For everyone associated with Chelsea FC, in particular those of us of a certain age, the untimely death eight years ago of Peter Osgood was particularly heart-rending. The king of Stamford Bridge was the primary reason that I began to follow the Blues at the tail end of the ‘60s.
I don’t hold many memories from my childhood, but the mention of Ossie’s name sets the windmills of my mind in motion as with lachrymose fondness I recall a bygone era. The bell ringing at the end of another school day signalled freedom for my classmates and me. We’d waste no more of our precious time on reading, writing and arithmetic, heading down instead to the grassy wreck by the community centre, throwing our jumpers down for goalposts, each of us ready, willing and able to emulate our heroes.
There was only one person I wanted to be, Peter Osgood. Several enjoyable hours would pass before the gathering gloom of dusk and our overprotective mothers shrieking out our names put an end to proceedings. With grazed shins, grubby hands and a grimy, shiny, happy face I’d make my way home for tea.
Beans on toast, a glass of milk and a plea to my mother that Santa might bring me a royal blue shirt with a white number 9 stitched on the back. Santa didn’t let me down. The shirt was all I needed. Now I really was Peter Osgood. I even perfected his distinct goal celebration, that straddling jump accompanied by a low-slung single punch in the air. Happy days!
As a Chelsea player, Ossie was quite simply the man. He made 380 appearances for the Blues- scoring 150 goals, as well as collecting winners medals in the 1970 FA Cup and 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup finals. Peter Osgood signed amateur forms for Chelsea in 1964 at the age of 17 before agreeing to a professional contract. He scored twice on his debut against Workington in a fifth-round League Cup tie replay.
Injury deprived Ossie of the opportunity to play in Chelsea’s run to the 1967 FA Cup Final, but he made up for this disappointment three seasons later by scoring in every round of the 1970 competition, including that fabulous diving header in the replay of the final that the Blues won 2-1 at the expense of once mighty Leeds United.
The best goal Peter Osgood ever scored for Chelsea? Take your pick. For me, that sublime volley from just outside the box against Arsenal in an FA Cup quarterfinal tie, which found the back of the net in front of the adoring Shed faithful and earned him BBC’s ‘goal of the season’ for 1972-73 was Ossie at his flamboyant best.
Despite his goal-scoring prowess at club level, Ossie was regularly overlooked when it came to representing England on the international stage; rumour has it that Alf Ramsey disapproved of his playboy lifestyle. More fool Alf, we all knew that Osgood was good.
After a series of disagreements with Chelsea manager Dave Sexton, Ossie, then aged 27, was placed on the transfer list and subsequently sold to Southampton in March 1974 for what was then a club record £275,000. I was gutted. To make matters worse, Chelsea then entered a period of decline that almost resulted in the club going to the wall.
Meanwhile, having won the FA Cup again, this time with the Saints, Ossie had then decided to try his luck in North America with Philadelphia Fury. It wasn’t for him, and when the prodigal son returned to Stamford Bridge during the 1978-79 season to fight the good fight for the Blues, Chelsea were almost a lost cause.
Again, he scored on his debut, but times had changed, the match against Middlesboro ended in a 7-2 defeat. Despite the odd flash of brilliance, it was evident that Ossie’s best days were behind him. Chelsea were relegated, and he played just one game in the Second Division for the Blues before deciding to hang his boots up for good in December 1979.
In retirement he was a man’s man. Always modest in the company of old-school fans, Ossie was fully aware of his mesmerizing legacy without ever once being boastful. He knew the score, but was still often humbled by the reverential respect he commanded, particularly on the occasions he attended our social club to talk about his life and love of the Blues. For every story he told, he’d get one back like mine from someone just like me. Never once did he tire of it.
Wrapped in a vast stillness and silence, Stamford Bridge, swathed in an eerie ethereal glow of security lights, was a strange place to be the night that Ossie passed away. A biting cold wind had pinched and slapped my face as I’d stood alone and paid my own tribute to the man at the impromptu memorial sprawling along the white wall by the main entrance to the ground. For a fleeting moment the ghostly negatives of Docherty’s Diamonds passed into view … those practice games we’d read about that took place at the back of the old Shed, faces from another era, the kings of the King’s Road.
Several months later, on a windswept rainy day, my girlfriend JoJo accompanied me to the Bridge to participate in a memorial service organised by Chelsea for Peter Osgood. The inclement weather had showed no signs of abating as JoJo and I had filed through the Shed End turnstile. If anything the rain had intensified, and as the Coldstream Guards trumpeted the commencement of the service accompanied by a deafening roll of thunder, I wondered if the great man himself might be looking down on proceedings from the watery heavens, that familiar wry smile forming on his face as Neil ‘representing Chelsea Football Club’ Barnett led the eulogies with his own moving homage to the King.
Tribute speeches by Chopper Harris, the Cat Bonneti and a sprightly looking Tommy Docherty, who refused the shelter afforded by Barnett’s umbrella, were warmly applauded, as were those made by a representative from Spital Old Boys (the team Ossie had played for as a youth), and his immediate family.
The lip-biting, which had valiantly stemmed the flow of tears welling up in my eyes during the first half of the service, failed me as Mathew Harding Stand season ticket holder, the Reverend Martin Swan, commenced the fitting committal of Peter Osgood’s ashes to their final resting place beneath the Shed End penalty spot.
As the band struck up the opening bars to that most moving of hymns, Abide With Me, grown men wept openly and unashamedly, united in grief, struggling to maintain their composure. JoJo gripped my hand, her own eyes watering, swept along on a tide of emotive devotion; she’d met the King once, he’d kissed her on the cheek and praised her beauty calling me a ‘lucky fella’. Yeah, that was the Ossie.
‘Almighty God in your love you turn the darkness of death into the dawn of new life.’ Miraculously, during the prayer that followed, the rain relented and the leaden sky cleared, leaving Stamford Bridge momentarily bathed in brilliant sunshine whilst Ossie’s ashes were interred beneath the Shed End penalty spot. Chopper Harris and current Chelsea and England captain, John Terry, then unveiled a pitch-side plaque as the giant video screens played back footage of the great man in action.
‘Out from the Shed came a rising young star, scoring goals past Pat Jennings from near and from far, and Chelsea won as we knew that they would … and the star of that great team was Peter Osgood. Osgood, Osgood, Osgood, Osgood … Born is the king of Stamford Bridge.’
As I sang, my spine tingled. I smiled trying to remember which I’d heard first, the Christmas Carol, the First Noel, or it’s reincarnation as a Shed terrace classic dedicated to Ossie. It was closure of sorts … another link to my distant childhood broken. I looked at JoJo and then up at the sky, which had darkened malevolently once more, readying itself to unleash another raging torrent. ‘Blue is the colour, football is the game, we’re altogether and winning is our aim. So cheer us on through the sun and rain, cos Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.’
In a way it was fitting that the service ended with a rendition of the enduring anthem Blue is the Colour. Gone and never to be forgotten, Peter Osgood will always be the King of Stamford Bridge, but come what may, Chelsea are the lifeblood that courses through every true Blue’s veins … always and forever.
‘Come to the Shed and we’ll welcome you, wear your blue and see us through … sing loud and clear till the game is done, sing Chelsea everyone. Oh! Blue is the colour, football is the game, we’re altogether and winning is our aim … so cheer us on through the sun and rain, cos Chelsea … Chelsea is our name.’