Thursday, 23 July 2009

Season by Season: 1913/14

The ninth season of professional football at Stamford Bridge began under the shadow of imminent war. By August 1914 the whole of Europe would be at war and British troops tramping around France. Football would soon become a meaningless sideshow, but for the time being people still flocked to the Fulham Road every other Saturday full of sporting optimism.

And before the military dispatches, a brigade of new footering favourites emerged on the Stamford Bridge terraces.

Only fourteen goalies have played more than 100 games for the Blues. Our second centurion, following the precedent set by our first great goalkeeping servant Jack Whitley, was the popular Merseysider James “Molly” Molyneux.

Whitley would stay at Chelsea as a trainer until the 1939, but the new man exceeded him in every respect, playing more games, keeping more clean sheets ... and letting in more goals. Soon, he would also become the first Chelsea keeper to appear in a Cup Final. Molly’s playing career spanned the War and he made more than 230 appearances.

Upfront, the experienced Harold Halse, a lithe England international who had twice won the Cup, had begun to share goalscoring responsibilities with the dependable Viv Woodward. There were two bit-part players who fleetingly lit up the Bridge too: Max Woosnam, an all-round athlete who would win an Olympic medal at tennis in 1920, was an amateur sportsman in the Woodward vein, but his career at Chelsea was curtailed by his business interests.

Lanky, skilful half-back Nils Middelboe, our first glamorous overseas recruit, began a ten-year love affair with the Blues that comprised mostly of one-night stands as he was so often unavailable because of his salaried work as a banker.

The “Great Dane” as he was inevitably called, is a legend in his native land. And in an era when there is overblown talk of “foreign mercenaries”, it’s refreshing to recall that the Danish amateur international would not even put in the expense claim top-ups that his English colleagues would. Middelboe was a star from the off. It was well-known he had scored the first ever goal in Olympic football in 1908, and on his debut for the Pensioners he was handed the honour of captaincy by his friend, Woodward.
"At Stamford Bridge, we have been told
Are seen obstructions; far too bold,

With Plume, and Hat, so very tall

'Not Half' the game is seen at all

Apart from that, a Gallant Dane

Is seen; and long may he remain

With Chelsea; so, please just to show

Respect; 'Hats off,' to Middelboe"

E. A. Goddard (Oxford Street)

Less fortunate was the great Ben Warren, whose descent into mental ill-health and death from tuberculosis deeply affected the football world - a benefit match was held at Stamford Bridge for his wife and children at the end of the season.

The Bridge also staged a display of hands across the water in February 1914, as George V attended a baseball match between two top US teams, New York Giants and Chicago White Sox.

As far as the football was concerned, though, this season was all about consolidation. Chelsea never really excelled, but rarely looked out of their depth in the top tier – despite a 1-6 humiliation at the hands of Burnley. David Calderhead's team finished the season in a promising eighth place.

Gratifyingly, they were also the top-placed London club at a moment when the capital’s clubs were competing feverishly for audiences. It would be two seasons – but six years – before that feat was achieved again.

In 1913/14... Facts & figures: Chelsea finished just five points short of the runners-up position in Division One
Cup run: First round, losing to Millwall
All the rage: The world’s first full-length colour feature film: 'The Word, the Flesh and the Devil,' a British production

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