Remembering Peter Osgood -- King of Stamford Bridge

Posted by Mark Worrall

Dan Istitene/Getty ImagesPeter Osgood's tribute statue in front of Stamford Bridge.

Today, Feb. 20, is significant in the annals of Chelsea Football Club as it marks the birthdate of three strikers, Jimmy Greaves, Peter Osgood and David Speedie, each of whom rippled the net for the Blues back in the day be it the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s.

Between them, this prolific trio mustered 754 appearances scoring 346 goals, and whilst there is no doubting the prodigious prowess of Greaves, who came through the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge, and Speedie, the firebrand strike partner of Kerry Dixon, it is Osgood who is rightly feted by supporters as a genuine Chelsea legend.

Osgood was the primary reason that I began to follow the Blues at the tail end of the 1960s. I don’t hold many memories from my childhood, but the mention of Ossie’s name always sets the windmills of my mind in motion as with lachrymose fondness I readily recall the days of 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 local 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, 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 No. 9 stitched on the back. Santa didn’t let me down. The shirt was all I needed. Now I really was Osgood. I even perfected his distinct goal celebration, that straddling jump accompanied by a low-slung single punch in the air. Fantastic!

As a Chelsea player, Ossie was, to put it 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. Hailing from Windsor, Peter Osgood signed amateur forms for Chelsea in 1964 at the age of 17 before agreeing to a professional contract with then manager Tommy Docherty. 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 many, the 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, Peter Osgood was regularly overlooked when it came to representing England on the international stage; rumour has it that the Three Lions’ boss at the time, Alf Ramsey, disapproved of his playboy lifestyle.

Back on the domestic front, 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. Blues supporters were devastated and, to make matters worse, the Stamford Bridge outfit subsequently entered a vertiginous period of decline which would last almost a decade.

Having won the FA Cup again in 1976 with the Saints, a year later Osgood decided to try his luck in the fledgling North American Soccer League with Philadelphia Fury. But life in the States wasn’t for him and, when the opportunity presented itself, which was midway through the 1978-79 season, the prodigal son returned to Stamford Bridge to rejoin the Blues who were entrenched at the foot of the old First Division.

Again Ossie scored on his debut, but times had changed -- that match, against Middlesboro, ended in a demoralizing 7-2 defeat. Despite the odd flash of brilliance, it was evident that Osgood’s best days were behind him. At the end of a punishing campaign, Chelsea were relegated from the top flight and the following season he played just one game in the Second Division for the Blues before deciding to hang his boots up for good in December 1979 at the comparatively young age of 32.

In retirement, Osgood was a man’s man. Always modest in the company of old-school Chelsea supporters, 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 social gatherings 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.

On March 1 2006, the Chelsea community and wider football world was shocked and saddened to hear of Osgood’s untimely death. 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 often read about that took place at the back of the old Shed -- faces from another era, the original kings of the King’s Road.

Osgood’s name is still regularly sung by the Stamford Bridge faithful, and so it will be this Saturday when the Blues return to Premier League action against Everton. "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 Osgood."

Given the profligacy of the current crop of Chelsea strikers, pre-match talk often includes wonderment at how Ossie in his prime might have fared leading the current Blues line? And so it will be this weekend.

"Oscar feeds a precision through ball to Eden Hazard -- the Belgian shimmies past Leighton Baines and crosses for Osgood who times his run perfectly to crash the ball beyond Tim Howard into the Everton net. That’s Osgood’s second goal of the game and his 25th strike of the season."

The general consensus on Saturday will be the same as it always is.

Ossie would have fared rather well.


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