Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season by Season: 1929/30

As related in the previous episode of this chronicle, Chelsea spent the summer of 1929 on a gruelling but inspirational jaunt around South America, squaring up with considerable success to the best players of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

The Stamford Bridge players undoubtedly helped the Uruguayans in their ultimately successful preparation for the first ever World Cup. But David Calderhead’s squad also emerged from the experience bound together more as a team.

The only significant addition to the playing staff would come not in pre-season, but winter, in the form of George 'The Bomb' Mills, a hulking centre-forward with an unimpressive pedigree around Kentish clubs.

Mills made his debut against Preston North End on December 21st and opened his account in a 5-0 drubbing. He went on to top-score with 14 goals that season, but he wasn’t the only striker finding his range: the habitually goal-shy George Pearson and Harry Miller both found the net with confident regularity as the whole team gelled wonderfully.

The 1929-30 season was exceptional in several ways: it brought 13 of the 41 league goals managed by Miller over his decade and a half at Stamford Bridge; Pearson’s 12 out of a total 33 notches came in what was easily the best of his seven seasons at Chelsea. Even the veteran stylist Andy Wilson managed double figures in his penultimate term as a player.
“Our latest leader, he went over the top at 2.30, and at 2.32 dropped one of his bombs in the enemy’s camp.” The Chelsea Chronicle summarises debutant Mills’ impressive performance against Preston
Mills, though, would become one of our most consistent marksmen, with a return of 116 league goals in 220 appearances. By the time he arrived Chelsea’s season was looking promising.

Regular keeper Sam Millington kept 15 clean sheets; his teenage stand-in, Frank Higgs saw out his entire Chelsea career of just two matches this season and managed one shut-out, a 3-0 thrashing of Spurs.

The decisive period began on Wednesday 12 March 1930. A visit to Bradford brought two points and a 3-1 winning margin. Chelsea won the next four matches to establish one of our best sequences, on the back of which the Blues rose from third place to second.

As the final matches of early May arrived, Chelsea were still clinging to that final promotion slot, and a reassuring second win against Preston set up the closing game, at Bury, thus: rivals Oldham, two points behind but with a superior goal average, would snatch promotion if they won and Calderhead's men lost.

One precious point would suffice.

As it turned out, both hopefuls wilted in the spotlight. In Lancashire the Pensioners were nervy, and a host of chances was "frittered away by needless fanny work," as the Daily Mirror put it, while Bury won 1-0.

Oldham, though, were always behind at relegation-threatened Barnsley, and lost 1-2. As a result, on the 25th anniversary of the club’s existence, Chelsea were promoted back to the First Division.

A few weeks later, an all-time great would arrive from Newcastle to spearhead our top-flight challenge: the mighty Hughie Gallacher.

In 1929/30...

Facts and figures: Chelsea lose once all season at home, winning 17.

Cup run: Third round, losing to Arsenal.

All the rage: the British press rubbishes the World Cup, because foreigners invented it.

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.

Season by Season: 1927/28

Continuing Chelsea's mid-Twenties tradition in the Second Division of great quality everywhere on the pitch except in front of goal, 1927/28 saw David Calderhead's side finish a tantalising third. Again.

Three points behind promoted Leeds, whose defensive record was inferior but who, pointedly, scored 23 goals more.

Who was to blame for this persistent lack of poke? The board might be cited for failing to replace the likes of Whittingham and Cock with players of similar quality.
Equally, manager Calderhead, now in his twentieth season at the Bridge, was unable to convince his paymasters to speculate to accumulate.

'The Sphinx' had always shown them loyalty; perhaps a little more bullishness would have been useful.

Nevertheless, two players deserve special mention. Firstly the great full-back Tommy Law, Stamford Bridge's adopted Glaswegian, who would only play twice for his country, both against England.

Tommy made his international debut on 31 March 1928 as one of the famous 'Wembley Wizards' who took a dismal England team apart 5-1. (Chelsea bought two more Wizards, Gallacher and Jackson, a few years later.) It would have been interesting to hear the banter in Chelsea’s dressing room after that show of gratitude to his adoptive country.
"The Scots prefer heavy turf to light ground because it makes all the difference to the harmony of their ball control and jugglery,” Sporting Chronicle’s timeless excuse for an English defeat – the pitch
Secondly, Jimmy Thompson (pictured) arrived from Luton Town. A winger converted to centre-forward at Stamford Bridge, he netted in his opening three matches and weighed in with a third of the team's 75 goals scored in this, his first season. His playing career at the Bridge unfortunately lasted just one more campaign, allegedly after an argument over money.

But he was to make an immeasurable contribution in his post-war role back at the Bridge as chief scout.
A big, loud east-ender with slick, centre-parted hair and false teeth that would slipped disarmingly during his frequent, hearty laughs, Jimmy became one of the great Chelsea characters in the 1950s and Sixties.

He was unorthodox in his recruitment method to say the least, playfully building up the espionage element of his job, taking promising kids from his neighbourhood on trips to the seaside and suddenly hustling them into a doorway because “The Spurs scout’s coming!”

Thompson was also incredibly persistent and persuasive, winning the signature of a string of great players, including Jimmy Greaves, Barry Bridges and Terry Venables, from his boyhood streets and from under the noses of West Ham and Tottenham.
Few have played such a vital, undersung part in the history of our club, and it all started in 1927.

In 1927/28...

Gratuitous fact: Tottenham are relegated from Division One.

Cup run: First round, losing to Wolves.

All the rage: flying solo – lonely Charles Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic for the first time.

Season by Season: 1926/27

The third season of our third spell in the Second Division had that feeling of déjà-vu all over again. Leaders of the pack in the early stages, Chelsea stuttered in the colder months, recovered, then crucially faded again, collating just three points from a last possible ten. David Calderhead's side finished fourth, following fifth and third place finishes in the previous two campaigns.

The defence would concede a respectable 52 all season – second best at that level – but once again the attack was found wanting at crucial times. Albert Thain and Bob Turnbull, Bobby Charlton combover hairstyle and all, managed a half-decent 31 League goals between them, but no other player could reach double figures in support. Manchester City finished third with 46 more strikes than Chelsea's 62.

Two new arrivals were especially significant. Tommy Law was a Glaswegian full-back who would make more than 300 appearances for Chelsea, establish himself as a solid if unspectacular international performer, and even turn down a more lucrative contract with French club Nimes to stick around until 1939. Law was a great and popular servant at the Bridge, renowned for his crowd-pleasing slide tackles. He also scored 19 goals, many of them penalties, in that time and became a regular on the Bridge terraces after the boots were finally hung up.

An astute replacement for the popular Ben Howard Baker, 30-year-old Sam Millington became our stalwart between the sticks. Walsall-born Millington (pictured keeping goal in the Cup against Cardiff City) was invariably seen with wide, flat cap on head in public, masking another Charltonesque pate, and would set a record of 78 shutouts in his 245 games over six seasons in west London. Half a century would pass before Peter Bonetti, he of the gloves not the titfer, would eventually break that record.

Team resources were generally stretched. In early November the club received news that Turnbull, current top scorer who had notched 20 the previous season, was to serve a lengthy suspension for disciplinary reasons.

"Chelsea F.C. yesterday received official notification from the Football Association that Turnbull, their centre-forward, has been suspended for two months for an incident in connection with the match between South Shields and Chelsea on the South Shields ground on Saturday, October 9" Daily Express, 6 November 1926
The following day a fine of £45 was handed out to the Pensioners by the FA (and to Spurs and Clapton Orient) for not fielding the strongest available league side in the London Combination Cup - despite reaching the final at Highbury and going on to beat Orient there, 2-1.

Happily, after threadbare fare in recent years, there came a surprisingly rich FA Cup run too. Chelsea saw off, amongst others, Accrington Stanley (who are they?) by 7-2 – one of our all-time great wins. Thain and Turnbull weighed in with five and six goals respectively in that competition.

A full house in the sixth round – the furthest the team had progressed for ten years – witnessed stalemate between the Blues and First Division runners-up Cardiff City.

The return at Ninian Park was a fantastic affair. Chelsea conceded a penalty but fought back only to lose by the odd goal in five, Andy Wilson also missing a vital spot-kick for the Londoners. The Welsh went on to lift the Cup, seeing off Arsenal 1-0 in the final.

In 1926/27...

Facts & figures: 70,184 watch the first match in our FA Cup tie against Cardiff at the Bridge

Cup run: Sixth round, losing to Cardiff City in a replay

All the rage: feline fine – the Cats Protection League is founded

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