John Hollins: A Stamford Bridge fixture who turned reading game into an art form

Hollins also enjoyed a successful coaching career.

Pa Sport Staff
Wednesday 14 June 2023 14:06 BST
Former Chelsea manager and player John Hollins has died aged 76 (Nick Potts/PA).
Former Chelsea manager and player John Hollins has died aged 76 (Nick Potts/PA). (PA Archive)

John Hollins turned reading the game into an art form across almost 600 Chelsea appearances, but one moment of typically impeccable timing trumped a career’s worth of pivotal interventions.

The Guildford-born Chelsea youth-team graduate popped up with a telling pass just when the Blues needed him most – trailing 2-1 to Leeds with mere minutes to play in the 1970 FA Cup final.

As Leeds geared up to play out for victory at Wembley, Hollins dropped into space on the inside left and whipped in a pinpoint near-post cross that Ian Hutchinson flicked home.

All the folklore from that 1970 FA Cup run tends to revolve around the brutal replay, where both teams hacked each other to bits before Chelsea ground out glory with a 2-1 triumph after extra-time at Old Trafford.

But without Hollins’ solitary moment of quality in that scrappy first final on a boggy Wembley pitch, the Blues would never have had the chance for any of that Manchester madness.

The versatile midfielder, who moved to right-back later in his career, amassed 592 Chelsea matches in a career rich in both quality and longevity, although he only managed a single England cap, against Spain as a 20-year-old in 1967.

Born into a footballing family – his older brother David went on to play for Wales – on July 16, 1946, Hollins quickly made his mark at youth level and went on to make his senior Chelsea debut aged just 17.

That first appearance came in 1963 and for the next 12 years he proved a Stamford Bridge fixture.

Hollins featured in the first leg of Chelsea’s 3-2 aggregate win over Leicester in the 1965 League Cup final, but that 1970 FA Cup triumph was to provide the centre-piece of his Blues career.

When Chelsea claimed the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later, Hollins missed the crucial replay win over Real Madrid in the final through injury.

In the 1971/72 campaign Hollins found the net a career-high 17 times, helping the Blues to the League Cup final where they lost to Stoke.

He left Stamford Bridge in 1975 and four-year stints at QPR and Arsenal followed.

He came within a penalty shootout of winning a second European Cup Winners’ Cup with the Gunners, scoring his spot-kick as Arsenal were beaten in the 1980 final by Valencia.

He returned to Chelsea for the 1983/84 campaign and helped steer the west Londoners to promotion back to the First Division before retiring having made more than 900 first-class appearances in his career.

An immediate step into coaching followed, with Hollins staying on at Chelsea and eventually replacing the retired John Neal as manager in 1985.

The Blues mounted an early title challenge in Hollins’ first year at the helm only to slip to a sixth-place finish, in a season that also comprised victory in the Full Members’ Cup.

By March 1988 Chelsea had slumped to a four-month winless league run, however, and Hollins was duly relieved of his duties.

Hollins went on to play one game for Irish side Cobh Ramblers before joining the coaching staff at QPR, for whom he had a brief stint as caretaker boss in the 1997–98 season.

Spells as manager of Swansea, whom he led to the Third Division title in 2000, and Rochdale followed becoming assistant to Nicolas Anelka’s brother Claude at Raith Rovers in 2004. He left after a month, with the pair reportedly not seeing eye to eye.

He also managed Stockport, Crawley and Weymouth.

Hollins, who has died at the aged of 76, is survived by his wife Linda, son Chris, a TV broadcaster who won Strictly Come Dancing in 2009, and daughter Liz.

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