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Chelsea icon John Hollins 2013

Photo: Nick Potts / AP

Nowadays he would be famous everywhere. He would be on a par with Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry, all those names that are carried out of the Premier League into the world and that are just as familiar in Asia as they are in America and Africa.

But John Hollins played at a time when the Premier League was still called the Football League, when there were no live streams of all the games that are already catapulting 18-year-olds into the status of global superstars. A time when the English professionals were only noticed in Germany when they showed up in the European Cup in this country.

Only Shilton more often on the pitch

On the island, however, every football fan knows John Hollins, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76. No other outfield player has played as many games in the top flight as he has, no Ryan Giggs, no Bobby Charlton. 734 games, only the eternal goalkeeper Peter Shilton was on the pitch more often than Hollins.

In 15, at the age of 1961, he joined the youth department of Chelsea FC, the Beatles were still unknown at that time and had their first appearances at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England was a post-war country.

At the age of 17, Hollins was already in the first team, he made his first competitive game for the Blues in 1963 in the League Cup against Swindon, and from then on he was an integral part of Chelsea FC. When he ended his career, of course also at Chelsea, it had become 1984, the world was a different place. In England, Margaret Thatcher ruled. The Beatles haven't been around for 14 years.

The first great period of the blues

He made an incredible 465 league appearances for Chelsea alone, and they loved the midfielder at Stanford Bridge. It almost goes without saying that he led the Blues as captain at some point.

It is often forgotten that Chelsea FC was also a top team in the past, in the time before Russian money, in the time before the Premier League became Roman Abramovich's million-dollar game. At the end of the sixties, beginning of the seventies, that was not only the era of Swinging London, but also Chelsea FC played swing in London.

The club won the League Cup in 1965, the FA Cup in 1970, Chelsea was in the top five in the First Division. With the elegant »King of Stamford Bridge« Peter Osgood, also long since deceased, he collapsed dead at his uncle's funeral in 2006. There were also Alan Hudson and Charlie Cooke in the Blues. Players who could easily fill every spotlight.

Endurance runner in midfield

But they would have been nothing without the endurance runner John Hollins in midfield, the darling of the crowd, the one who was always there. In eleven seasons he has missed only 29 games, between 1969 and 1975 he was on the field in four of the five seasons in every game. Chelsea FC without him was unimaginable at that time.

It is part of his history that his fame was confined to the island. The international career did not go beyond the beginning, he was part of the provisional squad of coach Sir Alf Ramsey in the two legendary World Cup years 1966 and 1970, but in both cases he was still removed from the final World Cup line-up. So it remained for him with a sparse international match in 1967 against Spain.

Injured in European Cup victory

And the greatest club success of that time, the European Cup Winners' Cup victory over Real Madrid in 1971, he had to watch from the outside due to injury. Hollins was always fit, only before Chelsea's greatest moment of the time, his body had let him down. The Blues triumphed in Piraeus in the replay, it would take 27 years for the club to achieve such success again on the European stage.

"He was a hero to the fans, he brought the team and Stamford Bridge to the top with his style, he was the heart of one of the greatest Chelsea teams ever."

Chelsea club director Lord Finkelstein on John Hollins

"Blue is the Colour" was the name of the song that Hollins and his teammates subsequently recorded in 1972 and which climbed to number five in the British charts. Chelsea FC was suddenly hip, film stars like Raquel Welsh or Steve McQueen appeared as fans at Stamford Bridge.

Unlucky as a coach

The high did not last long, the club would get into financial turbulence, the stars left, Hollins also said goodbye in 1975 and moved to Queens Park Rangers, where his old Chelsea coach Dave Sexton had landed in the meantime: another 151 league games, then 127 for Arsenal FC - before he returned there again in 1983 for one last season, where he has long since become an icon: He treated himself to his last year in the First Division once again at Chelsea.

As a coach he was unlucky afterwards, he has that in common with so many great players who were brilliant on the field but not on the sidelines. Frank Lampard, who feels like his Chelsea successor in modern football, is just experiencing this. In 1988, Hollins was sacked by Chelsea, and he had little fortune as head coach of Queens Park Rangers and Swansea.

The names of the clubs he then managed became less and less glamorous over time: AFC Rochdale, Stockport County, Crawley Town, Weymouth FC. He was more in demand at the BBC, for which he was available as an expert.

He had passed on his football expertise in the family. Son Chris is a well-known sports reporter in England, and not only that: winner of the seventh season of Strictly come Dancing, the English model of the TV show Let's Dance.

"He was a hero to the fans, he brought the team and Stamford Bridge to the top with his style, he was the heart of one of the greatest Chelsea teams ever," Chelsea club director Lord Finkelstein said after the deceased.

The Blues have lost one of their greats. Football skies are a bit bluer now.