When footballers first ruled the world

Agent Greg Tesser recalls how, decades before the Premier League, he played a part in turning football into a branch of showbusiness.

December 30, 2011
Fan: Raquel Welch

Fan: Raquel Welch

I was looking at a photograph of George Best when I had my eureka moment.

It was 1968 and, as a young entrepreneur in my 20s, I was running a company called Star Posters, which had just launched a series of products aimed at the new, affluent youth market - Frank Zappa sitting on a lavatory seat, Jimi Hendrix "making love" to his guitar.

The photo I was staring at was one of those boring pull-outs - Best posing in his Manchester United kit and wearing an obviously forced smile. Why not, I asked myself, produce a whole collection of footballers in the guise of rock stars? And, being an avid Chelsea fan, the first name that came to mind was the club's centre-forward, Peter Osgood.

Osgood was approached and liked the idea of posing. A Hampstead location was chosen and we all arrived for the shoot. I got chatting to the Chelsea star and soon he was telling me about his dip in form and lack of confidence, so much so, in fact, that the club had prescribed tranquillisers to help him. I mentioned my work in promoting the rock star Eric Clapton, and, there and then, he asked me to be his agent.

Of course I agreed, and organised a campaign to promote his new celebrity image, using my acquaintance with the young editor, Tony Power, to get my client featured in Striker football magazine.

Chelsea were London's glamour club at the time, attracting a host of celebrity supporters. People like the actor David Hemmings, the photographer Terry O'Neill and, on occasion, Hollywood stars like Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, would regularly lunch at Alvaro's on the King's Road before making their way to Chelsea's ground, Stamford Bridge, to cheer on Osgood and company.

I was an occasional guest at Alvaro's, and had struck up a friendship with O'Neill, who, along with David Bailey, was the most fashionable photographer in London and the former husband of the actress Faye Dunaway.

It was not long before the national press cottoned on to the idea of footballers as celebrities and Osgood, playing for a club with so many glamorous supporters, soon became a glamour figure. When the Hollywood actress Raquel Welch was interviewed in The Times and (thanks to a little bit of Terry O'Neill persuasion) informed the world that she really admired Osgood, interest in him and Chelsea mushroomed.

"Why don't you get Raquel down to Stamford Bridge for a game?" O'Neill asked me. I was not convinced that the team's somewhat strait-laced manager Dave Sexton would agree, but I took the plunge and made a phone call.

Sexton's response was cold to the point of Arctic but I did not give up and later, with the help of the television football pundit Jimmy Hill, who smoothed the way with the club, we persuaded the actress to visit Stamford Bridge.

The whole stunt was given added icing when Terry snapped a few shots of her wearing Osgood's Chelsea shirt.

Welch never attended the post-match "tea-room" at Stamford Bridge but she was about the only A-list celeb who didn't. Regular visitors convening for refreshment after matches included Michael Caine, John Cleese, Ronnie Corbett, Tom Courtney, Michael Crawford, Leonard Rossiter, Dennis Waterman and even United States Secretary of State and Nobel Prize-winner Henry Kissinger. They were all, as Osgood used to say, "Blues nuts".

Another fan was the Jewish comic actor Marty Feldman. Marty lived above me in Wellesley Court in Maida Vale and I introduced him to Osgood. I do not know which of them was more starstruck. Feldman at the time was one of the most sought-after comic performers in the country, but even so I remember him saying wistfully to me: "I wish I had Osgood's talent".

Last updated: 10:50am, December 30 2011