Peter Osgood

Chelsea football icon and, in a much rougher game, one of the cleverest centre-forwards of his generation
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The Independent Online

Peter Osgood, footballer: born Windsor, Berkshire 20 February 1947; played for Chelsea 1964-74, 1979-80, Southampton 1974-76; capped four times by England 1970-74; three times married (three sons); died Slough, Berkshire 1 March 2006.

Peter Osgood was one of the towering icons of English football in the late 1960s and 1970s. He played for Chelsea in that era, as part of a characterful team which provided a compelling blend of silk and steel, and he encapsulated those qualities himself.

An abiding image would be of Osgood smiling cheekily, having just scored another spectacular goal, or perhaps having gone in just slightly late on an opponent and got away with it. He was an extravagantly gifted footballer, with just the hint of the devil needed to survive in those less punctilious days when strikers were not afforded the protection they are today.

Peter Osgood was born in 1947, at Windsor in Berkshire. He was an outstanding schoolboy player, and he chose to sign for Chelsea. His first manager was the charismatic Scot Tommy Docherty, who convinced the 17-year-old Osgood that his future lay in west London. "He had everything you could wish for in a player," says Docherty:

He had two great feet, wonderful skill, and he was terrific in the air. He was about 6ft 3in so he had every right to be a good header of the ball, but he had wonderful timing and power with it.

Osgood was a professional footballer for 16 years. He made 560 appearances for Chelsea and Southampton, scoring 220 goals and winning two FA Cup-winners' medals. He made his début for Chelsea under Docherty, then later had a spell at Southampton, 1974-76, a period on loan to Norwich and a nine-month stay in the United States, before returning to Chelsea for the 1979-80 season.

During the 1969-70 season, he was the top scorer in the First Division, with 31 goals, and scored in every round of the FA Cup, including the final against Chelsea's perennial rivals, Don Revie's Leeds United. It was an epic two-match battle which summed up much of what football was about at that time.

The 1970 Cup final was one of the most physical ever contested, and that in an era when football was a good deal more basic than the refined brand served up in today's Premiership. Revie's Yorkshire tough guys were famous for their elastic approach to the laws of the game, with players like Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles and Norman Hunter. Dave Sexton's Chelsea, while having a reputation for flair and panache, also had a team populated with men who didn't mind a bit of afters; men like Chopper Harris, Dave Webb and Osgood.

The first match was played on a Wembley pitch that had been churned into a quagmire by the Horse of the Year Show. Leeds were widely seen as the better team, and Chelsea were lucky to get a 2-2 draw. The replay at Old Trafford descended into football barbarism. Leeds scored first through Mick Jones, but Osgood's equaliser opened the floodgates of foul play. Peter Lorimer, the Leeds midfielder, said:

Jack Charlton let in Peter Osgood for them to score and that fired them up. They came out for the second half and kicked everything above grass.

Chelsea would argue that they were only meeting fire with fire, but their tactics worked. Webb, who had been humiliated by the Leeds left-winger Eddie Gray at Wembley, bundled in an extra-time winner and the Cup went to Stamford Bridge for the first time.

Years later, the respected Premiership official David Elleray "refereed" the replay again on video. The ref on the night, Eric Jennings, had only booked one player, Ian Hutchinson of Chelsea. Applying modern standards, Elleray saw it rather differently. By his count, Leeds should have had seven bookings and three sent off (Giles, Bremner and Charlton). Elleray reckoned Chelsea deserved 13 bookings, including three each for Webb, Harris and Charlie Cooke.

The match provided a lengthy sheet of misdemeanours. Chelsea's hard men systematically targeted Gray, and Harris finally nailed him late in the first half with a malicious kick on the back of the left knee. Moments later, Charlton head-butted and kneed Osgood after the Chelsea striker had tackled him from behind. Wherever you looked on the field there was mayhem, as players kicked, gouged and butted each other with impunity. The next morning, one paper summed up Chelsea's triumph with the banner headline "Robbery With Violence".

Osgood was a member of the 1970 England World Cup squad in Mexico and played in the Chelsea side which beat Real Madrid in the 1971 European Cup-Winners' Cup final. Towards the end of his career, he enjoyed a late flowering of form with the talented Southampton side which, under Lawrie McMenemy, won promotion to the old First Division. As a Second Division side, Saints reached the 1976 FA Cup Final after a swashbuckling run, where they were destined to meet the mighty Manchester United - managed by Osgood's mentor, Docherty.

Few people gave Southampton a chance at Wembley, least of all Docherty. Before United played Derby County in the semi-final, Docherty had explained that they might as well bring the FA Cup along for the presentation, because United v County was the real final. Southampton were facing Third Division Crystal Palace in the other semi-final. However, Osgood and his team-mates were confident enough to avail themselves of the long odds against a Southampton win. Bobby Stokes scored the only goal of the game, and Osgood was delighted to collect his second FA Cup-winner's medal. He was so pleased with the victory, he took the old trophy home and slept with it. "It was the best way of looking after it," Osgood said.

Despite his reputation as one of the cleverest centre-forwards of his generation, Osgood only won four England caps. The national team's managers at the time, Alf Ramsey, then Revie, were apparently mistrustful of Osgood's cavalier approach to the game. Docherty says:

That was scandalous. Lesser players have won many, many more caps than that. But the fact that he was ignored by England does not lessen his memory. He will be remembered as one of the great centre-forwards.

After leaving Chelsea, Osgood ran a pub in Windsor with his ex-Chelsea team-mate Ian Hutchinson. He later worked for the marketing department at Chelsea, and he kept in close touch with the game he had graced as a player. He revelled in the current team's success - his only regret was that he wasn't able to play in the Abramovich/ Mourinho era himself. He said:

I'd have loved playing now because you know you can play football. There aren't gorillas kicking you. But in my day, if you moaned to the ref, your opponent would mutter: "Come on, you poof, get on with it."

Osgood was in demand as an after-dinner speaker, and also sold his own range of "Ossie" merchandise.

Alex Murphy