Petr Cech uses his latest weekly column to pay tribute to the late, great Peter Bonetti as Stamford Bridge prepares to say one final goodbye to our former goalkeeper at a memorial service on Friday.
Bonetti’s life and career will be honoured and celebrated by family, friends, former team-mates and fans at the Bridge, his home ground for the majority of the 1960s and 1970s. The service, led by Chelsea supporter Reverend Martin Swan, will conclude with Peter’s ashes being interred behind the Shed End goal.
Here, Cech reflects on his own relationship with the man whose longstanding clean sheet record he eventually broke, hailing the trailblazing goalkeeper and the humble man he got to know…
We all know about Peter Bonetti the goalkeeper, who was ahead of his time with the way he played and how dedicated he was to the game, but as a man he also really stood out. I met him a few times and then I got a great message from him when I had my head injury and I was recovering.
It was pleasant to be in his company and to talk about football and other stuff. That always sticks in my mind and it makes you realise that these people in the past made the path for all of us later who came to join the club.
When I arrived at Chelsea, everybody was saying ‘Peter Bonetti, Peter Bonetti’ and of course when you are at a club you suddenly get to know the history much better. The one thing in English football which is amazing is that the history really matters and that you go through the years of the football club remembering the teams, the individuals and the people who somehow stood out with their actions.
There’s a strong connection to the history of the club and the people who went through before you. Peter’s name was mentioned a lot and he always remained connected to Chelsea, coming to the games and meeting with people. It was always interesting to see him.
When I started collecting the clean sheets, everyone was saying ‘Peter Bonetti has the most clean sheets and if you go at this rate and it carries on like that then you might beat it.’ That was something everybody talked about.
He congratulated me once I did it and he was very generous and happy about it actually. Records are there to be broken and if somebody manages to do something exceptional then you will always go and say fair play.
It was important as well because they were the team who won those first trophies for the club and they stayed connected with the club. They were happy to do that and pass on their legacy to the new group of players who came to create another part of the history.
That’s the strength of the club going through the years. Former players always speak so highly about it, how they enjoyed it, how they love the way Chelsea is about football, winning and sticking together.
Even now the players who played with me or just before I came, when you listen to them looking back on the years they spent at Chelsea you always hear the same thing – brilliant atmosphere, a team that was hungry to win in every circumstances, going for it and working hard for it.
When you hear guys from the past talk about how much it meant for them to win games and to be strong together you realise this culture goes through. That resilience and determination goes on and on, we never lost it and I think even today it shows again.
Cat that got the cream
Peter’s legacy will always live on because people will remember him for the trophies, for the fact he is the man with the second-most games ever played for the club and for having such a unique style. That will always be his trademark, so different from how every other goalkeeper was playing at that time.
That’s why they called him ‘the Cat’ because he was so agile and although he was not the tallest or the most physical he compensated for that. He was always brave coming out to help the defenders with the crosses and high balls which was very unusual, so that’s something which obviously will always stand out and also his number of clean sheets over so many years.
Even at Stamford Bridge now we have the Peter Bonetti suite because he deserved that for what he did for the club and as a human being as well. I really got to know him like that and got to see the brilliant human being behind that brilliant goalkeeper.
It's going to be very emotional because it’s been two years now and ideally you want to have a memorial straight away but obviously Covid took that opportunity away. I’m glad that the wishes of Peter’s family can now be fulfilled, for a player with such a legendary status of the club.
They have had to wait for it quite a long time but hopefully this will give them that last feeling of goodbye and closure.