Football becoming a non-contact sport, says Chelsea legend ‘Chopper'
Chelsea legend Ron 'Chopper' Harris is even less inclined to mince his words than pull out of a tackle.
Beloved by the Blues faithful but viewed as a brutal hatchet man to supporters of rival clubs, Harris made a record 795 appearances for Chelsea during 21 years at Stamford Bridge, winning the FA Cup in 1970 and European Cup Winners' Cup in '71.
Now an in-demand after dinner speaker, Harris has spent the last week on the Island, regaling audiences with colourful tales from his Chelsea heyday and sharing his no-holds barred opinions on the state of the modern game.
The Royal Gazette at the Robin Hood's audience with 'Chopper' Harris earlier this week, the former defender pulled no punches in his assessment of Chelsea's under pressure manager, Andreas Villas-Boas.
He also insisted he wouldn't swap his career to play in today's money-soaked Premier League and admitted to detesting the celebritification and self-importance of the modern day player.
“I think the game was more enjoyable in my day; I think footballers smiled more back then,” said Harris in his thick Hackney drawl.
“The gap between your average fan and modern day player is certainly becoming wider, and today's players do behave differently than we did - maybe because they're paid a lot more than what we done.
“People say the game is faster nowadays but when you look at the pitches we used to play on well, they play on billiard tables every week.
“I see the Chelsea players on match days; they're good lads and will talk to you and but that's about as far as it goes to be honest. I think some players today do believe they're more important than what they are.”
Like most Chelsea supporters, Harris, who visited Bermuda on the way back from Chelsea's tour of America in 1967, hasn't been impressed with his team's laboured performances of late and suspects the sand in Villas-Boas' egg timer is slowly ebbing away.
“I think (Villas-Boas) done very well at FC Porto but the Premier League is very different; it's a very tough league and he's a very young manager,” said Harris, who was the first Chelsea captain to lift the FA Cup.
“They're a few lads in the dressing room who are coming to the twilight of their careers and most probably need replacing.
“I'm not convinced, though, whether he's the manager to do it. I really don't know; he's on a three-year contract and I'm only a punter.”
Harris, who was accompanied to the Island with Cockney comedian Mike Pugh, believes diving and the feigning of injury has become all too common sight.
He also fears the game is increasingly becoming a non-contact sport with players walking on egg shells because referees are confused about the rules of tackling.
“I do the hospitality for Chelsea and sometimes I see fellas get sent off for what I think are good tackles, while other times they're staying on the field when they should get sent off,” said Harris, who was invited to the Island by the Bermuda Blues - the Island's Chelsea supporters club.
“I think the professional footballers at the moment are in cuckoo land, the same as what I am, when it comes to knowing what's a legal tackle and what isn't the game's in danger of becoming like basketball.
“I really think season's refereeing has been as bad as I've ever seen.”
A keen cricketer in his day, Harris represented Middlesex and England schoolboys before turning down a place on the Lord's ground staff, opting to sign professional terms with Chelsea instead.
However, he still believes he might have been good enough to carve out an equally fearsome reputation on the cricket field as a hard-hitting batsman.
“I played for Middlesex and England schoolboys and was offered a place on the Lord's ground staff,” he said. ”But I chose Chelsea; they were paying a bit more money so my cricketing times were done then.
“I played against Geoff Arnold, of Surrey and England, and former England coach Keith Fletcher.
“Whether I could have made it, I don't know; I remember Keith scoring a hundred against us in one game and I scored 110.”