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Ken Shellito 1940-2018

Chelsea Football Club is extremely saddened to learn of the passing of our former player and manager Ken Shellito at the age of 78. 

A home-grown player who went on to win promotion with the club and represent England in the 1960s, he was also an important youth coach at Chelsea before being put in charge of the senior side between 1977 and 1978. 

An east Londoner by birth, Shellito signed for Chelsea as a 14-year-old on the same day Jimmy Greaves put pen to paper. 

He was part of the team which were runners up in the FA Youth Cup in 1958, our first appearance in the final of that competition. 

His first-team debut came at the end of the next season, a win over Nottingham Forest, with a handful of appearances following in subsequent years, but it was when the fresh-thinking young Tommy Docherty was appointed manager in 1962, taking over from Ted Drake, that Shellito’s career really began to move forward – quite literally. 

Chelsea had just been relegated and as Docherty planned for a quick return to the top flight, a major part of his strategy was influenced by the football he had been studying in Spain – attacking full-backs. 

For these roles the Scot chose two young athletic defenders – Shellito on the right and for his left-sided equivalent, Eddie McCreadie. They were the pioneers of flying full-back play in England. 

'We came in for pre-season in 1962 and the training was completely different, a hell of a lot better,' Shellito recalled when talking to this website in 2008. 'Tommy Doc came to us and said, this is how we are going to play. I'd always been a good passer of the ball and wanted to get more involved but it was always a case of don't go any further up the pitch. But Tom and Dave Sexton [the future Chelsea manager who was back then a coach under Docherty] opened up the game and it all stemmed from there. Eddie and I started it and other clubs in England followed.’ 

It certainly worked for Chelsea as promotion was quickly achieved. There was a lengthy break in the 1962/63 season caused by an infamous ‘Big Freeze’ winter. ‘Docherty’s Diamonds’ had been near unstoppable before that halt and it took some time to recapture form after it but a 7-0 win over Portsmouth in the final game ensured second place. Shellito later cited that game - and the celebrations that followed - as his standout Chelsea memory. He played 34 of the 42 league games which had taken us back into the big time. 

He was called into the England team, making his international debut against Czechoslovakia in May 1963, and he was well on course to be the right-back in the legendary 1966 World Cup side until fate dealt a cruel blow. The following October in a corner of the Stamford Bridge pitch against Sheffield Wednesday, with no-one nearby, he turned, his studs caught in the turf and he suffered a serious knee injury. He had been due to play for England against the Rest of the World the following Wednesday. 

A series of operations followed and Shellito made it back into the Chelsea team, helping us achieve high-place finishes in the First Division, and back into the England squad. But he later admitted he did not feel as effective as before. Then the knee went again and having made his final Chelsea appearance in December 1965, he was forced to retire. 

'Every time I see George Cohen [England's World Cup-winning right-back], he says thank youKenny!’ Shellito said in his 2008 interview.

‘It hurts but he does appreciate it. He always says he would not have got in and that is your luck in football. But you can't feel sorry for yourself too much.'

The closing of one door after 123 Chelsea appearances and two goals (scored in a 4-3 win at Birmingham in March 1964 and a 3-1 win over Sunderland at the Bridge in August '64) opened another and worked with Chelsea's youth team, helping bring through a highly-talented crop, Ray Wilkins and Clive Walker among them, which was of huge benefit to a club in financial crisis which had again suffered relegation.

Unable to buy, Chelsea had no option but toutilisethe youngsters and together, they won promotion in 1977.

When that team’s manager, his former full-back partner McCreadie, walked out during the close season, the club turned to Shellito to take the first-team reins.

Relegation was avoided the first season and a famous FA Cup victory over Liverpool was recorded, but with the team floundering the next year, Shellito departed in December 1978. The finances had made his job extremely difficult. 

Shellito would go on to manage Cambridge United briefly but spent his later life in Sabah in Malaysia with his Malaysian wife Jeany. He coached young players there and worked with the Chelsea Foundation to establish a grass-roots football programme in the region.

Chelsea Football Club sends our deepest condolences to Ken’s family and friends at this difficult time.

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