A few months ago, a fellow Chelsea fan showed me a framed photo montage of five Chelsea legends and asked me if I could name them.
Three of them were no-brainers – the unmistakable figures of Ron “Chopper” Harris, Peter “The Cat” Bonetti and the “King of Stamford Bridge” Peter Osgood – and I managed to figure out that one other was Roy Bentley, the skipper of our league-winning side of 1955.
However, the remaining photo had me stumped.
“Bobby Tambling,” said my friend, somewhat bemused that I wasn’t quite up to scratch in my knowledge of Chelsea greats.
Now, contrary to that annoying and completely nonsensical ditty by Liverpool fans, we do have 108 great years of history at Chelsea Football Club and Bobby Tambling features rather prominently in it as our leading scorer of all-time with 202 goals, plundered during his spell at SW6 from 1959 to 1970.
That proud mark has come into focus recently with Frank Lampard netting his 194th goal in the 4-0 demolition of Stoke last weekend to usurp Kerry Dixon as our second-highest scorer and move within touching distance of Tambling’s long-held record.
However, I am quite certain that I am not the only Chelsea fan who would struggle to identify Mr Tambling or to reel off any information about him beyond the fact that he scored so many goals.
Indeed, in a poll conducted last year by the club’s official magazine to name our 100 greatest players, he only ranked 13th behind a number of his contemporaries like Bonetti (12th), Jimmy Greaves (10th), Charlie Cooke (7th) and Osgood (5th).
In an attempt to brush up on my knowledge of the man, I leafed through the Chelsea FC – The Official Biography, which was published on the club’s centenary in 2005 but found only one index reference to Bobby Tambling in its 400-plus pages.
Surprised by the lack of information that existed about our greatest goalscorer, I spoke to former Chelsea full-back and manager Ken Shellito to find out more about the enigmatic striker.
Shellito, who is about to launch the Chelsea FC Soccer School Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, played with Tambling in the team groomed by Tommy Docherty in the 1960s and is a firm admirer of his former teammate.
“When you talk about good people, Bob is one of the best,” says Shelitto, 72.
“He is a gem and one of the nicest people you could know. He was always there to help anybody out and he is a really genuine person.”
While their lives after football have taken them to different parts of the world – Tambling now lives in Ireland while Shellito resides in East Malaysia – they still keep in close contact.
“He’s living in Cork now but I still speak to him once a month,” says Shellito. “When I went back with my wife to London for a Chelsea luncheon last year, we actually went over to spend a couple of days with him in Ireland. He hasn’t been too well and he had to have some operations on his legs but he was great company.”
While his goal haul for the club far outstrips Greaves (132 goals) and Osgood (150), Tambling has never been held in as high a regard by Blues fans as the other two who bookended his time as the club’s main scoring threat. Shellito believes that may be explained by the professionalism of Tambling when measured next to the highly efficient Greaves and highly flamboyant Osgood.
“I would say that Bob was a player’s player while people like Ossie and Jimmy were individualists. They were great players and they got more of the headlines and glory than Bob.
“But Bob was not a glory man and he didn’t play for the press. He just enjoyed his football and did what he had to do help the team to win games.
“He didn’t have a lot of great individual skill but he got a lot of goals. That was his strength – finishing off the job after he had been set up.”
With Frank Lampard now within touch of Tambling goalscoring record, Shelitto admits that he has mixed feeling about seeing the longstanding mark broken.
“It would be disappointing for me to see it go because I would like Bobby Tambling to keep his record,” he admits. “But Frank has done such a wonderful job for the team in the last few years and he deserves to be up there with the greats.”
Curious to learn more about Tambling I did a YouTube search and found video of a match against Manchester City from 1966 . It highlighted what Shellito had described were the strengths of Tambling as a player as he ghosted into space to net the opening goal before he unselfishly set up an easy second for Tommy Baldwin.
But all of that was overshadowed by the outrageous Ossie, who scored with a fine solo effort to make it 4-1 before amusingly flicking reverse V signs at the City faithful. In a nutshell, that summed up why he will always remain the King of Stamford Bridge.
I could not think of anywhere I would rather have been on Thursday than the International Stadium Yokohama for the Blues’ showdown with Club Football de Monterrey in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final.
Unfortunately, due to my work commitments with the Asean regional football championship, which just happened to coincide with the Club World Cup, I had to settle once again for watching the action from Japan on television.
Now given that it’s a nine-hour flight from South-East Asia to the Land of the Rising Sun and the Antarctic-expedition jackets worn by the Corinthians players sitting in the stands suggested fairly frigid conditions in Yokohama, it might not have been too bad a thing that I had missed out on the trip.
Nevertheless there was still a feeling of regret on my part that I could not be present at what was a historic moment – our first ever appearance in the Club World Cup and our first truly competitive match in Asia.
Mock the tournament all you want but it is a gathering of the top clubs from all of the continents and the winners can sing the lines of that old Queen song knowing that they truly are champions of the world.
The good thing about the Club World Cup being played in Japan is that the game kicked-off at an ideal time for us in South-East Asia, right after many of us had knocked off work and were settling down to our dinner.
I gratefully took up the invitation to get together with some fellow Blues fans at a pub in the heart of the Central Business District in Singapore and was heartened to see that many of the hundred or so fans in attendance had ditched their office clothes for their Chelsea kit.
Given the events of the past few weeks, there was a sense of nervousness early on when Hazard, Ivanovic and Oscar all passed up chances to break the deadlock against Monterrey. But that was thankfully alleviated by Juan Mata’s brilliantly constructed opening goal after 17 minutes and the quick two-goal burst after the interval that effectively put the game to bed.
I had endured enough tension the night before while watching Singapore edge the Philippines 1-0 in the semi-finals of the Asean championship so I was quite happy not to have to go through any of that again as the Blues comfortably won 3-1 to set up a meeting in the final with Brazilian side Corinthians.
Speaking of Brazilians, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Thursday’s match was watching our new midfielder David Luiz revelling in his role. He looked right at home there galloping forward into the danger area, spraying the passes around and taking a couple of shots on goal. And for the first time, we could watch him doing all of that with a sense of comfort as we knew that he would not be leaving a yawning chasm in the centre of our defence if he coughed up possession.
And once again, Fernando Torres scored, albeit with the aid of a sizable deflection, for his fifth goal in three games. Maybe Rafa Benitez really does know how to bring out the best in him, after all.
Now, our many detractors (who have had to retreat for the moment to their places in the woodwork) may suggest that we should be scoring a lot of goals and getting wins against the likes of Nordsjaelland, Sunderland and Monterrey. But the potential for embarrassment is always there when you go up against underdogs so I will gladly take those wins which will hopefully see us kick on, put the dreadful memories of the past few weeks behind us and go on to win a trophy or two this year.
A win is a win and it was especially pleasing to see us achieve it so comfortably against two-time continental champions like Monterrey.
I’d certainly take that ahead of losing on penalties to a League Two side in the League Cup.
For fans of English football in the Asia-Pacific region, the final Sunday in October is a particularly dreaded time of the year.
When the clocks go back by an hour in the UK for daylight saving, they stay exactly where they are in our part of the world meaning that all live matches now kick off an hour later.
That’s not too bad for the early games or the traditional 3pm Saturday kick-offs but the Sunday 4pm matches start to become a bit more of a challenge to watch as it translates to a midnight kick-off for viewers in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China.
For those with work or school the next day, it is a bit of a dilemma as it means hitting the sack no earlier than 2am if you want to watch the whole game. And if last Sunday’s top-of-table clash against Man United is anything to go by, the notion of falling asleep immediately after the final whistle is rather fanciful.
Now, I’m not going to discuss the decisions made by Mr Clattenburg in Sunday’s game because (a) it would take too long and (b) it would involve language entirely inappropriate for anyone under the age of 21.
Needless to say, like many who watched the game I was appalled by some of the decisions made by the officials. Of course, there are some people who will argue their merits but since they also feel that wearing a red and black tablecloth in public is alright, their viewpoints can be completely disregarded.
So what do you do if it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re steaming over the injustices of what you have just seen but you can’t really let out your feelings at the risk of waking up everyone in your home and within a five-block radius?
Well, you can’t go to sleep because, seriously, you can’t go to sleep angry. And, unfortunately, we don’t have any local sports radio call-in shows on which to vent our thoughts.
The only sensible option for us then is to go on the internet to find out what others are thinking and to let off steam ourselves.
After a game like the one on Sunday, I prefer to steer clear of the general or open forums since the last thing I want to read is tasteless banter or the opinion of anyone who thinks that Wayne Rooney is in any way a serious candidate to win the Ballon D’or. So I went instead to my new pub – a closed Facebook forum for Chelsea fans in Singapore.
I logged on 10 minutes after the full-time whistle but the postings and discussions had already been going on well beforehand. To put it mildly, the air was blue and I don’t just mean the colour of our kit as the indignation over the injustices heaped on us during the game reached fever pitch.
Of course, there were some who questioned the impartiality of the officials or came up with wildly-concocted conspiracy theories but the thing that struck me was how passionately the various posters expressed their views and how proudly they stood up for the club in the wake of the defeat.
Many of them have been turned off by the traditional media in Singapore who tend to be partial towards the old firm of Liverpool and Manchester United in their reporting so the supporters’ club Facebook page has become their main forum for expressing their joy or outrage.
I stayed on the site for about an hour, spouting some of my rage but also sharing my positive opinion about Roberto Di Matteo who displayed the greatest dignity during the post-match interview despite still obviously seething over the events of the match.
Then I was able to go to bed, knowing that while I was still unhappy about what had transpired in the game, the sense of indignation and injustice felt by my fellow fans would only serve to deepen their support for the Blues.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a YouTube clip taken in Japan during a game involving J.League side Montedio Yamagata. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxgGrlsoMHU)
There’s no match action, just video of a large group of their fans massed in an open terrace, singing ‘Blue is the Colour’ but with “Yamagata is our name” inserted into the final line of the chorus.
The most impressive bit about the clip is the la-la-la verse when the fans wrap their arms around each other and indulge in some well-coordinated bouncing from right to left and back again.
It is fan passion at its finest and something you wish you could see at Stamford Bridge every other week (although the stewards would probably take a dim view of it and ask the fans involved to sit down pronto).
Besides making me an instant fan of Montedio, the video also got me to thinking about how well the song has travelled over the years, crossing language boundaries and becoming one of the most memorable and iconic football songs around.
Of course, ‘Blue is the Colour’ has been and will always be associated, first and foremost, with Chelsea Football Club. After all, it has been our anthem for the past 40 years since the likes of Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris and Peter Osgood were herded into a studio to record it before the 1972 League Cup final against Stoke City. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-C9hr0vnWQ&feature=related)
The match itself has largely been forgotten by Blues fans since we lost 2-1 but the song hit No.5 in the charts and has endured as a club staple through the years, outlasting any of the attempts to supplant it during the Ken Bates era.
And it’s not only a favourite of Chelsea and Yamagata fans (or any team in blue, for that matter). It is also been adapted by the Vancouver Whitecaps to ‘White is the Colour’ while fans of the Singapore national team can also be heard singing ‘Red is the Colour’.
And you won’t only hear it at association football matches but in other codes of the game as well. I would, in fact, recommend a listen to ‘Green is the Colour’ by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League side (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2jkaUiSgQw) if only to discover how they managed to handle the somewhat tricky line “Sasketchewan Roughriders is our name”.
So what is it that makes ‘Blue is the Colour’ so popular and enduring?
Well, it has a catchy tune and it’s easy to sing.
It also has a positive lyric devoid of nastiness and obscenity which means that parents can pass it on to their children safe in the knowledge that they are not being a corrupting influence. (The same can’t be said of ‘Carefree’ and ‘Celery’ but we’ll let the kids discover that on their own later in life.)
My five-year-old son is prone to singing it out loud every now and then, whatever the occasion, while my two-year-old girl has also got the tune mastered, if not the actual words (“Football is my name,” she sings).
Best of all for Chelsea fans, it makes our club stand out as originals.
While every other team seems to have adapted a popular song for their anthem – Liverpool have ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Man City have ‘Blue Moon’, and Spurs, Man U et al use versions of the very unoriginal ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ – we have an original tune that we can truly call our own.
So sing along with me…
Blue is the colour,
Football is the game,
We are all together,
And winning is our aim,
So cheer us on through the sun and rain,
Cos’ Chelsea, Chelsea is our name.
As a Chelsea fan in Singapore, I guess I should be thankful to our cable TV providers and the UEFA club competitions rights holders here for their failure so far to hammer out a deal for the 2012-13 season.
Thanks to them, Blues supporters here were left high and dry two weeks ago when none of our local telcos were able to broadcast the Super Cup.