Brian Viner: Osgood the icon whose sublime talent matched a great humour and honesty

'He played when defenders were ruthless, but still scored fantastic goals'
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The Independent Online

That old one-liner about nostalgia not being as good as it used to be, will I'm sure be true of football when my children reach the age that I am now.

When they look back on the FA Cup finals of their youth, they will see only Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. They will not see the Sunderland manager, Bob Stokoe, in his surgically attached trilby, galloping across the Wembley pitch in 1973 to embrace Jim Montgomery. They will not see Bobby Stokes or Roger Osborne, scoring their odds-defying winning goals for unfashionable Southampton and Ipswich Town.

And when they do look back on Chelsea in the FA Cup, they will see Hernan Crespo and Eidur Gudjohnsen but not Charlie Cooke or the late Peter Osgood, linking up to score the equaliser against Leeds 12 minutes before the end of the 1970 replay at Old Trafford. Moreover, if they think affectionately of great footballing hairstyles from their formative years as football fans, it will be of Djibril Cissé with the Merseyside A-Z reproduced on his bonce, or of Robbie Savage ready to give Miss World a run for her money, not of Bob Hazell or Ralph Coates or the late Peter Osgood.

For those of us whose interest in football began to burgeon in or around 1970, whether Chelsea fans or not, the name Osgood practically defines the word nostalgia. It is the name all football fans of a certain age get first when you invite them to identify the only three post-war England internationals with three Os in their surnames. Tony Woodcock usually comes second and Ian Storey-Moore is usually the one you have to supply clues for, but they think of Osgood straight away, not merely because it is a memorable name, but also because it is synonymous with great goals on pitches like mudbaths in the early days of colour television, and also synonymous with sideburns that looked like samples of wiry carpet glued to each cheek. J P R Williams was the only sportsman who could hold a candle to Osgood's sideburns, although it's a bloody good job he didn't.

Four years ago, in a pub called The Highwayman just outside Cirencester, I had a liquid lunch with Osgood, who was on his way to speak at a dinner at the nearby Royal Agricultural College. I asked him what had happened to that iconic pair of sideburns. "They started to go a bit ginger, mate," he said, with distaste.

He had agreed to meet me to promote his autobiography, Ossie: The King of Stamford Bridge. I hope it is still in print, for it contains many perspicacious observations about the 1970s, wrapped in elegant prose. "They were so far up their own arses it was untrue," he wrote of Don Revie's Leeds team. He also recounted his team-mate Ian Hutchinson's almost forensic analysis of the Leeds centre-half Jack Charlton. "Don't worry about Charlton, Os," said Hutchinson before the 1970 Cup final. "He's just a wanker with a long neck."

Another man who played in that match, Ron Harris, said somewhat more respectfully following Osgood's sudden death this week that his old mucker "was an absolute legend, the finest player in Chelsea's history. There is no modern-day comparison. He played at a time when defenders were ruthless, but still scored fantastic goals".

Osgood talked highly of "Chopper" Harris, too. I recall him telling me about a match against Liverpool in which Chopper tangled with another notable player of the 1970s now looking down from the celestial dug-out. "Playing at Anfield, Chopper's done Emlyn Hughes after 15 minutes. Everybody hated Emlyn, by the way, and he's gone down squealing. Then I see that Chopper's gone down too. I go over and say 'you all right?' and he winks at me. He wants to make it look like a 50-50 tackle to the referee. Anyway, then I see Tommy Smith sprint in from 20 yards away. He sprints straight past Emlyn, his team-mate, gets to Chopper, hauls him up, and says 'I could get to like you, Harris.' Nobody hated Emlyn more than Smithy."

Osgood's laughter filled the pub. He was huge fun, but also unequivocal in his disdain for certain respected footballing figures, above all Geoff Hurst. "I packed in football because of Hursty, to be honest," he told me. "The way he treated Danny Blanchflower was disgraceful."

It was Osgood's belief that Hurst, as Chelsea's first-team coach, was less supportive than he might have been of Blanchflower, the manager. When Blanchflower resigned in 1979, Hurst got his job, and more than two decades later Osgood still couldn't regard the episode as water under the bridge. He also told me what he'd like to do to Kerry Dixon for reasons I still can't divulge, and it wasn't pleasant. I don't suppose he would ever have got round to it, and he certainly won't now, but it's good to think that he's taken plenty of attitude with him to the grave, leaving the rest of us with plenty of memories.

Who I Like This Week...

Joe Calzaghe, the World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight champion. Even if he loses his title to the powerful American Jeff Lacy in the early hours tomorrow, heaven and Frank Warren forbid, Calzaghe deserves far more credit than he has ever received for being Britain's longest reigning world champion, having successfully defended his title 17 times in eight years. Moreover, he has done so with a singular lack of the shameless self-promotion that attended the much shorter reign of Chris Eubank, for instance, and has approached this fight with his customary quiet intelligence. I was at the press conference when the match against the American was announced, and Lacy was much more bullish, but Calzaghe doesn't care who talks the better fight. I fancy him to win inside the distance.

...And Who I Don't

Christophe Fauviau, the retired French colonel whose 15-year-old daughter Valentine is one of France's brightest tennis prospects, but whose son Maxime is not quite as talented. Fauviau tried to advance Maxime's career - as he had done with his daughter - by spiking opponents' water bottles with the anti-anxiety drug Temesta. It would be yet another story of an over-zealous tennis father, the competitive dad from hell, except for the fact that one of his victims - a 25-year-old teacher - later fell asleep at the wheel of his car and was killed in a crash after an amateur tournament. "Each match was a terrible strain for me," Fauviau told a court this week, trying to explain his actions. It's a bit late to tell him to lighten up.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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