Foot in both camps: Colin Pates

Colin Pates was the first-ever Chelsea player to lift a trophy at Wembley and made 346 appearances for the club. Having also spent part of his career at Arsenal, we caught up with our former defender ahead of the weekend’s stand-out fixture…


Every player, for obvious reasons, will always remember their debut, but in the case of Colin Pates his first game for Chelsea is one he would find difficult to forget even if he wanted to.

He does not, of course. The chance to pull on the blue shirt for the first time is what he had been waiting for as he worked his way up through the ranks, and it came in an away game against Leyton Orient in 1979.

It was a remarkable introduction for Pates, as the Blues recorded a 7-3 victory at Brisbane Road, and he recalls how he was told he would be starting.

‘I just remember Geoff Hurst, who was our manager at the time, coming up to me on the Friday and telling me that we had a few injuries so I was playing,’ Pates tells the official Chelsea website. ‘He literally just said: “Tomorrow you play,” and that was it. Micky Droy was injured but he was brilliant with me, he gave me loads of advice and came to the game to support me.

‘It certainly wasn’t a good advertisement for defenders but as long as you come away with the win the fans are happy. It’s one of those days where you’re so fired up it just goes so quickly. You come off the pitch at the end and have no recollection of what happened really. I was up against some good, experienced pros and it was quite daunting, but I really enjoyed it.’

Pates, a confident and assured defender who was technically excellent and could also play in midfield, never really looked back after being handed his debut and he quickly became an important member of the team.

He remembers his first goal for the club, which came in a home match against Charlton Athletic, the team he would eventually join when he departed Stamford Bridge in 1988.

‘Everyone says it was a screamer,’ he laughs. ‘Clive Walker was trying to build up some pass-and-move in and around the box, the ball came to me off a defender and I just thought I’d hit it. To be honest, I couldn’t have hit it any better and it flew in. I didn’t get many goals so I’m not known for my celebrations.

‘Even now, the kids I coach always get it up on YouTube and show me. It was nominated for Goal of the Season, I’m not sure where it came but that was nice.’

With the team narrowly avoiding relegation to the old Third Division in 1983, a number of players were moved on as manager John Neal reshaped the playing squad.

So impressed had Neal been with Pates’s performances and attitude during a testing campaign, he handed him the captain’s armband for the start of the following season. It was an inspired move as the player, despite his tender years, thrived. With some quality additions, the team as a whole flourished and we secured promotion back to the top flight by finishing as champions.

‘I was just coming up to 22 when John made me captain. I think he wanted someone who had come through the ranks and knew the club,' he said. 'I was fortunate enough to be one of the few players – along with the likes of John Bumstead – who he kept on from before.

‘We went out and bought the Dixons, Speedies and Nevins without really knowing how good they would go on to become. They were relatively unknown when they arrived but within a few years they were all legends. Dixon and Speedie were probably the best in the country at that time.

‘The season we won the Second Division, I just remember thinking we couldn’t lose a match. We were 3-0 down at Cardiff, I looked around the team and I just knew we’d be okay. You see Nevin out wide and Dixon and Speedie up front and you know you have a chance. We ended up drawing 3-3 and I knew we’d win the league from that point. We beat Derby 5-0 in our opening game and the excitement in the ground was unbelievable. The highlights from that season for me were beating Leeds 5-0 to gain promotion and then the win at Grimsby when we won the league.

‘I loved John Neal, he was a man of few words but when he said something you listened because it was going to be something poignant or important. He was a good man-manager and would always take care of you if you had problems and be there for a chat. You wanted to play for him.

‘With him and his assistant Ian McNeill, as well as John Hollins, their talent-spotting was unbelievable. To go and find Pat Nevin at Clyde and Kerry Dixon at Reading, relatively unknown players who went on to be unbelievable, they all have to take some credit. Nigel Spackman came in from Bournemouth and then there was Eddie Niedzwiecki, what a goalkeeper, it was amazing really.’

Pates, like any player, enjoyed being involved in the biggest games, and during his time at Chelsea there were no shortage of memorable encounters against Arsenal, our opponents at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.

Games between the two teams around that time were fairly even, as was the case on the opening day of the 1984/85 campaign, the stand-out Chelsea-Arsenal memory for Pates.

‘Everybody still talks to me about that game now,’ he says. ‘It was our first game back in the top flight and we went to Highbury. It was a really nice day, I can remember going out to warm up and it was just a sea of blue. Everywhere I looked I could see Chelsea supporters.

‘We played well, when you come up that first year you’re a bit of an unknown quantity and teams were surprised when we went at them. We had the three up front, and we were relatively solid at the back, so we were going to places and attacking. Kerry would always get you a goal when you needed one and if he was having a quiet game that’s when he was most dangerous. It was a great season for us.

‘I think I made my 250th appearance for Chelsea in a game against Arsenal at the Bridge. I can remember Theo Foley, Arsenal's assistant manager at the time, coming over to me and saying congratulations.’

Having already captained us to the Second Division title in 1984, two years’ later Pates was holding another trophy aloft, this time the Full Members’ Cup following a dramatic 5-4 win over Manchester City at Wembley.

That game took place on a Sunday and capped a brilliant weekend for Pates, who had scored our goal in a 1-0 league win at Southampton just 24 hours earlier. He made history by becoming the first-ever Chelsea player to lift a trophy at the iconic stadium.

‘The club was having such a difficult time that winning the Second Division title and the Full Members’ Cup, even though they weren’t the biggest trophies, really meant a lot to us,’ points out Pates. ‘It was a little bit of success while we were struggling. Regardless of the competition, it’s great to play at Wembley with thousands of fans screaming their heads off, and once you’re on the pitch you don’t care what cup it is, you just want to win it.

‘People always ask if I was tired from the day before and it’s funny because in the warm-up I felt a bit ropey, but once the game kicked off and the crowd started singing all that fatigue went out of the window. The adrenalin kicks in. I can’t remember ever seeing teams play twice in two days but we didn’t mind, we just wanted to play the game.’

Pates eventually left the club for Charlton in 1988 as Bobby Campbell looked to put a new-look team together, and after a couple of enjoyable years at the Valley he was brought to Arsenal by former Chelsea midfielder George Graham.

‘I was quite happy at Charlton but I think they were struggling for money at the time,’ he says. ‘I spoke to George Graham and I signed for them knowing I was going to be cover. At that time, in my opinion, they had the best back four in the world. Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn were unbelievable.

‘George said he wanted to sign me to win trophies and I did, I won two trophies with the reserve team. I played around 15 games in four years for the first team. I wasn’t starting and I didn’t really get a chance, but it seemed to be the right decision at the time.’

Pates is now back at Stamford Bridge on a matchday working in the hospitality lounges, a role he ‘absolutely loves’ as it gives him the chance to meet supporters and talk about his time at the club.

As ever, he will be there tomorrow, and while he hopes the Blues can strengthen our position at the top of the table, there is one Chelsea player in particular he will be keeping a close eye on.

‘I coached Victor Moses for about three years from the age of 14 onwards,’ he says. ‘What’s impressed me most is the way he’s adapted to the role he’s been given because there’s no way I would have had him down as a wing-back. The way he’s played this season has been superb.

‘Defensively he’s very responsible now and he’s always been great going forward. It’s fantastic to see, he’s a good lad, very quiet and modest with a great attitude.’

 

- On Sunday 12 February you can take a Stamford Bridge Legends Tour with Colin Pates and Gary Chivers. The event starts at 10.30am and includes a Q&A session, signed personalised player photo, audio guide for the Museum and guidebook.

Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.