Where do I start with this tragic event that has affected me in a way I never imagined? Do I quote the lines “I can’t believe the news today… I want to close my eyes and make it go away”, do I start with a memory, or do I start with just how bad this has made me feel because heroes don’t die, do they?
Well, I’m sure there are plenty of people willing to write a tribute to Ossie that details his career and his achievements to the nth degree. He was, after all, the one and only player to be granted the title (in perpetuity) of “The King of Stamford Bridge”. But in my own way I’d rather talk about the personal side of what this man meant in my life.
Back in 1970 I was nine years old and football mad, totally and utterly football mad. Day in day out we’d play football – during school breaks, on the way home from school, after school and even in the living room when Mum wasn’t about. But one thing was missing – I didn’t have a team. This was resolved in 1970 by the usual route of following Dad. Not because it was deep-rooted, not because we were true Blues. My dad was an Alf Garnett-like person with incredibly conservative viewpoints of the time (in other words, pretty institutionally homophobic and racist). He didn’t have a team and was rubbish at football, which is always a disappointment to any young football mad boy (or girl in these more enlightened times). But he loved to watch the game, in that strange way that some people can watch a game without any specific affiliation. My dad would always cheer on the London team though, no matter who they were. His only dilemma came when two London teams would meet, and then it would be decided on who was the underdog. Ironically, in a time when people were hectored and abused for the colour of their skin or their sexual preference by people like my dad who knew no better, he would always stand up for the underdog, the unfancied one, the one most likely to lose.
And so, at school, as the FA Cup final approached between Chelsea and Leeds (we lived in Hayes, near Heathrow) many were jumping on the glory hunting bandwagon by supporting Leeds because they finished second in Division One that year, and had the name Leeds, which made them sound like “leaders” (such is the thought process of a nine year-old). I came home from school weeks before the final and asked Dad which team I should support. It was simple he said, “You support the London team, son, and the underdogs, and that’s Chelsea.” And that was that. He bought me a magazine which had a poster of the squad for that year, and he bought me a book about the team. And he told me of the player who had scored in every round, one Peter Osgood. So I read everything I could about the team and one thing shone through – Osgood, a man who had gone from non-league football straight into the professional ranks, and who was now a hero at Chelsea. My dad was bemused as to why he wasn’t the first choice England striker. He had after all scored a hatful and a half of goals that season and had been consistent during his time with Chelsea thus far. The more I read, and the more I stared at that poster, the more I was seduced. The more I loved the all-blue strip, the more I loved the devil-may-care football and the glamour side of this club, all of which was encompassed by the style and presence of Osgood.
The final arrived, by which time I was totally and utterly a fully fledged Chelsea fanatic. I played football with friends and for the school team and would never accept being anybody other than a Chelsea player. And of course I always wanted to be called “Ossie” first and foremost. I watched the game live on TV, because it was the TV sporting pinnacle of the year, and at age nine “The Cup” was the most prestigious prize of all such was the difference in stature of the competition in the 1970s. It was a thriller of a game, swinging to Leeds, then us, then Leeds again and back to us to finish 2-2, and it was off to Old Trafford for the first ever replay since the switch to Wembley. It was a game where Leeds again had the upper hand, but our boys fought fire with fire (this was a time when Chelsea were almost universally loved by neutrals, because we weren’t as stiff and disciplined as our northern rivals). I watched riveted as time marched incessantly on its path. We were 1-0 down and for all the world it looked like we would be valiant losers. At nine years old my young heart was being broken for the first time by football.
I used to have a treat in those days, whereby I would ask my dad for two biscuits and he would tease me gently before giving in. But he knew something was changing on the night of the replay because Son Number One hadn’t asked for his treat; instead Son Number One was crying, sobbing because his chosen heroes were going to lose. “Have some biscuits son,” he said, “it’ll make you feel better, then come and have a cuddle with your old dad.” I trudged to the kitchen, opened the biscuit tin, eyes lighting up over the choice between Custard Creams, Digestives and Bourbons – only one winner there. Still crying, I slipped my hand into the tin, grabbed three, one to wolf down and two for later… Then, from the dining room, came an almighty roar and I jumped out of my skin; I dropped the biscuits to the lino floor and ran. My dad stood in front of the telly and all my tender young ears could hear was “Fucking Osgood, fucking Osgood, you genius,” and in a blink of an eye he scooped me up and danced me round the room cheering Osgood’s name. My tears went from dismay to joy in a second. Ossie, my Ossie had done it. We were level, we were going to win. My Ossie. My hero. My icon. The man I wanted to be. I recovered my biscuits and sat with Dad knowing, just knowing we would win. When the final whistle went we jumped around the room singing “Osgood” and “Chelsea” in unison. Mum thought we were mad.
From that point on my Chelsea fate was sealed. Osgood had been the final seducer, he had closed the deal. He had recruited someone to the cause for life. It was virtually certain by then, but had we lost… who knows? I was nine years old and maybe malleable enough to be persuaded by peer pressure at school to dedicate my footballing life elsewhere. But no, Osgood had achieved God-like status to me. He could have mugged Brian Mears and run off to the States and sold the Cup, it wouldn’t have mattered. My dad would have swapped Ossie for my mum for a night if it meant he could meet the man and buy him a beer. Blimey, I would have swapped him for my dad such was his heroic status in my life. It didn’t matter what he did after that, hero status is rarely diminished even long after they have retired or fallen from grace. Any Manchester United fan knows exactly what I mean by that.
I met him later on two occasions, once as our “host” on a corporate do on the day we beat Spurs 3-0 at the Bridge with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in sparkling form. He hugged me when I told him what it meant to me. He was politically as incorrect in his jokes and comments as I could imagine, but it didn’t matter. He was still my hero. He signed a photo for me, which the corporate host stole (I’m still after that bastard). The next time I met him he was sat in the SO Bar outside the main gate with another seventies hero who’s lucky to be with us, Alan Hudson. I said, “Alright Ossie?” He smiled and said, “Brilliant mate, brilliant.” I still kid myself he remembered me. As the bar filled up the fans clocked him and we sang to him. Poor old Ossie, no chance of a quiet pint for him that day. But he knew that, the wily old fox.
It was only weeks ago that he was the star at half time, walking around his old territory milking the applause of the Chelsea faithful. In the Matthew Harding Lower we sang his song: “Osgood, Osgood, Osgood, Osgood, he is the King of Stamford Bridge.” And he waved. Little did we know that would be his last wave to his loyal and loving followers.
Today a little piece of our great club has died. Nothing will ever be quite the same. I know the club will honour him in the true manner he deserves. I hope the current crop of players can show their respect by perhaps winning on Saturday, and dumping Barca on their arses next week. That would be a true tribute to a real Chelsea legend. And then we should erect a bronze monument at the gates, as a lasting reminder of one of Chelsea’s greatest and most iconic players.
Ossie, we’ll miss you, but we’ll always remember you and cherish the pleasure you brought into our lives. I’ll have a Guinness on you this week, mate. Have a nice rest, God knows you’ve earned it.
Peter Osgood, footballer, born 20th February 1947; died 1st March 2006, aged 59.