If 18th position in May 1933 was enough to end manager David Calderhead’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, new boss Leslie Knighton hardly set SW6 alight in his debut season.
In fact, the Pensioners ambled to an even lowlier 19th under him. Knighton’s former club, Birmingham City – mid-table regulars under him – finished one place lower. It was hardly his fault, though.
Despite the regular under-achievement, with lucrative gates of 50 and 60,000 a frequent occurrence at Stamford Bridge the ambitious board had been prepared to invest again in summer 1933.
Knighton used his contacts across the Irish Sea to bring in stylish Tom Priestley (famous for the idiosyncratic skull-cap he wore on the pitch) and combative midfielder Billy Mitchell, who would serve the club well in his time. The manager also brought in flame-haired winger Jimmy Argue from his former club and bought Scotland's keeper Johnny Jackson from Partick Thistle.
Never the less, the new man had been swiftly alerted to the enigma of Chelsea that had defeated Calderhead and now challenged him. In his first match in charge, no less than six internationals took the field at newly-promoted Stoke’s Victoria Ground. And lost 0-1.
A 5-2 home victory over struggling Wolves was followed by on-the-road defeats at Huddersfield (1-6) and Sheffield United (1-4), not helped by a massive list of key injuries that virtually killed the season.
There was plenty of talent, but team spirit? Once again the glamour boys were favourites for relegation come Christmas.
The football world was all too ready to enjoy our usual underachievement. A popular song from the halls at the time was 'The Day That Chelsea Went And Won The Cup', which related all the equally unlikely events (lawyers waiving their fees, cabbies having change of a fiver etc) that took place on a day that the satirical writer could obviously never foresee. This despite the Pensioners reaching the semi-final in 1932.
on a day that the satirical writer could obviously never foresee. This despite the Pensioners reaching the semi-final in 1932.
“Brave as a lion. Quick, safe, sure.” Leslie Knighton hails Jackson, one of his two great keepers
There were green shoots of promise to enjoy. Once fit Johnny Jackson would clearly prove a fine acquisition, a goalkeeper to rival Vic Woodley. Both would play regularly for their country – Scotland and England respectively – and they became the best of friends despite the professional rivalry. Jackson had all too quickly lost his first-team place through injury, but was still selected for Scotland on recovery.
Two goals in the FA Cup from Stanley Matthews helped Stoke heap more misery on us in the Cup as we lost 1-3 away, but as fitness returned a flurry of five consecutive wins in March and April saw off the last real threat of the drop. The next season, it was hoped, would bring fewer injuries and genuine progress.
Off the field, the greyhound racing that would entertain (and impoverish) crowds of punters for three and a half decades was launched at Stamford Bridge in July 1933 (pictured, top left). Former star winger Harry Ford was one of those who worked on the turnstiles at the evening meetings.
Facts & figures: More than 10,000 punters regularly attended greyhound events at the Bridge.
Cup run: Fifth round (losing to Stoke City).
All the rage: Aussie batsman Don Bradman is the new toast of Ashes cricket.