Picking a Chelsea Cult Heroes Starting XI

Rowanne Westhenry@@agirlintheshedFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2013

Every club has its own culture, made up of history and heroes. Players are remembered because of the silverware and success that they helped to bring, but those legacies will be fleeting without the backing of the fans.

True club heroes embody the spirit that drew the fans to that particular football club. They show dedication to the club and its fans, both on and off the pitch, and their legend spans generations.

Chelsea have had many such players over their 108-year history, but this starting 11 consists of the stars whose contribution to the club will be remembered forever.

Goalkeeper: Peter Bonetti

Peter "The Cat" Bonetti was Chelsea's man between the sticks during the 1960s and much of the '70s. His feline reflexes helped him keep 208 clean sheets in 729 appearances, and his one-armed throw was as powerful as his drop-kick clearance.

After a 15-year spell at the club, he left to find his fortune in the USA. It didn't work out, and he returned to Stamford Bridge to lead Chelsea back to the First Division.

Since his retirement, he has remained involved with the club, leading the "Legends" stadium tour amongst other activities, and he also has a hospitality suite named after him. He is fondly remembered not just for his incredible record in goal, but for the way he continues to carry Chelsea FC in his heart.

Defence: Ron "Chopper" Harris, John Terry, Steve Clarke

John Terry's legacy is yet to be confirmed, but as the club's most successful captain, his place in Chelsea folklore is certain. He has won everything there is to win with the club and has put his own safety on the line countless times to lead the club to victory.

Terry is currently working towards his FA Coaching badges in order to continue leading the club after he has hung up his boots. His banner at Stamford Bridge says it all—Captain, Leader, Legend.

Ron 'Chopper' Harris was the John Terry of his day. He holds the all-time appearance record, having turned out 795 times in 19 years for the Blues, a record that is likely to stand for many years to come.

Known for his no-nonsense tackling and leadership, Chopper was the original Chelsea hard-man. Like Bonetti, he makes regular appearances at Stamford Bridge, leading "Legends" tours and hosting guests in the hospitality suite named after him.

Steve Clarke's playing career at Chelsea spanned 11 years. During that time, he helped to bring silverware back to Stamford Bridge for the first time in 20 years, winning the 1998 European Cup Winners' Cup in his last game for the club.

He then moved into coaching, working under former Blue Ruud Gullit before returning to Chelsea and taking charge of the youth team. Jose Mourinho then promoted him to Assistant First-Team Coach in 2004. He remained in his post for four years before joining Gianfranco Zola at West Ham United.

Currently tutoring Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku at West Bromwich Albion, Clarke is always given a warm welcome when he returns to West London, having been voted the fans' Player of the Year back in 1994.

Midfield: Roberto Di Matteo, Pat Nevin, Dennis Wise, Frank Lampard, Ray Wilkins.

Roberto Di Matteo was part of the foreign revolution at Chelsea in the 1990s. His legendary 43-second goal in the 1997 FA Cup Final helped secure Chelsea's first trophy for 26 years and sealed his place in Chelsea history.

The career-ending injury that he suffered in 2000 shocked the supporters, as Di Matteo had become a firm fan favourite throughout his four years as a player. However, his involvement with the club was not over, and he returned to Stamford Bridge as Andre Villas-Boas' assistant in 2011.

When the Portuguese was sacked, Di Matteo entered into the breach, and his passion helped inspire a dramatic turnaround to a season which ultimately brought the Champions League trophy to London for the first time.

Robbie lifted the club and brought silverware as both a player and a manager, and his contribution will never be forgotten by the fans.

"Wee" Pat Nevin spent five years at Chelsea and won the praise of teammates and supporters for the style and skill that he displayed every match. Like current squad member Juan Mata, Wee Pat was voted as the supporters' Player of the Year in his debut season, and despite the brevity of his time at the club, he is still well respected at Chelsea. Wee writes a blog for the official Chelsea website and regularly features on Chelsea TV.

Dennis Wise was a typical Chelsea captain. Despite his small stature, he was one of a new generation of hard men in the 1990s and was frequently compared to Vinnie Jones.

His disciplinary record reflected this, but his name will forever be sung at Stamford Bridge, as he scored a spectacular goal at the San Siro in 1999. He was the club's most successful captain before John Terry and helped revitalise a generation at Chelsea FC.

Ray Wilkins began his career at Chelsea in the 1970s and spent four years captaining the club. He was a holding midfielder who very rarely took the ball forward, but his solid reliability gave rise to the nickname "Butch."

His time as a Chelsea player was cut short as the club's dire finances meant that a bid of £800,000 by Manchester United in 1979 could not be turned down, but there was never any doubt from the supporters that Butch was a Blue through and through.

After a short spell as Gianluca Vialli's assistant in 2000, Wilkins returned to his boyhood club in 2008 and became a key member of the coaching team. Carlo Ancelotti said in 2011 that Chelsea would not have been able to win anything without Wilkins, who by then had been relieved of his duties. However, he is still a vocal supporter of the club and backed the fans' displeasure with Rafa Benitez's appointment.

Frank Lampard may have started his career at West Ham, but the 11 years he has spent at Chelsea have turned his blood blue.

Super Frank has never been the most naturally gifted footballer, but his continuing hard work and dedication have seen him become the club's record goalscorer, with 203 goals from midfield. He loves the club as much as the fans, and his winning attitude and professionalism have ensured that his impact on the club will last forever.

Strikers: Peter Osgood, Gianfranco Zola

Peter Osgood is known as "The King of Stamford Bridge." The last player to score in every round of the FA Cup back in 1970, Ossie was the original Chelsea playboy. When he clashed with manager Dave Sexton over his off-field antics, the Blues supporters picketed the club to keep their star striker.

Osgood scored 150 goals in 380 appearances for the Blues and won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Cup Winner's Cup in a period of significant on-field success for the club. He was banned from Stamford Bridge in the 1990s after criticising then-chairman Ken Bates, but he retook his position as a match-day hospitality host in 2003.

Ossie tragically died of a heart attack in 2006 at the age of 59. His ashes are buried under the penalty spot at the Shed End of Stamford Bridge, and his statue stands outside the West Stand as a fitting memorial to his legendary status.

Gianfranco Zola was voted as the club's greatest ever player following his 2003 departure, receiving a whopping 60 percent of the online vote. Having joined the club in 1995, Zola's sublime skills and carefree attitude garnered instant respect from fans of all clubs, and he was key to Chelsea's resurgence as a trophy winning team.

He scored the winner in the 1998 Cup Winners' Cup Final and collected two FA Cup winners medals as well as a League Cup and UEFA Super Cup. Described as a "clever little so-and-so" by Sir Alex Ferguson, Zola ended his Chelsea career in 2003 despite attempts by new owner Roman Abramovich to keep him at the club.

Since retiring as a player, Zola has enjoyed some success as a manager and is currently in charge of Watford FC, where he is nurturing Chelsea's on-loan youngster Nathan Chalobah.

He holds the Blues close to his heart and has expressed a desire to manage the club one day. If it could be guaranteed that he would be treated with the same level of respect he commanded as a player, the fans would welcome their favourite back with arms wide open.

There are at least two contenders for each position, so if I've left your favourite on the bench, let me know in the comments or on Twitter @agirlintheshed


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