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Frank Blunstone happy to have a boot in both camps as Chelsea and Brentford prepare for replay

  • @stevetongue

"I've been very lucky," says 78-year-old Frank Blunstone of a life in football that sees him revered by supporters of both Chelsea and Brentford, who meet again in the FA Cup at lunchtime, after the League One side unexpectedly held their more fashionable neighbours 2-2 three weeks ago. In the programme for that game he was described as having "fashioned one of the most exciting Brentford sides of all time", the one that won a rare promotion against the odds in 1972.

At Stamford Bridge he was part of what was, pre-Mourinho, the only Chelsea team ever to win the League. He is welcomed back whenever he makes the trip down from his native Cheshire. The warmth is reciprocated for "a fantastic club, the way they look after the old players" and there is no trace of the bitterness in this happy-go-lucky character of the sort that understandably afflicts many of his contemporaries when they read of the riches lavished on modern players.

Heading down south in 1953 from Crewe, where he was born along with eight brothers and five sisters, was an adventure but not a road to opulence. Chelsea offered a £10 signing-on fee – taxed – the same wages as in the Third Division North and, when they became champions two years later, a choice of £20 or two new suits: "I chose the suits."

Initially he shared not only digs but a double bed with Bobby Smith, later a Double-winner with Tottenham. By the time both became England internationals, they did at least each have a house of their own; Blunstone appeared five times on the left wing, including a 7-2 demolition of Scotland in 1955.

He had clocked up almost 350 games, despite suffering two broken legs, when he was forced to retire aged 29; medical care not being the best, an ankle injury was diagnosed initially as "badly sprained" but spotted by his own doctor as a ruptured Achilles. Tommy Docherty, Chelsea's manager, gave him a job with the youth team and after seven years, fancying a shot at management, he bravely took on Fourth Division Brentford.

"It was tough," he recalls. "They were in a terrible state financially and had no reserve team, no youth team, just 16 pros and me plus a part-time trainer I knew from Crewe, who ran a newsagent's in Ealing." Yet there was success and fond memories.

"I enjoyed it. A lovely club, good supporters. We had two gates of 18,000 in the Fourth Division, averaged nearly 12,000. Then I went to see the chairman and asked if we were going to be a bit more ambitious, start a reserve team and youth team. But he wouldn't, so I told him I'd been offered a job at Manchester United with Tommy Doc."

Chelsea sacked Dave Sexton and the chairman, Brian Mears, offered Blunstone the job. "They were struggling financially with the new stand, selling players left, right and centre. I'd only just moved house, my daughter was at school and Tommy said he'd pay me the same money as Chelsea, so I stayed."

He also worked with Docherty at Derby and Jack Charlton at Sheffield Wednesday, had a lively interlude with two Greek clubs and returned briefly to Brentford with the taxi-driving manager Fred Callaghan. "It was tough times again there. We'd had a fire at the ground and were changing in little huts behind the goal. Then Fred got the sack and they brought in Frank McLintock from Arsenal, so I packed it in."

These days he is just as likely to watch Nantwich, literally at the end of the road, as the Premier League, and does not regret missing today's replay. Always big-hearted, he would only want both teams to win.

Chelsea v Brentford is on ITV1 today, kick-off 12pm