John Boyle was a signing from Scotland in the 1960s who made 266 appearances in a successful side.
In our latest old boys interview, the tough-tackling former midfielder or defender remembers some eventful early games, winning the League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, and his close friendship with the great Peter Osgood.
We start at the beginning of his Blues story…
Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?
There were lots of good footballers from my area and at my school were two players, Billy McNeill and Bobby Murdoch, who both played for Celtic and won the European Cup. Billy was at the school five years before me, Murdoch a couple of years before so it was a good area for playing but I had not been scouted by anybody and I had just turned 15. I was due to leave school in June and my step-brother, he lived in Battersea and he was a bit of a Chelsea fan. He knew a relation of [then Chelsea manager] Tommy Docherty and he phoned him up and asked Chelsea for a trail. They said we have them in July so a couple of weeks later my brother and I came to London and we played a trial.
After the game they told me we want you to stay. So I got the train back and then about 10 days later I got a letter from Chelsea with the train tickets and stuff. My mum and dad took me down to Motherwell Station. I was in this big restaurant car and thought what am I doing here! I had only been to a café before. I ordered soup and it was asparagus and to this day when I smell asparagus soup I am sitting on that train again. When I got off the train Tommy Doc was waiting for me to take me to my digs. I stayed in the digs that Bobby Tambling and Barry Bridges had stayed in before. I was in Chelsea’s youth team then.
What were your immediate impressions of the club?
It was an incredible football club. Walking into Stamford Bridge then it was just amazing to look at it. Chelsea had just got relegated in 1962 and we started to see the games and the players and they sort of became our heroes, people like Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables, Frank Blunstone, we watched them and it was great. They got promoted back again which was fantastic to watch. It was an amazing club and to be part of it is just phenomenal.
What about Stamford Bridge itself?
That was amazing. It was with the old terraces on the far side and we used to have to sweep them after every game, so I remember them well. Then we used to have to run up and down the steps as well. There was the old North Stand. I watched them getting promotion from there when they won 7-0 against Portsmouth, the last game of the season, incredible atmosphere. That was before I even started playing.
What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away, during your time at the club? Any particular games stand out in terms of atmosphere?
The European games were phenomenal, when we played Milan, Barcelona and Bruges, they were amazing nights. I feel lucky to have played football at that time, this thing with the Swinging Sixties. By the time I was 19 or 20 I had played in the Nou Camp twice, in the San Siro twice, I had played against the West German national team, at Leeds who were top of the league when we were second top and I made my league debut there. The atmosphere at that time in most grounds was great fun, it was great to play away from home.
Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?
Obviously Tommy Docherty did because he opened the gate for me. I made my debut in the League Cup, my debut in the league, and my debut in the FA Cup within 10 days. If Tommy and Dave Sexton had stayed working together it would have been great. If you had asked me for the perfect set-up it would have been Tommy and Dave at their best. Tommy was great for motivating people and Dave was a great tactician. Different kinds of people but both probably what you need at a football club.
Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…
Obviously there were the big games but another is when we played Aston Villa. I played on the Saturday for the reserves and then I played on Monday in a Scottish youth trial and Wednesday I was playing against Aston Villa in the semi-final of the League Cup and after 20 odd minutes, I tackled this guy and he got injured and carried off. The crowd then booed me, he limped back on and then the crowd booed me more! It went to 2-0, to 2-2 and then with about 10 minutes to go I got the ball 30 yards out, rolled it forward and went crack and it went into the top corner of the net. I remember Terry Venables ran up to me and said John, I am so pleased for you, and that was my first game. To score the winning goal in your first game was Roy of the Rovers stuff.
Then on the Saturday, three days later, we were to play at Leeds and Tommy Doc said you have to play, there will be about 40,000 there booing you and I said that is even better. We ended up drawing 2-2 and it was a great game, blood and thunder but really enjoyable. I spoke to Billy Bremner a couple of years later and he told me their manager, Don Revie, had told them this 18-year-old will be nervous, so frighten him by kicking him or giving him a volley of abuse. I remember thinking what is this all about but Billy said we didn’t know then you were a mad Jock like us too!
So my first two games were phenomenal and there was also the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Real Madrid. That is obviously the icing on the cake. I had watched Real Madrid on TV when they beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden in 1960 and afterwards running outside to play football with my friends. Gento was one of their forwards then and 11 years later for me to be marking him was daft!
Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?
Ossie Peter Osgood came into the team at a similar time and we had played in the youth team together and we became really good mates. He was best man at my wedding and every time there was trouble they would say where are Ossie and Boylers. We were about 18 and any kind of laughs, we were involved in it. I loved him dearly and he was a wonderful, wonderful footballer. When it comes to seeing anyone now, I went to Joe Fascione’s funeral recently and I met John Hollins again.
Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and, if so, why?
Not disliked, but there were some tough players. But after the game we used to meet up. When I played full-back, it used to frighten me when I had someone like Jimmy Robertson or Ralph Coates who could run quickly and give you a bit of a chasing. I remember Gary Sprake [the Leeds goalkeeper] kicked me in the face and we went to a club a couple of years later, I was in there with Ossie and Gary Sprake was standing there having a drink. Ossie looked at him and said Sprakey, you took a right liberty with my mate in that semi-final when you kicked him in the face. Ossie said so when you get a clump sometime and you are wondering what it is for, you know now what it is for. Gary Sprake looked at me and said John, I am really sorry, I meant to kick you in the chest, not the head. I said thanks Gary! You went back to Leeds and I went to Wembley, it didn’t really matter after the game.
What about opposition fans, were there intimidating stadiums to play at?
I don’t know about intimidating, it was exciting to me. Maybe because of the way it started at Leeds. At Bruges out there, their ground was really compact and we could hardly get out of our own penalty area. It was like the Alamo. There was the Kop at Liverpool and to walk into Old Trafford and places like that, they were all great fun.
How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, I am just grateful for what I have done. I have been blessed and one of the great things about it is 50 years later you can still talk about it! I was a lucky young man to have played when I did and meet the people I did. There are these lovely Chelsea fans I never met who are now telling me things via the internet. There are more legends off the field than on. You ask a fan how long of you been supporting and they will say about 40 years and you ask them how much they have spent. They have loved every minute of it. It is just amazing.
What are your thoughts on the current Chelsea team and the season so far?
I saw them the other week against Dynamo Kiev and they played quite well. I feel like some of the fans feel that I would like some of the youngsters to be playing but whether they can afford to do that and have a couple of years off, that is the strange thing. It is a tricky thing because of the money situation.
I think young Hudson-Odoi is the second youngest to play in the League Cup final for Chelsea, and I was the youngest back in 1965, and he is playing for England already and I never got a cap for Scotland, or an Under-23 cap. By the time I was 21 I had played 100-odd games for Chelsea but not an Under-23 cap. I couldn’t get a game for Scotland back then and now they are getting beaten by Kazakhstan!