Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened by the passing of our former player Johnny Paton at the age of 92. We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Paton was believed to be the oldest living Chelsea footballer prior to his passing and played for the club during the 1946/47 campaign.
A talented left-winger, his season at Stamford Bridge was the first to be played in England following the end of the Second World War, a time when London’s public were hungry for sporting entertainment to brighten their lives following the devastation of the conflict. The attendances to watch Paton and his colleagues were huge.
He was born in Glasgow and was a navigator in the RAF during the War, spending time in various parts of the country. This enabled him, as the rules permitted, to play as a guest for whichever club was closest while based in an area. He appeared for Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Millwall, Manchester City and Leeds.
His move to Chelsea came about by chance after bumping into an old friend and compatriot, Johnny Harris, who was playing for us at the time. With the Pensioners in need of a winger, Harris spoke to manager Billy Birrell, who contacted Paton’s parent club Celtic and arranged a deal for him to move south on loan.
He made his debut against Everton early in December 1946 and scored his first goal for the club on Boxing Day, in a 1-1 draw away at Preston North End. Two days later he was on target again, this time in a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers. In March, he scored our second goal in a 2-0 win over Brentford.
The most memorable match of the campaign however was an FA Cup third round win over Arsenal, which came at the third time of asking after the teams had drawn 1-1 in the original match and again in the first replay.
The second replay was at the neutral venue of White Hart Lane with Paton supplying the cross from which legendary centre-forward Tommy Lawton headed home our second goal. The two men developed a marvellous on-pitch understanding during the brief period they played alongside each other.
Paton ended the 1946/47 season having made 23 appearances and with three goals to his name. He returned to Celtic but his later career brought him south again where he made his home and he was a guest at Stamford Bridge on numerous occasions.
During half-time of our home game against Southampton in December 2013 he was brought out on to the pitch and introduced to the crowd. With the team trailing 1-0, Paton took the microphone and memorably urged our supporters to roar the team back into the game. Within four minutes of the restart we were level before going on to win 3-1.
Back at the Bridge at the 2014 Annual Lunch and as one of the many former Blues invited, he once again gave an impromptu speech on his appreciation for the way the past players are treated and received a standing ovation for his heartfelt words. His warmth and engaging character always shone through and football was his life blood to the end. He died peacefully surrounded by his family after a brave fight against bone cancer.
Club historian Rick Glanvill writes:
I remember the first time I spoke to Johnny. I had tracked him down and rang him up just as he and his wife were about to go out dancing. They were both in their late 80s!
‘Och, no one is interested in an old man like me,’ he joked. In fact he was overjoyed to talk about the wonderful year he spent on loan at Stamford Bridge, and eulogised about the centre-forward who regularly dispatched his crosses from the wing: Tommy Lawton.
Though a Celtic man, his passion for the Pensioners had never dimmed and he was happy to sing the praises of Didier Drogba with an eye for details of his game.
I informed him that he was Chelsea’s oldest living player and, once he had stopped mocking himself for it, the honour became one he would mention regularly with immense pride. Johnny was a popular and engaging guest at many club events, and would sing the praises of the way Chelsea now looks after former players such as himself.
Chelsea’s last surviving pre-Ted Drake era player has gone. We will miss him hugely.