In this section I’ll help you learn some of Chelsea’s lesser known players who were fan favourites, great servants or just special characters at the club.
1. Kevin Hitchcock – Goalkeeper, penalty king.
Our Kev was at Chelsea for thirteen years and only got himself 96 appearances. This wasn’t because of a lack of ability. He first caught Chelsea’s eye when he saved a Kerry Dixon penalty during a league cup match whilst playing for Huddersfield and we signed him 18 months later following a terrible run of form that cost John Hollins his place in the Chelsea hot seat.
He played 11 games and saved back to back penalties against Wimbledon and Liverpool, earning us a point from each game, before succumbing to a knee injury and losing his place in the side as Bobby Campbell didn’t fancy our other keeper, Roger Freestone, much and broke Chelsea’s transfer record by picking up Dave Beasant from Newcastle.
Beasant was a better ‘keeper, but wasn’t as consistent as Hitchcock so while it took him two years to get back into the side, when he did play he played well, saving penalties against West Ham’s prolific striker Tony Cottee and Arsenal’s Lee Dixon.
In ’95 Beasant left and Russian ‘keeper Dimitri Kharine was brought in and it took him a while to settle in and learn the game, but was generally reliable. Kharine gave up a last minute clanger in the 3rd round of the FA Cup against Newcastle that forced a replay and cost him his spot between the sticks… Cue Mr. Hitchcock who, you guessed it, saved two more penalties in a cup shoot out in the replay which we won. Kevin got 19 consecutive games in before Kharine got the number 1 spot back.
Kharine ruptured a knee ligament in September of ’96 and Ruud Gullit brought in Norwegian Frode Grodas on loan who took up the mantle after Hitchcock had a 2 month spell in goal until a rare blunder against Spurs (just after Mathhew Harding died) cost him his place and Grodas played for the rest of the season barring a 20 minute sub appearance against Everton in the last league game of the season.
Good news – Kevin was on the bench for the ’97 FA Cup final, the ’98 League Cup final and the European Cup Winner’s Cup final. And we won all of those! So although he didn’t play in those games he has three medals.
More important than his time on the pitch was his time spent with the squad off of it. Kevin was well liked by the three revolutions of players, especially Eddie Niedzwiecki and Mark Hughes and he also helped Gianfranco Zola, RdM and Luca Vialli adjust and adapt to the English lifestyle and moulded himself as a back up keeper come coach.
When he retired from the game at the end of the 2003 season he went into coaching and joined Luca Vialli at Watford before going on to work with Mark hughes at Fulham, Man City and now QPR.
So he averaged less than ten games a season for Chelsea, but during the 90’s revolution he was an instrumental piece of the Chelsea puzzle, helping to develop youth players, acclimatise foreign players and was Chelsea’s best golfer, to boot.
I watched him play six times, saw him save three penalties, keep three clean sheets and he’ll always be a favourite to those who saw him wear royal blue.