A while ago, I was invited to submit a guest article to the ‘grumpyoldfan’ website looking at a Hero of Youth. Here’s what I came up with:
I know this may make me sound like some curmudgeonly old moaner, locked into the past but casting my mind back around five decades or so, there was of course no computer games and kids’ TV lasted for a mere hour before the six o’clock news. Plus, if you had no interest in ‘sticky-back plastic’ or empty washing-up liquid bottles, such things could be of limited interest anyway. There was therefore little else to do other than go outside and play with a ball. Cricket in the summer – well sometimes, but overwhelmingly, football.
Now the golden age I’m relating to here is something the likes of which have not been granted to football fans in this country ever since – and with not much sign of it returning any time soon either, for that matter. It was an era just after England had won the World Cup – 1966 and all that. It will be of little surprise therefore that when we played football, everyone adopted the persona of our favourite players. You won’t be surprised to hear that the claims to be Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton or Alan Ball were always the preview of the first ‘baggsies’ shouted out. It didn’t worry me though. Even when the calls went out to be Roger Hunt, Martin Peters or Nobby Stiles, I wasn’t overly bothered. And no, I wasn’t opting for George Best, but certainly someone of his ilk.
For me, World Cup heroes were all well and good, but my favourite player was discarded by Sir Alf Ramsey after being in the preliminary 40 man squad for the tournament. I was always Peter Osgood. Why? Well, for as long as I can remember, and that’s a fair way back as you’ll deduce from the vintage of this setting, blue was always the colour for me. For someone born in the heart of the industrial midlands, far from the the glamour of Kings Road and all things ‘dahn sarth’ I have to admit that I don’t really know the reason for my allegiance, but it’s no less heartfelt for that. And Ossie was the man. He was tall, possessing an abundance of skill, an eye for goal and the muscularity to look after himself as was the way in those days. And me, well, at least I was tall.
The King of Stamford Bridge was born on 20th February, 1947. Ironically, it was a birthday he shared with another Chelsea goal-scoring legend, Jimmy Greaves. Whilst Greavsie shared Ossie’s fate of being shunned by Sir Alf, where the two differed was that while Greaves sallied forth from Stamford Bridge for a short Italian pizza the action in Serie A, before enjoying his best years across the capital with Spurs, Ossie’s prime was in royal blue.
For me however, it wasn’t just that. There was something else. A bit like something about George Best and why he was loved by fans, while perhaps Bobby Charlton was more usually admired and respected. Like Best, Osgood was a maverick. Touched by the angels with sublime technique, he also had a devil whispering in his ear, saying that not only life, but also football, was something to be enjoyed, not just experienced, but fully wrung-out for the pleasure and exaltation of the soul.
Look, I could run through some stats if you like, and they’re pretty impressive. 380 games for Chelsea, netting 150 goals is no mean record with a team that at the time were perennial top-six finishers in the league, but usually yo-yoing between third and sixth, with an occasional cup run. But a bit like the England managers who scandalously only awarded Osgood a paltry four caps for his country, statistics meant little to me. It was the flair and swagger that impressed me so much more. An abundance of self-confidence that encouraged the outrageous skills and sheer joy of knowing that you had more ability than your opponent.
It’s the approach to the game that saw Osgood awarded the Goal of the Season accolade during the 1972-73 league contest. A thunderous volley rocketed past Arsenal’s Bob Wilson. Afterwards, the former Scottish international stopper was to remark that as soon at he saw the ball leave Osgood’s foot, the dive to try and stop it was “just a gesture.” Ossie peeled away in front of The Shed end, punching the air as the ball nestled in the net behind the floored Wilson.
It’s also the diving header in the 1970 FA Cup Final replay at Old Trafford when Chelsea had slugged it out – often literally at times – with Don Revie’s hard-nosed Leeds United at Wembley and into the second half in the replay. Charlie Cooke, all body swerve and Coerver-like dribbling skills flitted through the mud-patch of a midfield before clipping the ball into the Leeds penalty area. Osgood then launched himself almost horizontally at the ball, at the same time flicking his neck muscles to send the ball past David Harvey and into the net for the strike that was to lead to extra-time and Davd Webb’s winning goal. I remember that when Ossie equalised, I jumped up and kicked the settee in sheer joy and exuberance. It was something that didn’t impress my father overmuch, but it was seminal moment, and led to the first time I saw Chelsea pick up a trophy.
Injury had prevented Osgood playing in the final three years earlier when Chelsea lost to Spurs, despite a Bobby Tambling goal creating a late rally. This time, Ossie was not to be denied and he scored in every round of the tournament and, for good measure, then netted again the following year as Chelsea beat the might of Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup.
If the early part of Osgood’s Chelsea career was blessed with the indulgent managerial style of Tommy Docherty who saw the value in the rough diamond he had, as time went on, other managers would not have such regard for the talent, perhaps blinded by an approach and lifestyle away from the pitch, that kicked against conformity. In the 1970 World Cup, Ramsey finally decided that finishing as top goal-scorer in the first division with over 30 goals was sufficient for the Blues’ striker to warrant a place in the squad taken to Mexico to defend the Jules Rimet trophy. Inevitably, Ossie was broadly ignored however, and when, in the final group game against Brazil, England were trailing to Jairzinho’s strike and in need of a goal, Ramsey instead turned to Jeff Astle. Whilst the Baggies striker was earnest and hard-working, he had not the quality of Osgood, and when the chance to save the game landed at his feet, he scuffed it tamely wide.
Although not condemning Astle, Osgood clearly resented the decision to pass over his opportunity in favour of the man from the Hawthorns. “If you want my opinion, he made a big mistake when he brought on Jeff Astle instead of me against Brazil. I was flying then. Chelsea had just won the FA Cup, I was top scorer in England with 31 goals, I was only 23 and playing the very best football of my life.” It’s not an unfair call and clearly hurt Osgood who later confessed to “getting pissed” and missing the following day’s training session. He didn’t wear his country’s colours again for another four years.
Back at the Bridge, after Docherty’s departure, Dave Sexton, the cerebral coach, looking for players who fitted his plans eventually tired of Osgood at the age of only 27, and he was sold to Southampton for a then record fee of £275,000. For me, by then well into my teens, it was like having the known foundations of civilised life shaken beneath you. There was death and there were taxes – ain’t that right Joe Black? – and Peter Osgood played for Chelsea. That’s just the way it was. Now all that had changed. Not only had my hero left my club, but Chelsea were deprived of of four or five years of contributions from a star performer.
Down at The Dell however, under the astute stewardship of Lawrie McMenamy, a manager who recognised the supreme importance of talent, Southampton prospered. Osgood added a second FA Cup Winner’s medal to his collection when Bobby Stokes netted for the Saints to beat Manchester United – ironically under the same Tommy Docherty who had given Osgood his head at Stamford Bridge. As the saints prospered, Chelsea fell into a period of decline that would last for a full decade or so. Of course the loss of the talismanic striker may not have been the sole reason, but just ask any Chelsea fan old enough to remember the period for their opinion on the whys and wherefores. I think I know what the majority would think
After a few years on the south coast, Osgood had a few games on loan at Norwich City, before venturing into the nascent NASL with Philadelphia Fury. Although the gentler pace and less combative nature of the North American league would seem ideal for a player like Osgood, it didn’t seem to inspire him, and after less than two dozen games, he returned to his spiritual home for a swan-song season at Stamford Bridge. Of course he scored on his second debut, but now well into his thirties, the accumulation of injuries and the simple wear and tear suffered by most skilful players in those days had taken a fierce toll. He played ten games, scoring twice before being compelled to hang his boots up.
In retirement he frequented the public speaking circuit and was always popular at the Bridge as a roving ambassador for the club. Unforgivably however, the truculent Ken Bates fell out with the fans’ favourite and banned him from the ground. Ossie being Ossie simply shifted his presence to Southampton where he was of course also hugely popular. It was however one of Roman Abramovic’s most popular moves upon taking ownership of Chelsea to invite Osgood back into the fold of the Chelsea family. It was something Ossie could not resist. Although a number of failed business ventures and three marriages suggest a less than idyllic post-career lifestyle, Osgood always knew he would be adored at the Bridge. He was, and still is.
Just three months after George Best had passed away, Peter Osgood died after being taken ill at a family funeral service. Heaven must have been able to put out a pretty entertaining team with those two lighting up the Heavenly Host XI. To this day, a banner hangs at Stamford Bridge proclaiming ‘Born is the king.’ all Chelsea fans know who it refers to, but just in case, the chant filling out the rest of the song rings out at almost every home game.
Heroes are heroes, and for me Ossie was the guy. Of course, Charlton, Hurst and rest brought glory to the country, and all fans will honour the Wembley ’66 heroes. Thinking back to those days kicking the ball around as a young kid however, and even into my teens, would I swop being Peter Osgood for any one of those other players? I think you know the answer.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘grumpyoldfan’ website).