Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season by Season: 1929/30


As related in the previous episode of this chronicle, Chelsea spent the summer of 1929 on a gruelling but inspirational jaunt around South America, squaring up with considerable success to the best players of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

The Stamford Bridge players undoubtedly helped the Uruguayans in their ultimately successful preparation for the first ever World Cup. But David Calderhead’s squad also emerged from the experience bound together more as a team.

The only significant addition to the playing staff would come not in pre-season, but winter, in the form of George 'The Bomb' Mills, a hulking centre-forward with an unimpressive pedigree around Kentish clubs.

Mills made his debut against Preston North End on December 21st and opened his account in a 5-0 drubbing. He went on to top-score with 14 goals that season, but he wasn’t the only striker finding his range: the habitually goal-shy George Pearson and Harry Miller both found the net with confident regularity as the whole team gelled wonderfully.

The 1929-30 season was exceptional in several ways: it brought 13 of the 41 league goals managed by Miller over his decade and a half at Stamford Bridge; Pearson’s 12 out of a total 33 notches came in what was easily the best of his seven seasons at Chelsea. Even the veteran stylist Andy Wilson managed double figures in his penultimate term as a player.
“Our latest leader, he went over the top at 2.30, and at 2.32 dropped one of his bombs in the enemy’s camp.” The Chelsea Chronicle summarises debutant Mills’ impressive performance against Preston
Mills, though, would become one of our most consistent marksmen, with a return of 116 league goals in 220 appearances. By the time he arrived Chelsea’s season was looking promising.

Regular keeper Sam Millington kept 15 clean sheets; his teenage stand-in, Frank Higgs saw out his entire Chelsea career of just two matches this season and managed one shut-out, a 3-0 thrashing of Spurs.

The decisive period began on Wednesday 12 March 1930. A visit to Bradford brought two points and a 3-1 winning margin. Chelsea won the next four matches to establish one of our best sequences, on the back of which the Blues rose from third place to second.

As the final matches of early May arrived, Chelsea were still clinging to that final promotion slot, and a reassuring second win against Preston set up the closing game, at Bury, thus: rivals Oldham, two points behind but with a superior goal average, would snatch promotion if they won and Calderhead's men lost.

One precious point would suffice.

As it turned out, both hopefuls wilted in the spotlight. In Lancashire the Pensioners were nervy, and a host of chances was "frittered away by needless fanny work," as the Daily Mirror put it, while Bury won 1-0.

Oldham, though, were always behind at relegation-threatened Barnsley, and lost 1-2. As a result, on the 25th anniversary of the club’s existence, Chelsea were promoted back to the First Division.

A few weeks later, an all-time great would arrive from Newcastle to spearhead our top-flight challenge: the mighty Hughie Gallacher.


In 1929/30...

Facts and figures: Chelsea lose once all season at home, winning 17.

Cup run: Third round, losing to Arsenal.

All the rage: the British press rubbishes the World Cup, because foreigners invented it.

Season by Season: 1928/29


The crowds still came. The players – their mid-blue draw-stringed shirts, white shorts and dark socks now part of the scenery in the Second Division – still laboured.

Chelsea’s form was as depressed as the national economy. The Pensioners finished this season a dismal ninth and a promising FA Cup campaign in which they had stormed past Everton 2-0 had fizzled out.

Drastic action appeared necessary. Particularly in the context of the time, Chelsea’s next move in the close season of 1929 was typically radical, and likely to have been the brainchild of chairman Claude Kirby, a football visionary and shipping broker.

Here also we find an enduring, occasional theme in Chelsea’s history: helping foreign national teams prepare for a World Cup.

In the Sixties, Tommy Docherty’s Blues, with their 'Latin-American-style' attacking full-backs Eddie McCreadie and Ken Shellito, accepted an offer to play a series of friendly matches against Germany intended to increase the experience of the likes of the young Beckenbauer before the 1966 World Cup.

The precedent was set, however, by his fellow Scot David Calderhead agreeing to send his players on a gruelling boat trip across the Atlantic to South America to play matches against representative XIs from Argentina, Brazil and the Olympic champions of Uruguay.

The games, played in massive, vibrant stadiums, also saw Chelsea line-up against great clubs of the region such as Boca Juniors and racing Club of Argentina, and Sao Paolo of Brazil - Chelsea becoming her first professional side to play that city.
“We really learned the meaning of team-work out there, and the fortnight’s sea voyage on the way home set us up for the big effort.” Great Chelsea forward Andy Wilson on the Pensioners’ epic post-season tour of South America
The Pensioners also introduced another Kirby innovation, numbered shirts (pictured), to the region (earning the nickname 'Los Numerados'), and played under floodlights for the first time, in Rio, decades before the experience came to London.

Uruguay, celebrating its centenary year in 1930, had been selected by Fifa as the venue for the first ever World Cup that year. Unlike 1966, no England team would be participating. (Many other European associations also baulked at the journey time, cost and time involved, not to mention their concerns about the climate.)

In the space of six weeks' touring Chelsea edged a Buenos Aires XI 3-2, lost 0-4 to Racing, beat another Buenos Aires select 1-0, went down 3-4 in an epic tussle with Boca Juniors; grippingly held Sao Paolo 4-4 and then lost to them 2-3, drew with a Rio de Janeiro representative side 1-1, and finally faced a Montevideo XI.

The visitors were outdone in the first match 1-2, but triumphed in the second, played at the newly-built 100,000 Centenario Stadium in the Uruguayan capital, by two goals to one. The tourists left a lasting impression in the region, and steamed out of La Plata with the cheers of the South American crowds ringing in their ears after an experience they would never forget.

The matches against high class European opposition were excellent practice for the locals too. Masterminded by the early genius of South American football, Juan Carlos Bertone, those Montevideo XIs effectively comprised the Uruguayan national side.

Thirteen months later, Bertone’s men lifted the 'Victoire aux Ailes d'Or' World Cup trophy, having beaten Argentina in the final.

The South Americans were not the only ones to benefit from the previous summer's encounters, however. Two months before that win, in May 1930, Chelsea would be promoted back to the First Division.

In 1928/29...

Facts & figures: – ninth place in Division 2 was Chelsea's worst ever finish right up until 1976.
Cup run: Fifth round, losing to Portsmouth after a replay.
All the rage: sexual equality – women are given the same voting rights as men.

Season by Season: 1927/28


Continuing Chelsea's mid-Twenties tradition in the Second Division of great quality everywhere on the pitch except in front of goal, 1927/28 saw David Calderhead's side finish a tantalising third. Again.

Three points behind promoted Leeds, whose defensive record was inferior but who, pointedly, scored 23 goals more.


Who was to blame for this persistent lack of poke? The board might be cited for failing to replace the likes of Whittingham and Cock with players of similar quality.
Equally, manager Calderhead, now in his twentieth season at the Bridge, was unable to convince his paymasters to speculate to accumulate.

'The Sphinx' had always shown them loyalty; perhaps a little more bullishness would have been useful.


Nevertheless, two players deserve special mention. Firstly the great full-back Tommy Law, Stamford Bridge's adopted Glaswegian, who would only play twice for his country, both against England.

Tommy made his international debut on 31 March 1928 as one of the famous 'Wembley Wizards' who took a dismal England team apart 5-1. (Chelsea bought two more Wizards, Gallacher and Jackson, a few years later.) It would have been interesting to hear the banter in Chelsea’s dressing room after that show of gratitude to his adoptive country.
"The Scots prefer heavy turf to light ground because it makes all the difference to the harmony of their ball control and jugglery,” Sporting Chronicle’s timeless excuse for an English defeat – the pitch
Secondly, Jimmy Thompson (pictured) arrived from Luton Town. A winger converted to centre-forward at Stamford Bridge, he netted in his opening three matches and weighed in with a third of the team's 75 goals scored in this, his first season. His playing career at the Bridge unfortunately lasted just one more campaign, allegedly after an argument over money.

But he was to make an immeasurable contribution in his post-war role back at the Bridge as chief scout.
A big, loud east-ender with slick, centre-parted hair and false teeth that would slipped disarmingly during his frequent, hearty laughs, Jimmy became one of the great Chelsea characters in the 1950s and Sixties.

He was unorthodox in his recruitment method to say the least, playfully building up the espionage element of his job, taking promising kids from his neighbourhood on trips to the seaside and suddenly hustling them into a doorway because “The Spurs scout’s coming!”


Thompson was also incredibly persistent and persuasive, winning the signature of a string of great players, including Jimmy Greaves, Barry Bridges and Terry Venables, from his boyhood streets and from under the noses of West Ham and Tottenham.
Few have played such a vital, undersung part in the history of our club, and it all started in 1927.

In 1927/28...

Gratuitous fact: Tottenham are relegated from Division One.

Cup run: First round, losing to Wolves.

All the rage: flying solo – lonely Charles Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic for the first time.

Season by Season: 1926/27


The third season of our third spell in the Second Division had that feeling of déjà-vu all over again. Leaders of the pack in the early stages, Chelsea stuttered in the colder months, recovered, then crucially faded again, collating just three points from a last possible ten. David Calderhead's side finished fourth, following fifth and third place finishes in the previous two campaigns.


The defence would concede a respectable 52 all season – second best at that level – but once again the attack was found wanting at crucial times. Albert Thain and Bob Turnbull, Bobby Charlton combover hairstyle and all, managed a half-decent 31 League goals between them, but no other player could reach double figures in support. Manchester City finished third with 46 more strikes than Chelsea's 62.


Two new arrivals were especially significant. Tommy Law was a Glaswegian full-back who would make more than 300 appearances for Chelsea, establish himself as a solid if unspectacular international performer, and even turn down a more lucrative contract with French club Nimes to stick around until 1939. Law was a great and popular servant at the Bridge, renowned for his crowd-pleasing slide tackles. He also scored 19 goals, many of them penalties, in that time and became a regular on the Bridge terraces after the boots were finally hung up.


An astute replacement for the popular Ben Howard Baker, 30-year-old Sam Millington became our stalwart between the sticks. Walsall-born Millington (pictured keeping goal in the Cup against Cardiff City) was invariably seen with wide, flat cap on head in public, masking another Charltonesque pate, and would set a record of 78 shutouts in his 245 games over six seasons in west London. Half a century would pass before Peter Bonetti, he of the gloves not the titfer, would eventually break that record.


Team resources were generally stretched. In early November the club received news that Turnbull, current top scorer who had notched 20 the previous season, was to serve a lengthy suspension for disciplinary reasons.

"Chelsea F.C. yesterday received official notification from the Football Association that Turnbull, their centre-forward, has been suspended for two months for an incident in connection with the match between South Shields and Chelsea on the South Shields ground on Saturday, October 9" Daily Express, 6 November 1926
The following day a fine of £45 was handed out to the Pensioners by the FA (and to Spurs and Clapton Orient) for not fielding the strongest available league side in the London Combination Cup - despite reaching the final at Highbury and going on to beat Orient there, 2-1.


Happily, after threadbare fare in recent years, there came a surprisingly rich FA Cup run too. Chelsea saw off, amongst others, Accrington Stanley (who are they?) by 7-2 – one of our all-time great wins. Thain and Turnbull weighed in with five and six goals respectively in that competition.


A full house in the sixth round – the furthest the team had progressed for ten years – witnessed stalemate between the Blues and First Division runners-up Cardiff City.


The return at Ninian Park was a fantastic affair. Chelsea conceded a penalty but fought back only to lose by the odd goal in five, Andy Wilson also missing a vital spot-kick for the Londoners. The Welsh went on to lift the Cup, seeing off Arsenal 1-0 in the final.


In 1926/27...

Facts & figures: 70,184 watch the first match in our FA Cup tie against Cardiff at the Bridge

Cup run: Sixth round, losing to Cardiff City in a replay

All the rage: feline fine – the Cats Protection League is founded

Season by Season: 1925/26


These days it seems every week some official guardian of the beautiful game has a new idea to 'improve' the sport. Make goals the size of a house, they say, or blindfold the goalies.

Weekly phone-ins often carry the call from supporters to tool the ref up like Tring’s answer to RoboCop. So let’s go back to a simpler time for the game, where football was football, and – oh dear, even then they just wouldn’t let it lie...

In the summer of 1925, all levels of the national game in England adopted a new offside law. No longer did three opponents have to be between a player and the goal. Now it was down to two.


Faster, fewer stoppages, clearer decisions, more goals, they said. And, by Jove, they were right.

“Revolutionised football starts to-day in all parts of the country.” Daily Mirror, Aug 29 1925, on the new offside law

In what indicates an unusually practical pre-season training approach for secretary-manager David Calderhead and co., Chelsea not only instantly mastered the law-change’s effects on defending, but managed to exploit the new attacking options quicker than anyone else in the Second Division.

After 13 games the Pensioners were unbeaten, had scored 36 goals, conceded just eight (better than the next tightest defence, Derby’s, by five) and topped the table from Middlesbrough by a massively superior goal average.

That was in early November. Following a Christmas Day draw with Blackpool, though, Chelsea had slumped to third, out of the vital promotion slots as injury and loss of form began to bite. And there they would finish, with no end-of-season play-offs to keep hopes of a return to First Division alive.

Money was still relatively tight at the Bridge too. The season’s notable new arrivals had, by necessity, both been forwards.

Local lad Albert Thain would stick around till 1931 and notch a half century of strikes in that time. Bob Turnbull, a better-travelled Scots striker, would manage the excellent strike-rate of 58 from his 87 games in Chelsea blue, ending in 1928.

In nets, Scouser Peter McKenna made his mark, began vying with iconic amateur Ben Howard Baker (pictured in action during the 2-0 win over Bradford City) for pre-eminence. The first Chelsea player born in the 20th century, he had an excellent shot-stopping record but was perhaps a little too short, at 5’10”, to thrive at the upper levels of a game in which the aerial punt was an approved method of attack.

Simeon 'Sam' Millington who joined at the season’s close, would soon eclipse McKenna as the Pensioners’ new goalkeeping hero.


In 1925/26...

Facts & figures: Chelsea’s cup visit to Crystal Palace set a then stadium record of 41,000
Cup run: Fourth Round, losing to Crystal Palace
All the rage: 1,750,000 workers go on General Strike to stop employers reducing miners’ wages

Monday, 17 August 2009

Season by Season: 1924/25


In July 1924, a British Empire athletics squad lost out to its USA counterpart by 3pts to 11. Among the British winners was miler Eric Liddell, immortalised in the film 'Chariots Of Fire.' Even if Chelsea’s footballers were languishing in Division Two for the third time, sportsmen could still light up the venue for an enthusiastic fee-paying public.

Relegation had come at an awkward time in the evolution of the club and during a deep economic depression in the country. The diversification of use that had been the aim of those running the stadium from 1905 was now desperately needed to bring in vital revenue.

The wooing of various sports authorities, old and new, had produced mixed results. (Much like the football team, which without significant new investment in players finished fifth in the Second Division.)

American baseball showcases had begun to be staged. In the November King George V and Queen Mary, along with two princes, watched Chicago Whitesox play the New York Giants.

A few years later, Joe Mears’ manoeuvring delighted the capital’s petrol-heads as the novel sport of motorcycle speedway came to the Bridge; shortly after that, the famous greyhounds arrived.

The hosting of athletics events was in keeping with the stadium’s roots. It had been the home of the London Athletic Association before Chelsea moved in.
“65 sports meetings held in the close season, and when there are no meetings as many as 150 to 200 Athletes are on the ground training” Football League report into the state of Chelsea’s pitch
But multiple use of the playing surface came with a price to pay. The football authorities listened to several complaints from First Division clubs in the early Twenties that the pitch was often not up to standard.

Equally important, the dream of developing a covered stadium that would rival the great football temples of Glasgow did not materialise. Major structural improvements would not come until the Thirties, and a cinder track would surround the pitch for the bikes before a lid was placed over the South Stand.

The biggest loss had come when Chelsea’s hosting of FA Cup Finals ended with the completion of Wembley stadium – a major blow, even though Charity Shields remained in SW6.

On the pitch, Andy Wilson’s skills and Bill Whitton’s goals, plus the continues defensive supremacy of Ben Howard Baker, back in goal, and full-backs Harrow and Smith, made it still worth a visit.

In 1924/25...
Facts and figures: Chelsea’s average crowd in this Second Division season was 31,000
Cup run: First Round, losing to Birmingham City
All the rage: the Charleston arrives in Britain – everybody’s doing it.

Season by Season: 1923/24



As Chelsea Football Club approached its twentieth anniversary the wheels on the entertaining bandwagon appeared to be working loose. Disputes over the stadium real estate and public doubts over the motives of one or two directors had sullied the fantasy atmosphere of football in SW6.

Goals had dried up too. By late November Chelsea had hit the net in just five of the first 16 matches. Of last season’s leading scorers, Buchanan Sharp was no longer around and Harry Ford’s flow had dried up.

The renowned amateur international from Corinthians, A.G. Bower, known as "Baishe", joined his teammate Ben Howard Baker on the Chelsea roster, although work commitments prevented the great full-back from turning out regularly for the Blues.
Public interest reflected fare that was unlikely to interest an audience, especially in times of biting poverty. Attendances had fallen substantially for the first time outside wartime.

But the club’s divided board still knew a few tricks. At the end of that meagre November Chelsea visited Ayresome Park, and one of the two Middlesbrough scorers that day was a Scottish international who would emerge as one of the greatest pocket battleships of Chelsea’s attack.

Andy Wilson (pictured, above left) became the club's record signing after the return match at the Bridge a week later – won 2-0 – for a substantial £6,500. A small but sturdy 5’6” in his nailed-on studs, he stayed eight years and was a pioneer in the club tradition of petite entertainers that will be familiar to anyone who watched Hughie Gallacher or Mark Stein – or even Gianfranco Zola, another spectacular autumn acquisition 73 years later.

Wilson, despite the impediment of a war-damaged left hand, was also a typically crowd-pleasing Scots winger, full of tricks to elude an opponent and deadly in his distribution from just outside the box. Although he was primarily a provider, he also top scored for the Pensioners with a paltry five League goals. An enthusiastic smoker, Wilson was never the less a pioneer in producing football training books for children.

At 53 the record of goals conceded compared favourably to third-placed Sunderland, and was testament to main goalie Colin Hampton and his back line, including the long-serving Jack Harrow.

But an impoverishing 31 goals for would do the damage and ways of escape from a second relegation with that dreadful goal average began to test terrace mathematicians as the season drew to a close.

Yet the Pensioners suddenly revived, seeing off heavyweights Liverpool, Newcastle and Sunderland and producing the kind of hope that can be fatal.
“The midget Chelsea forwards faded away, almost sunk from view” Chelsea historian Scott Cheshire on the downpour at the Bridge that ended Chelsea’s hopes of staying up
Before the final match, against Man City, it was nevertheless clear that only a serious win margin, probably by double figures, would suffice.

Imagine this, all you who were drenched watching Chelsea 4 Viktoria Zizkov 2 in 1994: the Pensioners had scored three times in the first 15 minutes, when an almighty rainstorm engulfed the Bridge, quagmired the pitch, and virtually ended any hope. The final score was 3-1.
Even the weather, it seems, has it in for Chelsea sometimes. The Blues were relegated in 21st place; Boro finished bottom.

In 1923/24...
Facts and figures: Chelsea had lasted 15 years in the top flight
Cup run: First Round, losing to Southampton after a replay for the second year running
All the rage: football hooliganism – this is the year of the White Horse FA Cup Final

Season by Season: 1922/23


On Boxing Day, 1922, the visit of Nottingham Forest was inauspicious. The Midlanders arrived knowing that Chelsea had not won in 11 games, hadn’t troubled the scorers at all during November, and were looking like rivals for relegation from Division One.

Happily, Chelsea won 4-0 on the day, with the less familiar names of Buchanan Sharp and Jimmy Armstrong, with a brace, sharing the rare glory with fading star Harry Ford.

Many of the old names had faded now, and the celebrated Jack Cock was crocked and then moved on to Everton.


It had all looked very different on Monday September 4th at the Bridge, when Sharp and Cock were both on the scoresheet in a 3-2 win over Stoke that put Chelsea top of the League for the first time in our history.


The last 14 games of the season were a nightmare, though, with only a 3-0 win over Bolton earning the maximum two points. We finished in 19th place, just above the relegation slots.
Off the field, too, the turmoil of the period has a familiar ring to any supporters who sat through the 1970s. Needless to say we are talking about a scandal surrounding ownership of the land on which Stamford Bridge is built.
“It would appear that from the formation of the club the Mears family have exercised a controlling influence” FA inquiry into the running of Chelsea FC, 1922
Joseph Theophilus Mears, alongside his late brother Gus, had been a founder director of the football club. He was a sports fan who knew better than most how to make money from leisure and entertainment. He ran pubs, built cinemas and owned the steam launches that puffed up the Thames from Eel Pie Island in Twickenham (see advertisement, top left).

After Gus’s death, Joe quietly bought the freehold to the property from their sister, Gus's executrix, Beatrice, who had previously offered the land to the football club at a higher price.

Back in 1920 Mears had first advised the club that as new landlord all rents should be paid to him. He offered an alternative, however: buy the freehold for £42,000 over 14 years.

Sadly, Chelsea could ill afford such a fee. Mears also paid the club relatively little for his lucrative monopoly on all catering inside the Bridge, and all renovations were carried out by his contracting firm at a hefty sum. Matters came to a head in the boardroom in 1922.


An unseemly spat ensued during which Mears attempted to boot his
brother-in-law, Beatrice's husband and a fellow building contractor Henry Boyer, off the Chelsea board. Boyer in turn disputed the value of construction work carried out on the ground through Mears's firm, and wrote to the FA.

The FA was appalled at what they read and instigated an inquiry
so that for the first time, but certainly not the last, Chelsea’s dirty laundry was washed in public. In 1922 Mr J Howcroft produced a report condemning Chelsea as an unhealthily run club, and demanding changes among the directors - there were too many Mears employees, he felt, including Tom Kinton, his clerk of works - catering arrangements and tendering procedures.

Boyer and
Kinton were both ousted in 1922, and in their place came former player Vivian Woodward, who remained for eight years, and Charles Pratt Sr., a local antique dealer. Pratt was briefly chairman in 1935 following Claude Kirby's death, and his son held down the same post between 1966 and 1968.

Unfortunately, history proved that the battle of Stamford Bridge was far from over.

In 1922/23...
Facts and figures: The FA inquiry was told that Joe Mears paid £35, 750 for the freehold of Stamford Bridge

Cup run: Second Round, losing to Southampton
after a replay
All the rage: Decaffeinated coffee is invented – skinny latte decaff, anyone?

Season by Season: 1921/22

Players come and go, managers move on, directors, and even the very bricks and mortar of a football club, change eventually. Less transient are the crowds that are the lifeblood of the place, and through them the folk memory is passed on down the years.

And it’s a club’s reputation, its character, that once established is the only real constant.

Chelsea Football Club epitomises this.

Even now, established as we are among the elite of the Premiership, we are constantly reminded of the club's enduring “inconsistency,” the perennial struggle to see of supposedly inferior opposition, the underachieving glamour, the, well, unusualness.

Such personality traits were already apparent after 15 years of football at Stamford Bridge. By this time Chelsea had been promoted twice and relegated once, and had recently finished 3rd and then 18th in consecutive First Division seasons.

The club the Mearses built had earned a reputation for failing to follow up well-earned victories with further wins.

A poor 1950s joke might equally have applied back then: Two men are looking at newspapers at King’s Cross Station. “I see Chelsea won yesterday,” says one. “They can’t have,” frowns his pal, “they won last week.”

So how sweet April 1922 must have been for supporters when the club enjoyed one of its best ever sequences, winning seven on the spin. All of them, except a 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa in Birmingham, were against teams lower the First Division.

The team boasted the necessary glamour, too, in Great Dane Nils Middelboe, the dashing Jack Cock, trainee medic and able right-winger Dr John Bell and the colourful, unorthodox keeper Ben Howard Baker (pictured above, right), a former high-jump champion whose party trick was to kick light bulbs out of chandeliers.

Baker, known as ‘HB’, became (and remains) the only goalie to have scored for Chelsea, when he converted the last-minute winning penalty against Bradford City in November 1921.

Two months later, against Arsenal, another of his spot-kicks bounced back into play and he raced the length of the pitch in vain to stop them scoring. He never appeared on scoresheet again.
“Just to make the poor fellow taking the spot-kick a bit more nervous” Keeper Ben Howard Baker on the reason for his antics before facing a penalty taker
Much like Chelsea sticksman Petar Borota six decades later, HB seemed disdainful of the 18-yard box, often rushing out into midfield in pursuit of the ball. He would play basketball around the box, flicking the ball over an opponent, while the coach was barking through a loud hailer for him to "get in with it!" And, like a Bruce Grobbelaar or Fabien Barthez, he would spend ages joshing around before facing a penalty kick himself.

He was an absolute hero, the epitome of the old Chelsea, and stayed in contact with the club well into the 1980s. HB died in 1987, perhaps the club’s longest-lived player at 94.

Chelsea finished ninth in 1922, but what an entertaining place the Bridge must have been.

In 1921/22...
Facts & figures: HB conceded an average of just 1.082 goals in his 93 games
Cup run: First Round, losing to West Bromwich Albion
All the rage: the luxurious Orient Express now travels all the way to mystical Istanbul

Season by Season: 1920/21

Progress on the field and the official patronage now bestowed on our inter-national class stadium by visiting royalty and the staging of FA Cup pointed to a very bright future. The 72,805 who attended the 1920 final tie at the Bridge brought in record receipts of £13,414. Football, and its place in society, was also changing.

The advent of a Third Division, almost exclusively made up of members of the old Southern League, extended the heartland of the game. Newspapers’ sports pages suddenly expanded to provide sufficient coverage and new dedicated magazines sprang up.

Crowds were returning to the terraces. Attendances of 45-50,000 were the norm. Chelsea had become a very big club with a reputation for regularly fielding top internationals.
“The best centre forward exhibition ever” Football writer on Jack Cock’s performance for England v Scotland, 1920
In October 1920 an enormous 76,000 crowd turned up to watch Chelsea seek revenge over newly-promoted Spurs, who had decimated their London rivals 5-0 at White Hart Lane the week before. (Sadly, the Lilywhites merely resumed where they had left off, and the Pensioners lost 0-4.)

Still the Corinthian spirit survived at the club, despite Vivian Woodward’s retirement from playing. Danish international Nils Middelboe would often skipper the side, and over the next few years more famous amateurs would join him, including goalkeeper Ben Howard Baker.

The war was still a strong memory – players were listed in the “Chelsea Chronicle” with the relevant service rank appended to their names. And, of course, the red-coated Pensioners sat proudly in the grandstand, as they do to this day.In truth, this was a disappointing period in our history after the promise of 1919. Veteran star winger Harry Ford (pictured, top left) was starting to miss more games, the over-reliance on Jack Cock’s goals was proving problematic, and a half-decent defensive record suffered accordingly.

On the back of the FA Cup finals success, the Chelsea board’s ambitious strategy for the Stamford Bridge stadium included an increase of capacity to 80,000 with steep, terraced banking at the north and south ends, improved conditions for dignitaries and no less than 61 turnstiles to handle those with their paste-board tickets or cash to hand over on the day.

There were even plans to build walkways from local train and tube stations. Not for the first or last time in the ground's history they amounted to nothing, and notions of the Fulham Road becoming the permanent host for national events would soon be scuppered by the building of Wembley Stadium.

Such thoughts of renovations at Chelsea did not extend anywhere near deep enough into the playing staff, however, and an ageing squad struggled to live up to the glamorous setting.

Come May 1921, we were back in the then familiar territory of 18th in the 22-strong First Division, and too close to relegation for comfort.

In 1920/21...
Facts & figures: a benefit match against the British Army in Sept 1920 was won 2-0
Cup run: Fourth round, versus Cardiff City
All the rage: Shaving fanatic Jacob Schick invents the Magazine Repeating Razor, based on a gun design

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Season by Season: 1919/20



Four years of regional league competition and friendlies ended on the opening day of September 1919. In the opening match of the first postwar season of official Football League business, the Chelsea team showed five changes from April 1915 – perhaps less disruption than could reasonably have been hoped for, given the ravages of the Great War.

The six who’d played in Chelsea’s last official League match were stalwarts Walter Bettridge, Jack Harrow, Laurence Abrams, Harold Halse and keeper James Molyneux, now well into his 30s and under pressure from understudy Colin Hampton, a war hero who’d received the Military Medal for Gallantry in Mesopotamia. His bravery and dependability on the less vital stage of association football saw him splitting custodial duties with the popular Moly in what would turn out to be an excellent year for the club.

Chelsea had been handed a reprieve from relegation by a mixture of match-fixing by our rivals for the drop Man United and a League decision to expand the top flight by two clubs – Chelsea and Arsenal.

The board at Stamford Bridge wasted no time in validating the Football League’s decision. Thirty-five thousand people watched at Goodison Park as the slickers from the Big Smoke stunned the reigning Division One title-holders Everton with a 3-2 win, including a penalty from Bob Whittingham that extended his amazing wartime goalscoring sequence.
“A Thrilling Opening. Chelsea Conquer The Champions at Goodison” Athletic News headline, September 1, 1919
What chimed with both sets of fans was that back in 1915 a 2-2 draw at the Bridge had confirmed the Toffeemen as champions. They would finish this campaign in 16th place, despite gaining revenge in London against us a week later with a single goal.

However, personnel change remained inevitable. The ageing Whittingham soon moved on, and in his place arrived another Chelsea and England matinée idol, Jack Cock, from cash-strapped Huddersfield. The Londoner would top-score for the Pensioners for the next three seasons, and managed 21 in his first.

Striker Cock (above, right) hardened Chelsea's image as football's glamour club by singing on the local music hall stage and appearing (along with some of his teammates) in the first-ever football feature film, a silent movie produced by the Samuelson Film Company called, originally, 'The Winning Goal.'

It helped ensure that the arty, actor types still thronged to Stamford Bridge, though quite what the terrace wits made of a team with Hampton at the rear, Dickie in the middle and Cock upfront is not recorded.

This season proved the most successful of David Calderhead’s 26 as manager: his team finished a high-rolling third in the League behind surprise package West Brom and Burnley.

In the FA Cup there was also much at which to thrill. The kings of England and Spain watched consecutive victories in west London over Leicester and Bradford. The Bridge was definitely the place to be. One Manchester newspaper joked that Claude Kirby should have 'By Royal Appointment' engraved above the gates to the stadium.

As the cup semi-final against Aston Villa loomed, the debate reasonably turned to the FA’s decision finally to realise Fred Parker's original dream and stage the final at Stamford Bridge.

Should Chelsea be able to play the final at home? With typical generosity, the Pensioners ended the debate by dipping out 1-3 to Villa, the eventual trophy winners, in front of a crestfallen 37,771 fans.

Days later virtually the same team took the League points off them with a 2-1 win in front of 70,000. It was sets of results such as those that helped create the 'inconsistent' tag worn by generations of Blues.

In 1919/20...
Facts & figures: Jack Cock was signed for £2,500
Cup run: The semi-finals, losing to Aston Villa
All the rage: Mechanical teddy bears

Season by Season: 1915-19


Since 1914 hundreds of thousands of young British men had returned from the trenches maimed, distressed, gassed or dead. Official national Football League and FA Cup campaigns were suspended at the end of 1914/15 season, and the sport was localised for the new, lower-key season beginning September 1915.

It was not the time for sporting heroism. Perhaps this had been brought home starkly to everyone at home by stories of the famous Christmas truce of December 1914, when German and British troops shared drinks and a game of football in No-Man’s-Land (perhaps with some of the 50 footballs Chelsea had sent to the front). More likely, it was the realisation that soon after the match, the soldiers were ordered to resume the slaughter.

The football authorities assembled regional leagues in the Midlands and Lancashire for 1915-16. A driving force behind arrangements in the capital was Chelsea's influential chairman William Claude Kirby (above, right). He helped establish a London Combination tournament of 12 teams (including, it must be said, Croydon Common) that Chelsea would win by seven clear points in early 1916.

A second, short competition taking in Luton and Reading was also scooped by the Pensioners. These informal championships lasted until the resumption of the League proper in 1919, with attendances ranging from 2-20,000.

Nearly half of the current Chelsea playing staff signed up to serve their country in some way. The most significant casualty of the campaign was Captain Vivian Woodward, wounded in January 1916. Others, inevitably, lost their lives, including several former Blues.

Danish giant Nils Middelboe, however, from neutral Denmark, cemented his popularity with the diminished crowds that turned up at Stamford Bridge and regularly strode the midfield of Stamford Bridge player.

Other big names, helping the war effort locally, guested in the mid-blue shirts of Chelsea. The tall, elegant England international Charlie Buchan, an inside forward who stills holds Sunderland’s all-time League scoring record, returned to his London home and scored 40 goals for Chelsea in 1915-16. He is best known as the later writer and publisher of Football Monthly, a famous magazine that was briefly owned by Chelsea in the 1990s.

Bob Thomson, too, was unstoppable. His fire-power helped earn a league and cup double in 1918, and a further Victory Cup final win over Fulham in 1919.
“So enjoyable has been the local rivalry brought about by the London Combination that many fans have been moved to suggest that it be retained as a competition” Football writer, 1919
Typical Chelsea – the first triumphs were achieved in unrecognised and unofficial tournaments. However, at least there would be good news when normal football service was resumed: an inquiry had ascertained that a vital First Division match back in season 1914-1915 involving Manchester United – who finished 18th to our drop-slot 19th – and Liverpool had been fixed by players involved in a betting scam.

Furthermore, it was any case decided to expand the top flight with the addition of two “relegated” southern clubs: Chelsea (conveniently) and Arsenal - much to the protest of Tottenham, who had finished above their new north London rivals in 1915.

So Chelsea retained top flight status honourably, while the Gunners received a lucky reprieve through the connivance of chairman Henry Norris. Don’t forget to remind your Gooner mates of that the next time you see them…

In 1915-19...
Facts & figures: One-eyed Bob Thomson scored 100 goals during the wartime years
Cup run: Winners of War Fund Cup, 1918 (v West Ham), and London Victory Cup, 1919 (v Fulham)
All the rage: Birth control pioneer Dr Marie Stopes’ illuminating 1918 book, 'Married Love'

Season by Season: 1914/15


The English football season was played with a frown this year. War had broken out across Europe in the summer of 1914.

With dreadful reports of battlefield carnage in the daily papers and horror stories passed on by the war weary on leave, many felt that such a trivial exercise should be suspended. Others wished to retain the sport as a necessary diversion. At the outbreak of war, Chelsea’s directors expressed the view that “football will be played as far as possible.”

In a show of solidarity with the war effort, though, they arranged for a percentage of takings to be donated to the Prince of Wales’s war fund – a facet of the regime since its outset, and a hangover from the Victorian belief in charity. A 1-1 draw with Spurs also benefited “dependants of those who had joined the forces from the Tube, Tramway and Omnibus companies” to the tune of £200.

The club also dispatched 50 footballs off to various parts of the war front.

Millions had rallied to Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers; many were drawn from the terraces and locker rooms of football. Never the less matchday recruitment drives at stadiums including Stamford Bridge were met with apathy.

In response, the British establishment began a furious campaign of shame directed against the game and its supporters, and Chelsea stars Viv Woodward and local Harry Ford were among the first 'Chelsea Die-Hards' to join the 17th Middlesex Regiment, the 'Footballers' Battalion.'

Not that the entrepreneurialism of JT Mears (brother of the late founder, and new owner of Stamford Bridge) was completely curtailed. An application for a liquor licence at the Bridge in February 1915 was wrathfully rejected by local magistrate John Grey on the grounds that “I do not like to give facilities for entertainment to football at this time.” Considering JT (host of the Swan in Richmond) and the two Janeses on the Chelsea board were licensed victuallers, this must been quite a blow.

The voice from the trenches, meanwhile, was strongly in favour of football continuing. Hundreds of letters were received on the Fulham Road asking how Chelsea were faring and passing on their best. One wrote: 'The troops (well the Londoners anyway) nearly went dotty when they heard of Chelsea's victory over Newcastle. It interested the Tommies far more than any war could.'

On the field Chelsea’s League form was as depressed as the national mood. Had the league not been suspended at the end of the season Chelsea would have been relegated.

Yet the Cup provided rare moments of joy for fans at home and in the trenches. Servicemen, some as prisoners-of-war, had keen letters of support published in the Chelsea programme as the Pensioners saw off Swindon, Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle and Everton on the way to meeting Sheffield United in the FA Cup Final in April 1915.
“The nation is engaged in a huge conflict, and has sons of Empire in action in six or seven different parts of the world. But those who are in our island will rest awhile today” The Sporting Chronicle, on the morning of the 1915 FA Cup final
It said that so many of those who attended football at the time wore army uniforms that it was dubbed the 'Khaki Final.' Eyewitness reports barely mention the fact, though: they draw more attention to the dismal, foggy drizzle.

The venue was Old Trafford, with wartime travel restrictions imposed, and it was a wet and windy welcome for the Blues fans who had struggled north for the occasion.

History records Fred Taylor as the first skipper of a Chelsea team at a cup final - quite some achievement for a club that had not existed ten years earlier. Lieutenant Vivian Woodward had been given special leave to play but on the day of the game, in typically gentlemanly fashion, he stepped down in favour of Bob McNeil, whose goals had propelled the Pensioners there.

Sheffield United ran out easy 3-0 winners. In handing out the medals, Lord Derby caught the mood with a speech noting that “the clubs and players had seen the cup played for, and it was now the duty of everyone to join with each other and play a sterner game for England.”

In 1914/15...
Facts and figures: Chelsea estimated 200,000 supporters would have tried to go had the final been in London
Cup run: Runners-up
All the rage: John Buchan's epic spy novel, 'The 39 Steps"

Season by Season: 1913/14



The ninth season of professional football at Stamford Bridge began under the shadow of imminent war. By August 1914 the whole of Europe would be at war and British troops tramping around France. Football would soon become a meaningless sideshow, but for the time being people still flocked to the Fulham Road every other Saturday full of sporting optimism.

And before the military dispatches, a brigade of new footering favourites emerged on the Stamford Bridge terraces.

Only fourteen goalies have played more than 100 games for the Blues. Our second centurion, following the precedent set by our first great goalkeeping servant Jack Whitley, was the popular Merseysider James “Molly” Molyneux.

Whitley would stay at Chelsea as a trainer until the 1939, but the new man exceeded him in every respect, playing more games, keeping more clean sheets ... and letting in more goals. Soon, he would also become the first Chelsea keeper to appear in a Cup Final. Molly’s playing career spanned the War and he made more than 230 appearances.

Upfront, the experienced Harold Halse, a lithe England international who had twice won the Cup, had begun to share goalscoring responsibilities with the dependable Viv Woodward. There were two bit-part players who fleetingly lit up the Bridge too: Max Woosnam, an all-round athlete who would win an Olympic medal at tennis in 1920, was an amateur sportsman in the Woodward vein, but his career at Chelsea was curtailed by his business interests.

Lanky, skilful half-back Nils Middelboe, our first glamorous overseas recruit, began a ten-year love affair with the Blues that comprised mostly of one-night stands as he was so often unavailable because of his salaried work as a banker.

The “Great Dane” as he was inevitably called, is a legend in his native land. And in an era when there is overblown talk of “foreign mercenaries”, it’s refreshing to recall that the Danish amateur international would not even put in the expense claim top-ups that his English colleagues would. Middelboe was a star from the off. It was well-known he had scored the first ever goal in Olympic football in 1908, and on his debut for the Pensioners he was handed the honour of captaincy by his friend, Woodward.
"At Stamford Bridge, we have been told
Are seen obstructions; far too bold,

With Plume, and Hat, so very tall

'Not Half' the game is seen at all

Apart from that, a Gallant Dane

Is seen; and long may he remain

With Chelsea; so, please just to show

Respect; 'Hats off,' to Middelboe"

E. A. Goddard (Oxford Street)

Less fortunate was the great Ben Warren, whose descent into mental ill-health and death from tuberculosis deeply affected the football world - a benefit match was held at Stamford Bridge for his wife and children at the end of the season.

The Bridge also staged a display of hands across the water in February 1914, as George V attended a baseball match between two top US teams, New York Giants and Chicago White Sox.

As far as the football was concerned, though, this season was all about consolidation. Chelsea never really excelled, but rarely looked out of their depth in the top tier – despite a 1-6 humiliation at the hands of Burnley. David Calderhead's team finished the season in a promising eighth place.

Gratifyingly, they were also the top-placed London club at a moment when the capital’s clubs were competing feverishly for audiences. It would be two seasons – but six years – before that feat was achieved again.

In 1913/14... Facts & figures: Chelsea finished just five points short of the runners-up position in Division One
Cup run: First round, losing to Millwall
All the rage: The world’s first full-length colour feature film: 'The Word, the Flesh and the Devil,' a British production

Season by Season: 1912/13


With memories of the debacle of relegation three seasons earlier still fresh, the most realistic hope in August 1912 was that the club would survive, rather than thrive, in Division One.

A run of the three defeats at the start of the campaign, including a dispiriting 1-2 loss at home to an insignificant Liverpool team, confirmed the worst. This was going to be tough.

Still, David Calderhead’s side managed to beat Sheffield United 4-2 and swiftly followed that with morale-boosting wins over Sunderland and, in Plumstead, The Arsenal. The Gunners fired blanks that season and would finish bottom of the table and in considerable turmoil.

The map of football in the capital was about to change though. Complaining that no one wanted to go and watch them where they were – and taking just £200-odd through the turnstiles – Woolwich Arsenal accepted that other London clubs they had recently voted into existence, including Chelsea, were proving far too attractive to the football-going public in that part of the city.

They would soon move to land owned by the College of Divinity in Islington.
“It has been the experience that when professional football has been established in any quarter that a new public is created for the game. Chelsea is a case in point” Daily Mirror 1913
Chelsea’s rebuilding centred around the squad as usual. The most important new arrival had been Jack Harrow the previous campaign. Now settled into his new home, the former Croydon player (above, left) would be the left-back of choice for many years into the future. He became the first Blue to rack up 300 appearances, either side of the First World War, at that.

Yet Bob Whittingham was injured for long periods and the Pensioners missed his regularity, despite managing a creditable 51 goals, Viv Woodward again pulling more than his weight.
But 71 goals conceded in 38 games told its own story.

Between October and the start of January Chelsea notched just one win, against fellow top flight rookies Derby, in 14 attempts. The rest of the season, almost to the final day, was a torment to Stamford Bridge loyalists.

As it unfolded, it became clear that either Chelsea or Notts County would suffer the drop with The Arsenal.

Losing 1-6 at home to Blackburn Rovers at the end of March must have appeared disastrous at the time, but a spree of two wins in mid-April, one against struggling Spurs, happily rendered the final match superfluous.

Relieved, the Pensioners whacked Notts County 5-2. Better, much better, was to come in the ensuing seasons, but for now it was just great to remain among the top nobs.

In 1912/13…
Facts and figures: 21 defeats was the most suffered up to this point; it was 38 years before a worse record was established
Cup run: Second round, losing to Sheffield Wednesday in a replay
All the rage: Coco Chanel, icon of tailored chic, opened her first shop in Deauville, France

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Season by Season: 1911/12


At this point in Chelsea's history, just before the advent of “the war to end all wars” – the First World War of 1914-18 – it’s worth taking a look at the make-up of football in those days.

Let’s look at the map of the old Second Division in which we found ourselves in August 1911. At the end of the Edwardian era Leicester had a Fosse, not a City; Leeds had a City not a United; and Bradford’s City was a mere Park Avenue then.

There were plenty of familiar names: Blackpool, Bristol City, Wolves, Derby, Hull, Nottingham Forest, Burnley; but whatever happened to Glossop North End and Gainsborough Trinity?

Other recognisable aspects of the game included the football ‘pools’, which at that time were free but required the prediction of a scoreline to net a potential £300, and Spot-the-Ball. The Beckhams of the day – the likes of England striker Steve Bloomer – were already endorsing various products to augment their meagre, tightly-capped salaries.

So Chelsea's second season ending in glorious promotion to the First Division was played out across a timeless landscape in well-known settings. The prolific Bloomer’s club, Derby County, were one of Chelsea’s chief rivals for the step up, along with Burnley and Wolves. An early home win over County, following consecutive, confidence-sapping 0-0 draws to Stockport and Leeds, helped form the platform of belief for eventual success.

On Boxing Day, a fixture that has periodically been a ‘traditional’ one – home to Fulham – brought victory and third slot. In those days teams played the same opposition home and away over the festive period – the 26th; we beat over our closest rivals 1-0 in both.

February, however, brought devastating news: Chelsea's founder and owner, the larger-than-life Henry Augustus Mears (pictured above, right), died suddenly from kidney failure. His passing threw ownership of the freehold at Stamford Bridge into a dispute which took decades to settle. Gus is buried in Brompton Cemetery, next to the ground he built; the large funeral cortege paused momentarily at the stadium gates en route.

Nothing could stop the Pensioner filling one of the promotion slots, not even a disheartening 0-2 defeat at Derby. Four wins on the spin closed out the season while others faltered and David Calderhead's side finished second behind County solely because of an inferior goal average.

Burnley, the only team who could have pipped the Londoners, lost to Wolves on the final day, while Charlie Freeman’s strike was enough to see off Bradford in front of 40,000 at the Bridge.

"What a scene at the final whistle last Saturday! Those scribes who ascribe our crowds to mere 'accessibility of ground' were given the lie direct. There was no getting away from the delirious, almost hysterical joy of thousands of strong men who surged around the Pavilion, and cheered themselves hoarse." The Chelsea Chronicle, 30th April 1912

Chelsea had finished one place higher than the previous season, principally because the fewer goals scored were better spread out - more matches were won and fewer drawn.

'The Sphinx' Calderhead’s yo-yo team were at it again. This time, the stay in the top flight would last for 12 years, sometimes with ease, sometimes without.

Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to perhaps the first Chelsea icon, George Hilsdon. His off-pitch antics had become too much for the management, and he moved on to a more easy-going atmosphere at West Ham.

Better summer news, though, was that Chelsea forward Viv Woodward captained the amateur England national team to victory in the Olympics.

In 1911/12...
Facts & figures: Bob Whittingham, scoring 26, was Chelsea's new goalscoring hero
Cup run: second round, losing to Bradford
All the rage: the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 shocks the world

Season by Season: 1910/11


Make no mistake. Despite the hype surrounding the drop from today’s Premiership, Chelsea’s relegation back in the spring of 1910 had been an equally bitter blow to supporters’ and players’ pride, and the club’s finances.

The bandwagon stalled momentarily and, perhaps, had it not been for an instant rekindling of Stamford Bridge fans’ faith, we might be singing different songs in the stands today. Momentum towards promotion was regained, and although we have been relegated six times and six times restored to the top flight, the first response to adversity is always the most telling.

David Calderhead’s rollercoaster ride in the early years of managing the club belied the steady track he was laying into the future. Regulars in his team included insatiable goalscoring internationals Jack Whittingham and George Hilsdon, the renowned custodian Jim Molyneux, midfielders Ben Warren and Sam Downing, and Walter Betteridge and Jock Cameron in defence. These were solid, reliable performers capable of holding their own in the First Division that had dumped them.

But it was Viv Woodward (pictured above, right), the gifted, gentleman forward, who was the talisman of the team at this time. An international who had always retained his amateur status but was more ‘professional’ than most of his colleagues, Woodward left many of the headlines to Whittingham and Hilsdon.

But his amiable, stylish manner, deftness of thought and touch, and transparently sporting approach to the game, put the seal on an underachieving team that was easy to like. We have regularly formed sides like that over the years, but the theme began in this era.

“He was a gentleman, and in all my association with him I never saw him commit a foul or retaliate - and he did get some pastings. He was a wizard." Bobby Steel on Vivian Woodward

One familiar facet is the glorious FA Cup run. The 1910/11 season brought our first ever. And Woodward was instrumental in our progress. Wins over non-League opposition in the first two rounds were rewarded with a mouth-watering trip to mighty Molineux, home of the Wolves. Woodward scored the opener, Hilsdon the second and we were through.

A massive crowd made it to the Bridge for the visit of Swindon, beaten 3-1. We were well beaten in the semi-final against Division One opponents Newcastle, but would soon go the whole way.

In the League, Chelsea looked one of a few likely champions all season long, but we fell away to third and would have to wait another year for redemption. It was, though, a season that lit the pathway to a bright future.

In 1910/11...
Facts and figures: the Swindon cup victory is watched by a then record 77,952 people
Cup run: The semi-final, losing to Newcastle
All the rage: Electric escalators arrive at Earl's Court underground station

Season by Season: 1909/10

These were uncertain times around the world, not just the footballing community of London SW. In England’s coffee houses there were fears about Germany building a battleship fleet, problems in the Balkans and the destabilising effect of the Revolution in Russia.

From Indonesia, meanwhile, Dutch zoologists announced the discovery of the enormous Komodo Dragon to the world. If dragons - albeit not fire-breathing ones - actually existed, what other unwelcome surprises lay in store?

For the growing band of followers of Chelsea, London’s second and infinitely more attractive alternative to Woolwich Arsenal, the answer came on 30th April at White Hart Lane. A win against Spurs would have earned two points and, on superior ‘goal average’ (goals for divided by those against), consigned our Woolwich rivals to Division Two. As it is we lost 1-2, the winner coming courtesy of former Pensioner Percy Humphreys, and the bitter pill of relegation was swallowed for the first of six times in our history.

"To-day it is brass bands and fireworks or the Dead March in Saul and funeral coaches. Ah me! How we shall await the half-time verdict from Tottenham!" The Chelsea Chronicle ponders the club's fate ahead of the last game of the season

In actual fact for parts of the season it had looked as if Chelsea would achieve tedious mid-table again. But David Calderhead's team gradually slipped away from 14th at Christmas, with home form standing examination against the very best, but away form woeful.

The team, despite regular shake-ups from manager David Calderhead, won only once on its travels – at Middlesbrough. There were dispiriting defeats to Liverpool (1-5) and Bolton (2-5).

One of the primary causes was the early absence through injury of peerless goal poacher George Hilsdon, who played only a few matches and contributed just three goals rather than his familiar two dozen. The quality of a squad also boasting Ben Warren and Jimmy Windridge was augmented by the arrival of muscular midfield artist Sam Downing and another Chelsea legend, Vivian Woodward (pictured scoring against Tottenham). Woodward, a celebrated amateur international forward who oozed class, had quit Spurs in the summer and surprisingly reappeared as a Chelsea player.

His association with Chelsea would be a long one, but it began with disappointment. In April, as the Division Two trapdoor creaked open, Chelsea’s pockets were rifled again. English McConnell, Marshall McEwan and lantern-jawed striker Bob Whittingham, all deployed in the final match of the season, were among the panicking manager’s last throw of the dice. These emergency purchases prompted the Football Association to introduce the first ever transfer deadline.

But the wave of enthusiasm and finance that created had Chelsea Football Club, and that had carried the team into the upper echelon of the Football League after just 76 matches, had waned.

The Pensioners finished 19th, with just 29 points and a goal difference of –23.

In 1909/10...
Facts and figures: The 29 point haul remains Chelsea's worst ever
Cup campaign: Second round, losing to Tottenham Hotspur
All the rage: Morgan’s first three-wheel Runabout motor car is the urban head-turner

Season by Season: 1908/9


Chelsea’s second season in the top flight showed nothing if not consistency on the pitch; the campaign concluded with one more point than the previous attempt, three more goals for and one fewer against. We finished 11th, having hovered a perilous three points above the relegation places as late as April.

A shock 3-1 win on Tyneside over champions elect Newcastle United (see picture, right) provided the final spur to avoid the drop.

Off the pitch, it has to be said, progress was rather faster. The club founders’ early suggestion that the Stamford Bridge stadium would “stagger humanity” was proving no empty boast. The Archibald Leitch-designed oval stadium had been conceived as a 100,000 capacity, state-of-the-art, all-sport venue.

Since 1906 the stadium had been selected for staging international football and rugby by the respective authorities, and athletics and cricket would occupy the ground during the summer months (in fact Chelsea’s team regularly challenged Spurs to a match before the football season started).

Inter-League matches between Scotland and England were staged at the Bridge (our squad always had its fair share of friends from north of the border), so too were Amateur Cup Finals and Charity Shields – Manchester United winning the first there 4-0.

“Football, Cricket, Lacrosse, Lawn Tennis, Hockey, Polo, Bowls, Bicycle and Tricycle Riding, Running, Jumping… Military Tournaments, Agricultural, Horse, Dog, Flower and other shows” Chelsea’s modest statement of ambition for events to be staged at Stamford Bridge

Gus Mears’ principle of diverse use for the stadium was – in light of our recent experience – far sighted as well as critical to funding the development of the playing staff of his main concern, the football club.

David Calderhead, in common with his predecessor Robertson, found money was available. If the arrival of Fred Rouse, Chelsea’s first four-figure signing, had turned heads, then the purchase of brilliant wing-half Ben Warren, of Derby and England, in 1908 was a genuine statement of purpose. Unfortunately, as has often been the case with our most eagerly anticipated buys, ill luck saw off his potential. Serious illness curtailed his career and the investment failed.

Still, George Hilsdon continued to rattle them in, scoring 25, nearly half his side’s 56 League goals. And there were heartening victories over Bury (4-1), Manchester United (1-0), Middlesbrough (4-1 and 3-0), Newcastle (3-1), Bristol City (3-1) and Leicester (1-0).

Unfortunately, the overall quality of the side was not sufficient to create an impact at the highest level to match the owner’s vision.

If things did not change, Chelsea’s magnificent modern home would be staging prestigious international sporting events under the Second Division banner.

In 1908/9...
Facts & figures: Youthful Chelsea boasted three England internationals: Hilsdon, Warren and Windridge
FA Cup: Reached the second round, losing to Blackburn Rovers
All the rage: Orientalism, and kimonos for ladies