With the debate still raging after the Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast began with an episode on the best captains in Premier League history, we revisit a Q&A from the Annual Lunch in 2009, featuring four of the greatest leaders to wear the armband for the Blues.
Viewers of the Match of the Day feature will have seen presenter Gary Lineker and pundit Alan Shearer decide that legendary former Chelsea skipper John Terry is the greatest captain in Premier League history, while another former England striker Ian Wright placed him second in his Premier League captain’s top 10.
Terry featured too when supporters at the first of the popular Annual Lunches to be held at Stamford Bridge were treated to a hugely entertaining segment on stage featuring some of Chelsea’s greatest leaders, it was also hugely symbolic.
Here, sat in a row, were four men who over the previous 50-odd years had lifted every major trophy in the club’s history at that point: Roy Bentley, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, Dennis Wise and JT.
Bentley, of course, was the man who led us to the Division One title in 1955, while Chopper was the leader behind the beloved team of the early Seventies to both the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup, spawning a generation of Blues supporters.
Then there’s Wise, the cheeky chappy who wore the armband as the sleeping giant was awakened almost 30 years down the line, this time with even greater success than before.
And little did we know at the time of this interview that JT was only halfway towards lifting a haul of silverware that remains unmatched at this football club, earning him the moniker ‘Captain, Leader, Legend.’
So, without further ado, enjoy this trip back to the winter of 2009 to enjoy the words of four skippers who left an indelible mark on Chelsea.
Who’d be the skipper amongst you lot? [After a brief delay, the vote unanimously goes to Chopper]. Alright Ron, you can start. Were players harder then or was it just the way it came across in black and white?
RH: I think the game was a lot tougher than what it is today, without being disrespectful. But I’m sure Dennis will tell you that they do fall over a bit easier nowadays!
What’s your take on it, Dennis?
DW: I think it was just brutal then to be honest. You could get away with whatever you wanted, refs would give you six or seven chances to smash someone. Then it came to my time and you got three or four. And now it’s, er, one! So I think that’s probably the difference – the referees weren’t very good!
They made things difficult in your day, Roy, with great big boots, muddy pitches, balls that weighed five times as much and if you headed the lace you were out for five months…
RB: It’s true, but we never used that as an excuse. Footballs in those days were possibly twice as heavy and I was considered to be quite good in the air so I was heading the ball all the time. They play with a far better ball nowadays, there’s such a big difference.
John, you must feel a degree of pride sitting alongside these great Chelsea captains as the current incumbent?
JT: It’s an honour and a great achievement for me. I’ve been at the club a long time now and in my era I learnt off Dennis, who was great to me when I was coming through the ranks and I try and pass on that to the players coming through now. The likes of Dennis were fantastic, but it’s also an honour for me to be sitting next to Ron and Roy, who have been outstanding for the club and it’s nice to see they’re still appreciated by the fans.
Did you learn from the other captains or just get on with it your own way?
DW: I don’t know if I had anyone at that stage. I played with Vinnie [Jones]… you don’t wanna follow him! Well, not in the football terms, but acting, great! He was a proper lunatic so I had to be really careful.
I tried to do the right things and help the young lads out – John when he was a young kid, Jody [Morris]. You just tried to make them enjoy themselves.
John was always a young kid who you could see had the proper desire, he wanted to win. And he went out when all the other kids went in, which I think is a credit to John. He’s got where he is because of himself. He got a chance under Ranieri and he took it. I think ever since that day he’s been fantastic and I’m chuffed to bits for him.
In your time Ron, did you look after the younger players and the smaller guys? Would they thank you for taking care of so and so?
RH: We had a few young lads in the side, notably Alan Hudson. Tommy Docherty would say to me before the games: ‘Make sure you get your late tackles in early.’ So I’d pass that on to the younger kids, but it didn’t work too well with Huddy because he couldn’t burst a paper bag!
I think Eddie McCreadie and Peter Osgood used to help out the younger lads too and one thing I’ll say about the side I captained was that we had a great bunch of lads. It was always a pleasure to captain them and I’m sure these lads would say the same about their guys.