Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened to announce the passing of our former player and manager John Hollins MBE at the age of 76. All at the club send our heartfelt condolences to John’s family and friends.
On behalf of the owners and directors, Lord Daniel Finkelstein said: ‘We were so sorry to hear of the death of John Hollins. He was a hero to the fans of this club, and very much that to me. He was at the heart of one of Chelsea's greatest teams and, as well as contributing to its trophy success, he expressed its spirit. He lifted up the team with his play and lit up the Bridge with his smile.
‘He gave a life of service to this club, as a player, as a manager and as a match-day ambassador. He was greatly loved and will be much missed.’
On behalf of his family, John's son Chris Hollins said: 'John was always so modest about the role he played in Chelsea’s history. He was only 15 when he signed for the club and went on to win trophies in those incredible sides of the '60s and '70s.
'He had so many stories, but he always told us he just loved running out at the Bridge and wearing that famous blue shirt. We will miss him as a husband, a father and grandfather and will always be proud of what he achieved in the game.'
John was the classic first-name-on-the-teamsheet for Chelsea for a decade from 1965. Invariably described as ‘leather-lunged’ in the parlance of the day, the mobile midfielder was the dream player for managers Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton. Selfless, defence-minded, enthusiastically versatile, creative, he was no stranger to the scoresheet with 64 goals in a mighty 592 performances (the fifth most matches for a Chelsea player).
Work-rate and reliability came with a usually clear bill of health, and he was a key member of the Blues’ ‘H’-troop along with Harris, Hinton, Houseman, Hudson and Hutchinson.
Docherty saw enough in the 17-year-old Chelsea Junior to make him the club’s youngest-ever stand-in skipper in a League Cup game against Notts County in 1964, a season in which his 41 appearances very nearly helped the Blues to a remarkable treble. Instead, just the League Cup was won, but John would later give everything in the FA Cup finals of 1967 and 1970, and the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup final (although the replay win over Real Madrid was a very rare evening off due to injury).
John was one of those unfussy midfielders who just got on with it, though Leeds’ Johnny Giles, a regular adversary, always observed the Chelsea man would leave a foot in if he fancied it. Watching him – never mind playing against him – could be exhausting. You felt if the floodlights ever failed again (yes, it happened) jump-leads attached to him could easily provide the necessary spark. He deserved many more England caps than the single one he earned.
It was boy-next-door Hollins’ lot to be juxtaposed with the roguish charisma of Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson or Charlie Cooke, but not all fans were dazzled. Even his spectacular award-winning goal against Arsenal in August 1970 – still one of the greatest witnessed by the Shed – owed as much to graft as it did technique. To most Blues fans of the day, though, he was the beloved ’Olly’, a name regularly repeated in a tuneful terrace yodel.
As that great team fell apart in the mid-1970s, Holly endured until just before his 29th birthday, when former team-mate Eddie McCreadie, now manager, broke the news he was too old (and expensive) to be kept on. ‘Chelsea is a family, and families get very close,’ Hollins later observed. ‘Sometimes, as you go through the years, people get too close. The family thing can turn into over-familiarity. There’s got to be a distance, a line between the different departments. Once you cross that line, it gets personal.’
There followed an eight-year hiatus, during which Hollins remodelled himself as a right-back for Arsenal and QPR. He reunited with the Chelsea family in 1983 as a popular player-coach under John Neal, and was very much one of lads before fate intervened. As the Blues celebrated promotion back to Division One at Grimsby in May 1984, he was sitting with the squad sipping champagne. One took Holly to one side. ‘You’re not expecting me to stay on the same money, are you?’ he said to the assistant. ‘Because when they make you manager, you’re not going to be on the same money.’
John fretted about the implications of the role change, and a year later the remark proved prophetic: Neal was stricken with heart disease, and in 1985 apprentice replaced master. For a while the Blues’ top-flight renaissance continued, with a second successive sixth-place finish, plus a low-rank but still noteworthy Full Members’ Cup final victory at Wembley.
Kind and courteous away from the pitch, confident in his ability on it, Hollins was now judged by his delegated decisions. Players objected to the training ground methods of new assistant Ernie Walley. That had been Hollins’ strongest suit under Neal, and his one-to-one dialogue with players always appreciated.
In the 1987/88 season, a long winless run had the club veering towards danger and sealed Hollins’ fate. Walley was first out the gate in mid-February and John was let go in March.
Post-Chelsea, John had coaching spells at Swansea, Rochdale, Raith, Stockport, Crawley and finally, Weymouth and was a thoughtful and considered analyst when called upon by the media. Like many of his generation of Chelsea players, he was welcomed back warmly to Stamford Bridge on matchdays in later years when working in our hospitality areas, one of which bears his name.
There will be a book of condolence open at the Museum at Stamford Bridge. Details of its availability will be announced.