Location Malta. Date July 1966. On my dad’s insistence I was made to watch some of the World Cup games on our black and white telly with Italian commentary. I was still a month from my seventh birthday, and didn’t have a clue what all the fuss was about. England beat West Germany, as they were known then, amidst great rejoicing in the Micallef family.
At last “we” had got revenge on the Germans for burying my granddad under a pile of rubble when his house, perilously situated close to a military airfield, was bombed by the Luftwaffe. (Just to put your minds at rest he emerged from underneath the rubble four hours later with just a cut on his leg.)
A week after the final, The Times of Malta published a supplement with a few articles and photos of the World Cup. The supplement included all the results and scorers of the matches. I got hooked. While my parents took their siesta away from the hot Maltese sun, I used to sit quietly on our balcony, memorizing every single stat in the Times supplement. Nearly 43 years later I can still tell you confidently that that the Germans beat Switzerland 5-1 in a Group 2 match and Held, Haller (2), Beckenbauer and Seeler scored the German goals. Pak Doo Ik scored for North Korea in their 1 – 0 win against Italy in the shock result of the competition.
This infatuation led me to start poring over the results in The Sunday Times of Malta when the new football season started a few weeks later. The headline “Osgood is Good” caught my eye one day. As a seven year old it didn’t seem corny. A quick glance at the league table showed that this team called Chelsea was top of the table, and a love affair with Chelsea started that day, sometime in September 1966.
I loved the team, but my true love was Ossie. The history books show that he broke his leg soon after and didn’t pull on the blue shirt till nearly a year later, missing out on the 1967 FA Cup Final.
I spent my meagre pocket money at the stationer’s, buying up every magazine that included even just a couple of lines about my hero. Ossie came back from his injury with a bang. The goals flowed, and he regularly headed the Chelsea scoring charts. In 1970 he was top scorer in the First Division as Chelsea won their first ever FA Cup.
Ossie was a player the likes of whom English football had never seen and probably will never see again. He was built like a typical English centre forward of the time, big, 6 foot 3 inches tall, and strong, but he had the skills of a small nimble striker. Think of a cross between Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney’s best attributes and you can start getting a picture of what he was like.
Ossie was a man for the big occasion. Three times Chelsea made it to the final and three times Ossie got on the scoresheet. In the 1970 FA Cup winning run he scored in every round, a feat still unmatched to this very day.
Ossie’s bad boy image cost him a regular place in the England team then managed by Sir Alf Ramsey. His 103 goals in 279 matches for Chelsea definitely deserved more than his meagre 4 England caps. Ramsey selected him for the England squad for the 1970 World Cup, in which England were defending champions and amongst the favourites. In his autobiography Ossie relates that for the tournament he was rooming with the great Bobby Moore. Ramsey confided in Moore that he was going to pick Osgood for the second group game against Brazil after a rather tepid team performance in the opening match against Romania, in which Osgood had come on as substitute. Moore passed on the good news to his room mate. A couple of hours before the match Ramsey named his team. Osgood wasn’t in it and promptly stormed out of the dressing room. He didn’t win a cap again until Ramsey was close to the end of his tenure in November 1973 in a friendly against Italy. (England lost 1-0 at Wembley that night to a goal by the present England manager Fabio Capello).
After the success in the early seventies, in 1974, true to form, Ossie and his mate Alan Hudson fell out with the Chelsea manager Dave Sexton. Sexton gave the board an ultimatum – either me or them, and the board backed the manager. Ossie was sold to Southampton. While he went on to win the FA Cup with his new team, Chelsea went on a slide that was to last a decade. He came back three years later and played a further ten games scoring two goals. But the old magic had died. The legs were giving way after years of playing on potato fields that passed for playing surfaces in the seventies, and being hacked by cumbersome defenders who found that kicking Ossie was the only way to stop him.
I could write a book of my Ossie memories but one game sticks in mind. Chelsea were 2-0 down from the first leg of the quarter finals of the 1970/71 Cup Winners Cup. Ossie was handed an 8 week ban by the FA, which, as luck would have it, ran out 2 days before the return leg at the Bridge. (Bans in those days went by weeks not games and included European games.) Sexton had told Osgood he was not in the team, telling him he did not think he was match fit. Ossie threw a tantrum and Sexton relented. Chelsea were 1-0 up and out of the competition with five minutes of normal time remaining. Ossie scored the equalizer. He and Tommy Baldwin scored two more in extra time and Chelsea were safely through to the semis. They beat Man City in the semis and the great Real Madrid in the final after a replay. Ossie scored in the original final (1-1) and in the replay (2-1) two days later.
I met Ossie a few times, long after he retired, in the Chelsea Village Hotel where I was staying. Even aged 40, I found myself behaving like a ten year old in his presence. But after a few minutes you felt like you were talking to a long lost friend. He had all the time in the world for all the fans who queued up to have their picture taken with him, many of them dads like me with kids born after Ossie had long retired.
March 1st 2006. Ossie passed away. I cried when I heard the news on Sky Sports. My friend had died. I went out and bought myself a plane ticket and paid through the nose for a ticket to the Spurs home match for what turned out to be his final farewell. But if ever I spent 300 quid well, that was the day.
We have had many great players playing for us since Ossie retired in 1977. Zola, Vialli, Dennis Wise, Desailly, Kerry Dixon, Gullit, Lamps, JT. But there was only one king as far as I am concerned. Peter Osgood (1947 – 2006)