Peter Bonetti: The Cat among Chelsea’s pantheon of footballing Gods

Not just a goalkeeping legend, a footballing great.

It was Peter Bonetti’s early team-mate Ron Tindall who bestowed upon him the nickname that would outlive both their playing careers – The Cat.

Bonetti went on to justify it over more than two decades to earn his position, in the words of his former club,“in the pantheon of Chelsea footballing gods.”

Hailed by Blues as a "goalkeeping superstar of the 1960s and 1970s”, he was part of England's 1966 World Cup-winning squad as back up to the legendary Gordon Banks.

For Chelsea, Bonetti is best remembered for his two spells – from 1960 to 1975 and from 1977 to 1979. Twice he helped them to earn promotion to the First Division from the second tier.

He also lifted the 1965 League Cup, 1970 FA Cup, the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1971 and was voted runner-up for the 1969-70 Footballer of the Year award.

The Cat was a tribute to his celebrated reflexes which routinely frustrated rival clubs and players. Bonetti was also known for his ability to throw the ball long distances with accuracy.

In their tribute, Chelsea highlighted – quite rightly – Bonetti’s pivotal role in that FA Cup final win over Leeds with "his superhuman attempts to thwart the opposition”. His feats had left a TV audience of more than 28m people in the UK spellbound.

Bonetti also pioneered the all-green goalkeeper kit, the catching of crosses and acknowledged the crowd before every game.

News of his passing on Sunday, aged 78 after a long illness, sparked an outpouring of emotion.

Neville Southall, himself an Everton and Wales goalkeeping legend, tweeted: “RIP my friend and one time goalkeeping coach Peter Bonetti.

“A lovely lovely guy. A fabulous goalkeeper. A great coach. A truly fantastic gentleman. Thanks for all your help.”

Former England keeper Peter Shilton added: “I was in the 1970 World Cup squad with Peter as a lad. He was a hero of mine, a tremendous player and a true gentleman.”

Ex-Chelsea midfielder Paul Canoville tweeted: “Was proud to call you a team mate and even more to call you my friend. Farewell, Chelsea’s greatest ever goalkeeper and absolute legendary human being!!”

Current assistant manager Jody Morris added: “RIP Peter Bonetti, a Chelsea legend and also the goalie coach when I first got into England Under-21s in 1996.”

An England tweet read: "We're deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Peter Bonetti. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and supporters at this time.”

Bonetti remains the second all-time appearance maker for Chelsea . Only Ron Harris featured more often. Bonetti appeared in 729 games from 1959 to 1979, keeping 208 clean sheets. That feat was surpassed only six years ago by Petr Cech.

Tipped up by his late mum Lydia to Chelsea boss Ted Drake, Bonetti was just 17 when he began an association of around two decades that led to seven England caps.

Not only did he earn his status as one of the finest keepers of his generation, he also inspired a generation.

In his later years he would re-live the pain of that shot from Franz Beckenbauer which slipped underneath his body to allow Germany back into that Mexico World Cup quarter-final in 1970. The Germans had come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

The response back home was harsh. But after the nonsense had died down, English football would revere Bonetti as a national treasure.

"He was the Cat who broke the mould, defied the odds, drew the gasps, earned the cheers and got the cream. All in front of an adoring Stamford Bridge,” said that Stamford Bridge statement

"All at Chelsea wish to send our heartfelt and deepest condolences to Peter's family and friends.” It added.

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