This season will be the first time that John George Terry starts without the trusted members of Chelsea’s ‘Imperial Guard’ since the 2003-2004 season. Fittingly, he is the ‘last man standing’ of Chelsea’s ‘band of brothers’: John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba.
For John Terry it appears that the “first will be last”. There can be no doubt that these four players have been the most important in Chelsea’s history (yes, we do have history) and their contribution to the club over the last 10 years has been unparalleled.
They are undoubtedly, collectively and individually, Chelsea legends, but the term legend deserves some clarification.
I believe, that for a player to be a club legend, they need to fulfil several criteria although I’ll admit much of these will be subject to opinion, but that’s half the fun isn’t it - after all, football has always been about opinions!
Longevity and loyalty has to be there, by which I mean they need to have played the majority of and most significant part of their career at Chelsea. So number of appearances made and number of years played at the club are an important determinant.
Secondly I would look at the contribution they have made whilst at the club. This of course can both be individual through the amount of goals scored and clean sheets kept, match winning performances, records made and trophies won, or collectively through their contribution to the team, the cause and the relationship enjoyed with the supporters.
If you look back to Chelsea post-war, then there have, according to these guidelines, been several Chelsea players who you could attribute legendary status.
The first of these is Roy Bentley, Chelsea’s first title winning Captain in 1955. At a time when Chelsea were more also-rans than winners, Bentley’s goals got us to two FA Cup semi-finals scoring 150 in his 8 year Chelsea career, and he remains fifth on the all-time goal scorers list. He also did something very few Chelsea strikers have done, managing to do better than the successful and marquee striker he was signed to replace - Tommy Lawton. He also holds the individual record of being the top Chelsea goal scorer for 8 consecutive seasons (his entire Chelsea career). Definitely a legend in my book, and not just for his jig in front of the Matthew Harding Lower whilst in his 90s a few seasons ago!
Bobby Tambling, like Bentley had to surpass the goal scoring exploits of the marquee and successful striker he replaced - namely Jimmy Greaves. Of course Bobby did this with aplomb to become Chelsea’s highest league goal scorer with 202 career goals from 370 games and he held the club goal scoring record until a certain Frank Lampard did the business in 2013. He captained the club briefly, but although it was an exciting time for Chelsea in the ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’ era, trophies were thin on the ground with only a League Cup winners medal and FA Cup losers medal to show for his time at the club. Never the less, Tambling has to be a club legend and anyone who has been privileged to meet him as I have, let alone see him play will understand that.
Three players from the team that until the 1990’s and then the Roman era was the most successful Chelsea team of all time deserve inclusion as club legends. This team is the reason why so many supporters of my generation follow Chelsea. With 795 and 729 appearances respectively, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti are still top of Chelsea’s all time appearances list, and are very unlikely to be surpassed. But it goes way beyond that. In their 19 and 20 year careers at the club they not only won the club’s seminal first FA Cup and first European Trophy, they hung on loyally and manfully through the mid 1970s decline when many other players might perhaps have jumped ship.
Chopper of course captained and inspired the side to those two trophies, but he also defined an era of defending with no nonsense some might say violent tackling. It was Chopper’s quick free kick that led to the equaliser in the first FA Cup final tie, and his ‘tackle’ on Leeds influential playmaker and danger man Eddie Gray that left him a mere passenger for the replay. Chopper did his job that day and always did for Chelsea. Asked in an interview what he said to Roman Abramovich on meeting the new owner, Chopper revealed that he would run through a brick wall for Chelsea. No one dared doubt him. Legend!
The 1970 FA Cup final replay was also arguably Peter Bonetti’s finest hour as he effectively played most of the game on one leg after a hefty challenge with Mick Jones. Like a certain Petr Cech who would later surpass ‘The Cat’s’ goal keeping records, he made several crucial saves in the first tie and denied a marauding Leeds in the replay. No surprise that he came runner up in the FWA Player of the Year that year having won Chelsea’s inaugural Player of the Year in 1967. Bonetti is second only to Petr Cech with clean sheets for Chelsea (208). Oh, and apart from all of that, Bonetti is the only English Chelsea player with a World Cup winners medal!
One other player from the ‘Kings of the Kings Road’ side of the ‘60s and ‘70s would be a Chelsea legend in most supporters’ book. Regarded as our best ever player for decades until the exploits of players such as Zola and Lampard in recent times, only one has ever been afforded the title of ‘King Stamford Bridge’ and only one has a statue at Stamford Bridge. Take a bow Peter Leslie Osgood, or ‘Ossie’ as we knew and love him.
Although perhaps statistically not as prolific as others it is perhaps more for Ossie’s exceptional skills and ebullient personality that he is afforded legendary status. Of all Chelsea players past and present, it is perhaps Ossie who was really like one of us, just with a hell of a lot more talent. Mind you 150 goals in 380 appearances isn’t too shabby, and of course like a certain Drogba many years later, Ossie had an eye for the big occasion. He still holds the record as the last player to score in every round of the FA Cup. He scored the equaliser in the first tie and the winner famously in the FA Cup final replay of 1970, and also scored the equaliser in the first Cup Winners Cup final against Real Madrid and the winner in the replay. To cap it all he scored in the 1972 League Cup final against Stoke, which sadly Chelsea lost. If Ossie had not been out injured for the 1967 FA Cup final against Spurs he would undoubtedly have scored and Chelsea would have lifted the Cup for the first time!
But Ossie is also a legend for his attitude, exuberance, arrogance, skill, the way he scored his goals and celebrated them, and his drinking exploits off the pitch. How many Hollywood sex symbols have adorned a t-shirt with the words “I scored with Ossie”? Only one. How many former Chelsea players have their ashes buried beneath the penalty spot at the Shed End? Only one.
Chelsea had another striker who was very much their representative on the pitch in the 1980s. Very few strikers have put themselves about quite as effectively as Kerry Dixon, and at a time when Chelsea were up and down like the proverbial yo-yo, Kerry was banging goals in for fun and we loved him for it. Like Ossie, we loved Kerry for his attitude as much for his goals. There is no doubt had he remained more focussed toward the end of his Chelsea career; he would have surpassed Bobby Tambling’s goal scoring record. As it was Kerry notched 193 goals in over 400 appearances for the club.
Unlike my other legends, Kerry, like Chelsea at the time remained trophy less bar the second division championship and the Full Members and ZDS trophies (cough), but for me that does not diminish his status as a legend - after all, he is ninth in our appearances list, third in the all-time goal scorers list and showed his loyalty in a nine-year career at Chelsea where he could have moved to Man Utd or Arsenal when they came sniffing around, but didn’t. His loyalty has extended way beyond that as anyone who has been lucky enough to meet him and have a drink with him will tell you. He loves us and he loves Chelsea.
I would also include two players from the ‘90s as possible legends, in spite of the plethora of talented foreigners who graced the Stamford Bridge pitch, and who helped us to what was then the most successful era in the club’s history. Take a bow Steve Clarke and Dennis Wise. I can understand if many reading this might find the inclusion of Clarke and Wise as Chelsea legends as somewhat tenuous. True we have had more skilful players, but their importance in that transition period to one of the biggest and best clubs in the world should not be underestimated.
They are seventh and eighth on the all-time appearance list and enjoyed 11 year careers with Chelsea. Before John Terry, Dennis Wise was Chelsea’s most successful Captain having lifted two FA Cups, a League Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup. ‘Dennis the Menace’ was most definitely the leader on the pitch, no mean feat with more talented foreign galacticos representing Chelsea at the time, and his contributions setting up Frank Sinclair for the opener in the League Cup final and dinked pass for Zola’s superb winner in the Cup Winners Cup were massive.
Like Wise, there have been better Chelsea players than Steve Clarke, but his contribution to the club is huge. Having joined in 1987 he maintained his position as right back through the Hoddle and Gullit years finally bowing out with the Cup Winners Cup in 1998. But Clarke’s contribution extends beyond his playing days, as he was influential as Jose Mourinho’s right hand man as assistant coach between 2004-2008 helping the club to the two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup. In fact Clarke is often (rightly) credited with keeping the Chelsea ship afloat after Mourinho’s surprise departure and perhaps it is no coincidence that the team that Jose built kept winning with the same mentality and style long after the special one’s departure.
This conveniently brings us back to the spine of Jose Mourinho’s great team: Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba. And that for me is the difference. Hopefully, my selection of Chelsea legends shows how few and far they are in 50 years of football history. So, to have four in one team is beyond remarkable, and make no mistake, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba are without doubt Chelsea legends and by whatever measure you care to apply, and I would argue the four most important players in the club’s history. If you doubt me then check this out…
John Terry, Frank Lampard and Petr Cech are the third, fourth and sixth highest appearance makers for Chelsea with 670, 648 and 486 appearances each. Frank Lampard is our highest goal scorer with 211 goals and has the most Premier League/First Division goals with 147. Didier Drogba has the most goals scored in a Premier League season with 29. Frank holds the record for the most FA Cup goals with 26. Drogba has the most FA Cup final goals with four, the most Cup final goals with nine and the most European goals with 36, and of course is our fourth all-time highest goal scorer with 164 goals. Frank also holds the record for most consecutive league appearances (164), our most internationally capped player (103) whilst JT has the record for highest number of appearances for Chelsea in Europe - 120 and counting.
Petr Cech is also a record breaker. Most clean sheets (220); most clean sheets in one season (28); most Premier League clean sheets in one season (24); most Premier League clean sheets of all time (164), as well as most penalty saves with 12. Incidentally Frank Lampard also holds the record for most successful penalties with 49. Good job he wasn’t taking them against Big Pete!
If the records are not impressive enough then how about the trophies? Between them these four have won the Premier League four times; FA Cup five times; League Cup three times; Champions League and Europa Cup once. They have been at the forefront of the most unparalleled era of success for the club. Arguably they have been the players who have done more to achieve this success than any other players with Cup winning goals and penalty saves in Champions League finals for starters.
The bond they have with the supporters should not be underestimated. The reception Drogba got when he returned to Stamford Bridge whilst on sabbatical with Galatasary was huge and perhaps persuaded him to return for a League Cup and Premier League winning swansong last year. In spite of the acrimony from some supporters about Frank Lampard’s departure prior to last season and Petr Cech’s prior to this season, when all is said and done, there is and should be a lot of love between the two players and the supporters. Just remember which players always went to applaud the away support without having to be prompted: JT; Cech; Lampard and Drogba. They knew what it meant to us and we knew what Chelsea meant to them.
Cech and Drogba’s departure means we are now left with only John Terry from the fantastic four. He is the ‘last man standing’ and how fitting it is that it should be JT, Chelsea’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’.
Our most successful Captain and best defender, statistically, but JT is so much more than mere statistics. Whilst the collective leadership of these four players was without doubt so instrumental in the success we have had since 2005, it is JT who was the leader amongst leaders. Of the four, he was the first to make his debut in 1998, the only one to come through the ranks of the academy and he has outlasted them all.
One wonders how many more trophies and records JT may accumulate in the two or three years he may have left at the club before he hangs up his boots or goes Stateside for a footballing pension. For his sake I hope that one of them will be the Champions League, a trophy which owes him.
When he is finally gone, we will all have a time to reflect on what we have lost with the passing of JT, Cech, Lampard and Drogba. I am positive that if I live for another 50 years we will not see four players of this stature playing together in a Chelsea team at the same time and for that length of time, achieving what they collectively did so much to achieve.
One thing I do hope to see at some distant point in the future, when they have all hung up their boots, and perhaps many years in to their well-earned retirement, is a statue of the four of them together, somewhere outside a redeveloped Stamford Bridge. It would be a fitting tribute to the four greatest players we have seen at this club whom we owe a huge debt to for the greatest era in our history.
We won’t see their like again.
We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.Credits