Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season by Season: 1925/26

These days it seems every week some official guardian of the beautiful game has a new idea to 'improve' the sport. Make goals the size of a house, they say, or blindfold the goalies.

Weekly phone-ins often carry the call from supporters to tool the ref up like Tring’s answer to RoboCop. So let’s go back to a simpler time for the game, where football was football, and – oh dear, even then they just wouldn’t let it lie...

In the summer of 1925, all levels of the national game in England adopted a new offside law. No longer did three opponents have to be between a player and the goal. Now it was down to two.

Faster, fewer stoppages, clearer decisions, more goals, they said. And, by Jove, they were right.

“Revolutionised football starts to-day in all parts of the country.” Daily Mirror, Aug 29 1925, on the new offside law

In what indicates an unusually practical pre-season training approach for secretary-manager David Calderhead and co., Chelsea not only instantly mastered the law-change’s effects on defending, but managed to exploit the new attacking options quicker than anyone else in the Second Division.

After 13 games the Pensioners were unbeaten, had scored 36 goals, conceded just eight (better than the next tightest defence, Derby’s, by five) and topped the table from Middlesbrough by a massively superior goal average.

That was in early November. Following a Christmas Day draw with Blackpool, though, Chelsea had slumped to third, out of the vital promotion slots as injury and loss of form began to bite. And there they would finish, with no end-of-season play-offs to keep hopes of a return to First Division alive.

Money was still relatively tight at the Bridge too. The season’s notable new arrivals had, by necessity, both been forwards.

Local lad Albert Thain would stick around till 1931 and notch a half century of strikes in that time. Bob Turnbull, a better-travelled Scots striker, would manage the excellent strike-rate of 58 from his 87 games in Chelsea blue, ending in 1928.

In nets, Scouser Peter McKenna made his mark, began vying with iconic amateur Ben Howard Baker (pictured in action during the 2-0 win over Bradford City) for pre-eminence. The first Chelsea player born in the 20th century, he had an excellent shot-stopping record but was perhaps a little too short, at 5’10”, to thrive at the upper levels of a game in which the aerial punt was an approved method of attack.

Simeon 'Sam' Millington who joined at the season’s close, would soon eclipse McKenna as the Pensioners’ new goalkeeping hero.

In 1925/26...

Facts & figures: Chelsea’s cup visit to Crystal Palace set a then stadium record of 41,000
Cup run: Fourth Round, losing to Crystal Palace
All the rage: 1,750,000 workers go on General Strike to stop employers reducing miners’ wages

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