Following the sad passing of Peter Bonetti earlier today, Petr Cech and Ron Harris have been paying tribute to one of our indisputably all-time great players.
Cech is the one goalkeeper to have kept more clean sheets for the Blues than Bonetti, while only Harris has played more games in the club’s history, and both men have reflected on the remarkable playing achievements of ‘the Cat’, as well as his warmth and kindness off the pitch.
‘It’s really sad news for everybody involved in Chelsea Football Club,’ said Cech. ‘We send our condolences to his family and all the people who knew him. Peter was an absolute legend for the club on and off the pitch and that’s how he’ll be remembered.’
Bonetti made his Chelsea debut 44 years prior to Cech at a time when the club were fighting to regain our standing in the English game. He made an incredible 729 appearances between the posts across a 20-year career at Stamford Bridge, many of which came behind the battling centre-half Harris, who still rates his former team-mate as one of the best.
‘If you ask any supporter who has been going to Chelsea in both Peter’s time or today, without being disrespectful to any other Chelsea goalkeepers who are playing or who have played for Chelsea, the supporters would say Peter is one of the very best,’ said Harris.
-Click here to read our tribute to Bonetti
‘He played over 700 games for Chelsea so that speaks for itself. You couldn’t meet a better fella and he is one of those goalkeepers you don’t see so often today as he would come out and try to catch most of the crosses, even though he was under six foot tall. Today they often punch or parry but if you go back and watch the games over the years, you never see Peter come out punching balls.’
While Bonetti was part of England’s gloriously victorious 1966 World Cup-winning squad, for which he was eventually recognised with a medal in 2009, he only made a handful of appearances for his country as he vied with the brilliant Gordon Banks for the number one jersey.
‘If it hadn’t been for Banks, Peter would have played a lot, lot more times for England,’ continued Harris. ‘People remember him playing for England for the mistake he made [at the 1970 World Cup] but Peter played behind me for 20-odd years and I know how good he was.
‘He was a fitness fanatic. Once a week during training, we went over to Epsom Downs and ran a cross-country course - he would win that easily! He would also win the sprints over 50 yards or 20 yards. He was one of the fittest goalkeepers anyone had seen.
‘One of his greatest games was the 1970 FA Cup final replay, even though he got injured after about 20 minutes. He still carried on playing. I may be being biased but I think he is one of the all-time great goalkeepers.’
Thirty years after his final appearance at the Bridge, Bonetti was still a regular at our west London home and developed an enduring relationship with the then-custodian of the Chelsea goal.
‘The one thing that comes to my mind about Peter is that he was a legend as a player but he was a really true gentleman and an unbelievable personality,’ recalls Cech. ‘When I arrived at Chelsea, I had the honour to meet him for the first time and it felt like I’d known him for 10 years because he was just such a nice guy.
‘He had the record for most clean sheets, second most games in the history of the club and he was a real legend but he stayed humble and a really nice person to be in company with.
‘We hadn’t seen him at the Bridge for some time because he was battling his illness but I remember one of the last times, he still stayed positive and he was in great form. He was really dedicated to football.’
Cech surpassed Bonetti’s Chelsea clean-sheet record in early 2014 and he remembers the well wishes that followed from a man he had developed immense mutual respect with, a further indicator of Bonetti’s enduring class.
‘He actually told me much earlier that he believed I would be the one who surpassed his record and we talked about it a few times over the years,’ Cech continued. ‘When I did it, he sent a really nice message of congratulations and that just showed the personality and the great character he was.
‘When you see the way he played, he wasn’t the tallest but he made up for the lack of height in his game. He was unbelievably agile and athletic – that’s why they called him ‘the Cat.’
‘People forget that he was a world champion as well. He never really mentioned that and not many people talk it but it was still unbelievable to be involved in the 1966 squad that won the World Cup, together with everything he achieved at Chelsea. He will be missed by us all.’