I have told this story before so please bare with me. A few days before the 2012 Champions League final I was at the cricket with the club historian Rick Glanvill. Worried like most about the suspensions and injuries, I asked Rick if we had a chance. Of course he said, we have our best ever forward, Drogba, our best ever midfielder, Lampard, our best ever left back, Cole and our best ever goalkeeper, Cech.
I felt comforted but slightly perturbed. My all time footballing hero was no longer Chelsea’s best ever goalkeeper. I couldn’t argue with that but I was upset.
I had known that Peter wasn’t well. I had seen a photo of him a shadow of his former self but he still looked like the Cat. So when the news broke on Sunday it was not a shock just a feeling of profound sadness. It is a strange thing how one can be affected by the death of a total stranger. Case in point was the death of David Bowie, it knocked me for six. The death of someone who has had such a profound influence on your life can affect you. The Cat was a massive influence on me when I was growing up and still is .
Let’s go back. I am 7 when I first go to football; Chelsea is my team. Their goalkeeper is Peter Bonetti, he wears an all green kit , I am transfixed. This is my team the Royal Blue-kit and Green for the keeper. In my formative years Peter is always there. He is our keeper. In those days there was never much change in the make up of the team.
My mind was made up, I wanted to be a keeper like Peter. I persuaded my mum and dad to get me a Bonetti shirt. The Black collar with the dark green shirt. With my black shorts and white socks I was set. All that was missing was the paper thin green revolutionary gloves, (great for wet weather; rubbish for dry conditions).
I studied Peter, he was a great shot stopper with amazing reflexes. He came for crosses and bravely dived at the feet of oncoming strikers. His only weakness as far as I could see was his kicking but he had a really long throw out.
It’s hard to think further than the 1970 FA cup final and replay for stand out performances. He kept us in the first game and was bravery personified in the second. My first trophy as a kid and my hero was a major reason why. The thing with Peter was his consistency and he always there, well almost. His bravery saw him crocked on occasion.
We can also add loyalty to his other traits. When it all fell apart for the club in the mid 70s he unlike others stayed. He guided the youth in the ’77 promotion winning side. Still looking stylish but showing some grey hairs.
His last game for the blues was at the end of the 1978-1979 season a 1- I draw at home to Arsenal. Another dreadful season, finishing bottom and relegated again. Not the way a hero should bow out but it was still a magnificent career. He played for Chelsea 729 times and kept over 200 clean sheets. Its testament to Peter that his clean sheet record was broken by Petr Cech who it could be argued had a much better defence in front of him.
When I was a kid I met Peter on several occasions. A family friend knew him and was on his testimonial committee. I last met him when he was goal keeping coach at Fulham in 1999. At the time my friend was the youth team coach there. Pre game before walking across the pitch to the Riverside stand we had to wait in the tunnel for the players to walk past. As we waited Peter came towards us and said hello, I stood there like a 6 year old schoolboy unable to speak properly.
It is hard to express in words how much Peter Bonetti meant to me. He was and will always be our number one. I read a quote from Pele , that Peter, Gordon Banks and Lev Yashin were the best goalkeepers around. My three favourites and they are all back together. RIP Peter.
By Clayton Beerman @goalie59