As we mourn the sad passing of our legendary former goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, 50 years on from his FA Cup final heroics, we can return to his own account of those memorable games against Leeds United in which he and Chelsea caught the attention of the nation.
Perhaps one of Bonetti’s greatest performances was reserved for the biggest of stages. In the FA Cup final of 1969/70, ‘the Cat’ was bright, brave and brilliant across two hours of high-octane, high-stakes football.
He made some truly spectacular saves in the first game at Wembley and was our standout player as Dave Sexton’s side twice came from behind to force a replay. Up at Old Trafford a fortnight later, with a record TV audience of over 28 million watching at home, Bonetti’s efforts were superhuman as he battled through an early injury to defy Leeds United as our last line of defence.
Although it was feline agility and reflexes that earned him his nickname, it was the heart of a lion in Manchester that saw him soldier on through another period of extra-time, during which David Webb bundled in that famous winner to ensure the Blues were FA Cup victors for the very first time in our history.
'I think he is one of the all-time great goalkeepers.' Read Cech and Harris tributes to Bonetti
The golden anniversary of the first game was marked this Easter weekend, while it will be 50 years since the replay later this month. Those who watched at the time recall it as one of the most memorable goalkeeping performances in FA Cup final history, while the man who wore the gloves remembers it as the most physical game of his career.
‘They’re two of the most important games, as far as I’m concerned, in Chelsea’s history,’ Bonetti said in a 2010 interview. ‘My memories of the FA Cup final are fantastic and obviously the games were quite exceptional too.
‘It was between two teams that didn’t really like one another and so it was obviously going to be a very physical battle between the two. I’d say that the replay at Old Trafford was the most physical game I ever played in.
‘I wasn’t necessarily referring to the Mick Jones incident where he banged into my knee because that sort of thing can happen – you go up and try to catch a ball and someone challenges you. His knee caught my knee and I don’t think it was deliberate.
‘So I didn’t just mean it was physical because of that, but both teams were so desperate to win because they didn’t like one another at the time. And I must say ‘at the time’ because it’s a bit different today!
‘If the game had been refereed according to the rules and regulations of today, it wouldn’t have lasted! The tackling was wild, you had people kicking each other six foot in the air and trying to kick the ball as someone headed it!
‘But that was the way the game was played in those days, it was very physical. You were out to win, just like nowadays, but it was played in a more aggressive manner, I must admit.’
Bonetti felt it was the Chelsea character that proved the difference between two well-matched teams and speculated on what might have been had his own Herculean effort proved insufficient to keep him on the field after that first-half knee injury.
A collision with Leeds centre-forward Mick Jones had done the damage, leaving the Chelsea number one struggling to even walk properly and requiring a pain-killing injection at half-time. At a time before substitute goalkeepers had been introduced to the game, there was a chance that the match-winner could have had an altogether different role to play.
‘We showed great character over the two games,’ continued Bonetti. ‘I think we were behind three times and got back each time before Webby got the winner. It showed we had great character as a team and a tremendous blend of players.
‘We weren’t surprised when Webby got the goal. He was a great character who was fearless – he’d go up for set-pieces and just throw himself at everything. And he was a very recognised goalscorer too. He scored in the quarter-final and semi-final that year and I remember him scoring three goals in a Boxing Day match at Ipswich once. He had the eye for a goal, no doubt about it.
‘If my knee injury had kept me out of the game then he’d have been the one to go in goal! If I got injured, he used to go in goal.’
The Cat was voted runner-up in the Footballer of the Year award at the end of that campaign, his FA Cup winners’ medal alongside others in the League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and, of course, the World Cup. After hanging up his gloves in 1986, it was those medals that ultimately provided most pride to Bonetti.
‘It was the first time the club had ever won the FA Cup and the other thing was that it meant we won medals,' he concluded.
‘You always look back on your career at times when you have won something and there’s so many players who go through their careers without winning anything. So I regard myself as being lucky at having been able to win a couple of things.’
Click for the online book of condolence for Peter Bonetti