Most soccer teams have an emotional link to their home stadium, but the history of few teams and stadiums are as intertwined as that of Chelsea FC and Stamford Bridge, their London home. Built in 1877, Stamford Bridge was an athletics track until 1905 when two brothers (HA and JT Mears) purchased it with the intention of attracting an existing team to play there. When this plan failed, they decided to take the bull by the horns and create their own team – Chelsea FC.
And so began 100 years of soccer history with many ups and downs along the way.
The Story Of The Blues
Chelsea Football Club was officially formed on March 14 1905 in The Rising Sun public house opposite the main entrance to the current stadium. A few weeks later, the team joined the Second Division of the growing Soccer League, and they played their first game (against Stockport County) on May 29, 1905.
A long, uneventful period followed and it was not until 1955 that Chelsea won their first league title. Initially nicknamed “The Pensioners” after the nearby Royal Hospital (home of army pensioners), an early manager thought it gave the wrong impression – and ever since, Chelsea have been known as “The Blues”.
The swinging 60s made Chelsea the fashionable heart of London, but the success of the surrounding area was not duplicated on the field at Stamford Bridge. The team did become known off the pitch for their fashionable clothes, accessories, and celebrity lifestyles and the club enjoyed a certain celebrity in the media during this period. The trophy cabinet however remained largely empty, and although Chelsea came close with an FA Cup final loss in 1967, the only major success of the decade was winning their first League Cup in 1965.
Things Can Only Get Better
Matters did not improve during the 1970s and 80s, with the team dipping in and out of the Second Division and serious financial difficulties leading to the sale of star players. At the club’s lowest financial point, the Mears family were forced to sell the club to new owner Ken Bates for a price of $2 USD (yes two dollars!). The passionate supporters of Chelsea stayed loyal however, and some of the players from this troubled era ranked among the best in England. Notable among the players of this period are the team’s famous goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who played for the team 729 times between 1959 and 1979, and striker Peter Osgood who scored 150 goals in 380 appearances between 1964 and 1979.
Although Jimmy Greaves became better known for his later career at Tottenham Hotspur, he started playing soccer at Chelsea, scoring in his debut game (a feat he repeated with every team he subsequently played for). In 1960, aged 20, Greaves became the youngest player ever to score 100 English league goals, and his 1960-61 tally of 41 league goals remains a record at Chelsea to this very day.
The 1990s saw Chelsea slowly but surely establish themselves as a major force in English and European soccer as Ken Bates funded the purchase of several world-class players including Dutch superstar Ruud Gullit (from Sampdoria) and goal-scoring supremo Mark Hughes (from Manchester United). With Gullit in his first season as player-manager, Chelsea won their first trophy for 26 years when they beat Middlesborough to win the FA Cup in 1997.
The shock departure of Gullit in 1998 led to the appointment of another player-manager, the Italian striker Gianluca Vialli, and the development of the squad continued to bring some success with an FA Cup win in 2000, shortly followed by Vialli’s dismissal. Consequently, his successor, Claudio Ranieri, was in charge of a squad that many commentators felt was of good quality and depth, but under performing, when the turning point in Chelsea’s fortunes occurred.
The new dawn for Chelsea broke when the club was purchased by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003. He immediately opened his sizeable check book to the club management, who spent over $150 million on an injection of new talent including Claude Makélélé, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Damien Duff.
Unfortunately, the investment produced no trophies, and new manager José Mourinho was drafted in from Portugal for the 2004 season. Mourinho made an immediate impression, not only on the Chelsea team but on English soccer in general, and his drive and ambition combined with Ambramovich’s fortune have transformed the fortunes of Chelsea.
Today, Chelsea boasts an amazing array of top players: Echoing the early popularity of Peter Bonetti, goalkeeper Petr Cech is rated by many as the #1 ‘keeper in the Premiership and one of the best in the world. Still aged only 23, he made his debut in his native Czech Republic when he was only 19. Captain John Terry is respected as one of the most tenacious defenders in the Premiership and his dedication and consistency earned him the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) Player of the Year award. At only 24, Chelsea hopes he will be around to carry on the good work for a few years yet.
In the midfield, Frank Lampard is a massive favourite with the fans. A tireless midfielder of great stamina, Lampard plays 90 minutes of end-to-end soccer every game and opposition teams know he can pop up anywhere on the pitch at any time, moving the ball up field from defence one moment, then scoring goals – 13 of them last season – the next. Although Lampard has been with Chelsea since 2001, it is only in the last two seasons that he has really developed into a world-class player – a change that manager José Mourinho can take credit for. While vice-captain Lampard narrowly missed out on the PFA Player of the Year award, he has had the satisfaction of being Chelsea’s own Player of the Year for 2004 and 2005.
A Record Breaking Season
Hardly surprising then that 2005 saw Chelsea win only their second-ever League title, a mere 50 years after winning their first! But this was just one element of what was the most successful year in Chelsea’s history, with them also winning the League Cup and breaking a number of records for a 38 game season:
- Highest points total for a Premiership season (95)
- Most wins (29)
- Fewest goals against (15)
- Most games with no goals against (25)
While it will be very difficult for Chelsea – or any other team – to produce a season that can rival 2004-5 in terms of trophy wins and records, there can be no mistaking the intention of the club’s owners, management team and players to stay at the very top of the English Premiership for as long as possible, and they have started this year with the kind of passion and success that is likely to lead to another great season for fans of “The Blues”.
A Force To Be Reckoned With
No matter how unsuccessful the team has been in the past, Chelsea has always enjoyed the loyal support of local fans, but the recent success of the team means that today Chelsea is an internationally recognized soccer team and a major business with many facets.
The Chelsea FC online megastore now ships Chelsea-related soccer apparel, leisurewear, souvenirs, books and videos around the world. Their multi-lingual ordering hotline is just one indication of how internationally successful the Chelsea “brand” has become.
The club’s sponsorship deal with Samsung is even bigger than Manchester United’s Vodaphone deal, bringing additional income to a club that is already generously funded by its owner and benefactor. Indeed, some commentators are now expressing concern that perhaps the Chelsea squad is too dominant, that perhaps the team is too well funded. But after so many years in the doldrums, you can be sure that today’s Chelsea fans are delighted they have “The Blues”.
About The Author
Nilesh Peshawaria is a freelance writer providing tips and information for consumers purchasing various soccer gear, soccer apparel including replica jerseys, and soccer goalkeeper equipment.