A real Pete of work

The late Petar Borota would have turned 66 on Monday, which would have also been two days after the anniversary of his brilliant Chelsea debut, so we have trawled through our archives to remember one of the most eccentric characters ever to play for the club.

When the Yugoslavian goalkeeper arrived 1979, foreign imports were still a rarity in English football and few and far between at Stamford Bridge, and after the first few weeks of getting to know the original Big Pete to play in goal for the club, Chelsea fans could have been forgiven for wondering if all foreigners were mad.

However, Borota was truly a one-off, the likes of which it is doubtful will ever be seen here again, for better or worse. His bizarre mix of professionalism with frequent bouts of apparent disregard for the consequence of his often baffling on-pitch antics caused enough friction in the more relaxed footballing landscape of the early Eighties, let alone the modern era.

Such is his legend among fans who saw him play, that there are too many stories of the tricks he used to get up to during games to recite them all here, but as strange as they all seem, perhaps the most surprising thing about them is that most of them actually appear to be true.

For example, he really did sit down in his penalty area to read the matchday programme during a match against West Ham, before promptly scrambling to his feet to pull off a save when Frank Lampard Senior had spotted him not paying attention and tried a shot from range. And yes, it’s true that he occasionally decided to liven up a dull match after catching the ball by bouncing it against his own crossbar. He wasn’t afraid to take a risk, sometimes for no obvious reason.

‘I kept in touch with some of my old team-mates and they always said he had quite a personality,’ said Chelsea legend Peter Bonetti, who Borota replaced as goalkeeper. ‘He was very eccentric, but also erratic!’

However, as mad as he may have sometimes seemed, there was also undeniable talent in Borota. He had some pretty big gloves to fill in taking Bonetti’s place between the sticks, but he often did so admirably, becoming club captain, winning the Chelsea Player of the Year award in 1981 and breaking Bonetti’s club record for clean sheets in a single season by keeping out the opposition 18 times in the 1980/81 campaign.

‘He was a super shot stopper and he knew it,’ remembers former team-mate Clive Walker. ‘He used to hate it whenever he let any goals in. He was a consummate professional but liked a laugh and a joke as well.’

All his talent was on display in Borota’s outstanding debut for the Blues, 19 years ago last Saturday. With Chelsea bound for relegation and having suffered back-to-back defeats to Coventry and Bolton, not many people gave us much of a chance as we hosted soon-to-be-champions Liverpool at the Bridge. However, our new goalkeeper made a string of outstanding saves, including several astounding demonstrations of his bravery as he dived among the flying boots to smother the ball, as he proved to be the nemesis of Kenny Dalglish in particular and earn us an undeserved 0-0 draw.

It should also be pointed out that in some ways he was ahead of his time, with an athleticism that stood out from most of his fellow goalkeepers in English football at the time and his eagerness to play with the ball at his feet and come out of his goal to make clearances, even if he was a bit too eager with the latter two on occasion.

Certainly his managers at the time would have preferred it if he had played a few less back-heeled passes, which sometimes caught out his team-mates as much as the opposition, and stopped his forays forward before he crossed the halfway line.

‘He was an amazing character and, like all continental keepers at the time, he was a bit crazy,’ explains one of those managers, Geoff Hurst. ‘He’d be out at the halfway line, giving me a panic attack, but he did okay and he was a lovely man.’