Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Season by Season: 1934/5

The great Hughie Gallacher turned out for Chelsea for the last time in November 1934. With their customary ability to mark historic moments by a disappointing showing, the team lost 2-5 at Elland Road. Gallacher, who would stay up north with Derby County, scored one, George Mills grabbing the other.

There was some symbolism in that: Mills, the dogged and resolute forward matching his inspirational but unreliable strike partner for the last time. It almost represents the unresolved riddle at the heart of the club ever since 1905. Do we prefer showmen or grafters? Do we want to win at all costs, or be entertained?

In truth, the loss of the Scots genius would have been a more bitter blow had he been on top of his game and his lifestyle. The ready attractions of west London and his unstable home life were taking their toll on his performances though. This did not escape club management.

Once Gallacher left Chelsea, his life rapidly and sadly declined. Once out of football he returned to the north-east and tragically committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train.

In the summer of 1934 Leslie Knighton had planned ahead, bringing in another Emerald Isle star, the prolific Linfield and Ireland centre forward Joe Bambrick. He re-signed wandering Alec Cheyne, who returned from a money-spinning two-year spell with Nimes in France, and brought in winger Dickie Spence, a crucial signing from Barnsley.

Yorkshireman Dickie (pictured, above left) was a tiny, sparky livewire on and off the pitch, good with both feet, and with a healthy appetite for goals.

Spence set a Chelsea record for goals by a winger of 19 in his first term – an incredible 12 of which were penalties, many earned through his pace and trickery against cumbersome opponents. He scored all our goals in a 4-1 drubbing of Liverpool and became a regular England international.

"Mr A.J. Palmer, Stamford Bridge official ... doubts if any winger has equalled Spence's performance. Yes, the Stamford Bridge team is improving. The greatest achievement nowadays is a better club spirit." W.H. Bee, 'Daily Mirror', after Dickie Spence's four-goal haul against Liverpool in Dec 1934

Spence's promising Chelsea career, like so many others’, would soon be interrupted by war, but it was after the conflict that he would have his greatest impact at Chelsea. Spence was one of those who set up and ran the Chelsea Juniors scheme well into the Seventies.

His skills as a trainer and nurturer helped bring through the likes of Bonetti, Brabrook, Bridges, Greaves, Harris, Hollins, Houseman, Hudson, Murray, Osgood, Sillett, Tambling, Tindall and Venables.

In 1971, as many of those progenies celebrated winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup, Dickie could look back on 37 years of service at Chelsea.

Back in 1934/5, Chelsea at last looked like a side capable of holding its own again in the top flight. Joe Bambrick lived up to his billing, netting 15 times in 21 matches, including four in a 7-1 home battering of Leeds United. The Pensioners finished 12th, but the remodelling under Knighton was taking shape.

In 1934/5...

Facts & figures: At 11,701, our lowest crowd of the season is for the visit of Everton, Dixie Dean and all.

Cup run: Third round replay, losing to Luton Town.

All the rage: European fascism – “Herr Hitler” and Mussolini strongarm their way into the newsreels.