There is a cruel irony attached to the news that Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti, arguably Chelsea’s greatest ever goalkeeper, has passed away at the age 79, 50 years almost to the day that Chelsea began their Titanic struggle with Leeds United to win the FA Cup for the first time.
In many respects this was ‘The Cat’s’ finest four hours in the iconic green shirt with black neck, collar and cuffs. The shirt he wore for Chelsea for 729 appearances, second only to Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris in record number of appearances for the club.
Great goalkeepers make the difference; the difference between a win and a loss, a defeat or a cup win.
For those who were at Wembley on April 11, 1970 and at Old Trafford on April 29, 1970, there is no doubt that had it not been for Bonetti’s skill and agility, Chelsea would not have triumphed against Leeds United, the best team in England at the time and a side who revelled in the ‘dark arts’ of football.
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Bonetti kept Chelsea in the cup in the first match which finished 2-2 after extra-time; described by Peter Batts of The Sun “countless other smoothly produced efforts were swallowed up by that Octopus of a goalkeeper Peter Bonetti” and Chelsea were described by Desmond Hackett in The People as a “team called Peter Bonetti” while “Bonetti – Man of Courage” grabbed the headlines.
He was even more heroic in the replay.
Early in the first-half, burly Leeds striker, Mick Jones clattered in to Bonetti and left him in a heap on the pitch. The match was held up for three minutes, but with no substitute goalkeepers allowed in those days, ‘The Cat’ had to battle on. Having injured his left knee, he received more treatment at half-time, gaining a pain killing injection for his troubles and if you re-watch the match, you can clearly see him limping for the rest of it, almost playing on one leg.