Football: Return of old Blue highs

New glory boys of Stamford Bridge are living up to the past
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The Independent Online
THEY WON the FA Cup, with a memorable bounce off David Webb's nose, followed up 12 months later with the Cup-Winners' Cup, and cast a shadow that would leave future Chelsea teams in the shade for a quarter of a century.

Under Hoddle, Gullit and Vialli, their successors have finally emerged into the sunshine again, and the Class of '70 could not be more delighted. "We're all Chelsea supporters, all the old boys," Peter Osgood said this week, speaking, appropriately, from the home of his old oppo Ian Hutchinson, whose long throw had been diverted in by Webb's craggy face to win the Cup.

Those subsequent years were bleak ones, in which the club almost went out of business as well as out of the First Division three times. Having played for the club at their peak, Osgood also experienced the trough and was the last of the Cup-winning team left; after playing for Southampton and Philadelphia he returned in 1978 for a year under a doomed romantic of a manager in Danny Blanchflower. Their first game, in which Osgood scored after three minutes, finished in a 7-2 defeat by Middlesbrough. Relegation followed and early the next season Blanchflower resigned after a home defeat by Birmingham that turned out to be Osgood's last senior game.

For a while the former heroes - three of whom, Eddie McCreadie, John Hollins and Webb, tried to restore the old glories as manager - seemed to be resented rather than respected, but nowadays Osgood has a bar named after him at his beloved Stamford Bridge and is a regular match-day host. "I got a phone call from Ken Bates - transferred charge, of course - about five years ago, and since then, they've been very receptive," he says. "We seemed to be blamed in some way for being the glory boys, but once they had emulated us and won things, it was fine."

Having fallen out with a few Chelsea managers in his time, from Dave Sexton, whom he essentially respected, to Geoff Hurst and his assistant Bobby Gould ("two right wallies, and quote me"), Osgood has been fascinated to watch the more recent holders of the post at close quarters - or, in once case, not such close quarters as he would have liked.

"Glenn Hoddle started things off by bringing the success and the charisma back, and credit to Batesy, whether you love him or hate him, for getting Glenn there. Luca [Vialli] is a lovely man, absolutely superb, a pleasure to meet, who's always got time for you. And Ruud was the other way - he's got the right name, he is rude. I'm supposed to be doing a PR job for the club, but I'd never even ask him for an autograph."

His admiration for Vialli extends to the squad the Italian has created, though he believes that whether they can go one - or two - better than the 1970 team, who finished third in the League, may depend on Vialli the striker: "They've lost Casiraghi, Laudrup, Poyet and Flo, four potential goalscorers. That's a problem. The little man [Zola] blows hot and cold, but on his day there's not a better player in the world. How many goals are Luca and Zola going to score? That's what you'd worry about."

Looking round at the Bridge, Osgood does not see too much else to worry about, least of all in tomorrow's tie at Oxford. "I think they're looking forward to Chelsea coming in order to pay some bills, and that's about the only thing they can hope for. The FA Cup doesn't throw up as many shocks as in our day and I think Chelsea are so professional, looking at every detail, that I honestly can't believe Oxford will turn them over.

"Look at the team. Ed de Goey has come on fantastically after I thought he was a weak link; Petrescu has come back in; Desailly and Leboeuf are fantastic at the back. And so on. Before, you could say there was a weak link or two, but now they're really solid, they play together. It's a very happy club and a smashing dressing-room."

Not that he is an entirely uncritical observer. Some developments puzzle him. "This rotating the squad, I couldn't handle that as a player. If I'd scored two or three goals, or played well and then been left out... When we won the Cup, we had a squad of 13 players and we all knew who would play. They say it's quicker and faster now, and players want to go off for a break in mid- season. I can't believe that."

Just as the incredulity is reaching Fred Trueman proportions, however, tolerance kicks in. "That's the way it's progressed. We've got to live with it, haven't we, mate?" And if that third-place finish of 29 years ago is finally improved upon, he'll not only live with it, but lead the cheers.