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Obituary: Peter Sillett

PETER SILLETT was one of those rare individuals, a Chelsea footballer with a League Championship medal. The Blues have won the domestic game's highest honour only once, in 1954/55, and the tall, burly defender was a stalwart member of that mould-breaking side.

Indeed, it was Sillett who struck the blow which determined the destination of the trophy, if not mathematically then certainly in the hearts and minds of the Stamford Bridge faithful. With only a handful of matches remaining, Chelsea were at home to their chief rivals, Wolverhampton Wanderers, needing victory to establish what seemed sure to be decisive ascendancy in the title race. Some 15 minutes from the end, with the scoresheet still blank, the hosts were awarded a penalty and, in front of more than 75,000 spellbound fans, Sillett, the right-back, strode forward to take it. Outwardly calm but, as he revealed later, seething with apprehension, he hammered the ball low past the England goalkeeper Bert Williams before being submerged by ecstatic team-mates. Chelsea, for so long the subject of music-hall derision, were Champons elect.

A month later, Sillett was involved in another high-profile penalty incident which ended less happily. Having been called up for his international debut against France in Paris, he conceded the spot-kick which resulted in the only goal of the game. Apart from that one aberration, however, he played well enough in a side containing the likes of Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright and Duncan Edwards to retain his place for the remaining two matches of England's spring tour, against Spain and Portugal.

Thereafter, he slipped from the international reckoning, his movement a little too ponderous for that exalted level, though other aspects of his game were outstanding. Sillett was a cultured distributor of the ball, his positional play was astute and he was utterly imperturbable under fire, but it was as one of the most explosively powerful dead-ball kickers of his era that he earnt most renown. Indeed, he was a menace anywhere within 40 yards of the opponents' goal and was the author of some of the most spectacular strikes ever seen at Stamford Bridge.

Sillett hailed from a footballing family. His father, Charlie, had captained their home-town club, Southampton, before being killed in the Second World War, and his ebullient younger brother, John, was to join him at Chelsea, then win fame for guiding Coventry City to FA Cup victory in 1987. Sillett's own career began with the Saints in 1950. Then, after performing creditably in a poor team which was relegated from the old Second Division in 1952/53, the richly promising 20-year-old was transferred to Chelsea for pounds 12,000.

Duly he cemented a berth in the manager, Ted Drake's enterprising side - colleagues included the star centre-forward Roy Bentley and the future England manager Ron Greenwood - and played his sterling part in the subsequent Championship glory. Sadly the Blues did not build on their success of 1955, becoming increasingly unpredictable as the decade wore on and Sillett, an easy-going fellow adept at wicked deadpan humour, matured into elder statesman and skipper of the youthful combination known as "Drake's Ducklings". Had it not been for the prodigious goal-scoring exploits of Jimmy Greaves, they might have been relegated in 1959/60 but they managed to retain their status until 1961/62, when the new manager, Tommy Docherty, was unable to prevent demotion.

By this point Sillett's top-flight career had been effectively finished by a broken leg suffered in August 1961 and although he had recovered by season's end he was unable to oust the gifted rookie Ken Shellito. There being no place for him in the Docherty set-up, and feeling that his leg was not strong enough to warrant accepting offers from other Football League clubs, he left Chelsea to embark on a lengthy non-League career, at first operating as a player-coach and later solely as a manager.

Among his employers were Guildford City, Ashford Town, Folkestone Town, Hastings United and Hastings Town and he became a well-loved fixture on the semi-professional scene. Between 1987 and 1990 he scouted for his brother at Coventry, but it is as a Stamford Bridge bulwark of the 1950s that Peter Sillett will be best remembered.

Ivan Ponting

Richard Peter Sillett, footballer: born Southampton 1 February 1933; played for Southampton 1950-53, Chelsea 1953-62; capped three times for England 1955; married (three sons, one daughter); died Ashford, Kent 12 March 1998.