In July 1924, a British Empire athletics squad lost out to its USA counterpart by 3pts to 11. Among the British winners was miler Eric Liddell, immortalised in the film 'Chariots Of Fire.' Even if Chelsea’s footballers were languishing in Division Two for the third time, sportsmen could still light up the venue for an enthusiastic fee-paying public.
Relegation had come at an awkward time in the evolution of the club and during a deep economic depression in the country. The diversification of use that had been the aim of those running the stadium from 1905 was now desperately needed to bring in vital revenue.
The wooing of various sports authorities, old and new, had produced mixed results. (Much like the football team, which without significant new investment in players finished fifth in the Second Division.)
American baseball showcases had begun to be staged. In the November King George V and Queen Mary, along with two princes, watched Chicago Whitesox play the New York Giants.
A few years later, Joe Mears’ manoeuvring delighted the capital’s petrol-heads as the novel sport of motorcycle speedway came to the Bridge; shortly after that, the famous greyhounds arrived.
The hosting of athletics events was in keeping with the stadium’s roots. It had been the home of the London Athletic Association before Chelsea moved in.
“65 sports meetings held in the close season, and when there are no meetings as many as 150 to 200 Athletes are on the ground training” Football League report into the state of Chelsea’s pitchBut multiple use of the playing surface came with a price to pay. The football authorities listened to several complaints from First Division clubs in the early Twenties that the pitch was often not up to standard.
Equally important, the dream of developing a covered stadium that would rival the great football temples of Glasgow did not materialise. Major structural improvements would not come until the Thirties, and a cinder track would surround the pitch for the bikes before a lid was placed over the South Stand.
The biggest loss had come when Chelsea’s hosting of FA Cup Finals ended with the completion of Wembley stadium – a major blow, even though Charity Shields remained in SW6.
On the pitch, Andy Wilson’s skills and Bill Whitton’s goals, plus the continues defensive supremacy of Ben Howard Baker, back in goal, and full-backs Harrow and Smith, made it still worth a visit.
Facts and figures: Chelsea’s average crowd in this Second Division season was 31,000
Cup run: First Round, losing to Birmingham City
All the rage: the Charleston arrives in Britain – everybody’s doing it.