WHEN former Chelsea striker Tommy Langley switched to non-league football at the age of 31 in 1989, he spent the next five as a photocopier salesman.
Now at the age of 65, he is a host of the Blues’ hospitality matchday packages along with some of his other ex-Stamford Bridge friends.
But he chuckled at a comparison of how the Chelsea business model has changed at the South London club, compared to when he first joined the club as a ten-year-old.
He said: “Let’s put it this way, I don’t see Enzo Fernandez getting covered in photocopier ink and being low on toner when he quits the game!
“But when I started playing non-league, I knew I had to start working to supplement my income.”
Langley started life in South London but grew up in Basingstoke.
He comes from a family of die-hard Blues fans. He said: “When I was only ten, I wrote a letter to Chelsea Football Club asking if I could have a trial.
“Imagine my shock and excitement when a week or so later a letter dropped on our doormat. The reply said they would be very happy for me to go along for a trial.
“Once I had played, they said they would let me know.
“A few weeks later I was due to play in a game for my usual team when my dad told me I would not be playing because they had received a call from Chelsea saying they wanted me to join them.
“It was like all my Christmases had come at once.”
Langley became the third youngest Chelsea player to appear for the club behind Ian Hamilton and Kingsley Whiffen.
He was 16 years, 174 days on November 9, 1974 against Leicester — a goalless draw.
“It was such an exciting time in my life being able to play in a team with players who were my heroes like Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris and John Hollins.
“I will never forget my first goal for the club. It was on my 17th birthday — February 8, 1975.”
That came in a 2-1 victory over Birmingham at Stamford Bridge.
And it is clear that Langley, who won an England Under-21 cap and scored for England B against Singapore in 1978, would have been happy to have stayed at Chelsea for the rest of his career.
He said: “There were a whole bunch of us who came through the ranks like Ray Wilkins, Gary Locke, John Sparrow, Ian Britton, Stevie Wicks and Ray Lewington. We were a really tight-knit group.
“Tragically, we’ve lost a couple of my dearest friends over the last few years. We had a camaraderie that remains as strong between us to this day.”
But off-pitch matters changed Chelsea in the late 70s.
An ambitious redevelopment of the ground threatened the financial stability of the club.
Star player Wilkins was sold to Manchester United in 1979 to help balance the books and Langley was off-loaded to QPR for £425,000.
He said: “I will never forget it, I was on my honeymoon when I got a message saying that Jim Smith at Birmingham was keen to talk to me.
“I did everything I could to make it as awkward as possible for them to sell me — but in the end I moved to QPR.”
He scored 43 goals in 152 appearances in all competitions for the Blues between November 1974 and May 1980.
Langley accepts that the moment he left Stamford Bridge his playing career nose-dived.
He said: “I look back now and I am embarrassed at just how bad I was with my attitude with all the clubs I played for.
“Today, as well as my matchday hosting, I am also a football agent on a very small scale.
“But the opportunity to look after young players gives me the platform to tell them first-hand how they have to dedicate and grasp the chance when it comes along. To do the opposite to what I did!”
Langley lasted less than a season at QPR and said: “I remember scoring against Chelsea — which felt very strange.”
Over the next decade, he played for eight clubs in four different countries. He reflects on those ten years as a huge experience but he lives with huge regrets.
He revealed: “I played in Greece, Hong Kong and also joined up with Rodney Marsh in the States at Tampa Bay. It should have been the time of my life but stupidly my heart wasn’t in it.”
The former frontman is as passionate about Chelsea today as he was as the 16-year-old making his debut in 1974.
He added: “When I was a kid, Chelsea were always seen as a bit of a glamour club but were only ever a potential cup-winning side.
“If you had told me then that we would be winning two European Cups (Champions League) 20 years on, I would have told you that you had been taking something that was not good for you!
“I love my matchday involvement — meeting up with old players and friends as well as mixing with the supporters.
“It’s lovely reminiscing with them, football has that unique ability to unite people — that wonderful community spirit. I am so proud to still be part of Chelsea Football Club.”