Club legend John Hollins was remembered yesterday at a memorial service attended by a long list of famous football faces, plus others who wished to commemorate his life including family and friends.
St Luke’s and Christ Church in the middle of Chelsea, which also held a service for Ray Wilkins in 2018, was the location for the gathering for John, who passed away last month aged 76.
He had been a key midfielder in the star-studded, fashionable and successful Chelsea side of the 1960s and early 1970s, his consistency such that he is the fifth-highest appearance maker in the club’s history.
John’s playing career at Stamford Bridge spanned two spells, the second of which involved a coaching role that developed into him becoming Chelsea manager in the mid-1980s.
Both those eras were represented at the memorial service, with former team-mates from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s present – from Barry Bridges who was part of the squad when John made his debut in 1963, to John Dempsey who shared in historic trophy wins, to Colin Pates, Eddie Niedzwiecki and John Bumstead who were alongside him when he played his final match in 1984.
During the 90 minutes inside the church, the many great 90 minutes John enjoyed on the pitch were touched upon, with cricket great and lifelong Chelsea supporter Alec Stewart giving a fan’s perspective on his hero, and later his friend, right down to how Stewart chose to wear no.4 when cricket adopted shirt numbers, his chance to copy the player he idolised growing up.
Stars from the other clubs in John’s playing career were present and his former Arsenal team-mate Liam Brady spoke about Holly’s late-career move to Highbury, recalling how at the age of nearly 37 he was voted their player of the year. That was not long before he returned to Chelsea as player/coach, leading to him becoming our manager.
He was later in charge at Swansea, a high point, with his success there recounted by Steve Hamer, the chairman of the South Wales club back in the day. He was just one of those present sharing their affection for a man whose warm persona and decency earned him friends and respect throughout football and in the wider world.
It was left to John’s son Chris, most prominent as a BBC presenter, to conclude the eulogies and thank those who attended on behalf of the family. John’s love for his family and generosity to the supporters of the teams he played for, and the footballers he coached, were clear in Chris’s words.
Abide With Me, long-adopted as the FA Cup final hymn, was sung - highly appropriately given the big part John played in winning that competition for Chelsea for the first time. Blue is the Colour played as the congregation left the church – an anthem for the club he held so dear.
An online book of condolence can be viewed here. There will be a book open at Stamford Bridge at the first game of the season and tributes to John at the match.