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

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