Monday, 30 April 2012

Season by Season: 1931/2

George Pearson in action during the FA Cup
quarter-final at Anfield. 
Hughie Gallacher was notthe only notable arrival on our return to the big time.

Fellow Scotlandinternational forwards Alex Cheyne from Aberdeen (a substantial £6,000 signing)and Alec Jackson, a winger from the famous 1928 Wembley Wizards, had helped reshape our attack, and full-backGeorge Barber, who cost nothing, would play nearly 300 games for Chelsea.

Among several fondfarewells, none was more poignant than Simeon ‘Sam’ Millington’s. With 78shutouts, the solidly reliable keeper held the Chelsea record for clean sheetsfor half a century until surpassed by Peter Bonetti.

His replacement wasanother Chelsea legend, dashing 21-year-old Vic Woodley, who would establish aclub record for England international caps eventually topped by Ray Wilkins.His agility, safe-handling and tendency to come off his line for crosses – ararity at the time – would serve Chelsea superbly over 252 League games, all ofthem in the top flight.

The glamorous appeal ofChelsea, sorely tested during the wilderness years, had revived. Along with it,though, returned the old stigma of underachievement in the League.

We lost nine of the first13 matches this season, including a 3-6 hammering at home to Aston Villa. Thena run of seven wins in nine beginning at Christmas took us from the relegationzone to a respectable 13th.

As was often the case, only the cupseemed to bring the best out of what was a star-studded team. An excellent runsaw off Tranmere, West Ham, and Sheffield Wednesday – typically, against them,after a replay. 

The quarter-finals brought a visit to Anfield to playLiverpool, then off the pace in the race for the Championship. Nearly 60,000turned out to see goals from Hughie Gallacher and George Pearson tame the Reds. 

“Gallacher was undoubtedly the best forward on the field.The little Scot was in brilliant form, and his wonderful dribbles seemed todemoralise the home defence.” The Daily Express on Chelsea’s FA Cup 2-0 defeatof Liverpool at Anfield

Gallacher had scored inevery round he had figured in – he missed the Sheffield Wednesday tie – and hemust have looked forward to our first semi-final since 1915 more than most, asit was against his old club Newcastle.

Again he managed a goal,but the Magpies were already two ahead by that stage and sadly we missed out on thefinal appearance.

Newcastle ran out victorsat Wembley, defeating Arsenal with a hotly disputed goal, scored from a crosswhen the ball appeared over the bye-line. 

In 1931/32...
Facts & figures: Arecord 75,334 crowd comes to Stamford Bridge for the visit of Arsenal.
League finish: Twelfth in Division One for the second successive season.
Cup run: All the way to the semis, where we lost to Newcastle.
All the rage: Coca-Cola uses its red livery in Xmas adverts to colour Santa’ssuit red for the first time. 

Season by Season: 1930/1

Hughie Gallacher scoring
against Man United.

It was rumoured that Chelsea signed Hughie Gallacher against his will, and the furrowed brow evident in every photo certainly spoke of a troubled soul. 

What is certain is that Chelsea paid a near British record £10,000 for his rare qualities. And when he appeared in blue at St James’s Park soon after leaving Newcastle for Stamford Bridge, a stadium record of 68,386 turned out to see the prodigal son return.

Gallacher is a Chelsea legend, on and off the pitch. A stocky, combustible 5’5”, the Scottish international was a prolific goalscorer before he arrived, averaging a goal every 1.22 matches in his Tyneside career. 

When Chelsea finally achieved promotion after a long hiatus in the Second Division, his signing in the summer of 1930 must have been as pleasant a surprise to Chelsea fans of the day as any since.

My brother Jack, who saw my father play, said no one could play like him - even Diego Maradona.” Hughie Gallacher junior on his father the footballer. 

With an incredible leap compensating for his lack of inches, Gallacher was the complete attacking footballer. He could shoot powerfully with either foot, beat three or four players at a time, and showed such guile against defenders in the penalty box that he must have been a nightmare to play against.

There was his sewer mouth, however. Hughie was frequently cited for swearing at officials and players at a time when the sport was still considered gentlemanly, and it was possible for opponents to exploit this chink in his make-up. 

Outside of football he was just as noticeable. He liked a drink. “Gallacher was, one Friday evening, thrown drunk and incapable out of a pub on the Kings Road, Chelsea,” recalled the veteran football writer Brian Glanville, “to the amazement of members of the team due to play Chelsea next day who happened to be passing at the time. The following afternoon, Gallacher ran them ragged!”

In his first season rather too few opponents ended in such a state – that would come soon enough. However, the Pensioners settled into a respectable mid-table position as if never having been away and the crowds returned largely because of his presence. He would remain at Chelsea for four years before moving on again.

The decline that followed is sad to note. Ravaged by his dependance on alcohol and guilt over an impending charge of cruelty against his son Matthew, in 1957 Gallacher threw himself in front of an express train at Gateshead and was killed. He remains a true Chelsea great.  

A second feature film starring Chelsea players (as well as a young Rex Harrison), ‘The Great Game’, directed by Jack Raymond and filmed partly at Stamford Bridge, was released in 1930, cementing the club’s showbiz image.
In 1930/31... 
Facts & figures: Hughie Gallacher will score 88 goals in 144 starts for Chelsea.
League finish: Twelfth in Division One.
Cup run: Reached sixth round, losing in a replay to Birmingham City.
All the rage: The British Empire (later Commonwealth) Games are held in Canada.

Season by Season: 1936/7

August 1936 was an extraordinarily turbulentperiod in European history. During the team’s stop-off in Germany during thesummer, the players had noted the immense construction projects taking place.Already dictators were on the march and war was on the horizon.

In contrast, Chelseafootball club appeared becalmed in the undistinguished mid-table mire andlacking the cohesion and camaraderie to put a consistent run together.

We were still a glamorousdraw wherever we played, attracting huge crowds to see the likes of goalscorersJoe Bambrick, Jimmy Argue and the mighty George Mills, or well-lovedinternational ’keepers Vic Woodley of England and John Jackson of Scotland. Thestardust was still sprinkled around a decent squad.

Average home gatesremained healthy at over 32,000, but down on the previous season’s average ofjust under 35,000 per game. And a throng of 42,000 crammed into a freezing ColdBlow Lane for the fourth round FA Cup clash in January with Third DivisionMillwall. 

Unfortunately, Chelsea succumbed 3-0 to our London neighbours in anall-too recognisable fashion. It was of no consolation that the Lions went onto become the first club from their division to reach the semi-finals thatyear.
“We were unfavourably impressed by the habit of nearly all the players of shouting at one another throughout the game.” Daily Mirror, September 1936
In the League, though,there was not much to cheer. Home wins over high-flying Arsenal and Charlton,creditable draws – 0-0 draw at Maine Road and a spectacular 4-4 (Mills notchinga hat-trick) at the Bridge – with eventual champions Man City were high points,but Arsenal’s 4-1 win at Highbury and defeats at West Brom, Bolton andespecially Portsmouth (4-1) helped sully the season.

With their reputationrising abroad after several season in the top flight, though, Leslie Knighton’smen were invited to take part in numerous lucrative friendlies during thisperiod – Holland, Poland, the Balkans, France, Austria. To the fans, such exoticdiversions must merely have emphasised Chelsea’s lack of achievementdomestically.

If you ever wondered whenthe nickname ‘Chelski’ was first used, look no further than the Football Star,who used the pun to announce the club’s summer jaunt to Poland to face WisłaKraków.

In 1936/7...
Facts &figures: Chelsea boasted the first choice goalkeepers of England and Scotland.
League finish: Thirteenth in Division One.
Cup run: Reached the fourth round, losing to Millwall.
All the rage: The age ofairships dramatically ends as 35 die when the Hindenburg crashes in flames.

Season by Season: 1937/8

A rare clearance by Liverpool's goalie
in a 6-1 Chelsea win.

Like many a decent season, we started what would be the penultimatepre-war campaign with victory over Liverpool. That man George Mills did thedamage, grabbing three in a 6-1 humiliation of a side that included post-warManchester United legend Matt Busby in its midfield (he would later guest forthe Pensioners during World War Two).

To say it was disappointing was an understatement. Intheir usual way the board had set out to stem the tide with a major signing inthe spring: hard-working centre-forward Joe Payne arrived for a pricy £5,000from Second Division Luton Town. Originally tried out as an emergency striker,he’d notched up 83 goals in 72 games at Kenilworth Road.

Such a destruction set the tone for a great start, witheight wins out of our first 12 games established Chelsea two points clear ofnearest rivals Brentford. The prolific Joe Bambrick was succumbing to injury,but penalty-taking Wilf Chitty was enjoying one of his occasional hiatuses, andscored 11 this season.

With the agile and intuitive Woodley still at his bestbetween the sticks, and recently arrived England star Sam Weaver, with hispioneering long throws, skippering a surprisingly stable squad, the oldinconsistency of football’s Cinderellas was nevertheless close at hand.
“That must be a record: the combined ages of our full-backs is 80!” Fan overheard decrying the veteran Chelsea defence (from Scott Cheshire’s ‘Chelsea: An Illustrated History’) 
A run of just six wins in our last 30 matches saw usslip from two points clear at the top of Division One to tenth. We ended upwith the same points total as the previous year and, ironically, Liverpool.

By the time war interrupted he’d managed a respectable23 in 42 at the Bridge too. On top of his arrival, Leslie Knighton coped withill form and injury by giving rein to one or two bit-parters. These includedflying attacking midfielder Peter Buchanan, a tricky Glaswegian whose pace anddirect runs opened up defences but often lacked the final flourish to create agoal. He earned his sole Scottish cap in 1938.

Another cameo artiste was the ageing defender NedBarkas, hastily recruited from Huddersfield Town, who combined at the back withthe equally vintage Tommy Law – in his twelfth season at the back. Majorrepair was now needed on a creaking squad if Chelsea were to make progress.

In 1937/8...
Facts & figures: New signing Joe Payne had once notched 10 goals inone game for Luton.
League finish: Tenth in Division One.
Cup run: Out in the third round to Everton.
All the rage: The BBC runs its first live TV coverage of a football match: the FA Cup Final between Preston and Huddersfield.

Season by Season: 1938/9

Fred Hanley's groundbreaking signing in Aug 1938

In May 1938, just over a year before war broke out, anEngland side featuring Chelsea goalkeeper Vic Woodley, future Blue Len Goulden and the renowned StanleyMatthews, then just 23, all performed a Nazi salute in front of 110,000fanatics and an array of Hitler’s top brass at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. 

Thepress at the time were more concerned with England beating the Germans 6-1, buthistory has hollowed the victory with the symbolism of that unnecessarypre-match gesture.

It is impossible not to view the events of Chelsea’s 1938/9 season as anything other than peripheral to far, far more important matters.Talk of a second world war was everywhere, and Germany had already “annexed”Austria at the time of England’s visit. Everyone, including the players,recognised the threat of another European horror story, especially with theGreat War still a raw memory.

Nevertheless football continued to provide a distractionfor the masses, and George Mills’, Joe Payne’s and Dickie Spence’s prowess infront of goal was one of the most enjoyable diversions. Between them they wouldmanaged 42 goals. All the more impressive because, as if recognising thefutility of investing heavily at that time, the Chelsea board had not carriedout the staff overhaul desperately required to shore up Leslie Knighton’sstruggling squad.

The most expensive signing was Alf Hanson (ominouslyrecorded as Adolf in some Chelsea histories), an outside left from Liverpoolnoted for his pinpoint crossing ability, but who weighed in with eight goalshimself. Knighton hailed him as Chelsea’s finest winger for fourteen years.

More interestingly there is the story is Fred Hanley,who arrived at the Bridge in August 1938 and is almost certainly the firstblack or mixed-race professional to be put on Chelsea’s books. The son of aJamaican sailor and a white Merseysider, discovered playing for Skelmersdale,young Fred’s talent excited his manager: 
“I expect much from (Fred) Hanley. I can see him shaping into one of the great personalities ofthe game.” Chelsea boss Leslie Knighton
The youngster was a success for the Londoners at reservelevel but his progress was thwartedwhen the benign Knighton was dismissed in April 1939. One of new manager Billy Birrells first acts was to transfer Hanley to Leyton Orient.

Over the course of 1938/9 the Pensioners’ away form inparticular was appalling, with two wins in the entire campaign. As a result, wewere reacquainted with the lower echelons of Division One all season, andavoided relegation (that would have lasted seven long years) by a single point.

As a rare respite, the Pensioners at last again showedan appetite for the Cup. Arsenal, with record-setting goalscorer Cliff Bastinnetting, were beaten at the Bridge 2-1 in front of 58,000, flame-haired JimmyArgue doing the damage on behalf of west London. Fulham were trounced 3-0, andthen Sheffield Wednesday, on the third attempt, succumbed 3-1 at neutralHighbury.

Enjoying the run, in February the BBC’s famous ‘In TownTonight’ made Chelsea FC its main subject, sealing the connection with West Endglamour.

Typically, heartbreakingly, we then contrived to lose0-1 to Grimsby in the sixth round – a week before slamming them 5-1 in theLeague.  Same old Chelsea.

In 1938/9...
Facts & figures: 45,409 watched us lose to Grimsby in theCup; 17,102 turned up for the League win.
League finish: A disappointing tenth.
Cup run: Reached the quarter-finals, losing to Grimsby.
All the rage: Praying for peace, dreading the call-up.

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.

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.