The Chelsea community lost one of its most treasured members on Saturday, announcing the sad news that Peter Bonetti had tragically passed away at the age of 78 after a long-term battle with illness.
Bonetti became a Blues hero as goalkeeper during his 19-year spell at Stamford Bridge, making 729 appearances (second in the all-time list for the club), winning three trophies and is still widely renowned as one of the greats in his position.
Nicknamed 'the Cat', thanks to his athleticism and agility in goal, Bonetti returned to the Bridge as a coach, combined with a role in the England set up, before his passing a day after the 50th anniversary of Chelsea's FA Cup final draw with Leeds United, which Bonetti was inevitably involved in.
Tributes from Tambling
Understandably, the saddening story was met with pure love and affection for the former 'keeper, most noticeably coming from those associated with the Chelsea camp.
None more so than Bonetti's old team mate, Bobby Tambling, who took to the pitch alongside 'the Cat' throughout the 1960s, the pair winning the League Cup in 1965.
‘We were room-mates at Chelsea for about nine or 10 years when we went away and to share a room with Peter was so easy, he was such pleasurable company,' Tambling told the Chelsea website, revealing the special bond her and Bonetti shared on and off the pitch.
'We were like brothers and he was not only a brilliant and great goalkeeper, he was a gentleman as well. He would help anybody out if there was a problem and he would not doing anything to hurt anyone.'
Both Bonetti and Tambling take their place in the hall of fame for long standing achievements only recently amassed by a pair of modern Chelsea legends.
Tambling’s 202 goals propelled him as the club’s top goal scorer for 40 years, ended in fitting fashion by Frank Lampard in 2013, whereas Bonetti's incredible 208 clean sheets stood for an equally historic time, the mantel handed over to Petr Cech in 2014, leaving the Blues for Arsenal on 228 respectively.
Greatness appreciates greatness, and Tambling was first to recognise the unquestionable ability of his friend and college.
'I always used to say he had elastic arms because when he went to catch crosses, his arms to seemed to be able to reach further than you thought they could. He just plucked the ball out the air like picking an apple out of a tree.
Peter gave us so much hope that we could do big things as he was such a brilliant goalkeeper.’
'The Cat' as coach and companion
Away from the field, Bonetti was best known for his behind the scenes work with Chelsea and England, plus Manchester City and Newcastle.
One man who benefited from Bonetti's presence was Eddie Niedzwiecki, his signing for the Blues in 1983 from Division Two side Wrexham influenced by 'the Cat's' coaching role at the club.
‘One of the big influences when I came to Chelsea in 1983 was having Peter as my goalkeeping coach,’ he explained to the Chelsea website.
'He was a lovely man and ever so helpful when I first started settling in along with the other goalkeepers Steve Francis and Grant Lunn. Right from the off, he was such a wonderful help to me. He was always willing to stay out and work with you on the training ground, passing on his knowledge and his experiences, and he helped me so much.'
Niedzwiecki was excellent during his first campaign as Chelsea stormed the league, featuring in every fixture and conceding less than a goal a game. His standout individual display against Fulham in the League Cup two years later threw shades to Bonetti's performances in the FA Cup finals of 1970, where the Blues successfully overcame Leeds to lift their first ever trophy in this particular competition.
So much so, Niedzwiecki stumbled across a pair of green gloves in his garage, infamously donned by Bonetti during his playing days, saying, 'When I was growing up, everyone who played in goal wanted a pair of those green cotton Peter Bonetti gloves. I can’t quite believe I’ve still got a pair here and they’re still in the packet as well, believe it or not. That was quite ironic but it brings back happy memories.’
Both 'keepers young and old spent four years working with one another before Niedzwiecki was forced to cut his Chelsea career short due to injury. Throughout this period, the pair were fondly remembered for warming up together before every match, a memory Niedzwiecki would treasure forever.
'I just wish that I’d had even longer with him because I loved coming in to train. I will treasure the moments I shared with him for the rest of my life.’
Influence into the modern era
His impeccable service to Chelsea aside, Bonetti was also part of two World Cup squads, denied by the number one spot by the equally iconic Gordan Banks.
Despite not playing a single minute of the 1966 victory on home soil, recognition for the Blues shot stopper had gone international. '
'The three greatest goalkeepers I have ever seen are Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin and Peter Bonetti,' uttered the eternal words of one of the games pioneers, Pele, reiterating the status Bonetti held between the sticks.
His artistry as a player transcended into those fortunate enough to become his disciples, whilst his wonderful personality touched everyone around him.
Even for those who had not directly profited from his professionalism, like Lampard, Bonetti's legacy will live on in the memories of his admirers.
The Chelsea boss told the website, 'Very, very sad news for Chelsea, because he was a Chelsea legend, and for football in general.'
'My memories are of watching him as player, but also meeting him and what a gentleman he was. He was in working in hospitality at Chelsea when I first arrived, working upstairs, so friendly, had time for everybody, absolute gentleman, and a huge loss to Chelsea and to football.’
A legendary goalkeeper, a true gentleman, 'the Cat' captured the hearts and minds of so many. Peter Bonetti, you will be sorely missed.