Wizardry of Os, lord of ringmasters

PETER OSGOOD
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The Independent Online

Back in the late Sixties, teenage dreams were tinged in blue for one college student. The object of his infatuation carried the No 9 and the burden of his expectations ­ and those of 50,000 other supporters.

Back in the late Sixties, teenage dreams were tinged in blue for one college student. The object of his infatuation carried the No 9 and the burden of his expectations ­ and those of 50,000 other supporters.

In his idol's honour that scholar grew sideburns, and vainly tried to perfect the roguish grin which always appeared when another goal had the likes of Gary Sprake or Bob Wilson squirming. He imagined that it was actually him dallying with Raquel Welch after a game (even though her appearance at Stamford Bridge, claiming to be a supporter, was only a publicity stunt).

Peter Osgood epitomised sexy football way before Ruud Gullit introduced the concept at Stamford Bridge, and we disciples at the Shed End worshipped him for all his frailties, as well as his strengths. We prided ourselves on the fact that rival supporters abhored the strutting cockiness of the Kings Road carouser in much the way they do David Beckham today. Our pleasure was in their envy.

"Skill, great attitude, two great feet, great in the air. A marvellous heart," the Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty, paraphrased his attributes. "What more is there?" What indeed. Nobody would deny the claims of Pele, Cruyff, Best, Puskas, to their places in football's pantheon. But they were distant, unattainable models, to be revered from afar. If there was one footballer into which this observer metamorphosed on the cloying mud of the Sunday morning park pitch it was the Wizard of Os.

In your mind, you heard Kenneth Wolstenholme eulogising about you on Match of the Day with the words, "What a beautiful mover this boy is," as he did of the newly-discovered 18-year-old Osgood after a scintillating run against Liverpool in an FA Cup third-round tie at Anfield.

In your own ludicrous fantasies, it could be you who was plucked from a local side ­ in Osgood's case a team bearing the unprepossessing title of Spital Old Boys ­ to be propelled to stardom. He was the First Division's top scorer in the 1969-70 season and scored 220 goals for Chelsea and Southampton, including the Blues' equaliser against Leeds in the final replay at Old Trafford in 1970, and their winner inthe European Cup Winners' Cup final against Real Madrid the following year. Again, that required Chelsea to come through a replay. Osgood's preparations for the second game would scarcely be acceptable today. "Charlie Cooke and Tommy Baldwin and me went down to the Hilton hotel and got pie-eyed," he recalls. "We just didn't believe our name was on the Cup."

He was one of three wise men who came to Chelsea bearing extraodinary gifts in that golden age ­ Osgood, that demon of a Scottish winger Cooke, and the midfield stylist Alan Hudson. But of that triumvirate of showmen, Osgood was always the ringmaster, the man who brought a new direction to goal celebrations; that sliding fall to the knees became his trademark, an almost apologetic raise of the arms, as if to say, "Sorry, fellas, it's just too easy" to his subjects.

Manchester United may have boasted George Best but, on his day and in his own way, Ossie could compare with the Irish phenomenon, certainly in terms of projecting a glamorous persona. Maybe it was the era, the Swinging Sixties, that caused Osgood particularly to endear himself to us.

He represented a welcome andidote to what was perceived as Leeds' hugely talented but somewhat joyless football. Yet, for all that Osgood and Jack Charlton were anathema to one another, there was no doubting the Leeds defender's generosity as he recalled the 1970 World Cup campaign in Mexico. "The one guy who was really at the top of the tree at the time, that we all felt would have a big part to play in the World Cup finals, was Peter Osgood," reflects Charlton. "In all our practice matches Peter seemed to be by far the best player; his laid-back style was ideally suited to the heat. But Alf never used him, except as substitute."

Osgood only ever appeared four times for England. Despite his regard for him, Sir Alf didn't really trust him. There will be those who might ask ­ as they did with Best ­ what might the forward have become if he had not been a free spirit and, indeed, free with the spirits? The answer is that such self-discipline could only have restricted both.

It is another matter to question what Osgood might have become if he had not broken his leg early in his career in a tackle by Emlyn Hughes, then with Blackpool. The leg was repaired, but the weight he put on during his recovery would always restrict him slightly. Not that you would have noticed too much. "Osgood is good" became the fans' refrain. And didn't he just know it.

So did one young student for whom the name Osgood remains a byword for great entertainer, master practitioner.

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