A few years ago, when he felt he was game to challenge for Drogba's spot in the squad. - via i.dailymail.co.uk
As most of you know, Bobby Tambling was Chelsea Football Club's leading goalscorer for decades. High atop his striker's throne, Sir Tambling looked down upon us mortals with a kind heart. He was a god to fans then, and in light of recent comparisons with the man who's surpassed him, Frank Lampard, he appears all the more divine to be seen in such a category. Tambling was an Englishman's Englishman, born in Sussex in 1941 and raised in the years of the Nazi party's air campaign on Great Britain. He thrived on football, and played the sport with a hunger and an enduring sense of propriety. To Bobby, the beautiful game was a sport of gentlemen, and that's how he played it.
What's truly amazing to consider is that Tambling could've had even more goals had he been utilised properly from the start of his career. He debuted at a young age, appearing for the club's senior side at age 17. He scored in his debut, netting in a thrilling 3-2 victory over West Ham. However, Tambling was originally played out on the wing to accommodate Chelsea's youth sensation Jimmy Greaves.
The original number 8 (it wasn't the only number he wore with Chelsea). - via static.guim.co.uk
Moreover, even after he moved to the more central role, following Greave's departure for AC Milan, Tambling seemed short on luck. His timing was impeccable on the pitch, but in his career, his breakthrough at Chelsea couldn't have come at a worse moment. The striker brought in 22 goals in just his second full season at the senior level, but it wasn't enough to prevent the struggling London Blues from being relegated. Yes, Bobby arrived as the glories of the first league title were fading away, and he would leave crowded out by the talent which would earn the Blues their first ever FA Cup. In the meantime, Bobby was able to snatch some silverware of his own.
In 1965, Chelsea won the League Cup with special help from Tambling, who scored the opener in a two-legged affair with Leicester City. The aggregate score was 3-2. He spent 12 magnificent seasons with the Blues, setting several records along the way. The most impressive of these -and what has proved to be the most lasting- you know well: 202 in royal blue.
Ability and Desire: The Passion and the Presence
He didn't necessarily have immense acceleration or aerial ability, as many strikers of the day, but like the man now having passed his mark, he had a knack for popping up in the right place at the right time. Ron Harris, a Chelsea legend in his own right, had this to say about the club's former top-scorer:
"Bob was a strong running forward who would go all day. Perhaps he wasn’t the quickest fella on the pitch, but if it was a 50-yard sprint he could keep up with anyone. He would work all game for the team, which was something we very much appreciated about him.
Even when he was having a bad game, he would never go missing. If things weren’t happening for him, he wouldn’t go and hide, not like some of the players you see. He was the perfect team player and the consummate professional.
He always seemed to be full of enthusiasm, no matter what was going on and we really liked having him around. He was extremely popular in the dressing room and that shows what sort of character he was.
He wasn’t the best header of a ball. In fact, I don’t think he scored many goals with his head at all, but he had a great left foot."
- Ron Harris, The Telegraph
He wasn't the typical striker, which perhaps explains the manager's preference for Jimmy Greaves in the middle, but no one worked harder for the team's benefit. It wasn't unusual to see him chasing the ball back to retrieve possession deep and then see him find himself in the thick of thing at the other end before too long. That was his distinction, and it provided for a wealth of scoring opportunities that he obviously didn't shy away from.
Character: A Gentleman and a Scorer
In recent days, Tambling has unfortunately fallen ill, dealing with Martorelli's ulcer as well as pain in his leg, sometimes being confined to the hospital. Despite his health issues, Bobby held true to one commitment, to tune in for Chelsea matches. He's also kept in touch with Lampard as the man neared and passed his record, and the two seem to share a good rapport.
"It was lovely to hear from Frank. Ever since this problem has started, I've spoken to Frank a number of times. I've been in bed for the last three months so I've got to rehabilitate myself to standing up and getting back to walking."
- Bobby Tambling, qtd. from The Telegraph
He went on in the same interview to demonstrates his absolute class. For although there is a competitive vibe among the club's top three scorers (including Kerry Dixon), Tambling doesn't hold anything against the man who has now surpassed him and even backed him to get the record:
"If you take what Frank has done personally and then add in what Chelsea have done as a team in the last 10 years, he must surely go down not just as one of the greats but probably the greatest player Chelsea has had."
- Bobby Tambling, qtd. from The Telegraph
As one of those who must surely be in the conversation for the same label, you have to be impressed by him yielding the title so graciously. He has given quite an immense amount to the club himself, lending his name to a suite at Stamford Bridge, and making regular appearances there in his healthier times, freely offering his coveted hospitality to supporters lucky enough to find themselves in his company.
A Lasting Legacy
Just this season, in an emotional visit for a home match. - via hamrofootball.com
Though he may not be as decorated as Lampard, you can bet Tambling was just as important to the squad of his day. His loyalty to the club was wonderful; he stuck with team despite being pushed out to the wing and playing second fiddle to Greaves. He stayed and worked as hard as anyone despite Chelsea failing to win the coveted trophies. He scored the side's only goal in the FA Cup final, a 2-1 loss to Tottenham, but he didn't complain about his teammates' performances. He merely kept his head down and pressed on, as he always did.
When he came to the Bridge for the league contest against Swansea, the club's support for his efforts was heard. Thunderous applause rang out, as well as chants of his name. Bobby was emotional, but did not let the cheers of his accomplishments prevent him from lauding Lampard, who scored 201 in front of the honored man that day. "You would not meet a nicer guy in football," Lamps said in a post-game interview with Sky Sports. Two very nice men, one very nice club, and two-hundred and two very, very nice goals. May he be remembered forever.