John Terry: Remembering the Captain, Leader, Legend's First Year as a Professional

Nischal Schwager-Patel
Chelsea's John Terry with the Champions League trophy.
Chelsea's John Terry with the Champions League trophy. / ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

When John Terry departed Chelsea in 2017, it brought an end to a wonderful playing career. He left to a standing ovation in his 717th and final game in blue, concluding the afternoon by lifting the Blues’ fifth Premier League trophy at Stamford Bridge.

While he divides opinion within the wider game, his status in west London is untainted. Terry is one of the club’s greatest ever players, making more appearances than anyone in the modern era and sitting third in the all-time list, only behind fellow legends Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti.

Terry will always be celebrated for what he achieved at Chelsea, distinguished as the most successful player in the club’s history. Five Premier Leagues, five FA Cups and three League Cups to name a few, not to mention the Champions League triumph in 2012.

But what makes his feats even more special is the fact that, as Blues fans will remind you, he is one of their own.

Terry with the Premier League trophy at Stamford Bridge in 2017.
Terry with the Premier League trophy at Stamford Bridge in 2017. / Michael Regan/Getty Images

Terry joined Chelsea as a youth player in 1995, arriving as a 14-year-old from rivals West Ham. He almost didn't get his chance at the club though, amid doubts over whether he would get a youth team scholarship. It fell to one make-or-break game in his youth career, where it all came down to a single opportunity to prove himself.

Speaking to The Footballer’s Guide to Football podcast, Terry said: “It was the last game of the season – Chelsea reserves away at Luton. I wasn’t even playing in the youth team, but I think because of the quality I had shown in previous years, they wanted to give me one last roll of the dice.

“I was on the bench and got thrown on when we were 5-0 down. At the time I was thinking it was probably my last chance. I played centre-midfield and scored two goals within about 10 minutes. Everything seemed to click for me and from there really, I ended up getting a contract. The fact Chelsea showed a little bit of faith in me will stick with me forever actually.”

That faith was all Terry needed, and it remains one of the best opportunities Chelsea ever provided. It was the first big step he needed to take, and it was not long before he made his senior debut.

Chelsea were in control of their League Cup tie against Aston Villa in October 1998, cruising into the fourth round. The Blues had just made it 4-1 at the Bridge, as Gianluca Vialli completed his hat-trick late on. With four minutes left on the clock, Dan Petrescu made way for a fresh faced 17-year-old defender - a certain Terry.

Terry was only on the pitch for a matter of minutes, but it was a momentous moment in his Chelsea career. From being on the verge of being released to playing at Stamford Bridge, it was a wonderful achievement to earn his first appearance in royal blue.

The defender would have to wait two months for his next game, where he made his Premier League debut in a 2-0 Boxing Day win against Southampton. It was another appearance off the bench for the youngster, this time replacing goalscorer Gus Poyet for the final quarter of the game.

Terry’s full Chelsea debut came in the Cup Winners’ Cup, playing the whole 90 minutes against Norwegian side Vålerenga. The Blues had won the first leg 3-0 in west London, and completed a 6-2 aggregate win over in Oslo. He would make his fourth and final appearance on the final day of the season, in a 2-1 win over Derby.

For a first season in professional football, Terry had a remarkable record. He won all four of the games he featured in, albeit in 144 minutes on the pitch. He would have to wait until the new millennium to become a Chelsea regular, and the rest is history.

Terry’s first year was a sign of what was to come, despite featuring in just 7.5% of Chelsea’s games – but when you realise that he may not have even continued as a youth player, seeing his Blues career in jeopardy, it is remarkable that he went on to progress onto the first team.

Terry remains one of the greatest players to ever represent Chelsea, something proven 19 years and 15 trophies later. Who could have known that, on an autumn day in 1998, we would get our first glimpse of the club’s greatest ever defender?

A captain, leader and legend, in every sense.

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