Monday, 17 August 2009

Season by Season: 1923/24

As Chelsea Football Club approached its twentieth anniversary the wheels on the entertaining bandwagon appeared to be working loose. Disputes over the stadium real estate and public doubts over the motives of one or two directors had sullied the fantasy atmosphere of football in SW6.

Goals had dried up too. By late November Chelsea had hit the net in just five of the first 16 matches. Of last season’s leading scorers, Buchanan Sharp was no longer around and Harry Ford’s flow had dried up.

The renowned amateur international from Corinthians, A.G. Bower, known as "Baishe", joined his teammate Ben Howard Baker on the Chelsea roster, although work commitments prevented the great full-back from turning out regularly for the Blues.
Public interest reflected fare that was unlikely to interest an audience, especially in times of biting poverty. Attendances had fallen substantially for the first time outside wartime.

But the club’s divided board still knew a few tricks. At the end of that meagre November Chelsea visited Ayresome Park, and one of the two Middlesbrough scorers that day was a Scottish international who would emerge as one of the greatest pocket battleships of Chelsea’s attack.

Andy Wilson (pictured, above left) became the club's record signing after the return match at the Bridge a week later – won 2-0 – for a substantial £6,500. A small but sturdy 5’6” in his nailed-on studs, he stayed eight years and was a pioneer in the club tradition of petite entertainers that will be familiar to anyone who watched Hughie Gallacher or Mark Stein – or even Gianfranco Zola, another spectacular autumn acquisition 73 years later.

Wilson, despite the impediment of a war-damaged left hand, was also a typically crowd-pleasing Scots winger, full of tricks to elude an opponent and deadly in his distribution from just outside the box. Although he was primarily a provider, he also top scored for the Pensioners with a paltry five League goals. An enthusiastic smoker, Wilson was never the less a pioneer in producing football training books for children.

At 53 the record of goals conceded compared favourably to third-placed Sunderland, and was testament to main goalie Colin Hampton and his back line, including the long-serving Jack Harrow.

But an impoverishing 31 goals for would do the damage and ways of escape from a second relegation with that dreadful goal average began to test terrace mathematicians as the season drew to a close.

Yet the Pensioners suddenly revived, seeing off heavyweights Liverpool, Newcastle and Sunderland and producing the kind of hope that can be fatal.
“The midget Chelsea forwards faded away, almost sunk from view” Chelsea historian Scott Cheshire on the downpour at the Bridge that ended Chelsea’s hopes of staying up
Before the final match, against Man City, it was nevertheless clear that only a serious win margin, probably by double figures, would suffice.

Imagine this, all you who were drenched watching Chelsea 4 Viktoria Zizkov 2 in 1994: the Pensioners had scored three times in the first 15 minutes, when an almighty rainstorm engulfed the Bridge, quagmired the pitch, and virtually ended any hope. The final score was 3-1.
Even the weather, it seems, has it in for Chelsea sometimes. The Blues were relegated in 21st place; Boro finished bottom.

In 1923/24...
Facts and figures: Chelsea had lasted 15 years in the top flight
Cup run: First Round, losing to Southampton after a replay for the second year running
All the rage: football hooliganism – this is the year of the White Horse FA Cup Final

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