Today we lost another one of the greats of goalkeeping – Peter Bonetti. 

Nicknamed “The Cat”, Peter was an inspiration to us all. Indeed, he was the reason I’m a Chelsea fan since 1970, when aged 10, I decided I wanted to play in goal, and be “The Cat”.

For my 10th birthday I begged my mum to buy me a green shirt and cap “made by Peter Bonetti” – yep 10 year olds have some silly ideas.

The cap hadn’t come out yet, so instead she bought me a pair of gloves. They were soft thin cotton and from then on I’ve hated wearing the modern “styrofoam padded boxing gloves” all keepers wear today – to me, gloves should be like an additional skin – and these were certainly no more!.

Of course, a career so successful – 495 appearances for Chelsea, only 39 outside the First Division (original EPL) and 7 caps for England, FA Cup, European Cup Winners Cup and League Cup winners medals) – naturally had highs and lows, and Peter was a credit to the goalkeeping profession, in remaining good spirited throughout. This tweet by “big Nev” Southall encapsulates that ideal.

66 and all that

The highpoint was surely his inclusion in England’s 1966 World Cup squad. While he was only kept out of the team by arguably the World’s greatest – Gordon Banks – he played his role and thankfully was rewarded. The tradition was that only the 11 players on the field that day got winners medals. But an FA-led campaign forced FIFA to change that tradition and in 2009 Peter was awarded with his winners medal at a ceremony held at 10 Downing St.  

Gerd outtahere

The low point was more obvious – in the 1970 World Cup, Peter was foist into a WC quarter final against (then West) Germany, after Gordon Banks had been struck down by food poisoning. 

A pre-match team meeting was called which, because there was no other suitable venue was held in Ramsey’s bedroom. “I sat down on the floor by the door,” Banks recalled. “As Alf began speaking, I began groaning. The stomach cramps had returned and with a vengeance.”… Bonetti had played only once, in a second-string friendly against a Colombian club side. He had a little over an hour to prepare to face the Germans. From here

Having taken a 2-0 lead, England sat back, made tactical substitutions and as tired weary legs grew heavier, generally allowed the Germans to sneak back into the game. With 9 mins left, the Germans equalized, and then into extra time at 2-2,  Gerd Muller (the tournament golden boot and the highest goal/game scorer ever in international football) scored a fantastic volley to win the game. 99% of the UK press blamed Bonetti. He never played for England again. 

(If you can face it…) The goals can be seen here and 10 minute highlights can be seen here

Leaping to Fame in Peter Bonetti’s Boots

A modest and level headed man, Peter’s career can’t be summed up by videos of great saves or howlers. Instead I’d recommend any of a list of books on his life. Perhaps the best is his own biography, Leaping to Fame – though it’s a little rare –Amazon has on one currently for a smidge over $670..

But surely the best claim to fame for a man who’s name every English soccer fan knows, and every Chelsea fan reveres, is that he very nearly became a World famous pop band. Or at least his name.  Depeche Mode wasn’t the first choice for a band that encapsulates the 1980s music (and happens to be my wife’s favorite band). It was actually “Peter Bonetti’s boots” as Andy Fletch is a massive Chelsea fan (“Other names considered, according to Daniel Blythe in The Encyclopedia of Classic 80s Pop, included The Lemon Peels, The Glow-Worms, and The Runny Smiles. I’ve also seen “Peter Bonetti’s Boots”, as Fletch was and is an ardent Chelsea fan.”)

Pete went on to play in the US, and to coach goalkeepers, with many successful proteges, including this Premier league winner, Kasper Schmeichel. 

This “cool Cat” surely had his nine lives, but today we beg him RIP.