Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Season by Season: 1907/8

Chelsea‘s first successful promotion campaign had been built on the tightest defence in the Second Division. And there was little doubt, amid the hullabaloo surrounding the glamorous young club’s debut season in the top flight, that the same personnel would need to handle England’s finest with equal competence if the west Londoners were to thrive.

Manager and occasional player Jackie Robertson, who’d built the team but stood down before his side earned their elevation, had been succeeded by Lincoln City boss David Calderhead. Calderhead (pictured right) is rightly regarded as a Chelsea legend, if only because he remains our longest serving manager, surviving 26 years in one of the hottest seats in football.

"Chelsea had only three of their regular team playing. For all that they gave a capital display, the football of the visitors during the first half being extremely good. [Norrie] Fairgray, who was transferred from Lincoln City, proved a splendid partner to at outside-left to [Jimmy] Windridge. These two men, with [Billy] Bridgeman in the centre, played together wonderfully well." The Daily Mirror report of Brentford 2 Chelsea 4, September 1906

But Robertson’s acrimonious resignation was symptomatic of a widespread lapse in standards at easygoing Stamford Bridge. There were frequent absentees from training, and several fines for drunkenness. Club captain David Copeland was even suspended for abusing club officials while under the influence. The directors acted, taking over some organisational duties from Robertson. Calderhead, it was hoped, would exert more authority.

Still one star was errant. George ‘Gatling Gun’ Hilsdon, the sensational young striker, had begun to enjoy the extended drinking sessions that would eventually mar his career. At this stage, though, he was still able to set new standards of goalscoring, notching 30, including a stunning double hat-trick against Worksop in the Cup.

Others weighed in with high quality performances, including fellow forward Jimmy Windridge and goalie Jack Whitley, and the Bridge’s gates averaged more than 30,000. However, one win in the first eight matches did not augur well, and 62 goals were conceded. Still, 13th place in Division One would have been an achievement for a less ambitious club.

Whatever, the music hall songwriters of the day were finding a rich new source of material in SW6 with which to tickle the public fancy. In fact, following the shock death of trainer Jimmy Miller, variety star George Robey organised a benefit at which his All-Star XI played. So well did he perform that the comedian was actually signed up as a player on the Stamford Bridge staff.

Chelsea and entertainment were now intimately - and eternally - linked.

In 1907/8...
Fact & figures: More than 625,000 people watched football at the Bridge this season
FA Cup: Second round, losing to Manchester United
All the rage: Music hall comedian George Robey, of course

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