Petar Borota: Flamboyant goalkeeper who kept the fans entertained during a fallow period for Chelsea

It was difficult to be neutral about Petar Borota, the Chelsea goalkeeper between 1979 and 1981, a generally glum period of under-achievement at Stamford Bridge.

Undeniably he was a born showman, a flamboyant entertainer who could, momentarily at least, divert attention from the serial trials of a frustratingly poor side. But beyond that basic premise, opinions on the Yugoslavian international diverged sharply. Some saw him as an engaging eccentric who brought panache, colour and a streak of welcome unpredictability to an increasingly regimented English game; others had him down as ruinously erratic, an irresponsible clown who could undo the worthy graft of less frivolous colleagues while driving his coaches to distraction.

Certainly Borota was unorthodox. In an era before the influx of exotic talents from all over the world, when goalkeepers tended to restrict their activities to their own penalty areas, the swashbuckler from Belgrade was ready to indulge in a whole range of extravagant manoeuvres. Often he would dash from his box to make a clearance; sometimes he would attempt to dribble past an onrushing opponent, not always with marked success; he was known to head crosses clear instead of catching or punching them; he would swing on his crossbar, admittedly when the ball was at the other end of the field; he would indulge in feverish goal celebrations, the like of which had never been seen in England; occasionally he might storm forward when Chelsea won a corner, long before such a practice was anything like standard; and one particularly provocative party-piece was deliberately bouncing the ball off his own bar when he judged the proceedings to be a trifle dull.

Once, in a cup encounter with Southampton, Borota darted out of his area with the apparent purpose of making a hefty clearance, only to execute a sudden and unexpected backheel to his dumbfounded centre-half, the man-mountain Micky Droy. Later, when asked to explain this disconcerting ploy, the Yugoslav grinned disarmingly and replied that he had wanted to enliven the crowd, who had thus far been starved of entertainment in a notably drab contest.

But all this apparently whimsical derring-do should not detract from the fact that, essentially, Borota was an immensely accomplished performer who had excelled for two home-town clubs. First he served OFK Belgrade, for whom he made some 130 appearances between 1969 and 1975, and then Partizan Belgrade, for whom he enjoyed 77 League outings from 1976 to 1979 while rising to international status and earning four full caps.

Standing a fraction under six feet tall, Borota was muscular, courageous and brilliantly acrobatic, one of the most spectacular shot-stoppers of his day. For all his adventurous antics he took his craft seriously, preparing for games with impeccable rigour, and an incident for which he was famous in Yugoslavia – in which he dropped his cap over his goal-line, then went to pick it up while carrying the ball, thus conceding a goal – was wholly untypical of his professionalism.

He arrived at Stamford Bridge from Partizan in March 1979 as a £70,000 purchase by Danny Blanchflower, who had been recently drafted in to stop the rot at a club foundering dismally at the wrong end of the old First Division table.

In truth the eloquent, idealistic Irishman, who had enjoyed such a glorious playing career with Tottenham Hotspur but who had been out of day-to-day contact with footballers for 15 years, was an odd choice for such a muck-and-bullets assignment and neither he, nor the similarly quixotic Borota, had much hope of preventing Chelsea's relegation from the top flight as bottom club that spring. But although Blanchflower resigned the following September in despair at what he saw as the cynical values of the modern game, Borota won a regular place under the new manager Geoff Hurst, and for the next two seasons was voted the Blues' player of the year.

For all his foibles, his consistent competence helped Chelsea to fourth place in the Second Division in 1979-80, missing out on promotion only on goal difference. More impressive still, in 1980-81, during which the team declined into mid-table mediocrity, he returned 18 clean sheets, beating the club record held by his eminent predecessor Peter Bonetti.

However, at the season's end Hurst was replaced as manager by the pragmatic and experienced John Neal, who was not enamoured of Borota's style. Thus it came as no surprise in November when the 29-year-old, who had made more than a century of appearances for Chelsea, was dropped in favour of teenager Steve Francis and soon was dispatched to Third Division Brentford, for whom he never played a League game.

There followed service with several Portuguese clubs through the middle years of the decade before he left the game. A warm, genial character and a popular figure with his Stamford Bridge team-mates, even those occasionally stunned by his off-the-wall interludes, Petar Borota will be remembered as a man who polarised opinion, but who was never dull.

Petar Borota, footballer: born Belgrade, Yugoslavia 5 March 1952; played for OFK Belgrade 1969-75, Partizan Belgrade 1976-79, Chelsea 1979-82, Portimonense 1982-83, Boavista 1983-84; died Genoa, Italy 12 February 2010.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game