Bobby Tambling

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.



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