Peter Bonetti, goalkeeper who played 729 games for Chelsea, dies at the age of 78 


Former Chelsea and England goalkeeper Peter Bonetti has died at the age of 78 following a long battle with Alzheimer’s – with no suggestion of a link to coronavirus.

Nicknamed ‘The Cat’ for his lightning reflexes, Bonetti is a club legend at Stamford Bridge after playing 729 games for Chelsea – making him their second-highest appearance maker of all-time.

He also played seven times for England and was part of the 1966 World Cup-winning squad as back-up to Gordon Banks.

Legendary Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who made 729 appearances for the club and also played for England, has died at the age of 78 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s

Bonetti, nicknamed 'The Cat' during his long career, makes a flying save in Chelsea colours

Bonetti, nicknamed ‘The Cat’ during his long career, makes a flying save in Chelsea colours

Bonetti waves to the crowd at Stamford Bridge during a visit for a Chelsea match in 2011

Bonetti waves to the crowd at Stamford Bridge during a visit for a Chelsea match in 2011

Chelsea confirmed the sad news of Bonetti's passing on their Twitter account on Sunday

Chelsea confirmed the sad news of Bonetti’s passing on their Twitter account on Sunday

The official England Twitter account also posted a tribute to the 1966 World Cup winner

The official England Twitter account also posted a tribute to the 1966 World Cup winner

In a club career that spanned almost two decades at Chelsea across two spells, Bonetti helped the club win the League Cup in 1965, the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971.

He also helped Chelsea win promotion from the Second Division back into the top-flight in both 1963 and 1977.

Bonetti played briefly in the United States with St Louis Stars before rounding off his career at Dundee United and Woking.

A Chelsea statement said: ‘Chelsea Football Club is hugely saddened to announce the passing today of one of our indisputably all-time great players, Peter Bonetti.

‘Our former goalkeeper had been suffering from long-term illness. All at Chelsea wish to send our heartfelt and deepest condolences to Peter’s family and friends.’

The club’s tribute to him concluded: ‘Peter Bonetti’s position in the pantheon of Chelsea footballing gods is unassailable. 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.’ 

Bonetti was one of the finest goalkeepers of the 1960s and remains a Chelsea club legend

Bonetti was one of the finest goalkeepers of the 1960s and remains a Chelsea club legend

Bonetti beats John Radford to the ball during a Chelsea match against Arsenal in the 1960s

Bonetti beats John Radford to the ball during a Chelsea match against Arsenal in the 1960s

Bonetti watches the flight of the ball anxiously after making a save during the 1970 Cup final

Bonetti watches the flight of the ball anxiously after making a save during the 1970 Cup final

A standing ovation for Bonetti at his testimonial against Man United in September 1979

A standing ovation for Bonetti at his testimonial against Man United in September 1979

Career stats 

Chelsea 1960-1974; 1975-1979

729 appearances

208 clean sheets

Second Division promotion 1962-63, 1976-77

League Cup 1964-65

FA Cup 1969-1970

European Cup Winners’ Cup 1971

England 1966-1970

7 caps

World Cup winner 1966

Bonetti made his debut for Chelsea in March 1960 at the age of just 18, an indication of his youth coming from the fact he helped the club lift the FA Youth Cup a few weeks later.

But from the following season, he was Chelsea’s No 1 for pretty much the entirety of the next two decades.

That was already some journey from the time his mother wrote to Chelsea asking for a trial when he was a schoolboy.  

Relegation from the First Division in 1962 allowed Chelsea boss Tommy Doherty to rebuild as a talented young side containing the likes of Bobby Tambling, Terry Venables and John Hollins.

Once they returned to the top-flight after just one season, Chelsea were able to challenge for silverware and won the 1965 League Cup with a 3-2 aggregate victory over Leicester City.

The following season, the Blues reached the semi-finals of the Fairs Cup, the forerunner of the UEFA Cup, defeating Roma and AC Milan before losing to Barcelona in the semi-finals.

Chelsea reached the final of the FA Cup in 1967, but lost to Tottenham, but atoned in 1970 when Bonetti made several important saves in the first match at Wembley.

He suffered a knee injury early in the replay at Old Trafford, effectively playing the game on one leg, but made several crucial saves as Chelsea won 2-1 in extra time as an astonishing 28 million watched on television.

Bonetti (centre) and team-mates Tommy Baldwin (left), John Hollins (second left), David Webb (second right) and Peter Osgood (right) celebrate Chelsea's 1970 FA Cup triumph

Bonetti (centre) and team-mates Tommy Baldwin (left), John Hollins (second left), David Webb (second right) and Peter Osgood (right) celebrate Chelsea’s 1970 FA Cup triumph

The legendary goalkeeper is paraded at Stamford Bridge during a 2014 match with PSG

The legendary goalkeeper is paraded at Stamford Bridge during a 2014 match with PSG

Bonetti didn't receive a World Cup winners' medal in 1966 but this was rectified in 2009 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented him with it at Downing Street

Bonetti didn’t receive a World Cup winners’ medal in 1966 but this was rectified in 2009 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented him with it at Downing Street

A dejected Bonetti walks off the field after England were beaten by West Germany in 1970

A dejected Bonetti walks off the field after England were beaten by West Germany in 1970

Chelsea all-time appearance makers 

795 games – Ron Harris (1961-1980)

729 – Peter Bonetti (1959-1979)

717 – John Terry (1998-2017)

648 – Frank Lampard (2001-2014)

592 – John Hollins (1963-1975 and 1983-1984)

A years later and Chelsea triumphed in Europe, beating Real Madrid 2-1 in the replayed final of the Cup Winners’ Cup in Athens.

After a brief spell in North America in 1975, Bonetti returned to Chelsea and was first choice for another three seasons as they returned to the top division.

His final tally of 729 appearances is second in Chelsea’s all-time list to Ron Harris and included 208 clean sheets.

Bonetti would have played more often for England if not for competitions from first Ron Springett, then Banks and later Peter Shilton.

He didn’t play at the 1966 World Cup though received a medal many years later but was drafted in for the 1970 quarter-final against West Germany in Mexico. England relinquished a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 and Bonetti was one of the scapegoats. 

Former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted his tributes to the keeper known as 'The Cat'

Former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted his tributes to the keeper known as ‘The Cat’

Manchester City tweeted a tribute to their former goalkeeping coach following his death

Manchester City tweeted a tribute to their former goalkeeping coach following his death

Ex-goalkeeper Neville Southall described his former mentor Bonetti as a 'fantastic gentleman'

Ex-goalkeeper Neville Southall described his former mentor Bonetti as a ‘fantastic gentleman’

Joey Barton, who played for Man City when Bonetti was a coach there, paid his respects

Joey Barton, who played for Man City when Bonetti was a coach there, paid his respects 

 

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