Seeing a kid wearing a Lampard or Terry replica Chelsea shirt is always heartening. Another soldier has joined the ranks of the Blue army and made the toughest of decisions that faces anyone during their formative years; choosing a hero. Doing so has always been a difficult task, a very personal thing – one minute you revere them as a living God, the next the posters have been torn down because they’ve upped and left for a hated rival. Hero worship can be a cruel business.
It might be any number of things that first connects you with a player whose every move you then follow through thick and thin; a Panini sticker (do they still have those?), a particular goal that you tried to emulate over and over again in the playground, often resulting in little more than grazed knees and bruised pride. But for whatever reason, ask any 40-something Chelsea fan who they picked as their childhood hero and in the vast majority of cases you’ll hear the words ‘Peter Osgood’ without a moment of hesitation. Hudson and Cooke may have had the flair and Chopper the steel, but for so many Chelsea fans Ossie was, is and always will be just as they crowned him – the King of Stamford Bridge.
Peter Osgood was before my time. For me, he exists only as an iconic figure in grainy footage and photographs, in the anecdotes and memories of older fans that I sit with who stood and worshipped him in their younger days. George Best may have been football’s playboy, its fifth Beatle, but it was Ossie who had swinging London at his feet and Raquel Welch blowing kisses at him from the touchline. The flair and swagger of that legendary side of the late 60’s and early 70’s attracted devotion and derision in equal measure; Chelsea quickly gained a reputation as a team of flash, nouveau-riche playboys, a million miles from football’s tough, working class roots in the north of England – a tag that has stayed with us ever since.
Born on February 20, 1947, Peter Osgood signed for Chelsea as a teenager on the princely sum of £10 a week whilst he was a bricklayer in his home town of Windsor. Having scored twice on his debut against Workington in the League Cup at just 17 years of age, despite the early setback of a broken leg following a clash with Emlyn Hughes in 1966 which many believed robbed him of his pace and true potential, he went on to make 380 appearances in a Chelsea shirt scoring 150 goals in the process. A naturally gifted, courageous player in an age when defenders were taking out contracts on forwards as opposed to making tackles, he was the man who grabbed the headlines in a supremely talented team that played a defining role in a golden era of English football.
His goals led Chelsea to FA Cup glory in 1970 (he scored in every round, still the only player to do so) in the epic replayed final with Revie’s infamous Leeds side and a Cup Winners’ Cup victory against Real Madrid in the following season. Despite his limitless talent, he won just four England caps under Alf Ramsey who was alleged to have disliked the glamorous, pop star lifestyle that Osgood led. He left a Chelsea side in decline for Southampton in 1974, playing a key role in their famous FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 1976, eventually scoring 36 goals in 157 games for the Saints. He departed the South Coast in 1978 for a spell with Philadelphia Fury in the USA via a brief period on loan at Norwich, before returning to end his career with a final short stint at Chelsea, his spiritual home.
Judging by the tributes paid to him since his untimely death yesterday at just 59, both Chelsea fans and all of those who love football will take many happy memories of one of the greatest English centre-forwards with them. One of the overriding themes of these tributes is his unbreakable connection with those who idolised him; numerous messages simply suggesting that Ossie frequently turned grown men into delighted, awestruck teenagers again just by stopping for a beer and a chat, by travelling with them to away games and sitting in the stands when an executive box seat could have been easily obtained. It is pleasing to think that less than a month ago he returned to the pitch at the Bridge which echoed with the sound of the song that proclaimed the arrival of a saviour, comfortable in the knowledge that his team were defending a league title and beating Liverpool into the bargain. As memories go, taking one like that with you when you depart this world for the next one can’t be at all bad.
I stood at Victoria station yesterday evening waiting for my train back to the suburbs, watching the BBC news feed on the big screen that beams down onto the concourse. It feeds tired commuters the news headlines, the weather and streams of adverts featuring the likes of Beckham and Mourinho selling soft drinks and mobile phones; modern day icons of a glamorous game that Osgood arguably helped to create. But last night for just a few wonderful seconds in amongst the dark and mundane tales of politics and crime, it showed Ossie at his elegant, powerful best. It showed a tall, strong number 9 diving to head a legendary goal in one of the greatest FA Cup finals ever; it showed him leaving Bob Wilson clutching at handfuls of thin air and it showed him dancing through the Real Madrid defence to win Chelsea their first European trophy. Chelsea fan or not, you simply couldn’t help but stop and stare as his brilliance lit up another corner of London for a brief moment or two. Then the screen changed to something nondescript and grey, and Ossie was gone.
The accusation frequently levelled at the Blues in the Roman era is that we are simply a billionaire’s plaything without heart, soul or history. Between Tony, Blingo and I, we post literally hundreds of pages of our thoughts on this great club, often defending Chelsea from all manner of fraudulent claims. Whether we convince or not is rather subjective, but in his autobiography the man himself delivers a more perfect riposte to these twisted arguments than any of us could ever manage, explaining what Chelsea meant to him and why so many have devoted their lives to the Blues in just a few passionate, spine-tingling words:
“I was so elated that I was back in the side and we were through that when I scored I carried on running, jumped the dog track and fell to my knees and saluted the human cauldron that was The Shed. In that moment, the fans and I were one, united in euphoria.” Chelsea versus Bruges, March 1971.
And he didn’t even get booked for it.
RIP – Peter Osgood, the King of Stamford Bridge.