With his on-pitch action at Anfield today, Cesar Azpilicueta has joined a truly elite collection of Chelsea greats – and there is simply no argument about that!
As we celebrate our current captain’s 500-game milestone, we look here at the list of legends he joins, and it is no surprise they all also skippered a Chelsea side at some stage in their careers.
Azpilicueta takes the number up to a super six, and in doing so he has become the first non-Englishman to reach the quintuple century for the Blues. Still quite some way to go though to start moving up this particular ladder where at the top sits…
Ron Harris – 795 appearances
Chopper’s extraordinarily long Chelsea career essentially spanned the 1960s and 1970s. Legendarily as hard as nails, you can only imagine how often he played through the pain barrier to tot up the all-time most appearances for the Blues.
‘I'm so proud of playing more games than any other player in the history of Chelsea Football Club and it's a record I don't think will ever be beaten,‘ he once told us. And it is a brave person to doubt Ron on that.
He was the captain in 324 of his 795 appearances and included in the vast array of games are some of the most iconic nights in the club’s history – not least when Chopper lifted the FA Cup after the 1970-side overcame Leeds, and then the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later when Real Madrid were beaten, again after a replay.
By the mid-1970s he was the vastly experienced head in the young, homegrown side that refreshed the Stamford Bridge scene, and he has been a regular at the stadium for many years after his 19 seasons of playing there, as one of our matchday hosts.
Peter Bonetti – 729 appearances
For a huge percentage of Ron Harris’s record number of games in the Chelsea defence he had Peter Bonetti lined up behind him. The Cat made his debut a couple of seasons earlier, Chopper carried on a year more, and one of the reasons our famous goalkeeper’s total falls a little short of the number one spot is a brief sabbatical away playing in the USA in 1975. He was soon back at the Bridge and like Harris brought a touch of seniority to the young lions of ‘76/’77.
Peter was undoubtedly one of the pillars of the earlier ‘Kings of the King’s Road’ side and before we lost him in 2020, he had this to say about his longevity in the side:
‘I got in the team and I did quite well and I just stayed in. With any player, no matter what position you're in, you need that luck to stay free from injury and when I look back at that 19 years of playing in the first team, I just had one or two injuries and I bounced back after them. So I was lucky from that point of view.’
It was far more than just luck though and he did acknowledge that his style of play between the posts, which revolutionised the goalkeeping craft with agility and claiming of crosses, earned him the love from the Chelsea support which was also crucial to his legend being written.
John Terry – 717 appearances
‘It does feel a great achievement when you look and see that it is only players like Peter Bonetti, Chopper Harris, John Hollins and Lamps above me and think about what those guys have done,’ John Terry told us back in 2011 when he played his 500th game.
The 217 more he then added took him ahead of two of those names and where he surpasses all is in the trophy yield from those matches. And the times the armband was worn. Of the 717 games, Terry was captain in 580 of them.
‘I'm also proud of the fact that Chelsea is such a big club and I've played regularly at the top and kept myself fit and healthy enough to play that amount of games,’ JT added, and he went on to emphasis the point by playing every minute of the Premier League-winning campaign of 2014/15.
Along with the 17 trophies won across his 19 seasons, and the 67 goals scored, easily the record number for a Chelsea defender, you can bet the ultra-competitive Captain, Leader, Legend for a long time had his eye on beating Harris’s 795 games too. Though he ended a little behind that, his total remains one to be much admired in the modern era.
Frank Lampard – 648 appearances
While Chopper and the Cat were contemporaries, so were Lamps and JT, and the midfielder worked hard to quickly achieve ‘first name on the team sheet’ status that was rarely lost, an achievement he acknowledged when speaking after he hit the 500-game mark.
‘Now having reached it and sitting and thinking about it, it does make me very proud because more than anything I have played in a club that has had such strong squads for 10 years and I have managed to play regularly,’ Frank said.
‘That is probably my biggest achievement, staying in the team regardless of who the manager is and the players that have come in.’
Between October 2001 and December 2005, Lampard set a new record for most consecutive Premier League games played of 164, only since surpassed by a goalkeeper.
Of course there was the all-time best goals total too – it works out at one scored every three games - from midfield! And like John Terry, Frank backed up his appearances with silverware too – with 13 trophies across his 13 illustrious years in the Chelsea team.
John Hollins – 592 appearances
As impressive as Lampard’s 164 consecutive league games streak is, he does not hold the Chelsea record for all competitions. That sits with Holly who between August 1971 and September 1974 had an unbroken run of 167 consecutive games, and bearing in mind the limit of one substitution per game in those days, that is an awful lot of 90 minutes played, and John played them hard.
His was a never-stop-running style of midfield play, a vital battery in the great sides of the 1960s and 1970s and he weighed in with goals too – 64 in total.
‘I was naturally fit anyway and I just used to love to play,’ he reminisced a few years back.‘I loved to train and work and we used to go over to Epsom and run over the hills and racecourse there. I liked to be fit. If we did have a night out, which no doubt we did, I used to have a good run the next day.’
Unlucky to have a very, very rare injury for the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup final replay, he did play in the triumphant FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford a year earlier and around that golden period was an ever-present in four whole seasons.
Having left Chelsea in 1975, Hollins returned to top his games tally up with another 35 appearances as player/coach in the 1983/84 promotion-winning campaign.
Cesar Azpilicueta - 500 appearances
And now Azpi is among them too, showing plenty of the hallmarks that helped the first five join the 500 Club.
There is the devotion to preparation and similar lack of injuries as those already mentioned. Since he became a Blue in the summer of 2012, he has missed a mere nine games due to either injury or illness.
There is the durability when he has been an essential part of the team. Cesar mirrored John Terry from two years earlier when in 2016/17, he did not miss a minute of the 38 games as we again took the Premier League title.
And while on the subject of titles, Azpilicueta has of course essentially won it all, with the most recent of his nine trophies won as a Blue being the FIFA Club World Cup, which as our current captain he lifted.
‘I feel very honoured to reach this number,’ Azpilicueta said after the game. ‘I could only imagine it when I first joined the club in 2012. The memories that I have are amazing and I try to enjoy every day and to keep improving,
‘I know how tough it is to be successful in football and for me to come to a club like Chelsea after them winning the Champions League, I wanted to create my own history but I could not make it without everybody in the club, without my team-mates over the years, the coaches, members of the staff who had confidence and they trusted me. I say thank you for that and I am on the pitch everyday trying to make the most of it, because it is a privilege to play for Chelsea and be the captain of this club and I will keep giving my best.’