On Boxing Day, 1922, the visit of Nottingham Forest was inauspicious. The Midlanders arrived knowing that Chelsea had not won in 11 games, hadn’t troubled the scorers at all during November, and were looking like rivals for relegation from Division One.
Happily, Chelsea won 4-0 on the day, with the less familiar names of Buchanan Sharp and Jimmy Armstrong, with a brace, sharing the rare glory with fading star Harry Ford.
Many of the old names had faded now, and the celebrated Jack Cock was crocked and then moved on to Everton.
It had all looked very different on Monday September 4th at the Bridge, when Sharp and Cock were both on the scoresheet in a 3-2 win over Stoke that put Chelsea top of the League for the first time in our history.
The last 14 games of the season were a nightmare, though, with only a 3-0 win over Bolton earning the maximum two points. We finished in 19th place, just above the relegation slots. Off the field, too, the turmoil of the period has a familiar ring to any supporters who sat through the 1970s. Needless to say we are talking about a scandal surrounding ownership of the land on which Stamford Bridge is built.
“It would appear that from the formation of the club the Mears family have exercised a controlling influence” FA inquiry into the running of Chelsea FC, 1922Joseph Theophilus Mears, alongside his late brother Gus, had been a founder director of the football club. He was a sports fan who knew better than most how to make money from leisure and entertainment. He ran pubs, built cinemas and owned the steam launches that puffed up the Thames from Eel Pie Island in Twickenham (see advertisement, top left).
After Gus’s death, Joe quietly bought the freehold to the property from their sister, Gus's executrix, Beatrice, who had previously offered the land to the football club at a higher price.
Back in 1920 Mears had first advised the club that as new landlord all rents should be paid to him. He offered an alternative, however: buy the freehold for £42,000 over 14 years.
Sadly, Chelsea could ill afford such a fee. Mears also paid the club relatively little for his lucrative monopoly on all catering inside the Bridge, and all renovations were carried out by his contracting firm at a hefty sum. Matters came to a head in the boardroom in 1922.
An unseemly spat ensued during which Mears attempted to boot his brother-in-law, Beatrice's husband and a fellow building contractor Henry Boyer, off the Chelsea board. Boyer in turn disputed the value of construction work carried out on the ground through Mears's firm, and wrote to the FA.
The FA was appalled at what they read and instigated an inquiry so that for the first time, but certainly not the last, Chelsea’s dirty laundry was washed in public. In 1922 Mr J Howcroft produced a report condemning Chelsea as an unhealthily run club, and demanding changes among the directors - there were too many Mears employees, he felt, including Tom Kinton, his clerk of works - catering arrangements and tendering procedures.
Boyer and Kinton were both ousted in 1922, and in their place came former player Vivian Woodward, who remained for eight years, and Charles Pratt Sr., a local antique dealer. Pratt was briefly chairman in 1935 following Claude Kirby's death, and his son held down the same post between 1966 and 1968.
Unfortunately, history proved that the battle of Stamford Bridge was far from over.
Facts and figures: The FA inquiry was told that Joe Mears paid £35, 750 for the freehold of Stamford Bridge
Cup run: Second Round, losing to Southampton after a replay
All the rage: Decaffeinated coffee is invented – skinny latte decaff, anyone?