1970, this time with Harris as captain after he had watched Venables hold the League Cup trophy aloft five years earlier.
Within 12 months of that FA Cup win, Chelsea defeated Real Madrid in Athens to claim the European Cup Winners’ Cup, too.
Chelsea, a club without the so-called "tradition" of winning trophies, was busy lifting silverware on the continent before the likes of Liverpool could claim their first European crown.
Don’t be fooled by tales that Abramovich made Chelsea great; that story started decades ago. It started when they won the League Cup in 1965.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes.