by Richard DJJ Bowdery.
Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris – along with Tommy Smith, Nobby Stiles, Peter Storey and Norman Hunter, to name but five – belonged to an exclusive club of football’s hard men back in the 60’s and 70’s. Their fearsome reputation for snuffing out the opposition often had the desired effect before the game had even started.
And they all had their ‘tricks of the trade’. One of Ron’s came courtesy of Tommy Docherty who gave him an effective tip on man-marking. “He told me to ‘larrup’ somebody in the first few minutes, and after that just to stay behind them and cough every now and then, to show them I was not too far away.”
Aged just 17, Harris made his first-team debut in in a 1-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday in February 1962. For the next 18 years he was ever present racking up a club record 795 appearances for the club.
His career highlights during that time included:
• Winning the League Cup in 1965 beating Leicester City in the Final
• Becoming the first Chelsea captain to lift the FA Cup after defeating Leeds United in a replay at Old Trafford
• Being the first Chelsea captain to lift a major European trophy after beating Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup in 1971.
Like Tommy Smith for Liverpool, Harris was a rock in Chelsea’s defence, two footed and with an ability to play in either full back position.
In 1980, as he approached the twilight of his career, Harris left Stamford Bridge to join Brentford as player-coach. Then in 1984 he was appointed player/manager at Aldershot Town following a boardroom takeover which saw the departure of the then manager, Len Walker. But when former chairman Reg Driver returned to the club he reappointed Walker and Harris hung up his boots for the last time.
No rest for the Chopper
The most he ever earned in a week whilst playing for Chelsea was £295: chicken feed compared to today’s stars who can earn in excess of £50,000. So to keep the home fires burning Harris forged a new career in the property market. And by all accounts, ‘the boy did good.’
Today Ron Harris shares his memories from his playing days as an after-dinner speaker. He recalls 18 years at the top of his profession – going toe to toe with the likes of Dennis Law, Jimmy Greaves, George Best and the Leeds United eleven – all of which has given him a wealth of stories to regale audiences with.
Once such story concerns the 1970 Cup Final replay and Leeds winger Eddie Gray. He said: “Gray had given Dave Webb a real chasing at Wembley. So for the replay, we swapped flanks and I took Gray.” The Chelsea manager, Dave Sexton, had a word with Harris before the game and said, “If you get half a chance to rough Gray up a little, take it.” Ron took the manager at his word. Eight minutes into the game he ‘tackled’ Gray. Harris recalled: “I thought that was nice of me to give him eight minutes.”
But it isn’t only after dinner speaking that takes up his time. He is also heavily involved with the Legends Tours at Chelsea FC. Here a twinge of bitterness enters his voice. For a long time after he’d packed up playing it seemed that he wasn’t really welcome back at his old club. Perhaps that was because of criticism Harris had voiced about the club’s leadership. Under Roman Abramovich all that changed.
Now he is one of the former players who gives guided tours to the many people who sign up for a walk around this historic footballing attraction. And to recognize his great service to the Blues, in May 2011 he was given Special Recognition Award. Upon receiving the award, presented by former teammate John Dempsey, he said: “I’ve been in the game a long, long time and I’m very, very proud [to receive this award].” He even has a suite at the ground named after him, without the ‘chopper’ bit.
Chelsea aren’t the only club he supports. He is also patron of Aylesford Football Club based in Kent. They have youth teams, ladies teams and a senior men’s side who ply their trade in the local leagues.
Since 2009 he has regularly given time and support to the Duke of Edinburgh Award. His guest appearances at the Awards fundraising evenings are, unsurprisingly, called Chopper Nights.
He has also supported other charitable events including Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, which grants the wishes of children battling life-threatening conditions, and the Chelsea Pensioners. It seems the hard man of Chelsea does have a soft side.
In 2004 Ron’s autobiography ‘Chopper: A Chelsea Legend’ was published. Co-written with Kevin Nash it recalls a time that would seem alien to todays ‘pampered’ stars. And he is as fearsome in print as he was on the pitch.
The Infamous Nickname
Everybody assumes the nickname is to do with his tough tackling. But Bobby FC has uncovered another explanation. Harris says the nickname has done him proud. And he adds: “…the ladies like it. That’s the first thing they say; ‘Why did they call you Chopper?’”
With a twinkle in his eye he says nothing, just smiles.