Chris Garland

Former Player Remembers: Chris Garland

During his career, England Under-23s international forward Chris Garland played over 400 games for Bristol City, Chelsea and Leicester City, scoring 87 goals.
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He was signed for Leicester City from Chelsea by Jimmy Bloomfield in March 1975, making an immediate impact by scoring eight times in his first 10 games.  

Although Chris is not in good health, he enjoys talking about his football career and in 2017, Club Historian John Hutchinson was invited to Newport to talk to Chris and his wife Ruth about his memories playing top flight football in the 1960s and 1970s. 

In a room set aside for the chat about his career, Chris was sitting with his wife Ruth. On the table was a large box of memorabilia relating to his years as a professional footballer. As we examined the items in the box, not only did they prompt the memories to come flooding back, they also provided the context for Chris’ illustrious career.

One of the first items was a framed tribute to Chris provided by his first club Bristol City. This provided a synopsis of his career. It records that he played over 400 games for Bristol City, Chelsea and Leicester City scoring 87 goals.

Together we discussed the contents of the tribute which began by recording that ‘dashing blond Bristolian’ Chris had signed professional forms for Bristol City on the month the legendary Bristol City and England forward John Atyeo had retired. It said that Chris was seen as the natural successor.

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Chris Garland

Chris played over 400 games for Chelsea, Bristol City and Leicester City.

The tribute continued: ‘Chris oozed ability. His future was vibrant with promise. Bounteously endowed with flair and stamina, he was a magnificent athlete, brilliant in the air with a powerful build that enabled him to withstand the most fearsome of challenges. Chris had charisma and the fans fell under its spell, but sheer guts played an integral part in his game.

‘He was one of the most courageous front men ever seen at Ashton Gate, throwing himself into challenges most forwards would have shunned. Indeed there are those who reckon that, at times, he is too brave for his own good. Chris was not a prolific scorer but he created so many chances that there were no complaints from his manager Alan Dicks. His potential was recognised in 1970 with England Under-23s honours’.

This set the scene. From his box of memorabilia, the ex-Leicester City striker then produced a meticulously compiled scrapbook which detailed his move from Second Division Bristol City to First Division Chelsea in August 1971.

There are several national press cuttings related to the transfer. One headline was: ‘Garland’s Dream Day: the £100.000 smile’. It was reported that 'Bristol City manager Alan Dicks motored to London this afternoon to clinch the deal with Chelsea manager Dave Sexton worth more than £100,000, the biggest deal in the history of Bristol soccer’.

In another report, Chris reflects on the prospect of playing alongside the supremely talented England international Peter Osgood. ‘It’s fantastic’, he said, ‘I am sure some of his brilliance will rub off me’.

Chris next unearthed some newspaper reports relating to his 1972 Wembley League Cup appearance against Stoke City, four months after leaving Ashton Gate. He had scored in both legs of the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur and secured his place in the Wembley side as his future Leicester City team-mate Steve Kember was cup-tied.

In the final, Chelsea outplayed Stoke City but still lost 2-1. One of the reports Chris showed me said: ‘Garland played heroically as an unselfish target man. Gordon Banks reduced Chris Garland to after-match tears with one fantastic save from him in injury time’.

Frank Worthington was a fantastic player. A genius. He used to swear a lot! He’d tell me to get out of the way!

Chris Garland

After making over one hundred appearances for Chelsea, Chris made another £100,000 move in March 1975. This was to Bloomfield’s struggling Leicester City, perilously placed in 20th place in the old First Division. Everton unsuccessfully matched Leicester City’s offer but Bloomfield was persuasive.

On the table in front of Chris was a Leicester City programme for the league match against Liverpool on 19 March, 1975. Chris had made his debut for Leicester the previous week at Coventry. Looking through it, we spotted Bloomfield’s column in which he said: ‘The arrival of Chris Garland adds another dimension to this evening’s attractive fixture against Liverpool’.

Jimmy then went on to describe the ins and outs of the transfer, which took four days, from Monday to Thursday. Terms had been agreed with Chelsea, but various factors such as Chris attending a function in Bristol meant that Jimmy and Chris weren’t able to have dinner at the Post House until the Tuesday evening, even though Chris had told Jimmy by phone he was keen to move to Leicester.

His medical took place on the Wednesday and the forms were sent to the league on the Thursday before the deadline. Chris’ impact was immediate. In the 10 games that remained that season after his transfer, Chris scored eight goals which were vital in enabling the Club to avoid relegation.

The first three of these were a hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Filbert Street against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Chris’ eyes lit up when he looked at photographs of the first two of these goals. The first was a close range effort from a corner kick, the second one was a spectacular header.

Chris also showed me pictures of his goals in a five-goal spree in less than a week when he scored against Leeds United, followed by a brace of goals in each of the games against West Ham United and Newcastle United. Ironically, although Chris had been vital in helping his new team survive relegation, his old team Chelsea were relegated from the top flight along with Luton Town and Carlisle United.

Eight goals in his first seven game for his new club was a dream start for Chris, who then showed me an article from his collection in which he was quoted as saying how quickly he had settled into life at Leicester.

He said this was because he felt there was a much better team spirit than there had been at Chelsea. He also revealed in the article that Bloomfield had tried to sign him in September 1971, at the time he also signed Keith Weller, Jon Sammels and Alan Birchenall, but that at that point he had opted for Chelsea.

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Chris Garland

He scored a total of 87 goals during his professional playing career.

Chris had great respect for his new Leicester City team-mates. Thinking back, he said: "Frank Worthington was a fantastic player. A genius. He used to swear a lot! He’d tell me to get out of the way! I enjoyed playing with him. He was brilliant. Keith Weller was even better. He was class. He was out of this world."

Thinking back to his time at Leicester, he rated highly Steve Earle, Steve Kember, Mark Wallington Dennis Rofe, Steve Whitworth, Jon Sammels and Alan Birchenall, remembering that he lived next door to the Birch in Coalville at the time.

Another player who joined Leicester City at roughly the same time as Chris was the Leicester-born, Arsenal and England defender Jeff Blockey, who also played a major part in Leicester City avoiding relegation in 1975. Mention of Blockley prompted Chris to say: “I broke his cheekbone in training. He was being over aggressive with the young apprentices and I didn’t like it!”

Although Chris was sent off in the opening fixture of the 1975/76 against Birmingham City at Filbert Street, he was a regular throughout that season when Leicester City finished seventh in the First Division. He was also a regular starter the following season until he was sold to his old club Bristol City for £110,000. The Robins had just been promoted to the top flight for the first time since 1911. His aim was to help with the task of helping his hometown club retain their hard won status amongst the elite.

Despite his phenomenal work rate, he struggled to make an early impact but he later scored four goals in as many games and the Robins survived.

He is a close friend and a terrific lad to know. As a footballer he had a tremendous ability and it is fitting that he has the Premier League champions, my old club Manchester United, as the main attraction tonight.

George Best on Chris Garland

Thereafter he was plagued by knee injuries in the five seasons leading up to Bristol City’s financial trauma of 1982 by which time his club was in danger of a third successive relegation dropping to the old Fourth Division.

He was one of eight players who took redundancy as part of a desperate plan to save the club from going out of existence. He then spent six months playing in Hong Kong but made a brief comeback for Bristol City as a non-contract player in the Fourth Division campaign which followed, making him one of a handful of players who has played for the same club in all four divisions.

He retired in February 1983. The next few years were tough ones for Chris. Life was full of ups and downs and things became tougher when in 1989, at the age of 39, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In 2006, with help from the PFA, he had an operation which improved his condition significantly.

In this connection, Chris showed me a programme for his testimonial match in May 1993. Alex Ferguson’s Premier League Champions Manchester United, including the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce, went to Ashton Gate to play Bristol City.

The comments from the sporting celebrities’ tributes inside the programme are a testimony to the high esteem in which Chris was held by his peers. Peter Shilton wrote that he had always admired Chris for the great effort he put into his game.

George Best wrote: ‘He is a close friend and a terrific lad to know. As a footballer he had a tremendous ability and it is fitting that he has the Premier League champions, my old club Manchester United, as the main attraction tonight'.

The West Indies cricket legend Viv Richards added: ‘Chris is a credit to the game and a gentleman who now shows such courage in adversity’. The Chelsea and England star Peter Osgood wrote: ‘Chris was a real workhorse on the field, Chris scored goals but made many more for others’.

Elsewhere in the programme Chris wrote about his Parkinson’s Disease: ‘It’s now four years since my condition was diagnosed. Strangely Parkinson’s Disease for people on the outside is misunderstood. Sufferers can look perfectly healthy.

But then the condition is more of an inner illness than an outer. I know that it will lead to a deterioration in my health in the years to come, but I am determined to maintain a positive attitude to the illness. If I can be an example to others, then I am sure that I can help them to cope with the condition’.

As I looked at these words with Chris, it struck me how true they were.

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