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.
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