Monday, 30 April 2012

Season by Season: 1935/6

Part of the 82,905 crowd at Chelsea v Arsenal, 1935

We are now into themid-Thirties, and there is a look about Chelsea, on and off the pitch. thatwill be familiar to modern-day readers.

Supporters from all overLondon are flocking to the Archibald Leitch-designed Stamford Bridge ground towatch a team full of glamorous, international stars. That they may haveunderperformed is also a recognisable trait for long-standing fans.

Our attack boast some ofthe best players from across the British Isles in Joe Bambrick, Dickie Spence,George Mills and new man, the veteran Harry Burgess. They would easily outshinetheir defence colleagues – and there was nothing new about that.
“If you went to Chelsea and you were any good you lived like a king. It was like a gentlemen’s club. You didn’t get the money, but it was all paid for.’  Martin, son of Harry Burgess
And what of the stadiumitself? In a Premier League era when diversification of use of club premises isseen as vital, Chelsea’s solution – greyhounds rubbing shoulders withfootballers – may seen an unlikely one. But the dogs’ kennels are therebehind the North Stand and the racing attracted crowds – and even employmentfor some former stars of the Pensioners.

In fact, the North Standitself (begun in 1939 and still in use in the early 1970s) and the legendaryShed (erected in the mid-1930s) were openly built for the comfort of thedog-fanciers rather than the soccer fans.

There was a sense ofrenewal, too, in the administration. The veteran Chelsea board was decimated inthe space of weeks by the loss of vice-chairman and stadium entrepreneur JoeMears, assistant secretary Bert Palmer (with the club since 1907) and clubsecretary Claude Kirby, solid and sometimes inspirational captain of a shipthat often found itself in troubled waters. Young blood arrived in theboardroom in the shape of Joe Mears junior, the dominant figure of the FulhamRoad club for the next three decades.

On the field, after a poorstart to the 1935-6 campaign the Pensioners started to play some wonderfulattacking football. Bambrick, a legend with the blues of Linfield, had actuallyscored 94 goals in one season for the Irish club. His Ireland internationalrecord included six in one match against Wales.

He, Mills, one of ourall-time great netfinders, Spence and Burgess all hit double figures as LeslieKnighton’s Chelsea found their First Division range.

Just two season lateranother war would decimate British life, but just now, football in SW6 wasbuzzing again, and we would finish a respectable eighth, our best for a decadeand half. 65,000 came to watch high-flying Sunderland’s visit at the end ofSeptember, a 3-1 home win. It set up the arrival of 4th-placedArsenal on October 12th superbly.

Bambrick grabbed theequaliser that shared the points, but more poignantly a Football League recordcrowd of 82,905 filled the heaving stadium. It remains our largest officialattendance.

At the end of thecampaign, Knighton had achieved Chelsea’s highest finish – eighth in the topflight – since 1920.

In 1935/6...
Facts & figures:Amazingly, in this tense prewar period, Chelsea tour Holland, Germany andPoland in the summer.
League finish: Eighth in Division One, a 15-year high.
Cup run: Reached the fifth round, losing to Fulham in a replay.
All the rage: Flying thepopular ‘budget’ aircraft, the tiny Flea.

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