There are always some of those who manage to stay back a little longer, either on the pitch or in memories. Down the years, there have been several greats who have taken centre stage at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home. But there are a few of them who have painted such vivid pictures on The Bridges’ canvas that it is unlikely that their contributions will ever be forgotten. And so, TheHardTackle takes a look back down the years on some of Chelsea’s most iconic figures.
1. Peter Osgood
In one of the recesses of Stamford Bridge’s West Stand, proudly stands a Nine-foot tall statue of Peter Osgood. A plaque on the side, reads the following:
Stamford Bridge Has Many Heroes But Only One King
Signed as a Junior by the club, Osgood came through the ranks before becoming a regular in the flamboyant Chelsea team of late 60s and early 70s. An injury had threatened to derail his career, but he came back even stronger and then manager Dave Sexton recognized his potential by deploying him as a midfielder early on and then shifting him to the position of a centre-forward. It was as the latter, wearing the No.9 shirt, that he mesmerized the Stamford Bridge faithful and became a Terrace favorite.
He was a classic English centre-forward; physically imposing, adept at scoring goals with both his feet and head. But his lasting legacy remains the goals he scored in cup finals, most famous being his equaliser against Leeds in 1970 FA Cup final, a game that Chelsea went on to win. It was also one of the most iconic games in FA Cup history and went on make the Cockney Boys from London, led by Ossie, a household name. He also scored the opener against Real Madrid, in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final which was also Chelsea’s first European Trophy.
He fell out with the club and went on to join Southampton in Mid 70s as Chelsea declined. Although he came back for one season in 1978, he could no longer roll back the glory days and retired at the end of season. In all, He scored 150 goals in 380 games, Chelsea’s fifth highest goal-tally of all times and his status and persona remain unchallenged at Stamford Bridge. He died of heart attack in March 2006, at a meager age of 59. His ashes were buried under the penalty spot at the Shed End of Stamford Bridge.
2. Matthew Harding
Matthew Harding was Chelsea’s Vice-Chairman from 1994 to 1996, before his untimely death that left the club and fans shocked and saddened to the core. He had fallen in love with the club as a kid, an association that continued throughout his life.
As a business man, He made his fortune in the insurance industry and was one of Britain’s richest men in the late 80s. During those years, Chelsea were going through turbulent times both on and off the pitch, shuttling between Division One and Two while financially the Club was declining as well. It was at this time, in 1994, that Ken Bates issued a call for investment into the club and Matthew Harding responded with an investment of 24 million pounds, pumping new life into the club. It was with this money, that Chelsea began their resurgence; with new arrivals such as Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Zola among others and the club started gaining a new identity while Stamford Bridge also benefitted from the investment in its renovations as well as the construction of North Stand.
His time on the board was anything but amicable with Chairman Ken Bates as both continued to have differences over what was best for Chelsea and the direction the club should proceed in. Nevertheless, Harding remained a fan favourite or as some like to called him, People’s Chairman. He was admired for his childlike love for the club and players, often preferring to enjoy Match-Days with the fans rather than suites up above in the stands.
He died tragically in a helicopter crash, on his way back from watching Chelsea take on Bolton Wanderers in a league cup clash. In his honour, The North Stand which was developed from almost all his investment was renamed as the Matthew Harding Stand. The lower tier of the Stand houses the most boisterous of Chelsea’s support and although the Shed-enders might like to disagree regarding the noise levels, no one disagrees or forgets the tremendous contribution in Chelsea’s history by Matthew Harding.
3. Gianfranco Zola
If there is any quote that can best describe Chelsea’s smiling little Italian fellow who mesmerized Stamford Bridge for a good seven years then it has to be this one,
“Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and the wizard must try.” – Claudio Ranieri on Zola after his back heel goal against Norwich in 2002
It was perhaps as simple to Zola as Ranieri tried to make it out. The man scored all sorts of goals, from volleys to free-kicks; from tap-ins to back heeled volleys and danced around any and every defence, leaving the defenders rather red faced. Even though playing in a team with talented players the likes of Dennis Wise, Gus Poyet, Gianluca Vialli and Di Matteo among others, he was clearly a cut above the rest. But above all, he was one of those rarities in modern football; a true gent of the game, he was widely respected among opposition fans and players alike, and always played with a smile on his face.
He had the inevitable blips in any footballer’s career, but came back stronger every time. There are too many moments to choose from the wizard’s time at Chelsea but his free-kick against Barcelona in 2000, Back-heel flick against Norwich and the half-volley against Stuttgart in the Cup Winners’ Cup final that brought Chelsea their second European trophy were the highlights of his career at the bridge. He was voted Chelsea’s greatest ever player by a poll on the official website, and even as he has been overtaken by Didier Drogba recently, he is still fondly remembered as one of the finest to have ever played for Chelsea and one of the modern icons of the club.
4. The Old Guard
“I selected a group of players who were comfortable playing with each other, who drew confidence from each other” – Roberto Di Matteo on his team selection for Chelsea’s Champions League Quarter Final, 2nd Leg against Napoli
Now attempting to compile any list of most iconic figures and missing out on the ‘Old Ones’ of Chelsea’s new age would be an absolute travesty, and so would be including them all and denying others who deserve their place. It is perhaps only fair that Chelsea’s ‘Old Guard’ finds a mention together. After all, they have played together for most part of their career together, winning and losing as brother in arms.
With fortunes swinging wildly from one end of the pendulum to another, with managers and players coming and leaving, they managed to hold on and dig out results time and again for Chelsea. The contribution of Chelsea’s Fantastic four can hardly ever be overstated. For all of Roman Abramovich’s riches, in Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, Chelsea found the very best that they could possibly have despite continuing to spend money elsewhere.
They are already reeling under the effect of Drogba’s departure and will soon be facing up to the task of looking further forward from Lampard and Terry. With all the signing hopefuls being lined up, the truth remains that Chelsea may never be able to find a midfielder who will score more goals from midfield than strikers do, or a defender who would take to the pitch even with broken ribs, or a striker who you could rely on to score a goal when it mattered.
The long road ahead that Chelsea must face without them is only a testament to these players who have never failed to give it all for the team, no matter how great the challenge.
5. Jose Mourinho
For all of Di Matteo’s remarkable exploits in the Champions League, or Ruud Gullit’s Sexy Football, or Dave Sexton’s flamboyance of the late 60s and early 70s or John Neal’s wonders at the lowest of times in early 80s, there is no manager who looks likely to be surpassing Jose Mourinho’s aura at Stamford Bridge any time soon.
He transformed a squad of ‘Potentials’ into ‘Contenders’, catapulting them into a force to be reckoned with. He embedded strength over flair and grit over flamboyance and instilled a winning mentality in the squad, a mentality that has driven the club in the toughest of times, even over five years after he left the club. Even though he had been bringing a lot of bad press to the club and was accused of attempting to showcase himself as bigger than the club by some, before parting company with Chelsea, his commitment to the club was never in doubt.
Unsurprisingly, He is rumoured with a return to Chelsea, what with the managerial circus that goes around at Stamford Bridge. And even though there have been many a great manager, Jose remains Chelsea’s most iconic manager. His celebrations with the players on winning crucial games, his hilarious and ‘cheeky’ press conferences and his ‘Chin Up’ moment ensure that his enigma lives on at Stamford Bridge.