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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear

Dickie excels as Robins pay tribute to one of their own - who also felt like one of Chelsea's own

In a time, long, long ago – long before those dodgy roubles started rolling into Stamford Bridge – even longer than before the days when famous foreign stars like Gianluca Viallli and Ruud Gullit first pitched up, Blues fans were more than happy to revel in homespun stars.

The boys next door who gave their all for the shirt and made up for limitations by giving their all.

At Ashton Gate on the opening weekend of the new football season, Bristol City fans came to pay homage to one such player, who managed to endear himself to supporters of a trio of clubs – the other being Leicester City.

It would be stretching it a little to say striker Chris Garland was a player whose name will reverberate through the ages in west London, but fans of a certain age will no doubt think fondly of the blond bombshell, who took his ‘second club’ to his heart and whose recent passing prompted some warm words about his impact at the club during four seasons at the Bridge.

He came to play alongside Peter Osgood, Tommy Baldwin and Ian Hutchinson and claimed an assist for Ossie on his debut at home to Coventry City.

Signed by Dave Sexton in 1971 for the then princely sum of £100,000, Garland scored 31 goals in 114 appearances and played in the 1972 League Cup final that Chelsea lost to Stoke City.

Garland scored twice against Spurs in the semi-final – in the home and away legs – and in the final itself at Wembley was denied a stoppage time equaliser by England World Cup hero Gordon Banks. It left him in tears.

Chelsea director Dan Finkelstein said: “When we signed Chris Garland, it was a big moment for me as a fan. He will always stand for me as a representative of his era, and he didn’t disappoint. What a player.”

In short, Garland was a bit more than just a footnote and top scored in the 1972/73 season along with Osgood.

But all that is nothing compared to his legendary status at his boyhood club. He was the lad who literally lived across the road.

The flats behind the Dolman Stand are the ones famously used in the title credits of Only Fools and Horses. They also offered a clear view of the ground for Garland before that stand was completed.

He was truly a “One of our own” if ever there was one.

He made an emotional return to the Robins in 1976 to help keep them up in the top-flight – his double to seal a 2-1 win over champions Liverpool the stuff of legend as it came just a week before the Reds became only the second English club to be crowned European champions.

When the club hit the skids following three relegations in three years and bankruptcy loomed, he became one of the eight players who tore up their contracts to keep the club afloat.

Having revealed he had Parkinson’s Disease in the early 90s, the striker endured a difficult later life, but one thing he and his family could always be certain of was his position as one of the most-loved players to wear the City shirt.

The day of tributes to Garland included a pre-match montage on the big screens, black armbands, and a minute’s applause before kick-off with his family in attendance. There was also a ninth minute ripple of appreciation for the former number nine.

The hosts badly wanted to lay on a fitting tribute but failed to capitalise on a goal at the start of the second half from Sam Bell, with Will Keane replying for Preston North End in Saturday’s curtain raiser.

But there was at least the consolation for home fans of seeing a fine debut from the imposing Rob Dickie at the heart of the defence.

On a day when QPR were shipping goals aplenty at Vicarage Road, the man who defected from Loftus Road in the summer hardly put a foot wrong.

He was in commanding form – giving nothing away in the air and precious little on the ground.

His excellence will be a painful bulletin from the West Country for Rangers fans to digest.


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