With memories of the debacle of relegation three seasons earlier still fresh, the most realistic hope in August 1912 was that the club would survive, rather than thrive, in Division One.
A run of the three defeats at the start of the campaign, including a dispiriting 1-2 loss at home to an insignificant Liverpool team, confirmed the worst. This was going to be tough.
Still, David Calderhead’s side managed to beat Sheffield United 4-2 and swiftly followed that with morale-boosting wins over Sunderland and, in Plumstead, The Arsenal. The Gunners fired blanks that season and would finish bottom of the table and in considerable turmoil.
The map of football in the capital was about to change though. Complaining that no one wanted to go and watch them where they were – and taking just £200-odd through the turnstiles – Woolwich Arsenal accepted that other London clubs they had recently voted into existence, including Chelsea, were proving far too attractive to the football-going public in that part of the city.
They would soon move to land owned by the College of Divinity in Islington.
“It has been the experience that when professional football has been established in any quarter that a new public is created for the game. Chelsea is a case in point” Daily Mirror 1913Chelsea’s rebuilding centred around the squad as usual. The most important new arrival had been Jack Harrow the previous campaign. Now settled into his new home, the former Croydon player (above, left) would be the left-back of choice for many years into the future. He became the first Blue to rack up 300 appearances, either side of the First World War, at that.
Yet Bob Whittingham was injured for long periods and the Pensioners missed his regularity, despite managing a creditable 51 goals, Viv Woodward again pulling more than his weight.
But 71 goals conceded in 38 games told its own story.
Between October and the start of January Chelsea notched just one win, against fellow top flight rookies Derby, in 14 attempts. The rest of the season, almost to the final day, was a torment to Stamford Bridge loyalists.
As it unfolded, it became clear that either Chelsea or Notts County would suffer the drop with The Arsenal.
Losing 1-6 at home to Blackburn Rovers at the end of March must have appeared disastrous at the time, but a spree of two wins in mid-April, one against struggling Spurs, happily rendered the final match superfluous.
Relieved, the Pensioners whacked Notts County 5-2. Better, much better, was to come in the ensuing seasons, but for now it was just great to remain among the top nobs.
Facts and figures: 21 defeats was the most suffered up to this point; it was 38 years before a worse record was established
Cup run: Second round, losing to Sheffield Wednesday in a replay
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