Dave Woodhall remembers the legendary Ian ‘Chico’ Hamilton.

Mention the name Ian Hamilton to most Villa supporters and there’s a good chance they won’t know who you’re talking about. Say Chico Hamilton and whoever they support, fans from the seventies will instantly recognise the name. He may have left English football at the comparatively early age of 28, and spent most of that time in the lower divisions, but Chico epitomised the last carefree time when football was fun.

Born in 1950, Chico left school and joined Chelsea as an apprentice, so highly-rated that he made his first-team debut at sixteen, scoring in a 1-1 draw with Spurs, whose goalscorer that day was another man who’d scored on his Chelsea debutant, Jimmy Greaves. Chico’s career at Stamford Bridge was limited to just five appearances, in which he scored twice before being sold to fourth division Southend for £5,000. A yar later his former Chelsea boss Tommy Docherty brought Chico to Villa Park for £40,000 and a genuine cult hero was born.

Docherty’s time at Villa has been well-documented and Chico agreed with the general feeling that in trying to do do too much, too soon the manager fatally split the dressing room. “You were either with the Doc or against him. It was rare that anyone ever said they weren’t bothered about him.”

Vic Crowe was brought in and despite relegation to divison three, one of the most fondly-remembered eras in Villa’s history was underway. Chico played in the memorable League Cup run of 1970-71 and was a mainstay of the side that broke evrey record going the following season. Two more years of Vic Crowe saw Chico playing alongside those other emergent examples of the seventies personified, Brian Little and John Gidman, then Ron Saunders came in and the club took off.

It’s difficult to imagine Saunders’ initial reaction to a player who looked like he’d be more at home on stage with a guitar than on a football pitch, but he got the best out of Chico, who scored fourteen goals as Villa won promotion and the League Cup, one of four players to get into double figures in 1974-75.

Unfortunately for Chico, Saunders thought that like several of the side who had seen Villa from their lowest ebb, division one would be a step too far and so he found himself being eased out of the side as the team reacclimatised to life at the top. The summer of 1976 saw a £50,000 move to Sheffield United after 232 games and 48 goals. Two years at Bramall Lane and Chico became one of the many English players who moved to the NASL, in his case playing for Minnesota Kicks. Here it sometimes seemed that football came second to enjoyment; “We’d go on trips along the river, sitting in these enormous truck tyres full of beer and food. I doubt modern players could get away with the sort of adventures we had.”

As the NASL began to implode Chico spent a year with San Jose Earquakes, and it’s not too difficult to guess that for Chico Hamilton, football in California was the ideal lfe. It didn’t last, though, and Chico was heaed back home. Forced to stop playing after an achilles problem he worked for Rotherham United’s Football in th Community programme, then spent more time coaching in America before moving back to Sheffield, where he finished his working life as a co-ordinator for sporting play schmes. Here one of his hardest jobs was persuading his charges that this old bloke taking them on outings played for Villa and Chelsea, and in two cup finals. “I took my old photos in to prove that I used to be a footballer,” he ruefully admitted.

There was one more thing about Chico and that concerned where he got the name. Despite the common misconception that it came from the Ameriacn jazz musician of the same name, our Chico said, “I was a bit of a cheeky so and so at Chelsea. Someone called me Cheeky and it stuck. My family and frinds call me Ian, but if anyone else shouts it out I wonder who they’re talking about. I can’t complain; it’s been good to me. Everyone remembers me becasue of it.”