Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Season by Season: 1906/7

In early November 1906, the award of half a guinea (52.5p) for creating the best seven word sentence from the acronym C-H-E-L-S-E-A was printed in Chelsea’s matchday Chronicle: “Chelseaites Hope Every League Struggle Earns Advancement”.

Two hundred others had penned suggestions; crowds flocked to games home and away; the press enjoyed lampooning and hailing in equal measure; some more notable players were lured to Division Two to replace big names like goalie Willie Foulke and 18-goal striker George Pearson. In its second season, Chelsea FC was weaving its way into football’s tapestry.

Perhaps this was the period when the lasting image of Chelsea was struck, forged in the Imperial, excitable, warless days soon after the death of old Queen Vic. The board was a hedonistic mixture of wealthy building contractors and local publicans; what they all shared was a love of the high-living and sport.

The team fulfilled their fixtures around the country by train and the novel electric tram (no team coach then) to record crowds, fascinated by the newcomers. In the public psyche, the club was forever associated with its desirable but implausible West London location.

“Chelsea, you’re the team to show ’em (when you’re in the proper vein)” First line of a poem sent in to the Chelsea Chronicle by supporter F Douglas

Chelsea was an enigma.

One of the head-turning attractions was the 19-year-old Londoner George Hilsdon, perhaps the club’s first ‘discovery’. A centre-forward who was watched languishing in West Ham’s reserves, he had become manager Jackie Robertson most important summer signing. Fast, mobile, muscular and with bullets in either boot, he had destroyed poor Glossop – who’d left with a point the season before – on the opening day of 1906/7.

‘Gatling Gun’, as he was soon dubbed, rattled in five during our auspicious 9-2 win and within weeks scored a hat-trick during the English League’s first international, against Ireland. The glamorous George scored 27 of 80 League goals in the campaign and became an instant hero. A weathervane in his likeness (pictured above) still spins on top of the east stand at Stamford Bridge.

The self-evident ambition, on and off the pitch, of this star-studded club also earned plaudits even if the erratic away form didn’t. But with Stamford Bridge becoming a citadel (one defeat, no draws over the campaign), the Londoners were always favourites for one of the two promotion slots, and a Christmas run of four away games without defeat set up a comfortable conclusion: nine points clear of rivals Leicester Fosse; three behind champions Nottingham Forest.

In its second season Chelsea FC was promoted to the top flight, and the big time.

In 1906/7...
Facts and figures: The 9-2 defeat of Glossop remains Chelsea’s best ever League win
Cup run: Reached the first round, losing to Lincoln City in a replay after a draw
All the rage: Jules Verne was the JK Rowling of the day

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