Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened to learn of the passing of our former centre-half John Mortimore who played 279 games for the club.
The players will wear black armbands at the Premier League game against Burnley on Sunday in his honour.
Mortimore, who was 86, enjoyed a Chelsea career that spanned the period after our 1955 League Championship win through to the early days of the Tommy Docherty reign in the early 1960s. He later moved into management, taking charge of teams in England and abroad, including at Portuguese giants Benfica where he is revered as a league title winner.
Born in Hampshire, he played at amateur level for Aldershot and over the county border in Surrey at Woking where he won England youth caps. He was still representing Woking when he made his Chelsea debut in April 1956, in a home win over Blackpool in the final game of the season.
After two further appearances the following season, Mortimore gave up his amateur status when he signed professionally for Chelsea in August 1957, although manager Ted Drake permitted him to continue studying for a degree in teaching, a profession he had pursued.
Although Drake planned for Mortimore to replace one of his ’55 champions Ken Armstrong at right-half, it was in the centre of defence where he was first choice for three seasons. He was part of the rearguard that attempted to keep out the goals while the new kid on the block, the brilliant Jimmy Greaves, was scoring them rapidly at the other end.
Mortimore scored his first Chelsea goal in win at Aston Villa in his first season as a regular, 1957/58, and would go on to net 10 in total for the Blues, including in a big 4-1 win at Highbury in November 1960.
However that season and the season that followed, he was largely out of favour when it came to team selection despite some observers believing him significantly superior to Bobby Evans and Mel Scott who were preferred in his position. During that time Drake departed, Chelsea were relegated and Jimmy Greaves departed.
Mortimore bounced back in style during the promotion campaign of 1962/63, playing all 42 league games plus the four for Chelsea in the FA Cup. Playing alongside Frank Upton in defence, they brought experience and solidity as older players in Docherty’s emerging young side. After an important win at Sunderland near the end of that season his performance was described by one newspaper as like ‘a rugged Horatio’.
‘The more senior pros all took the youngsters under our wings and I think they enjoyed it. But so did we. Being an ex-school master, it was a great pleasure to help them out,’ Mortimore said about that period.
The following season he was again joint-top appearance maker as the Blues finished a very respectable fifth on our return to the top flight.
Mortimore captained Chelsea on occasions, the first time in April 1959 in the absence of regular skipper Peter Sillett, and he was also part of the side that represented Chelsea for the first time in European competition, in the Fairs Cup in the 1958/59 season.
Though not the fastest, Mortimore was a tight marker and good tackler. He was strong in the air and had good distribution with his feet. He was nicknamed Percy by the rest of the players and was popular with everybody with whom he came into contact, in his playing days and in the years that followed.
His big reward for his long Chelsea service came in his final season when although less involved due to the emergence in his position of Marvin Hinton, he played the second leg of the 1965 League Cup final away at Leicester, and helped keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw that ensured the club won our first domestic trophy following a home-leg win.
There was also a run to the semi-final of the FA Cup where Chelsea were defeated at Villa Park by Liverpool after Mortimore had a headed goal controversially ruled out when it was 0-0.
By that stage Docherty had made him his coach but also wanted him to retire from playing. Reluctant to do so, Mortimore left for QPR in September 1965 for a £8000 fee. His Chelsea career had ended as it had begun, with a game against Blackpool on the final day of a season. He scored a goal.
‘Reluctantly we allowed John Mortimore to leave us for Queen’s Park Rangers,’ wrote The Doc in his autobiography, ‘so that the Third Division club could have the benefit of his skill and knowledge, and also of his tremendous coaching ability.
‘But he had been a wonderful asset to Chelsea since he had given up his schoolmaster’s job and his amateur status [with Woking] to become a professional with our club.’
When Mortimore’s time as a manager came, he began in Greece before taking the reins at Portsmouth and then moving overseas again to Portugal and Spain. During his life his coaching even stretched to the Caribbean. In two spells at Benfica he won the league championship each time, in 1976/77 and 1986/87, and the Portuguese Cup twice.
It was no surprise when he was invited to walk around the pitch at half-time when Chelsea played Benfica in the Champions League in 2012 that the ovation came from both sets of supporters.
Mortimore’s later work in football was at Southampton in various roles. He became their club president and was a regular at Chelsea events attended by former players.
We send our deepest condolences to John’s wife, Mary, and all his family and friends at this difficult time.