An A-Z of Peter Bonetti’s career

On the first anniversary of the passing of one of the Blues’ greatest-ever players, we revisit an interview with Peter Bonetti from more than a decade ago in which he talks us through his storied career.

This time last year we said goodbye to the Cat, our long-serving goalkeeper who was one of the star players in the beloved team of the 1960s and early 1970s, as the club won honours at home and abroad.

Back in 2009, shortly before we marked 40 years since our famous FA Cup triumph over Leeds United, in which Bonetti heroically overcame injury to play a starring role,  the Chelsea magazine team sat down with him for a lengthy chat, as he talked through his career from A to Z.

Here is that interview for you to enjoy, interspersed with great imagery from his wonderful career.

A – Appearances

I played in 729 games for Chelsea, which is second only to Ron Harris, and it’s something I’m very proud of. I think it’ll be very hard for anyone to overtake us. My 600th league appearance was actually my final game for Chelsea.

B – Bridge, Stamford

My relationship with the fans was very special and I certainly noticed it when they were chanting my name. I’ll never forget the send-off they gave me in my last match against Arsenal and, of course, I went over to the Shed End to give them a wave.

C – Coaching

Ken Shellito had got me doing a bit of goalkeeper coaching in my last year or so as a player, but after I packed up at Chelsea I went to live in Scotland for four years. When I decided to come back, I got in touch with John Neal, who was manager at the time, and he got me involved. I remember having a conversation with Ken Bates shortly afterwards and he said to me: ‘What have you done to my goalkeepers? They’re playing brilliantly!’

D – Dave Sexton

Dave and I were close – not necessarily when he was my manager, but subsequently. He was a superb manager, probably the best I worked with. It was Dave who asked me to work as his goalkeeper coach for the England Under-21s, something I did for 12, 13 years, and I loved every minute of it.

E – Europe

I played in our 1965/66 Fairs Cup campaign and then again in the run to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970/71. I missed some of the run to the final because I got pneumonia, but by the time of the final I was fit and ready to play against Real Madrid. And, of course, we won it! 

F – Family

I played in the Worthing League at the age of 15 and in our team there was my father Joe (aged 48) playing at right-back, my older brother Rene at centre-half, my younger brother Frank who played in midfield and my brother Rob who played up front. Apart from that, two of my cousins, Adrian and Dominic, used to play occasionally. So, there were sometimes six or seven Bonettis playing in the same team!

G – Greatest

I was very honoured to be voted Chelsea’s best-ever goalkeeper during the centenary celebrations and I was actually once voted the club’s greatest player!

I – Inaugural

I was the first Chelsea Player of the Year in 1967 and it was a great honour. Nowadays it’s a really big event, a fabulous evening, but back then I think I might have just been presented with it at a game, I can’t really remember.

J – Jones, Mick

People say he went for me in the 1970 FA Cup final replay, but I’m a bit more lenient than that – it was just one of those things. I went for a cross and his knee whacked right into my knee. It hit a nerve and I was in agony for quite a while, but I managed to get through the game and that was the main thing.

K – Knife-edge

That’s how I’d describe the situation in the second leg of our League Cup final against Leicester in 1965. We were 3-2 up from the first game and, of course, I was playing against my mate Banksy [Gordon Banks] and it was a big battle between us. They had the crowd behind them, but we managed to hold on for a 0-0 to win the League Cup.

L – Leeds United

There was a massive rivalry between the sides at the time. We were two of the top clubs in the country and it was a very physical battle every time we played them – none more so than the two games to decide the 1970 FA Cup. Everything went on in those two games, it was incredible that no one was sent off or got badly injured. I was actually good pals with Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter through England duty.

M – Mother

When I was 15, I was doing playing really well for Worthing Catholics and my mum kept saying to my dad: ‘Why don’t you write to Chelsea so he can get a trial?’ In those days, Chelsea gave a lot of chances to youngsters, but their scouting network didn’t go past London. In the end my dad didn’t write, so my mum had to do it instead. So that’s what she did – she wrote to Ted Drake and I went for a trial.

N – Nickname

Ron Tindall was the first one to call me The Cat. He’d pretend he was like a cameraman and he’d say, ‘And here we have Peter Bonetti, The Cat, playing in his second game for Chelsea.’ He’d make you feel at ease because Ron was a lovely man. That’s how it started, and it just stuck.

O – Old Boys

I recently played for the Chelsea Old Boys [Bonetti was 68 at the time] because as a goalkeeper I don’t have to run about as much. Even though I didn’t throw myself about, I was still happy to stop the odd shot here and there!

P – Pele

I played against him twice – once for Chelsea and the other for St Louis Stars – and I felt honoured that he didn’t score against me. I gather that he named me as one of the three best goalkeepers he ever faced and that is a huge compliment. People ask me who was the best player I ever faced and Pele is, without doubt, the man.

Q – Queen

I’ve never met the Queen – she gave out the medals when England won the World Cup in 1966, but as I wasn’t playing I didn’t get to go up and shake her hand! I wasn’t annoyed and, actually I just felt chuffed when years and years later, someone came up with the idea of giving the rest of the squad medals.

R – Revolutionary

I had a colleague in the sports business, a good friend of mine, and he came up with the idea of bringing out my own gloves. In those days you didn’t wear gloves in dry weather and when it was wet, goalkeepers just wore standard woolly gloves. So, I came out with these flimsy, lightweight gloves – I think they were gardening gloves. But my colleague had the foresight to make them green – a colour associated with me because of the kit – and put my name on it. All the top goalkeepers started wearing them because they were the best thing at the time on the market.

S – Successor

Petar Borota was my successor at Chelsea and he was quite a character from what I heard. A bit erratic at times and an entertainer – the fans loved him!

T – Tommy Docherty

Tommy was a great motivator. Not necessarily the greatest of coaches, like Dave Sexton was, but he was very good with the youngsters. I actually had a bust-up with him after the 1966 World Cup. To cut a long story short, he wanted me to report to pre-season training straight away, but I needed a break after playing all season and during the summer. It got me into trouble and I got fined a week’s wages, then he bought Alec Stepney. I can remember Tommy telling us that he was thinking of rotating us! Neither of us agreed it was a good idea and we actually ended up becoming good pals. But Alec played just the one game before getting sold to Man United.

U – USA

I spent six months with the St Louis Stars and it was a great experience. I was 33 at the time and I was fortunate enough to be voted MVP for St Louis, best goalkeeper and third best player in the league that season. Americans love nicknames too, so I was never called Peter Bonetti – it was always Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti, with the emphasis on ‘The Cat’.

V – Victimised

After England lost at the 1970 World Cup, I got slaughtered by the press and opposition fans for the mistake I’d made for West Germany’s first goal, when they came back from 2-0 down to beat us 3-2. I did a lot of things for Chelsea and England, but the one thing the English public remember me for is that one game! I apologised to Sir Alf Ramsey after the game and he said: ‘Peter, these things happen. You did your best, now don’t ever let it affect you because it can if you’re not careful.’ Those words stuck with me and I remember the next season at Chelsea, I just got on with it. The Chelsea fans were absolutely brilliant to me, they were always behind me.

W – Wembley

I had quite a good record at Wembley for England. I played there twice and didn’t concede a goal. It was nice to get back there with Chelsea in 1970 because we’d lost the final in 1967 against Tottenham and put in a very poor performance that day. Although we didn’t actually win it at Wembley, it was a superb occasion.

X – Xmas

Being away from your family at Christmas was part and parcel of being a footballer. I remember one year we played up at Blackpool on Boxing Day and we had to travel up the day before. So it was a quick meal with the family and then off to Blackpool. But we just put up with it because we were professionals.

Y – Youth Cup

In my last game for the youth team we won the FA Youth Cup in 1960. I’d got into the first team before the final, but I broke my nose diving at someone’s feet and Ron Tindall went in goal. I was fit to play the second leg of the final up at Preston and we won 4-1, which made it 5-2 on aggregate. We were presented with the cup by the great Tom Finney. I went up to the first team the next season and was there for the next 19 years.

Z – Zoco

We were 2-1 up in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final replay and I had to make a save from Zoco in the last couple of minutes. I’m told it was a stunning save, but whether it was or not I’m not sure. Our fans were terrific though, they stayed in Greece after the first game and I think Dave Sexton very kindly gave them a bit of money and tickets for the game. Ossie and Co were really pally with the fans, who were sleeping all over the place, and I even heard a few rumours that some stayed with a few of the players, sleeping on the floor!

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