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.
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