Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season by Season: 1928/29

The crowds still came. The players – their mid-blue draw-stringed shirts, white shorts and dark socks now part of the scenery in the Second Division – still laboured.

Chelsea’s form was as depressed as the national economy. The Pensioners finished this season a dismal ninth and a promising FA Cup campaign in which they had stormed past Everton 2-0 had fizzled out.

Drastic action appeared necessary. Particularly in the context of the time, Chelsea’s next move in the close season of 1929 was typically radical, and likely to have been the brainchild of chairman Claude Kirby, a football visionary and shipping broker.

Here also we find an enduring, occasional theme in Chelsea’s history: helping foreign national teams prepare for a World Cup.

In the Sixties, Tommy Docherty’s Blues, with their 'Latin-American-style' attacking full-backs Eddie McCreadie and Ken Shellito, accepted an offer to play a series of friendly matches against Germany intended to increase the experience of the likes of the young Beckenbauer before the 1966 World Cup.

The precedent was set, however, by his fellow Scot David Calderhead agreeing to send his players on a gruelling boat trip across the Atlantic to South America to play matches against representative XIs from Argentina, Brazil and the Olympic champions of Uruguay.

The games, played in massive, vibrant stadiums, also saw Chelsea line-up against great clubs of the region such as Boca Juniors and racing Club of Argentina, and Sao Paolo of Brazil - Chelsea becoming her first professional side to play that city.
“We really learned the meaning of team-work out there, and the fortnight’s sea voyage on the way home set us up for the big effort.” Great Chelsea forward Andy Wilson on the Pensioners’ epic post-season tour of South America
The Pensioners also introduced another Kirby innovation, numbered shirts (pictured), to the region (earning the nickname 'Los Numerados'), and played under floodlights for the first time, in Rio, decades before the experience came to London.

Uruguay, celebrating its centenary year in 1930, had been selected by Fifa as the venue for the first ever World Cup that year. Unlike 1966, no England team would be participating. (Many other European associations also baulked at the journey time, cost and time involved, not to mention their concerns about the climate.)

In the space of six weeks' touring Chelsea edged a Buenos Aires XI 3-2, lost 0-4 to Racing, beat another Buenos Aires select 1-0, went down 3-4 in an epic tussle with Boca Juniors; grippingly held Sao Paolo 4-4 and then lost to them 2-3, drew with a Rio de Janeiro representative side 1-1, and finally faced a Montevideo XI.

The visitors were outdone in the first match 1-2, but triumphed in the second, played at the newly-built 100,000 Centenario Stadium in the Uruguayan capital, by two goals to one. The tourists left a lasting impression in the region, and steamed out of La Plata with the cheers of the South American crowds ringing in their ears after an experience they would never forget.

The matches against high class European opposition were excellent practice for the locals too. Masterminded by the early genius of South American football, Juan Carlos Bertone, those Montevideo XIs effectively comprised the Uruguayan national side.

Thirteen months later, Bertone’s men lifted the 'Victoire aux Ailes d'Or' World Cup trophy, having beaten Argentina in the final.

The South Americans were not the only ones to benefit from the previous summer's encounters, however. Two months before that win, in May 1930, Chelsea would be promoted back to the First Division.

In 1928/29...

Facts & figures: – ninth place in Division 2 was Chelsea's worst ever finish right up until 1976.
Cup run: Fifth round, losing to Portsmouth after a replay.
All the rage: sexual equality – women are given the same voting rights as men.

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