Barry Bridges is the latest of our former players to look back on his Chelsea career, and the striker also remembers Ken Shellito who sadly passed away earlier this week.
Bridges spent eight years as a professional at Stamford Bridge and had an impressive scoring rate, netting 93 goals in 205 games for the Blues. Quick and versatile, Bridges could play up front or on the wing, and he was particularly prolific during the 1964/65 season when we won the League Cup for the first time. He also played four times for England, all in 1965, scoring once.
Bridges, who will be a guest of the club's at tomorrow's game against Crystal Palace, recalls the fond relationship he enjoyed with a Blues brother, the petition signed by thousands of fans to try and keep him at the club, and a wonderful former team-mate who was years ahead of his time.
Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?
I came from Norwich. I was playing for Norwich schoolboys and then I played for England schoolboys. I had clubs chasing me after I played for England schoolboys.
It was the time of Drake’s Ducklings, all the young kids coming through at Chelsea, and I decided it was the club for me because everything was about bringing young players on and that’s why I signed for them.
There was no money involved in those days, it was nothing more than choosing the club.
What were your immediate impressions of the club?
I could have gone to Arsenal. Highbury was like a palace, not a football club. But I didn’t feel comfortable there. Then I went down to Chelsea. Even though it was a big, big club that held 70,000 people, the place had such a better atmosphere and the whole club seemed to be spot on.
It was the right decision and I never regretted it.
What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away, during your time at the club?
Absolutely fabulous. I always had a good relationship with the supporters. I wasn’t a great player, I could score goals, but they realised I was a grafter and I always gave my lot every week. If supporters see that they will forgive you for the little things you’re not good at. They were absolutely superb.
When I saw the reception Frank Lampard got from Chelsea supporters on Wednesday, it was fantastic, and that’s the sort of people they are. I have been fortunate to go round the pitch two or three times in the last 10 years. They give you such an ovation. When you’ve been a Chelsea player, you’ll always be a Chelsea player and love Chelsea, nothing will ever change that.
Before I left Chelsea to go to Birmingham, I asked for a transfer because I didn’t get on with Tommy Docherty, and I got a petition sent to me through the chairman from the supporters, signed by 3500 people, asking me to stay. When they do things like that what else can I say but fantastic. I feel just as much love for them now as I did then.
Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?
Not Tommy Docherty! It was Dave Sexton. He was the greatest man, and a superb coach. He was way ahead of his time. He used to go to Real Madrid and Barcelona to see them train, and come back with new ideas. He was a great motivator. He could be tough, but he was honest and he had so much knowledge about the game. Whatever I learned about football, I learned from him.
Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…
Playing my first game with Bobby Tambling at West Ham in 1959, we won 3-2, we both scored, there were 65,000 people there, that was one of my biggest games ever for us. The atmosphere that day and the reception we got afterwards was tremendous.
We lost a couple of semi-finals and that was sad because we should have won those games. And we also had a great run in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup where we beat Roma and AC Milan among others.
Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?
Bobby Tambling. We lived in digs for four or five years together, from 15 to 19. We played up front together, we made our debuts together, we scored together. We had a great partnership in this very young team with people like Terry Venables and George Graham.
Bobby and I have always been close, we still are. We’re like brothers. I never had a brother, but he’s the brother I never had. We still see each other. I go over to Ireland, he comes over to see me sometimes.
I’m coming to the game on Sunday and I will be meeting him after the game. He was my best mate, and he was an absolute superb footballer as well.
Tell us about Ken Shellito, a team-mate of yours, who sadly died earlier this week...
It’s a terrible thing. Ken Shellito was one of the best full-backs I ever saw in my life. He was way before his time. If Ken was playing now in our modern time, today’s game would be made for him. He was all class. He didn’t have a lot of pace but when he was on the ball he could use it unbelievably. He read the game so well he didn’t need pace.
He got this terrible injury. When they operated on him, the cartilage was in half. It was a wet night, the pitch was heavy, and he had big studs in his boots. His studs stuck in the ground and he tore his knee, and I had never heard a scream like it. He was never the same player after. It was such a shame, because he should have had 50 England caps with his ability.
He was a lovely man as well and I’m so sad to hear what has happened. It makes you realise you have got to enjoy life while you can.
Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and, if so, why?
Plenty! I can name you one straightaway: Tommy Smith. He was evil! We had one on our side too, Chopper Harris. We played Liverpool so many times and I never saw them tackle each other!
Also at Liverpool, there was a guy called Ron Yeats who was about 7ft 4in! And then there was Smithy, who had false teeth and used to take them out for games, and they would stand behind you, and at Anfield too, and it was terrifying.
They got away with it in those days, the kicks from behind, chopping you down when you played out on the wing, but Smith was the worst. He couldn’t really play, he just stopped people.
With Chopper, his reputation went before him. He would just have to say ‘boo’ to wingers, who aren’t the bravest people on earth, and they would take the ball away so he wouldn’t have to make tackles. I’m not exaggerating.
What about opposition fans, what were the most intimidating stadiums to play at?
The best place was to play was Anfield. When you played there, they would be singing all the songs before you came out, and then when you came out they would sing You Never Walk Alone and it would drain you for five minutes. Then you would play your football, but that walk was unbelievable.
How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?
I loved every minute of my career. People say I bet you wish you got the money they do now, and of course I would, but that doesn’t mean a thing. What I had in my career at Chelsea and later on I would not change for anything.
Tommy Docherty and I talk, and he’s still a guy who makes you laugh, you can’t dislike him, but after the 'Blackpool Affair' [when a group of players broke a curfew when staying a hotel there] he got rid of five of the players involved within six months. He broke up a fantastic team and a lot of us have regrets about that. I would have loved to have stayed together and seen what would have happened. There’s no guarantee we would have won anything as a group but we would have had a great chance.
I was impatient as well, because within six months of me leaving he had gone and I wished I had never left! That’s not a regret though, you can’t change that.
Finally Barry, you're coming to tomorrow's game at the Bridge. What have you made of Chelsea so far this season?
They have been a breath of fresh air. I love watching them play. Sarri seems to be tactically very good, and he also knows how to treat people. It seems like he has a lot of humour. The players seem to be free to play their game and express themselves.
Hazard for me is possibly the best player in the world at the moment. That helps. So I think Chelsea are in with a shout of the title.