The History of Chelsea Football Club

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  1. Kerry Dixon's Boots

    Staff Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    77 degrees
    Chelsea FC
    Nat'l Team:
    The history of Chelsea F.C

    Welcome one and all to these boards. If you are on Big Soccer it is because you have a love of the beautiful game we call football or indeed soccer depending on your location and upbringing. If you are reading this post you have some interest of Chelsea Football Club either as a die hard fan from the womb, a more recent fan or a guest from other boards who is here to have some (hopefully friendly) banter with the Chelsea posters.

    The purpose of this thread is to give you all an overview of the long (over 100 years now) history of Chelsea to maybe provide some education for newer fans who don't know us so well or even older fans who may not be up to snuff on their inter-war Chelsea history. One thing that I have really enjoyed lately is watching the name of Chelsea spread globally (a far cry from being the only kid in the playground at school who didn't support Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton or Sp*rs). And while the popularity of the club has taken off since Roman Abramovich bought us and dragged us into the elite group of clubs, there is a flip side. A lot of people now want to talk Chelsea but only really know the Chelsea of today, but there is a deep and rich history of this club that pre-dates Roman, pre-dates Zola and yes even pre-dates Kerry Dixon!!

    This long-winded but hopefully informative thread will lay out (in summary initially with more detail added over time, especially after I get some of my old Chelsea books in the mail!) the story of Chelsea Football Club. And don't worry, unlike the Chronicles this one is strictly about Chelsea, not my old drinking exploits, superstitions, bad memories or personal injuries related to Chelsea.

    This thread will be sticky and locked so I will set up a discussion thread in tandem where you can call me an uniformed idiot, make suggestions of what you would like to add to the master thread and for me to let you know when updates have been made.

    The beginning (it's a very good place to start).

    It's March 14th 1905 and Chelsea was created, literally, in a pub and as the result of a dog bite!!

    At this time the Mears family (who had a long association with the club and is a name any Chelsea fan should take note of) had a little spot of property on hand, this being an athletic stadium in Fulham known as it was Stamford Bridge Athletics stadium (named for a famous battle in 1066, no, not that one - the other one, oop north). Gus had secured the rights to the land in 1904 several years after first buying the stadium and had long determined to turn it into a place for football. But the story goes that he had received an enticing offer for the land by Great Western Railway and was considering selling the land so it could be turned into a coal depot. However, when he was out walking his terrier with his mate (a fan of the football idea), the friend (Fred Parker) had been bitten on the hand but took it so well that Mears was impressed and put faith in Fred's idea for the club and bore ahead with the plan. Either that or the dog was rabid, bit Gus and made Gus turn away from the money and create our club, which could explain a lot!!

    So the Mears, Gus and JT (see how deep those letters run in Chelsea-lore!!), and others retired to the local public house to decide on what this new team should be called. It clearly couldn't be Fulham as there was a ragamuffin squad already with that name in Craven Cottage a little way down the road. London FC was proposed (imagine that now, "One team called London, there's only one team called London") and quickly thrown out as was Kensington FC. Fortunately Stamford Bridge FC also fell by the wayside but the idea of naming ourselves for our neighbouring borough didn't stop at Kensington but led to the second part of the name Chelsea. The name was approved and the club was, in essence, born.

    So the Mears now had a stadium and a name but no coach, no players and most importantly no league to play in. A lot of work to do then. At this point it's necessary to understand the league structure and how it related to the infant Chelsea. The Football League was established in 1888 and consisted entirely of clubs from the North of England. In 1905 when Chelsea were formed, there was also a Southern league with some of our present day rivals and it was this league we applied to join first only to have our application rejected by the likes of Fulham and Tott*nham (who likely feared the competition for fans and trophies (yet another reason why we hate them). Bit of a setback so cue the (possibly rabid) Fred Pearson. He lobbied the Football League committee and they were in the process of forming a second division to accommodate a number of clubs who had interest in joining the Football League. Quite what he did was uncertain (maybe he threatened them with a rabid Scotch Terrier) but a short while later Chelsea were approved for entry into the Second Division. This marks the only time that a club has ever been admitted without the team having played a match. Imagine if this was 100 years hence - what would fans of other teams said then about us now!!!

    Oh and the famous Chelsea blue? Well you can thanks Lord Chelsea (no really, there was a Lord Chelsea - Henry Cadogan) for that. Rich folk then (as they do now) owned stables so they could compete in the Sport of Kings (otherwise known as Horse Racing) and their jockeys always had the same racing silks. In Lord Chelsea's case the racing silks were blue and so our identity was fully established.
  2. Kerry Dixon's Boots

    Staff Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    77 degrees
    Chelsea FC
    Nat'l Team:
    1905/06: The very first season

    So we had a name, a home (both a stadium and a league), team colours and of course our first mascot (a rabid scotch terrier). Well maybe not the mascot but we certainly had the rest. So all we were missing then was a manager and of course a playing staff.

    Now you may think that the Hoddle days were something of a quirk due to his being a player/manager but know this, our very first gaffer was also a player manager. His name was John 'Jacky' Tait Robertson and in keeping with the late 90's future that awaited Chelsea, he ws a foreigner. You see Jacky was a Scot and in those days that certainly qualified him as being a bit foreign. Indeed, for many of the Northern teams (i.e. all of those other than Chelsea in either league pretty much) if you worked at a different colliery you were pretty much considered foreign.

    He also set another key first for Chelsea but we'll get to that in a bit.

    The task of assembling a brand new team within the space of a few weeks was something of a challenge considering most of the professionals at the time plied their trade in the grimmer industrial towns oop North. But despite all of the obstacles of trying to tempt players to a sunnier, cleaner part of England with decent wages to be had we did assemble a squad and in the face of public opinion that squad only sported 3 decent mustaches between them - one in the eye of purists in early 20th century London.

    That squad also gave us, of course, one of the most recognizable players in our history and despite only playing a single season for us will always be a part of Chelsea folk-lore in the same way that Babe Ruth is a part of basebell lore. His name was William Henry Faulke, though everybody referred to him as Fatty! Although not a kind name, it is certain that this was a giant of a man standing at 6'4" and topping the scales at over 300 pounds. He was also a successful goalkeeper having played for the FA Cup winning Blades team of the season before. His goalkeeping exploits also earned him a cap for England. he also had, what could politely be called, a different approach to the game. At different times he is reputed to have snapped a crossbar during a bored moment and walked off the field if he felt defenders were mailing it in but he was also our first club captain. Not so much a role model for the young professionals but a celebrity and that, more than anything, is what persuaded Mears to bring him into the fold.

    He played 35 times that one and only season and conceded about a goal a game. One thing to bear in mind about why Fatty could even be successful in goal is that the game was a LOT slower back then. To put things into perspective the football at that time was quite a lot different to the light, fast synthetic ball of today. By the time Chelsea were playing the Football Association had happily moved on from pigs bladders but were then made with strong rubber and could retain their shape more often (but not always - imagine trying to dribble a rugby ball!!) They were usually covered with heavy tanned leather and at this time there was very little panelling. Instead the balls basically had laces in the middle which hurt a lot if you had to head them. They were infmaous for deflating during the game and all this meant that it was quite possible for a 300 pound giant to stand in goal and palm away the ball with ease - not too many 40 yard screamers back then. Oh yes, and if it ever rained the ball increased it's weight - all in all, this is not a game many of us would have enjoyed watching. It may even have been as bad as trying to watch a Scottish league game today (I jest Rangers fans!)

    Anyway, context aside for a while, back to the team. Other players also wore blue. Well I say blue but don't think we wore Royal Blue from Day 1. No, our first kit was what could kindly be called Cyan and honestly, it's a good thing we changed it (unless you're a huge fan of the Cambridge boat race team). The socks were darker blue and had a couple of rings around the top (maybe in anticipation of the adidas three ringed motif we're currently cursed with) and looked smart. The shorts were just plain ridiculous. They were huge and by huge I mean you could proabably use them as a makeshift tent at a pinch. A sea of white fabric that probably allowed for as much speed as the ball did.

    The first crest was a shield with four quarters. The top left looks like a winged cow (but probably a pegasus), top right is the famous chelsea lion, bottom left is, well actually i can't make it out (will hopefully be clearer in the book) and bottom right is a stags head. Underneath the shield is a latin motto Nisi Dominus Frustra (Unless God be with us, all will be in vain). The motto is that of the Borough of Chelsea!! You learn something every day on Big Soccer don't you?

    Back to those players I hear you cry. Well this list will be expanded upon soon but they include the following early Chelsea legends:
    'Fatty' Foulke
    'Jacky' Robertson (who scored Chelsea's first competitive goal)
    Bob McRoberts (another Scot who had over 100 appearances for us - he was also the first player to cost us 100 pounds - a princely sum for a halfback)
    Jimmy Windridge (an England international goalscorer who netted over 50 times for Chelsea including 16 in that very first season)

    The matches I have little detail on at this point but I can tell you we lost our first game in the league away to Stockport County but on our home debut at the Bridge (albeit in a friendly) we beat Liverpool 4-0. It was to rpove a very successful first season and one that would have made Gus Mears feel he made the right decision not to sell the site of Stamford Bridge for use as coal dump. We ended up finishing in 3rd place after a 38 game campaign that saw us net NINETY times, win 22 games for a total of 53 points (for a long long time wins were only worth 2 points). That's nearly 2 goals for every point, by contrast in our recent title years we averaged about 0.7 goals per point (the modicum of efficiency).

    A solid start for the Fatty-less team of 1906/07 to build on (and indeed soon to be Jacky-less as a result of board interference - more on that next time but the Jose Mourinho situation is not the first time a manager has been usurped by the men in suits!).

    Next up: Promotion.
  3. Kerry Dixon's Boots

    Staff Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    77 degrees
    Chelsea FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Before we move onto the second season and up to the beginning of The Great War, I wanted to share with you some more information on the first ever Chelsea team. Below you'll find a snippet on each of the players who pulled on the very first Chelsea shirts including their shirt numbers, appearances and goal tallies for the 1905-06 season. Some lasted a season, some a little longer - all of them are part of this club's foundation.

    All of them can be found in Scott Cheshire's excellent and diligent works

    1. William 'Fatty' Foulke (24 apps, 0 goals) Goalkeeper
    A fat man, a tall man, an unforgettable man. Much has been said about him already but not his end. He died of pneumonia. He caught it when he was trying to earn some extra money by letting people pay him to put one past him. This was up at the premier resort of England at the time, Blackpool. A sad yet fitting end.

    2. Robert Mackie (35 apps, 1 goal) Full-back
    A Scot (a running theme for early Chelsea teams), he played for two seasons and was to that first team what Steve Clarke was to more recent sides, a Scottish Right Back who was loved by fans and had some sneaky pace. His time at Chelsea was sandwiched with spells at Leicester Fosse (now City).

    3. Robert McEwan (19 apps, 0 goals) Full-back
    Yes, another Scottish full-back - obviously the gaffer had a fondness for his countrymen. This was his only season with the boys from Fulham Road and he also served time with Rangers and Hearts. He also played for Glossop North End (who are still in existance after 122 years and now play in the North West Counties League).

    4. George Key (33 apps, 1 goal) Wing-half
    Guess what? Yep, another Scot, but not in defence as his number would suggest, he played at wing-half. Wing-half? What's that KDB? Well you asked the right man. Winghalves used to sit in front of the 2 fullbacks in a 2-3-5 formation. Yes 2-3-5 - it looked like a top heavy triangle (as much as anything could be top-heavy with Foulke at the bottom). He played on the right and his only other club was Hearts.

    5. Robert McRoberts (34 apps, 9 goals) Centre-half / Centre-forward
    The original Chris Sutton / Dion Dublin. A two way player who could hold the back line and lead from the front. Another Scot (that's all 4 outfield players now for those keeping score) but this one ended his career at the Bridge. He also played for Small Heath who he later managed (that's Birmingham City for you whippersnappers).

    6. Thomas Miller (24 apps, 0 goals) Full-back
    Seriously? Another Scot? You'd better believe it. This particular gentleman from North of the border played over 100 games for Chelsea and was another speedy player. Only 5' 6" he had a big heart and a pretty big mouth and claimed to be the best at his position in the country. Considering his only other club was Falkirk (his hometown) maybe not everyone in the game felt the same way. But a solid servant for the Blues.

    7. Mickey Moran (34 apps, 4 goals) Outside-right
    Cor blimey guvnor, another Scot and another one who played for Hearts and another one who was a short-ass at less than 5' 6". Outside right was a position that is now known as right wing, only in a far more advanced role. According to Cheshire's prtrait of the light haired dwarf, "Give it to Micky" was a common cry from the terraces.

    8. John Tait 'Jacky' Robertson (33 apps, 7 goals) Wing-half
    Well you know from the last post that this guy is a Scot and the evidence is all over the pitch in his countrymen. Until Hoddle came along 90 years later he was the only player/manager in our history. He was an International and a Scottish league winner though sadly that success did not translate to Chelsea (who didn't taste success in a majr competition for some years). Cheshire reports that his wages, on the high side at the time, was 4 pounds. He formerly played for Rangers and also the Saints.

    9. David Copeland (20 games, 5 goals) Inside / Centre-forward
    Well you probably thought that without a Mc in the name you'd see a 2nd Englishman here, but nope, this fella (with a great first name to boot) was born in Ayrshire and sadly also played for Sp*rs. But that first season he bagged a few goals albeit in lopsided victories against the likes of Orient, Bradford and Hull. He actually became the captain the following season but was injured early and never contributed much after that. He ended his days at Glossop.

    10. James Edwin Windridge (20 games, 14 goals) Inside-forward
    An Englishman - no really he was. Yes he was born in Birmingham, yes he played for Small Heath and yes he cost us 190 pounds, but the 'Wizard' played for the blues for six years racking up 58 goals in 152 games. Another in a line of short players at 5'7" he was the longest serving of the first team and like Fatty (Monkee will like this) he was also an accomplished cricketer and played for Warwickshire. More impressively he played for England 8 times with 7 goals including netting in 6 consecutive matches.

    11. John Kirwan (36 apps, 8 goals) Outside-left
    An Irishman this time (bringing the tally to 8 Scotsmen, 2 Englishmen and a single Irishman - which rather sounds like the beginning of a joke, no Utd fans, this is not an excuse to make one). A pretty serious looking bloke with sandy hair and big ears he also played for Sp*rs and played in 3 seasons for Chelsea. He was an Irish international and like Foulke was an FA Cup winner (sadly with Sp*rs). Not sure if srd will like him as he was from Wicklow and probably little love lost with the Corkonians, but there is identity with the very first team for our Irish posters (and Dr I probably went to school with Kirwans Dad - kidding Doc, kidding). And like most of the rest of the team was described as a fast little bloke.

    So overall you could say that the team was, in essence, short and Scottish. Kind of like having a team of John Spencer's if you think about it. Very much in the mold of their manager and pretty successful for a brand new side. Lots of characters and plenty of good moustaches.

    Other key players in that innaugural season include James Robertson (16 games, 13 goals), Frank Pearson (29 apps, 18 goals) and Thomas McDermott (22 apps, 8 goals). But this is not their story today, it is all about the very first team that walked out at Stockport on September 2nd 1905 in front of 7,000 hardy souls ( a record crowd at the time for Stockport as it happens). The best part of the game from a Chelsea point of view was a saved penalty from Foulke. Sadly though, the rebound was tucked away in a 1-0 victory for The Hatters.
  4. Kerry Dixon's Boots

    Staff Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    77 degrees
    Chelsea FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Promotion, Relegation and War

    The next chapter of Chelsea's history spans nearly a decade from the opening of the historic 1906-07 season and closes in 1915 when league play was suspended for the duration of the Great War (now more widely known as World War One).

    The start of Chelsea's second season got off to a flyer with a 9-2 demolition of Glossop (a Derbyshie based team who had been formed in 1886 and are still kicking a ball in competitive matches). The architect of that demolition was a young star in the making, George Hilsdon, a name recognized by many even today with good reason. Unlike tha vast majority of that first team, Hilsdon wasn't Scottish. He was in fact a barrow boy born and bred in the East of London-town and a Hammer when we signed him as a 21 year old.

    When you read about Hilsdon's story (and I recommend you do, it is a stark reminder of the different priorities in those days. A Chelsea player from 1906-1912 he scored over 100 goals for Chelsea (the first player to do so) with 27, 25 and 24 in his first 3 years in the league including 5 alone in that prolific debut. Upon ending his Chelsea career in 1912 he spent another spell with West Ham until, like many young men of the time, he finally ended up on in the trenches. But Hilsdon was not covered with glory like you may think. He was an alcoholic in his later Chelsea days and when he was called up actively tried to avoid serving until police found him hiding in a chicken coop. Sadly he was badly affected by mustard gas at Arras and while he lived another 25 years, was a shell of himself.

    For any who visit the Bridge today you can still see the Hilsdon memorial - a weather vane which used to sit on the old East Stand, before moving to the West Stand and now sits on the shiny new West Stand in a nice touch to remember the roots of the club and specifically a player who was fondly known as the Gatling Gun for his style in front of goal.

    That first game of a season was a sign of things to come but despite the 5 goal performance it was not his greatest scoring feat. That came in January 1908 (over 100 years ago, still a record) when Hilsdon knocked in a half dozen goals against Worksop Town in a 9-1 FA Cup thumping. To go off at a tangeant for a moment, Scott Cheshire describes this game a little in his book. An early example of the power of money in football, Chelsea were drawn away from home but through some chicanery managed to persuade the tiny Worksop team to travel to London and offer themselves as lambs to the slaughter, which they duly became but not before the Gatling Gun had etched his name into Chelsea lore once again.

    In a nice little footnote, the Worksop keeper that day was called Fern (though he let in 9 not 8)!!

    Back to 1906-07, Chelsea built on that initial win to 25 more games (losing 7 and drawing 5) and finish 2nd in Division Two thus securing promotion to the top flight. Other stars that year include the everpresent Tommy Miller and second top scorer Jimmy Windridge (both also starred in that first year). We also had some pretty big shoes to fill and I mean that literally. Fatty Foulke had already moved on from his status as Chelsea icon and left a void in goal. The void was filled by Robert "Pom-Pom" Whiting who played most matches that year. To be generous to those looking through Chelsea history books finding information on the ealry Chelsea teams, Whiting's replacement is the next biography and that was Jack Whitley, a Cornishman who played in goal for us from 1907-1914 and became head trainer for the Blues during the inter-war years.

    An important event during the promotion year took place in January 1907 when Chelsea lost an FA Cup Replay against Lincoln. The reason I raise this is that the manager of the Sincil Bank team was a chap called David Calderhead and the reason that this is important is because he became our manger after the end of the season and remained so until the end of the 1933 season. A record stint that is unlikely to ever be matched in these "what have you done for me lately" times. Known as the Chelsea Sphnix, he may not have been ultimately successful (with two promotion seasons, two relegation seasons and an FA Cup final appearance) but he was well respected and he helped create a buzz around the Bridge with many a transfer that drew the crowds. His style with the press was almost anti-Mourinho, sadly his silverware cupboard was as anti-Mourinho as his quiet approach to management. A striking theme about the early days of Chelsea is that we often looked away from the local player pool (much as we have in recent years, though Scotland then was considered foreign and still is today for many :)). It was also known that we were a monied club, even then, and had finances that not many of our rivals could match.

    Our largest crowd in the 06-07 season was a very respectable 48,000 against Hull in late March (in a 3-0 win including a brace from Hilsdon), our largest since the previous April when we pulled in 67,000 against Manchester United. That March was a crazy month for Chelsea, we played 7 league matches and in fact the day after the Hull game, we traipsed up to Barnsley where we, unsurprisingly, lost 3-1 in front of a paltry 5,000.

    I'll spare you too many details of the next few seasons but we didn't have what anyone could call instant success finish 13th, 11th and then getting relegated in our 3rd season in April 1910. We averaged over 30,000 at home for each of those years and this did drop below 30,000 for the next couple of years in the Second Division with the fans flocking back in 1910-11 to see us once again struggle in the top flight(18th, 8th and 19th). That last season before war should have seen us relegated once again had Division One not taken the decision to add two more clubs. So Chelsea went into the Great War league shutdown still a top-flight team but with everyone involved in the club (owners, players, fans) very much having their minds turned towards the battlefronts of Flanders than the battlegrounds of Old Trafford and Anfield.

    Chelsea during these years were a pretty lousy cup team often losing in the first couple of rounds (to teams like Millwall and Bradford, but also Man Utd and Sp*rs). However we had a good cup run in the final year before the shutdown making our way to a final against Sheffield United. That year (1914-15) we knocked out Swindon, Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle and Everton, needing a couple of replays along the way before reaching our first final and a nice way to celebrate their 10th birthday. However, much like in 1994, the other side ruined our big day and we went on to lose 3-0.

    No Wembley final that year (it wasn't to have been built until a decade later), in fact it wasn't even at Crystal Palace (the original location) due to the onset of war, the game was switched to Old Trafford which favoured the Yorkshire side (no complaints here though - London finals have not exactly been a detriment to this London side). Unfortunately for the occasion the weather was dire and nearly called off due to some bad fog. The Sheffield defenders were far too good for our iffy front line and after a weak display from the Blues, the Blades went on to win 3-0 (with two well-deserved goals in the last 6 minutes) in front of nearly 50,000. Chelsea played in white that day, judging by the photographs (not many Sky matches back then!!) and we may have well waved a white flag as play for the full 90 minutes. A depressing match for a depressed country.

    I'll leave this segment with a quote about one of our better players (for 2 seasons at least) during that spell: Robert Whittingham, who was a Chelsea player for 10 years and a virtual ever present from 1910-1912 with 62 goals over the two seasons. A possessor of a hard shot, one goalkeeper is quoted as saying the following:

    So there you go, at one time we had a striker scarier than Beelzabub and he was on our books when war broke out in 1914.

    Up next: Wartime Chelsea and Inter-war Chelsea.

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