On the evening of 10 March 1905 in an upstairs room at the Rising Sun pub, Chelsea FC was formed. Among the founding directors were millionaire owner Henry Augustus ‘Gus’ Mears, his brother Joseph, their brother-in-law Henry Boyer, publican Alfred Janes and his nephew Edwin, who ran the Rising Sun. The club, the brainchild of another founder, Frederick Parker, would be started from scratch to fill Gus Mears’s ambitious stadium, being built across the road at Stamford Bridge by the famous architect Archibald Leitch.
Manager Antonio Conte
- Current Team
- July 31, 1969
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On the evening of 10 March 1905 in an upstairs room at the Rising Sun pub, Chelsea FC was formed. Among the founding directors were millionaire owner Henry Augustus ‘Gus’ Mears, his brother Joseph, their brother-in-law Henry Boyer, publican Alfred Janes and his nephew Edwin, who ran the Rising Sun.
The club, the brainchild of another founder, Frederick Parker, would be started from scratch to fill Gus Mears’s ambitious stadium, being built across the road at Stamford Bridge by the famous architect Archibald Leitch. Scotland international Jacky Robertson was engaged as the fledgling club’s player-manager. In collaboration with Parker, who also engineered Chelsea’s admission to Football League Division Two, Robertson constructed a squad including larger-than-life Willie Foulke: the club hired football’s first ball-boys to emphasise the 23-stone goalkeeper’s presence.
The huge new arena debuted with a 4-0 friendly win against Liverpool in September 1905, supported by London’s first 4-page matchday football programme, which cleverly fed the metropolis’s growing hunger for the professional game. Success came spectacularly fast: the table-top clash with Manchester United on Good Friday 1906 attracted a staggering attendance of 67,000. Promotion to the First Division was achieved in 1907 and over the ensuing campaign the newly nicknamed ‘Pensioners’ attracted the biggest crowds ever known in Britain. The most popular entertainer of the day, George Robey, even signed up as a player.
For the first few seasons the players wore Eton Blue, the horse racing colours of club President Lord Cadogan, a much lighter hue than the shirts of today. Other aspects are more enduring: the first top-flight London derby, a 2-1 Chelsea win against Arsenal, was contested on 9 November 1907. A similar outcome settled the first ever encounter with Tottenham Hotspur on 18 December 1909.
And, of course, Chelsea have never moved away from the famous stadium on Fulham Road. New star names started to establish themselves at the Bridge, including centre-forward George Hilsdon, the first Pensioner to hit a century of goals (immortalised in a weathervane likeness on top of the current East Stand).
In just a few short years the personality of Chelsea FC was being established: wealthy, ambitious, fashionable and with immense drawing power.
After just five seasons London’s newest club was already its biggest, taking giant steps and making waves that would ripple down the decades. Sadly, the club’s founder would witness little of his dream take shape. Gus Mears died of kidney failure on 4 February 1912. (His freehold of the land would eventually pass to brother Joe.)
In 1912/13 the Pensioners again registered the highest average home attendance in Britain with 32,100 and the following season set a new UK record of 37,900. At the close of the decade Chelsea broke 40,000 for the first time in Britain by averaging 42,860.
The revenue generated bolstered the club’s ‘moneybags’ reputation but was ploughed back into big names who would draw the crowds such as legendary England centre-forward Vivian Woodward and, in 1913, the ‘Great Dane,’ midfielder Nils Middelboe, the Football League’s first overseas star.
It barely affected popularity that two seasons were spent on the second tier. However, in splashing cash on players to stave off relegation in spring 1910 Chelsea had inadvertently changed history. The drop still happened, but new rules were introduced to end recruitment late in the season: the transfer deadline.
In 1915, having reached our first FA Cup final to the backdrop of war, the club was as scandalised as the rest of the game to hear that Manchester United and Liverpool players had fixed a league game so that the Red Devils remained in the top flight at Chelsea’s expense. Thankfully this was swiftly reversed.
April 1911 brought neighbours Fulham to the Bridge for a 2-0 defeat and on 26 April 1919 the same opponents were beaten 3-0 at Highbury as Chelsea lifted the London Victory Cup – we remain the holders to this day.
With English football restored as a national competition in 1919 Chelsea moved swiftly to bring the usual big names in – World War One had sadly ended the careers of many. Charismatic striker Jack Cock, slide-tackling Tommy Law, reliable keeper Sam Molyneux and long-serving skipper Andy Wilson would be the cigarette card icons of the new era. ‘There is plenty of money down Stamford Bridge way,’ noted the press, as usual.
One explanation for the wealth was the attendances at Stamford Bridge, now averaging around 40,000. Chelsea were again the country’s best supported club in 1919/20, 1921/22, 1923/24 and 1925/26 – the latter, remarkably, as a Second Division team. Hundreds followed the team to every away game on ‘special’ trains too.
A dream of Gus Mears and Fred Parker was realised when Stamford Bridge replaced Crystal Palace as the venue for the FA Cup final in 1920, 1921 and 1922. Unfortunately, once the Empire Stadium was built at Wembley in 1923 the final switched there. Soon the London Athletics Club would look for pastures new after half a century on the Fulham Road as stadium owner Joe Mears looked for more lucrative ventures for the running track. Dirt-track racing – later known as speedway – proved hugely popular until abruptly replaced by greyhound racing.
Chelsea continued to innovate on the field. Numbered team shirts was a pet project of chairman Claude Kirby and the Pensioners became first to wear them in England in 1928. The following summer, on a pioneering pre-World Cup tour of South America, the Londoners were nicknamed ‘los numerados’ when they wore numbers in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, and no professional English team had ever played in Sao Paulo before. That three-month eye-opening jaunt prompted a fine league campaign that successfully brought an end to our longest spell in the second tier in 1930.
This was a contrasting decade of enduring milestones but no silverware; of many social landmarks but little genuine change.
The end of David Calderhead’s long reign as secretary-manager – at 26 years the longest in our history – came to its mediocre conclusion in June 1933. He created the Chelsea blueprint for investing in crowd-pleasing talent from wherever it might hail, and on 26 December 1930 fielded a team of eight internationals from across the British Isles.
He had achieved stability and popularity yet the closest he had come to bringing trophies to the Bridge – now with its roof over the Fulham Road End, dubbed ‘the Shed’ – had been the FA Cup way back in 1915 when we were beaten finalists.
New man Leslie Knighton again trawled for talent, notably and successfully across the Irish Sea to maintain the magnetism of Stamford Bridge.
It worked. ‘Mighty throngs have often been associated with the Chelsea ground at Stamford Bridge since the club was formed,’ said the Guardian: marvelling at an extraordinary new English attendance record of 82,905 set at the Bridge in October 1935.
Despite the stars and the crowds, consistency and success still proved so elusive that a variety artiste, Norman Long, captured the popular view of the Pensioners with his satire about the earth turning on its head when the club finally win the cup.
The sudden loss of three experienced board members in quick succession was another setback to progress, though the arrival of third-generation director Joe Mears would eventually have a hugely positive influence in the boardroom.
The Pensioners also reached out to the world even more, reaching the final of the prestigious 1937 Paris Expo tournament, a forerunner of the European Cup. The club’s first black reserve player, British-Jamaican forward Fred Hanley, was signed in 1938.
Knighton came no closer to meeting the board’s title ambitions, though, and in 1939 he made way for Billy Birrell, a Scot with the vision to revolutionise the nurturing of young footballers at Chelsea. Hitler and Germany had other ideas, and the project was put on hold for six years as Britain was again plunged into war.
The authorities had learned the lessons from World War One that the continuation of football was ‘good for morale’ during a conflict. As in 1915 the national contests were broken down into regions and footballers joined up. Again service postings or periods of leave led to guest appearances.
Stamford Bridge remained an attractive draw and Matt Busby, Joe Mercer, George Hardwick and Walter Winterbottom were among the seminal names of other teams to turn out in the royal blue.
Middlesbrough legend Hardwick figured in two finals of the Football League South Cup for the Pensioners, the second a 2-0 triumph over Millwall in 1945 watched by the King, Queen and Princess Elizabeth.
When peace resumed the seeds of a foresighted and innovative new player development scheme, initially called Tudor Rose and conceived by manager Billy Birrell before the war, were finally sown in 1947.
In a few years the harvest would become more bounteous than many had imagined possible. In the meantime and in familiar Chelsea fashion, box office signings such as Tommy Lawton, Len Goulden, Tommy Walker and Roy Bentley would join staffers like Ron Greenwood and Johnny Harris as post-war football boomed.
An enormous crowd was drawn to the famous friendly with Moscow Dynamo in 1945 and three years later the original Chelsea Supporters (Away) Club was founded.
Chelsea’s association with bright lights of the West End began to thrive too: Richard, later Lord Attenborough began his long association with the club after training with Lawton and co. to sharpen up for his role in the British gangster film, ‘Brighton Rock’. Attenborough would usher dozens of Hollywood icons through the gates of the Bridge, sprinkling stardust along the Fulham Road.
Football’s first magazine-style programme, launched in 1948, showed Chelsea were still ahead of the game marketing-wise.
Chelsea’s immense support had kept the faith after the war and, hungry for the familiar thrills and escapism, almost 70,000 watched Chelsea draw with neighbours Fulham in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Bridge.
The decade began with the narrowest of escapes in May 1951: a 4-0 last-day win meant Billy Birrell’s men finished on 32 points, the same as Everton and Sheffield Wednesday.
Those goals allowed the Pensioners to cling to the top flight with a 0.044 better goal average. Two of them came from the first significant graduate of the new Chelsea youth scheme, 18-year-old Bobby Smith. Soon Peter Brabrook, Jimmy Greaves and others would join the production line.
In the meantime mere survival was never enough for the ambitious board and in 1952 Birrell made way for a thrusting young boss, Ted Drake. He represented a new generation demanding renewal of a dowdy Britain learning to handle teenage rebellion.
Drake oversaw a root-and-branch revamp – everything from training methods to the old Pensioner nickname – and boldly predicted league success within three years.
He was as good as his word and the longed-for title came in the club’s jubilee year, 1954/55.
Floodlights were also finally added to the stadium and further prestigious friendlies scheduled, against the likes of Hidegkuti’s famous Hungarians, along with the resumption of exotic and money-spinning continental trips, including the first of many tours of the United States.
Disappointingly, Chelsea’s pioneering participation in the inaugural 1955 UEFA European Cup was blocked by the Football League. The new model ‘Blues’ did eventually debut in European competition: the 1957/58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
Being so close to the new waves in society and the arts that were sweeping London, Chelsea could not avoid embracing modernisation. Ted Drake’s distinguished era drew to a close with relegation and a new broom: Tommy Docherty.
The dynamic young Scot was a novice in man-management but knew what he wanted in football terms and created a young, vibrant, all-action attacking unit that was hugely attractive to fans, new and old alike.
The flair of the ‘Kings of the King’s Road’ appealed equally to the working classes of the World’s End and Battersea and bohemians from the Chelsea Arts Club or the big names of stage and screen who brought stardust to the stands. New accommodation was created with the cantilevered, functional West Stand in 1966.
Drake had overseen the first use of a badge on Chelsea shirts, the now-famous lion rampant, but while The Doc would initiate trendy kit changes of his own (all-blue, then blue-blue-white) it was fresh tactics and success he craved.
He began by brilliantly stewarding his young, mostly homegrown side to an immediate return to the top flight. The following season, 1964/65, they genuinely chased the treble of Division One, FA Cup and League Cup.
Only the League Cup was won, but it was a start, and an exhilarating foray into Europe ended at the semi-final stage against Barcelona after a replay. These were times of renewal and hope.
The Blues reached the FA Cup final for the first time in 52 years in 1967, losing to London rivals Spurs. Former coach Dave Sexton returned to replace Docherty soon after and his more tactical, less cavalier approach soon paid off.
Better league finishes year-on-year suggested the shedding of the age-old inconsistency tag and in 1969/70 Chelsea finished third for the second time in six years. The same season an epic FA Cup final replay against Leeds United – watched by the largest UK television audience for a club football match of 28.5 million – ended in glory for Chelsea at last in that competition.
Everything looked rosy at Stamford Bridge.
A decade in which Chelsea sank from the sublime to the ridiculous. The crowning glory of Dave Sexton’s studious approach, the magnificent Cup Winners’ Cup final replay triumph over Real Madrid in Athens in 1971, soon appeared a watershed.
Defence of that title began in record-breaking fashion – 21-0 against part-timers Jeunesse Hautcharage – but crashed to a halt on away goals against lowly Atvidaberg. When, a year later, underdogs Stoke City swept the Blues aside at Wembley in the League Cup final, the end-of-era warnings were unmissable.
A tail-spin ensued. Financial calamity followed the drawn-out building of an ambitious new East Stand during a recession and soon special fundraising appeals to fans began to appear.
Straitened times meant wage restraint and disputes with stars. Departing legends of the Bridge such as Osgood and Webb heralded the break-up of the ‘Kings of the King’s Road’ and years of instability in the dugout followed Sexton’s sacking in 1974.
The flowering of youth, especially under Eddie McCreadie’s brief, dynamic leadership in 1976/77, once again shielded the club from outright disaster but not from the ups and downs of relegations in 1975 and 1979.
The loss of status and credibility of a once great sporting institution hit hard. Three sides of the ground were still in need of redevelopment while desperate attempts to relive the golden era with glamorous signings such as three-times European Footballer of the Year Johan Cruyff provoked scorn rather than respect.
When Ray Wilkins, Chelsea’s best youth product for a generation, teenage skipper and an England international, was sold to Man United in 1979 to chip away at the club’s mounting debts, it was a symbolic low point for supporters. Change was sure to come.
Teetering under the weight of debt and failure on the pitch, the board sold Chelsea Football Club for one pound to a businessman and vice-chairman of Wigan Athletic, Ken Bates, on Friday 2 April 1982, ending a 77-year connection with the founding Mears family.
In fact Gus’s descendants still controlled the freehold on the land under Stamford Bridge. Having failed to reach agreement with them to unite club and ground, Bates was hurled into a draining 10-year battle against housing developers to retain the club’s ancestral home.
Despite the threat of extinction, fortunes soon picked up on the playing side. New manager John Neal redeemed himself after almost dropping to the third tier for the first time in the club’s history in 1983, by securing promotion back to the top flight in electrifying fashion the following season.
Shrewdly-bought players such as Eddie Niedzwiecki, Kerry Dixon, Pat Nevin, David Speedie (signed a year earlier than the others) and Nigel Spackman joined superior homegrowns including Colin Pates and John Bumstead to form the heart of a side that would twice finish in the top six of Division One with dynamic, attacking football.
A new commercial era entered football: Chelsea’s first shirt sponsor in 1983 was Gulf Air. Less positively, the popular rampant lion badge was consigned to history for trademark reasons three years later.
English football was banned from Europe after the Heysel disaster, and Bates’s idea to replace lost revenue was the Full Members Cup. Chelsea beat Manchester City in the thrilling 1986 final that ended 5-4. A grand day out for 68,000 fans at Wembley also brought silverware for the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, not opened since 1971.
Neal’s grave illness saw assistant coach and 1970s legend John Hollins step up. Key players left, Chelsea’s results dipped and in March 1988 Bates’s friend Bobby Campbell was called in with the club 16th in the table. The new manager was unable to stave off a unique relegation through a First Division/Second Division play-off system. Thankfully, inspired by new skipper Graham Roberts and his record 12 penalty successes, the Blues charged back at the first attempt with an astonishing 99 points.
The modern Chelsea Football Club was created in this decade, starting with the crucial news that the owners of Stamford Bridge, Cabra Estates, had gone bust. An attritional war for control of the ground ended and its long-overdue regeneration as a temple of football could begin.
The big-name signings of Paul Elliott, Andy Townsend, Dennis Wise and co. only partially helped prepare the club for the revolutions that were about to happen when the top 22 clubs broke away from the Football League and European law handed footballers freedom of contract with the Bosman ruling.
Chelsea were founding members of the new Premier League in 1992/93 and have remained in the top flight ever since – the longest run in our history. That same year UEFA expanded its club competitions, making them far more lucrative.
The Blues needed a football philosopher for this era of new possibilities and found it in Glenn Hoddle. In summer 1993 the graceful former England midfielder began implementing a root-and-branch revolution that would radically reshape everything from players’ diet to the training ground.
His most important change was in the mindset of the club and supporters and 1994 brought the first FA Cup final for 24 years, followed by a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup campaign.
Thus convinced, at a hotel meeting in May 1995 the board decided on a daring investment to lure star names back to the Bridge, playing attractive football, in front of big crowds watching European matches on a regular basis.
The result was the stunning arrivals of Ruud Gullit, Mark Hughes, Gianluca Vialli, Frank Leboeuf, Gianfranco Zola, Marcel Desailly and others as the old Chelsea regained its glamour. Under Gullit, then Vialli, the Blues eradicated decades of underachievement by winning the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup.
The stellar continentals dominated the story lines – and on Boxing Day 1999 Vialli fielded the first all-overseas XI — yet homegrowns including Frank Sinclair and Eddie Newton and Brits such as Steve Clarke and Wise had been equally vital to each triumph. The success, though, would come at a price…
When Colin Hutchinson described Chelsea as a ‘Continental club playing its football in England’ he was talking about the 2001 model, but the suggestion would have chimed with supporters from many decades earlier. The comment came ahead of the appointment of another overseas coach, Claudio Ranieri. A fine team-builder without a great record of actual success, Ranieri lifted the Blues from sixth to second place in the top flight and reached a Champions League semi-final but, equally importantly, first saw the potential in Frank Lampard and John Terry.
The ‘Tinker Man’ lost the 2002 FA Cup final but succeeded in one of the most important matches in our history, against Liverpool on 11 May 2003, to secure a Champions League berth at a time of rising financial difficulties. That was crucial in convincing Russian businessman Roman Abramovich to buy Chelsea FC from Ken Bates on 1 July that year.
He cleared all debt and made the biggest outlay on players in British history up to that point, including Premier League-based talents such as Joe Cole and Damien Duff, alongside proven stars who were perhaps under-appreciated elsewhere: Claude Makelele, Didier Drogba. Abramovich also lured over Porto’s all-conquering young manager, Jose Mourinho.
In his first season ‘the Special One’, as he had predicted, brought the league title to Stamford Bridge for the first time in 50 years, and followed it, remarkably, with a straight second win. The orchestra now had a world-class conductor and the symphony was awesome.
The club’s centenary year was celebrated with the return of the old rampant lion badge and a move from Umbro to adidas as kit suppliers. History was made in many other ways in a golden age on the Fulham Road, including the first FA Cup final win at the new Wembley and another league title – part of the club’s first Double, under new boss Carlo Ancelotti.
Europe continued, though, to tease. Close to a final appearance on three occasions, the Blues were just a post’s width away from winning an all-English Champions League final in Moscow 2008. There was more still to achieve for what was now a major force on the world stage of football.
The players who formed the backbone of Chelsea greatest side for the best part of a decade would manage one or two spectacular last hurrahs before departing. Chief among these were Didier Drogba, who signed off with the equalising goal and winning penalty on the greatest night in the club’s history: the Champions League final in Munich, and not far behind, Frank Lampard, skipper in that 2012 final and again, a year later, in the Europa League final triumph over Benfica – a few months after he had eclipsed Bobby Tambling as the highest goalscorer for Chelsea.
The Londoners had now become only the fourth club to win every available UEFA competition, and the first from England. The fact these victories were achieved with different managers – Roberto Di Matteo, who also steered the Blues to FA Cup glory, and Rafael Benitez – revealed a different story, though, of underachievement in the Premier League. Eager to compete for top-flight honours again, the board arranged a stunning return for Jose Mourinho: ‘I am one of you,’ he told ecstatic Chelsea fans. Despite undertaking a radical overhaul of the team, his impact was immediate, with a near miss in the title race and a semi-final exit in the Champions League. There were farewells for Lampard, David Luiz, Juan Mata and other favourites, but with the Portuguese navigator back at the helm the course towards further honours looks assured.
Mourinho quickly identified the areas most in need of reinforcement and the club wasted little time in ensuring the players were signed.
Two from Spain – Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas – were the headline buys and Thibaut Courtois began his Chelsea career in earnest after a long loan in the same country. He quickly became first-choice goalkeeper.
A swift, purposeful passing game kicked into gear in coming from behind to win at Burnley in the opening round of fixtures and the Blues barely looked back. By the third game we were clearly ahead of the pack and although reigning champions Manchester City drew level by the turn of the year, they could not live with the club from the capital when we kicked for home.
A fifth Chelsea league championship and a third for Mourinho in England was secured with three games to spare. The eventual points total was the third highest in top-flight history and a mere three league games were lost in 2014/15, all away from home. Fabregas was peerless in providing assists, Diego Costa netted 21 goals in all competitions; Eden Hazard scored 19 and collected a sackful of individual awards.
The season was made all the better by winning the Capital One Cup final against Tottenham, revenge for defeats against our London rivals in Wembley finals in 1967 and 2008.
However the defence of the league title in 2015/16 surprised everyone and with the team only one point above the relegation places just before Christmas, Jose Mourinho left the club for a second time.
Guus Hiddink returned to the helm for a second short spell and guided the side to safety and a mid-table finish, before Italy manager Antonio Conte was appointed to lead the Blues into 2016/17.
It proved to be an inspirational choice. Reacting to comprehensive defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal in September 2016, Conte built on pre-season hard work which had embedded his principles of play by adopting a 3-4-3 formation that immediately flourished.
It brought out the best in a number of important players and instantly produced a six-game, 600-minute spell without a single goal being conceded. The team climbed from eighth position to go top of the league in late November.
A club record 13 straight league victories was achieved up to the end of 2016, equalling the English top-flight record for consecutive league wins in a single season. It included landmark triumphs against both Manchester clubs and Everton. The lead at the top was maintained throughout the second half of the campaign with the title claimed with two games to spare, with an evening win at West Brom. In the remaining games at Stamford Bridge there were emotional scenes as John Terry brought the curtain down on his unsurpassed Chelsea career.
Our final points tally of 93 is only bettered by the 2005 champions – who were also Chelsea, although a second league and FA Cup double in the club’s history was denied by defeat against Arsenal at Wembley.
Source: Chelsea Football Club