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Chelsea pay tribute to 'The Cat' Bonetti

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Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti shows his reflexes during a league game at Stamford Bridge in April, 1970. Photo: PA/PA Wire.

Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti shows his reflexes during a league game at Stamford Bridge in April, 1970. Photo: PA/PA Wire.

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Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti shows his reflexes during a league game at Stamford Bridge in April, 1970. Photo: PA/PA Wire.

Peter Bonetti, who has died aged 78 after a long illness, was not just a goalkeeping superstar of the 1960s and 1970s, but was an innovator, a pioneer and a deep thinker about the game.

He was, for example, the first to put his name to goalkeeping gloves, with Sondico's iconic green and yellow pair, beloved by children and used by other goalkeepers, featuring a big "B" on the back of each. Prior to that 'keepers had often just used gardening gloves.

Despite being only 5ft 10 and a half inches and weighing just 11st, Bonetti was one of the first 'keepers to come off his line bravely to gather crosses and showed his tactical brain in also being one of the first to throw the ball out, rather than kick upfield.

He drew an extraordinary tribute from Pele when the Brazilian said: "The three greatest goalkeepers I have ever seen are Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin and Peter Bonetti".

Despite being a Chelsea legend, with the club producing a long and touching tribute to "a goalkeeping superstar" known as 'The Cat', he will also be remembered, perhaps above all, for an England match in which he should not have played.

Agility

That 'Cat' nickname, summing up his agility, was coined by his former Chelsea team-mate Ron Tindall as he ad-libbed a mock TV commentary during a game of billiards. Former Chelsea team-mate Clive Walker said: "I used to always be in the wall at free-kicks and often you know when a free-kick is taken that it is going in and, instead, you'd turn around and see him make another incredible save."

His former captain, Ron Harris, the only man to make more appearances for Chelsea than Bonetti, said: "He was ever so slim and acrobatic. He pulled off some unbelievable saves. Ask any Chelsea supporter who's been around for some time and I bet they'd say the No 1 'keeper at Chelsea was Peter Bonetti."

His only rival is Petr Cech, the one 'keeper to beat his record of 200 clean sheets. Even so, it was for England that his most memorable, and unfortunate, match came. It was Bonetti's misfortune that he played in the same era as Gordon Banks and was understudy during the 1966 and 1970 World Cups. Bonetti did not play a minute in England's triumph on home soil. Only the 11 players on the pitch against West Germany were eligible for medals, but every member of the squad was later recognised with a medal.

It was in 1970 and, again, against West Germany in the quarter-final in Mexico that Bonetti got his chance when Banks had food poisoning. Having conceded just one goal in his previous six England appearances, Bonetti was beaten three times as England squandered a two-goal lead.

He was at fault for the first, allowing Franz Beckenbauer's shot under his body, although the two other goals had as much to do with a tired defence. Even so, the sight of Bonetti failing to reach a high ball before Gerd Muller volleyed home the winner is infamous. Bonetti carried the can in what sadly proved to be his last England game.

Born in Putney, south-west London, to Swiss parents, Bonetti and his family moved to Worthing in Sussex to open a cafe. Still his mother wrote to Chelsea urging them to give her son a trial - which they did - with Bonetti signing on the same day as Bobby Tambling and Terry Venables, and going on to record 729 appearances for Chelsea.

Two extraordinary performances stand out. First was the 1970 FA Cup final replay victory over Leeds United. Bonetti suffered an injury to his left knee. After a pain-killing injection at half-time, but still barely able to walk, he made save after save to deny Leeds, as Chelsea came from behind to win in extra-time. The following year Bonetti overcame pneumonia to inspire Chelsea to their first European trophy, beating Real Madrid in the European Cup-Winners' Cup final.

Bonetti left Chelsea in 1975, for a spell in the United States with St Louis Stars. He played five games for Dundee United in 1979 before retiring and working as a postman on the Isle of Mull. After that Bonetti became an accomplished goalkeeping coach with Manchester City, Chelsea and England.

Still he did not hang up his gloves, and played for Woking at 45, as they beat Weymouth in an FA Cup tie in 1986. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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