‘It’s a funny old game,’ Jimmy Greaves would quip, in-between comedic lines about dodgy keepers from Chilly Jocko Land which would have Ian St. John, his partner in the TV crime that was Saint & Greavsie, monotonously corpsing with laughter every Saturday lunchtime during the inglorious football era that spanned the years from 1985 to 1992. Resembling a couple of dad-casuals, the dynamic duo, swathed in the golfing knitwear of Lyle & Scott and Pringle, had already wormed their way into the nations affections presenting On the Ball, an integral part of the legendary World of Sport show at the time of its sad demise in the mid ‘80s. Funny how? Well it didn’t get much funnier than the time an under-the-weather Greavsie was replaced by his Spitting Image puppet for a couple of shows towards the end of its run.
I have various Chelsea anthologies and the word of my good friend Spanish Ken to support the statistics that mark Greavsie down as a Blues prodigy whose 41 league goals scored in the 1960-61 season remain a club record unlikely to be beaten in the modern era. Greavsie was a Blue for several short seasons and, despite his incomparable achievements at the Bridge, is mostly remembered for a disturbingly fine career across the Capital in the lilywhite kit of Rottenham Dropspur, how they could do with a striker of his ability now. ‘It’s a funny old game’, isn’t it Martin Jol?
I was but a twinkle in my fathers eye when Greavsie left Chelsea for AC Milan, and a mere toddler when a certain skilful teenager from Windsor with a penchant for rattling the ball into the onion bag with venomous ferocity more than capably filled his boots. Peter Osgood was the genuine article. Number 9. Yeah! Centre forward, make no mistake. Chelsea through and through, proud to wear the royal Blue. The charismatic king of Stamford Bridge was my boyhood idol, his majestic prowess in front of goal and the manner in which he carried himself ensured his iconic status with all Blues fans of a certain age. A true man of the people, I was privileged enough to get to know Ossie in later life and his untimely death last year robbed our Blue tinted world of one its genuine characters.
‘We’re the boys in Blue, Division Two … we won’t be here for long.’ The void left when Ossie hung his Chelsea boots up for the last time was eventually filled by Kerry Dixon. ‘One Kerry Dixon’ … the blond bomber immediately endeared himself to the Shed faithful with a brace of goals against Derby County on his debut at the start of the 1983/84 season which ended with Chelsea nailing the Second Division title. Dixon himself topped the scoring charts by a country mile; in his first two seasons at Chelsea, he mustered a mind-boggling 70 goals in just 101 matches. Like Ossie before him, Kerry symbolised Chelsea to the playground generation and just like Ossie, he dedicated the best years of his playing career to the Club and credit is due to the Abramovich regime for deservedly welcoming him back into the fold so he can bathe in the reflected glory of what he mostly achieved wearing that famous Number 9 shirt.
In 1992, Captain Birdseye Bates sold Kerry to Southampton, and a year later the Football Association switched to persistent squad numbers, abandoning the mandatory use of 1-11 for the starting line up. In the years that followed the Chelsea Number 9 shirt has been used and abused by the likes of Mark Stein, Chris Sutton, Gianluca Vialli, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Hernan Crespo, none of whom managed to reach the classic strikers benchmark tally of 30 goals in a campaign, a feat last achieved by Kerry Dixon in the 1984/85 term.
Last season, Didier Drogba tra la la la la, accomplished the landmark in fine style notching 33 goals in all competitions. An imperious, swashbuckling striker, of God given ability, if ever there was a Chelsea player fit to wear the Number 9 shirt it is the Drog … notwithstanding his recent outspoken tirade against his employers for which he partially atoned with a fine goal against Boro at the weekend and a carefully worded statement on the Club’s official website. On his arrival at Stamford Bridge, the majestic Ivorian was handed the Number 15 shirt which he eschewed a couple of seasons later for the Number 11 shirt vacated by Damien Duff, 11 being his favoured shirt number when on international duty for the Ivory Coast.
‘It’s a funny old game’. Just a bit! Thanks to a Dutch ‘centre-half’ by the name of Khalid Boulahrouz, the Chelsea supporting youth of today have no concept of what the Number 9 shirt represents to the Topps football card generation. ‘Khalid the cannibal’, so called for his apparent ability to ‘eat up his opposition’, was a pricey £8,500,000 post World Cup signing who joined the Blues in August 2006. Handed the Number 9 shirt, for no other reason than it was available following the departure back to Italy of hello hello Hernan Crespo, Boulahrouz quite simply failed to make the grade as Chelsea player in any capacity and was hurriedly loaned out to Spanish club Sevilla at the start of this season. Quirkily, when Sam Hutchinson made his Chelsea debut against Everton last May he wore Number 51, the highest number ever worn by a player in the Premier League. As for Khalid the cannibal, some argue he was nothing more than a Number 2, fit only to be flushed down the toilet of our recent memory.
Quite a few eyebrows were raised when carrot topped midfielder Stephen James Sidwell arrived at Stamford Bridge on a free transfer from mighty Reading in the summer. In his first interview with the club he stated that he had not come to Chelsea to ‘make up the numbers’ and was promptly handed the Number 9 shirt by Jose Mourinho. ‘It’s a funny old game’, just ask Jose!
Call me a sentimental old fool, but some traditions in football are worth retaining. I believe the Number 9 shirt should be reserved for a player that popular true-Blue opinion deems would at least be fit to lace the golden boots of Peter Osgood. Mr Abramovich, it’s not too much to ask for now is it?
Up the Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classic ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’. His new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ will be published in December. Signed copies are available to buy with free postage inside the UK and savings of up to 30% at www.overlandandsea.net.