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John Sydenham and his wife Jean, who now live in Victoria. And the cover of the WA v Chelsea match program from 1974. Photo from WA Football Hall Of Fame

Saint John recalls his Chelsea reunion

Football West News

Chelsea’s glamour friendly against Perth Glory at Optus Stadium next Monday night will be the third time the Londoners have visited WA.

The first was in May 1965, the fifth of a 10-match tour in which Chelsea beat the West Australian State team 6-1 at the WACA Ground.

The second took place nine years later at Perry Lakes and was a much closer affair with the Blues winning 1-0.

To mark their latest trip Down Under, we spoke to three figures who were involved in the State team 44 years ago, starting with John Sydenham …

For most players in the WA side of 1974, facing Chelsea was a highlight of their footballing life.

For John Sydenham it was like meeting old friends.

Unlike many of the Black Swans outfit who were very good semi-pro players, Sydenham was a cut above. A member of the England Youth team alongside the legendary Jimmy Greaves, he went on to play more than 400 times for Southampton and competed with and against all of the England squad who had won the 1966 World Cup.

He also played against the Blues on numerous occasions and at home has a picture of himself skipping past Chelsea’s feared defender Ron “Chopper” Harris when the Saints triumphed 6-2 at Stamford Bridge in 1967.

Sydenham’s good friend John Adshead, centre, coached the WA side against Chelsea. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

Yet despite his many years at the top table of the game, the match at Perry Lakes was still a thrill for the left winger.

“It was an amazing time for me actually because I had only been in Perth two weeks,” Sydenham said.

“I had signed for Floreat Athena and I think I only played one game for Athena and the next game was against Chelsea.

“I was really looking forward to coming to Australia and playing against lesser teams than I had been playing against and really to just relax and enjoy the game, and I got picked to play against Chelsea.

“I was meeting everybody for the first time. I hadn’t been playing that much before I came to Australia. I would have been mid-30s I suppose, I was fit but obviously not as fit as I was when I was playing for Southampton against teams like Chelsea in the past.

“John Adshead, who is still a good friend, was the coach and he went on to great things with New Zealand at the 1982 World Cup.

“For Chelsea, Peter Bonetti was in goal. They also had John Hollins, Ian Hutchison, a young Ray Wilkins, the big centre-half Mickey Droy. I know a few big names didn’t come but there were plenty of first-teamers.

“I think the crowd was about 20,000 and I was pretty thrilled to play for Western Australia. It was a great time and I’ve got great memories of it.”

Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea lifts the FA Cup after his side’s win over Manchester United in May. The Spaniard will be in Perth this week. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Chelsea will return to WA with a new manager in place after former Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri was appointed to replace Antonio Conte. Superstars such as David Luiz, Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso, Alvaro Morata, Davide Zappacosta and Pedro will also be present, while new Italian signing Jorginho is also set to make his debut.

Sydenham says whoever is in the line-up will have something to prove to the new boss.

“I used to enjoy playing in those games with Southampton on tour,” he said.

“Chelsea are professionals. For them it’ll be pre-season, every player who’s coming is playing for his place and to make a mark. It’s not as though they are on holiday and they are coming over for a good time. They’ll be full on,” he said.

Sydenham initially stayed just one year in WA before family reasons saw him return to the UK. But Floreat were determined to bring him back.

He added: “Although I had a two-year contract at Athena they were okay with that. I went back and then every year after that they got in touch. And, of course, I’m getting older, I’m getting 36, 37, and they are still talking about playing. In the end I came back in 1980 as player-coach with them and eventually we settled and stayed.”

Later, while living in WA, Sydenham worked for the Southampton academy which brought through the likes of Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But he tells a story of how a jewel in the St Mary’s crown was almost allowed to leave for nothing.

A young Gareth Bale playing for Southampton in 2007. Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

“When I was there, at the end of the season the academy were getting their list together of the young lads they were going to release and Gareth Bale at 15, they were looking at just letting him go.

“I was at a meeting and one of the coaches come in and said, ‘how about we push him forward a bit, he’s pretty good going forward … we haven’t really looked at that’. He was playing left-back and now and again would get forward a bit and do something a bit special. But as a left-back he was just ordinary.

“Anyway, they had one more game to play, they pushed him up into midfield and he scored three and that was it, he never looked back.”

Sydenham, now 78, moved to Mornington in Victoria with his wife Jean four years ago to be near their daughter. But whenever he returns to WA he knows where there is a warm welcome for an old football face.

“Whenever I’m in Perth we all meet up in Joondalup. It’s been going on for years. Mickey Quayle, who played for the State team against Chelsea, (former Everton captain) Mike Lyons and a few others, they still meet up every Wednesday without fail,” he said.

“And Mickey negotiated a deal, I think about 10 years ago, for $15 a head for the food and it’s still $15 a head or whatever it was. They’re too frightened to put it up I think!”