History of Chelsea F.C.
Early years (1905–15)
Chelsea Football Club were founded on 10 March 1905 at The Rising Sun pub, (now The Butcher’s Hook) opposite today’s main entrance to the ground on the Fulham Road. Since there was already a team named Fulham in the borough, the name of the adjacent borough, the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, was settled on after London FC, Kensington FC and Stamford Bridge FC had been rejected. Blue shirts were adopted by Mears, after the racing colors of Lord Chelsea, along with white shorts and dark blue socks.
Chelsea initially considering joining the Southern League, but were rejected following objections from Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, so they instead applied for admission to the Football League. Their candidacy was endorsed at the Football League AGM on 29 May 1905; a speech by Parker was particularly important, emphasising the new club’s financial stability, its impressive new stadium and marquee players such as William “Fatty” Foulke, the 22 stone goalkeeper who had won a league title and two FA Cups with Sheffield United.
Twenty-eight-year-old Scottish international half-back John Robertson was hired as player-manager. The club began with established players recruited from other teams; along with Foulke, Chelsea signed forwards Jimmy Windridge and Bob McRoberts from Small Heath, and Frank Pearson from Manchester City. Chelsea’s first league match took place away at Stockport County on 2 September 1905. They lost the game 1–0. Their first home match was against Liverpool in a friendly. They won 4–0. Robertson also scored Chelsea’s first competitive goal, coming in a 1–0 win against Blackpool.
Chelsea finished a respectable 3rd in the Second Division in their first season, but Robertson steadily saw his position undermined by board room interference. He lost the power to select the team in November 1905, and by January 1907 he had left for Glossop. Club secretary William Lewis took temporary charge and led the team to promotion at the end of the season, thanks largely to the goals of Windridge and George “Gatling Gun” Hilsdon. The latter was the first of many prolific strikers/forwards to play for Chelsea; he scored five goals on his debut and 27 in the promotion season en route to becoming the first player to score 100 goals for the club.
Lewis was succeeded by David Calderhead, who was to manage Chelsea for the next 26 years. The club’s early seasons produced little success, and they yo-yoed between the First and Second divisions. They were relegated in 1909–10, promoted in 1911–12 and finished 19th in 1914–15, the final competitive season before football in England was suspended owing to World War I. The club would normally have been relegated, but when regular football resumed in 1919 the league was expanded to 22 teams and Chelsea were re-elected to the First Division.
In 1915, under the shadow of the First World War, Chelsea reached their first FA Cup final, the so-called “Khaki” cup final, owing to the large number of uniformed soldiers in attendance. The match against Sheffield United was played in a sombre atmosphere and staged at Old Trafford in Manchester to avoid disruption in London. Chelsea, minus their top amateur striker, Vivian Woodward, who had sportingly insisted that the team who reached the final ought to keep their places, were seemingly unnerved by the occasion and outplayed for much of the match. Goalkeeper Jim Molyneux’s mistake allowed United to score before half-time, but the Blues held out until the final six minutes, when their opponents added two more to win 3–0.
In spite of their checkered fortunes, Chelsea became one of the best-supported teams in the country, with fans attracted by the team’s reputation for playing entertaining attacking football and for signing star players, notably half-back Ben Warren and striker Bob Whittingham. The club had the highest average attendance in English football in 1907–08, 1909–10, 1911–12, 1912–13 and 1913–14. A crowd of 67,000 attended a league game against Manchester United on Good Friday 1906, a then-record for a football match in London. 55,000 attended the first-ever London derby in the top division, against Woolwich Arsenal, a record for a First Division match. 77,952 attended a fourth round FA Cup tie against Swindon on 13 April 1911.
Between the wars
1919–20, the first full season following the war, was Chelsea’s most successful up to that point. Led by 24 goal striker Jack Cock, the club’s latest glamour signing, they finished third in the league – then the highest league finish for a London club – and reached the FA Cup semi-finals, only to be denied by eventual winners Aston Villa, which saw them miss out on a chance to play in the final at Stamford Bridge. The club were relegated again in 1923–24 and in four of the next five seasons were to narrowly miss out on promotion, finishing fifth, third, fourth and third. With long serving mainstays including Willie Ferguson, Tommy Law and Andy Wilson, Chelsea finally reached the First Division again in 1929–30, where the club was to remain for the next 32 years.
To capitalise on the 1930 promotion, the club spent £25,000 ($49,000) on three big-name players: Scots Hughie Gallacher, Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne. Gallacher in particular was one of the biggest talents of his era, known for his goalscoring and for having captained Newcastle to a championship in 1926–27. He and Jackson had also been members of the Wembley Wizards team (as had Law), the Scotland team which beat England 5–1 at Wembley in 1928.
However, though the team occasionally clicked, such as in a 6–2 win over Manchester United and a 5–0 win over Sunderland, none of the trio had the desired impact. Gallacher was Chelsea’s top scorer in each of his four seasons, scoring 81 goals in total, but his time in west London was hindered by his personal troubles and punctuated by long suspensions for indiscipline, including a two-month ban for swearing at a referee. Jackson and Cheyne struggled to settle at the club and were unable re-capture their previous achievements. The trio did not make 300 appearances between them and by 1936 all had left at a significant financial loss to the club. Their disappointment epitomised Chelsea’s flaws throughout the decade, whereby performances and results rarely matched the calibre of players at the club. Money was spent, but some feel it was too often spent on inappropriate players, especially forwards, while the defence remained neglected.
The FA Cup was to be the closest the club came to silverware. In 1932, the team secured impressive wins over Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday, and were drawn against Newcastle United in the semi-finals. Tommy Lang inspired Newcastle to a 2–0 lead, before Gallacher pulled one back for Chelsea. The Blues laid siege to the United goal in the second half, but were unable to make a breakthrough and the Geordies went on to lift the trophy.
Calderhead stepped down in 1933 and was replaced by Leslie Knighton, but the appointment saw little change in Chelsea’s fortunes. At different times during the decade the club had on its books such players as Tommy Law, Sam Weaver, Syd Bishop, Harry Burgess, Dick Spence and Joe Bambrick, all established internationals, yet their highest league finish in the decade was eighth. Ironically, two of the club’s most reliable players during the decade cost them nothing: goalkeeper Vic Woodley, who was to win 19 consecutive caps for England, and centre-forward George Mills, the first player to score 100 league goals for Chelsea. They avoided relegation by two points in 1932–33 and 1933–34, and by one point in 1938–39. Another promising cup run in 1939, which included wins over Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday, petered out with a home loss to Grimsby Town in the quarter-finals.
The club continued to be one of the country’s best-supported teams. The visit of Arsenal on 12 October 1935 attracted a crowd 82,905 to Stamford Bridge, which remains a club record and the second highest ever attendance at an English league match. Crowds of almost 50,000 attended Gallacher and Jackson’s home debuts. In 1939, with the club having come no closer to on-field success, Knighton stepped down. He was succeeded by Scotsman and former Queens Park Rangers manager, Billy Birrell.
In 1937, Chelsea competed in the “Arts et Techniques dans la Vie moderne” tournament in Paris against some of the biggest clubs of the time, Austria Wien, Bologna and Slavia Prague, thus becoming the first English club ever to participate in an international tournament. Chelsea reached the final of the tournament, where they lost to Italian champions Bologna.
The war, Dynamo and the new youth system (1940–52)
Birrell was appointed Chelsea manager shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Three games into the 1939–40 season, first class football was abandoned in Britain for the duration of the conflict, meaning that all wartime results are only regarded as unofficial. Chelsea competed in a series of regional competitions and, like every other club, saw their squad severely depleted by the war effort (only two members of Chelsea’s 1938–39 team ever played for them again). The club thus fielded a series of “guest” players, most notably Matt Busby, Walter Winterbottom and Eddie Hapgood. They also competed in the Football League War Cup, during which they made their Wembley debut, losing 1–3 to Charlton Athletic in the 1944 final, and beating Millwall 2–0 a year later in front of crowds of over 80,000. After the latter match, John Harris became the first Chelsea captain to lift a trophy at Wembley, receiving the cup from Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
In October 1945, with the war having just ended, the English football authorities sought a way to celebrate the return of the peace-time game. As part of a goodwill gesture, it was announced that Dynamo Moscow, reigning champions of the Soviet Union, would tour the United Kingdom and play several home teams, including Chelsea. The match took place on 13 November at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea wearing an unfamiliar red strip due to a clash with Dynamo’s blue kit. Before kick-off, the Dynamo players presented a bouquet of flowers to their opposite number. The Russian team surprised many observers with their talent and tenacity by fighting back from 0–2 and 2–3 down to earn a 3–3 draw. An estimated crowd of over 100,000 people attended the match, with thousands entering the ground illegally. This crowd is the highest ever recorded at Stamford Bridge. Spectators watched from numerous obscure places, including many on the dog track and on the top of stands.
Following the war, Chelsea again spent big, and again bought three big-name forwards, this time Tommy Lawton, Len Goulden and Tommy Walker, for around £22,000. The trio provided both goals and entertainment – Lawton set a new club record by scoring 26 goals in 34 league games in 1946–47 – but Chelsea finished 15th that season and never finished above 13th under Birrell. After a falling out with Birrell, Lawton was sold to Notts County for £20,000; his replacement was Roy Bentley, signed from Newcastle United for £11,500 in 1948.
1951 saw Chelsea enjoy another run in the FA Cup. After beating Manchester United 2–0 in a pulsating quarter-final, they were drawn to face London rivals Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Two goals from Bentley put Chelsea in control, but a freak goal from Arsenal (Chelsea’s goalkeeper misjudged a corner and punched it into his own net) just before half-time turned the game. Arsenal equalised 15 minutes from full-time and then won the replay 1–0.
A year later, Chelsea seemed destined for relegation: with four games remaining, they were six points behind, at the bottom of the table, and without a win in fourteen matches. After unexpectedly winning the first three, Chelsea went into their final match needing to beat Bolton Wanderers and hoping for the right result between fellow relegation candidates Everton and Sheffield Wednesday. Chelsea won 4–0 and Wednesday beat Everton 6–0, thus ensuring Chelsea’s survival on goal average by 0.044 of a goal. In 1952, Chelsea again faced Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals and after a 1–1 tie in the first match, lost the replay 3–0. Birrell resigned shortly afterwards.
Birrell’s biggest contribution to Chelsea was off the field. In a bid to counter the spiraling cost of transfer fees in football, he oversaw the development of an extensive new youth and scouting programme, headed by ex-players Dickie Foss, Dick Spence and Jimmy Thompson, which would ultimately see the club produce its own players. The policy would provide the core of Chelsea’s first team for the next three decades in particular, producing such players as Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Smith, Peter Osgood, Peter Bonetti, Ray Wilkins, Ron Harris, Bobby Tambling, Alan Hudson, Terry Venables and John Hollins.
Ted Drake: Modernisation and the Championship (1952–61)
In 1952, former Arsenal and England striker Ted Drake was appointed manager. One of the first “tracksuit managers” who used to shake each player by the hand and wish them “all the best” before each match, Drake proceeded to modernise the club, both on and off the field. One of his first actions was to remove the image of a Chelsea pensioner from the match programme and the club’s old nickname was no more. From then on they were to be known as the Blues. This also led to the introduction of a new “lion rampant” crest.
He improved the training regime, introducing ballwork to training sessions, a practice rare in England at the time; the youth and scouting systems begun by his predecessor were extended and he abandoned the club’s old recruiting policy of signing often unreliable stars, opting instead for lesser known but more reliable players from the lower divisions. He also urged the club’s fans to be more partisan and to get behind the team. Drake’s early years were unpromising, as Chelsea finished 19th and just a point away from relegation in his first season and 8th in his second.
In 1954–55, the club’s jubilee year, everything clicked. The team found a consistency rate not previously there as Chelsea unexpectedly won the First Division title. It included goalkeeper Charlie ‘Chic’ Thomson, amateur players Derek Saunders and Jim Lewis, central midfielder Johnny “Jock” McNichol, wingers Eric “Rabbit” Parsons and Frank Blunstone, defender Peter Sillett and future England manager Ron Greenwood in central defence, as well old club stalwarts, right back Ken Armstrong, left-back Stan Willemse and veteran defender John Harris. Perhaps the only genuine star in the side was captain, top-scorer (with 21 league goals) and England international Roy Bentley.
Chelsea had begun the season much as they had finished the last, with four consecutive defeats, including a thrilling 5–6 loss to Manchester United, which left them 12th in November. From there the team went on a remarkable run, losing just 3 of the next 25 games and secured the title with a game to spare after a 3–0 win against Sheffield Wednesday on St George’s Day. Key to the success were two league wins against principal rivals and eventual runners-up Wolverhampton Wanderers. The first was a dramatic 4–3 win at Molineux – a game in which Chelsea were trailing 2–3 going into stoppage time – and a 1–0 win at Stamford Bridge in April, secured with a Sillett penalty awarded after Wolves captain Billy Wright had punched a goal-bound shot over the bar.
Chelsea’s points total of 52 for that season remains one of the lowest to have secured the English League title since the First World War. In the final game of the season, Chelsea, now champions, were given a guard of honour by Matt Busby’s Manchester United Busby Babes. That same season saw the club complete a unique quadruple, with the reserve, ‘A’ and junior sides also winning their respective leagues.
Winning the Championship should have ensured that Chelsea became the first English participants in the inaugural European Champions’ Cup competition to be staged the following season. Indeed, they were drawn to face Swedish champions Djurgårdens IF in the first round. Chelsea, however, were denied by the intervention of the Football League and the FA, many of whose leading members were opposed to the idea and felt that primacy should be given to domestic competitions, so the club were persuaded to withdraw. Chelsea did play an unofficial UK championship friendly against Scottish champions Aberdeen, which Aberdeen won. Chelsea presented a plate with the club crest to Aberdeen as a reward.
Chelsea were unable to build on their title success, and finished a disappointing 16th the following season. The team was aging and there followed a succession of uninspiring mid-table finishes; one bright spot in this period was the emergence of the prolific goalscorer Jimmy Greaves, who scored 122 league goals in four seasons. Along with Greaves, a series of other promising youngsters, informally known as Drake’s Ducklings, emerged in the first team, though their inexperience ensured that performances remained erratic. One of the lowest points for the club in this period was being knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Fourth Division side, Crewe Alexandra, in January 1961. When Greaves was sold to Milan in June 1961 the writing was on the wall and, without his goals, results slumped. Drake was sacked in September after a 4–0 loss to Blackpool with Chelsea bottom of the league table. He was replaced by 33-year-old player-coach Tommy Docherty.
The swinging sixties ushered in an era that saw football and inimitable style merge in the heart of London; with the fashionable King’s Road at the heart of the swagger. Superstars of the time, including Michael Caine, Steve McQueen, Raquel Welch, Terence Stamp and Richard Attenborough (former Life Vice President of the club) were regularly seen at Stamford Bridge as the team became one of the most glamorous and fashionable in the country. A ’60s Chelsea side that oozed charisma and class established the club as a big name for the first time, but ultimately failed to match its swagger with on-field triumphs, and endured several near-misses.
Docherty imposed a regime of strict discipline, sold off many of the club’s older players, and replaced them with the new generation of talented youngsters emerging from the youth system, supplemented by some shrewd transfers. By the time he took over in January 1962, the team were already all but doomed to relegation and he used the time to experiment and plan for the future. Chelsea were duly relegated and in Docherty’s first full season as manager he led them back to promotion as Second Division runners-up, secured with a crucial and hard-fought 1–0 win at rivals Sunderland (and a goal scored via Tommy Harmer’s groin) and a 7–0 final day win over Portsmouth.
Chelsea thus returned to the First Division with a new, youthful team which included the uncompromising Ron “Chopper” Harris, goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, prolific goalscoring winger Bobby Tambling (whose 202 goals remained a club record until 2013), midfielder John Hollins, full-back Ken Shellito, striker Barry Bridges, winger Bert Murray and captain and playmaker Terry Venables, all products of the youth system. To these, Docherty added striker George Graham, left-back Eddie McCreadie and elegant defender Marvin Hinton for minimal fees to complete the Diamonds line-up – Docherty had referred to the team as his “little diamonds” during a TV documentary and the name stuck.
Chelsea finished a credible fifth in their first season back in the top-flight, and in the next were on course for a domestic “treble” of league, FA Cup and League Cup, playing a brand of football based on high energy and quick passing and utilising innovative tactics – they were one of the first English teams to use overlapping full-backs. Chelsea set the early pace and emerged in a three-way tussle for the league title with Manchester United and Leeds United. The League Cup was secured thanks to a 3–2 first leg win against Leicester City, with a memorable solo effort from McCreadie proving to be the difference between the sides, and then a hard-fought 0–0 draw in the second leg at Filbert Street.
Cracks were also beginning to appear, however, as the temperamental Docherty increasingly clashed with some of the strong personalities within the dressing room, particularly Venables. The team were beaten by title rivals Manchester United in March and lost 2–0 in their FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, despite going into the latter match as favourites. They were nonetheless top with four games remaining. Docherty then sent home eight key players (Venables, Graham, Bridges, Hollins, McCreadie, Hinton, Murray and Joe Fascione) for breaking a curfew before a crucial match against Burnley. The bare bones of the team that remained, a collection of reserves and youngsters, were beaten 6–2 as the title challenge collapsed; Chelsea eventually finished third.
The following season proved equally eventful, if ultimately unsuccessful, with Chelsea challenging in the League, the FA Cup and the Fairs Cup. Playing a then-club record total of 60 games in the three competitions in the days before substitutes, the team were hit hard by the fixture pile-up. They finished fifth in the League, while in the FA Cup, Chelsea gained revenge for their semi-final defeat by knocking-out holders Liverpool at Anfield en route to another semi-final, where they were drawn to face Sheffield Wednesday, again at Villa Park. Favourites to reach the final, the side froze on the day and were beaten 2–0 by the Yorkshire club.
Their Fairs Cup run, taking in wins over Roma (a violent encounter, during which the Chelsea team coach was ambushed by Roma fans), 1860 Munich and Milan (the last on the toss of a coin after the teams had finished level), ended in a semi-final loss to Barcelona. Both home sides won 2–0 and on another coin toss, the replay was staged at the Camp Nou, with Barça winning 5–0. Docherty, his relationship with several players having reached breaking point, then made the decision to break up a team with an average age of 21. Venables, Graham, Bridges and Murray were all sold during the close-season. Scottish winger Charlie Cooke joined for £72,000, as did striker Tommy Baldwin, who arrived in part-exchange for Graham. Also emerging from the youth set-up was a highly rated teenage striker named Peter Osgood.
Docherty’s transfer manoeuvrings initially paid off. Chelsea, with Osgood at the heart of the team, topped the league table in October 1966, the only unbeaten side after ten league games. But Osgood broke his leg in a League Cup tie and the side’s momentum was disrupted. To replace Osgood, Docherty immediately signed striker Tony Hateley for a club record £100,000, but Hateley’s aerial game did not suit Chelsea’s style and he struggled to fit in. They drifted down the league and finished ninth. The highlight of that season was reaching the FA Cup final. En route to that final was a win over Leeds United in the semi-finals, the game widely seen as the one which kicked off the fierce rivalry between the two clubs. In his finest moment for Chelsea, Hateley headed in what proved to be the winner, but in a hotly contested match, Leeds had two goals disallowed, one for offside and one for a Peter Lorimer free-kick taken too quickly.
Chelsea competed with Tottenham Hotspur in the first all-London FA Cup final, known as the Cockney Cup Final. It was Chelsea’s first appearance in the final since 1915 and their first ever appearance in the final at Wembley. In leading out the side, Ron Harris, at 22, was the youngest ever captain to take to the field in the competition’s finale. In a game which failed to match the anticipation, Chelsea underperformed and a late Tambling header was not enough to prevent a 2–1 loss to a Spurs side containing both Venables and Jimmy Greaves. Docherty was sacked shortly into the next season with the team having won only two of their opening ten games, which included a 6–2 home loss to Southampton, amidst rumours of dressing room unrest over bonus payments and whilst serving a 28-day ban from football management handed out by the FA.
After Docherty’s departure, his assistant Ron Suart was placed in temporary charge of the first team. Chelsea lost their next game 7–0 against Leeds United, equalling the club’s highest-ever margin of defeat (in 1953–54, they had lost 8–1 to Wolves). Dave Sexton, ex-Chelsea coach and Leyton Orient manager, and a character far more calm and reserved than Docherty, was appointed manager. The core of the side inherited from Docherty remained largely unchanged, although he added more steel to the defence with the signings of John Dempsey and David Webb, as well as signing striker Ian Hutchinson, giving mercurial midfielder Alan Hudson his debut and recalling winger Peter Houseman. Sexton proved a stabilising influence and led Chelsea to two more top-six finishes, as well as a brief foray into the Fairs Cup in 1968–69, where they were knocked out by DWS on a coin toss.
In the 1969–70 season, Osgood and Hutchinson scored 53 goals between them, helping the club finish third in the league and reach another FA Cup final. This time the opponents were Leeds United, reigning league champions and one of the dominant sides of the era. Chelsea were generally second best in the first match at Wembley played on a boggy pitch, but twice came from behind to gain a 2–2 draw, first through Houseman and then a late headed equaliser (four minutes from full-time) from Hutchinson. The replay was staged at Old Trafford a fortnight later and is as well known for the uncompromising tactics employed by both sides as the skill and talent on display. Chelsea again went behind but equalised for the third time in the match with a diving header from Osgood from a Cooke cross. As the game went into extra time, Chelsea took the lead for the first time when Webb headed in a Hutchinson throw-in to seal a 2–1 win.
Winning the Cup qualified Chelsea to play in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup for the first time. Straightforward wins over Aris and CSKA Sofia took them to the quarter-finals, where they knocked out Club Brugge thanks to a dramatic comeback. Trailing 2–0 after the first leg, it took an Osgood goal nine minutes from the end of normal time in a tense match to put Chelsea level on aggregate. They went on to win the game 4–0 after extra time. Fellow English side (and holders) Manchester City were dispatched in the semi-final. The first final match against Real Madrid finished 1–1 but a rare goal from Dempsey and another strike from Osgood in the replay – played just two days later – were enough to secure a 2–1 win and Chelsea’s first European honour. The song Blue is the Colour was released in 1972 with members of the squad singing, and it reached number five in the UK Singles Chart. The song was to become one of the most famous English football songs, and forever associated with the Chelsea team of that era.
The Cup Winners’ Cup triumph proved to be the last of Chelsea’s successes in the decade, as a series of problems combined to almost bring the club to its knees. From the early 1970s, the discipline of the team began to degenerate, as Sexton fell out with several key players, most notably Osgood, Hudson and Baldwin over their attitude and lifestyle. As the spirit of the team declined, so too did results. Chelsea set two records in defence of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971–72: a 21–0 aggregate win over Luxembourg side Jeunesse Hautcharage, which remains a record scoreline in European competition. The result included a 13–0 home win over Jeunesse, the biggest winning scoreline in Chelsea’s history. However, the team were knocked out of the competition by little-known Åtvidabergs FF under the away goals rule in the next round.
In the same season, Chelsea were knocked out of the FA Cup by Second Division Leyton Orient despite having led 2–0, and lost in the League Cup final to underdogs Stoke City. The 1972–73 season began with a 4–0 win over Leeds and the club were fourth in the table in December, but after a 3–0 aggregate loss to Norwich City in the League Cup semi-finals the season fizzled out and Chelsea won just 5 of their last 21 league games, eventually finishing 12th. They finished 17th the following season. The feud between Sexton and Osgood and Hudson reached its apogee after a 4–2 home defeat to West Ham United on Boxing Day 1973, after Chelsea had led 2–0 at half-time; the pair were both sold a few months later. Sexton himself was sacked early into the 1974–75 season after a poor start, and succeeded by his assistant, Ron Suart, who was unable to reverse the club’s decline and they were relegated in 1975.
The building of the pioneering East Stand (which retains its place even in the modern stadium) as part of a plan to create a 60,000 all-seater stadium added to the club’s woes. The project had been described as “the most ambitious ever undertaken in Britain”. It coincided with a world economic crisis and was hit by delays, a builders’ strike and shortages of materials, all of which sent the cost escalating out of control, to the extent that the club’s debts stood at £4 million by 1977. As a result, between August 1974 and June 1978, Chelsea were unable to buy a single player. The decline of the team was matched by a decline in attendances – those who remained were marred by a fierce reputation for violence amongst a section of the Chelsea support (the boundary between passion and hooliganism being dangerously narrow in those days). The late 1970s and the 1980s saw the height of football hooliganism in Britain; while the problem was widespread, Chelsea’s hooligan element became particularly notorious and would blight the club throughout the following years.
In the mid-1970s, Chelsea fans were “involved in… many incidents of violence, vandalism and general mayhem”. At Luton Town, Chelsea supporters invaded the pitch, smashed shop windows en route back to Luton station, and then set light to their Football Special, resulting in over 100 arrests. During a match against Charlton Athletic at The Valley in 1977, Chelsea fans lit fires on the terraces. In 1976–77, both league matches against Millwall, another club with a notorious hooligan element among their support, were marred by crowd violence. The hooliganism prompted Minister for Sport Denis Howell to ban Chelsea fans from away matches in April 1977 – a similar restriction was also placed on Manchester United fans – although thousands of Chelsea fans defied the ban and travelled to the following match against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Former left-back Eddie McCreadie became manager shortly before Chelsea’s relegation in 1975 and, after a year of consolidation in 1975–76, led the side to promotion again in 1976–77 with a team composed of youth players, most notably Ray Wilkins and 24-goal striker Steve Finnieston, and veterans from more successful times like Cooke, Harris and Bonetti. But McCreadie left following a contract dispute with chairman Brian Mears over a company car and another ex-player was appointed, this time former right-back Ken Shellito.
Shellito kept Chelsea in the First Division in 1977–78, though the highlight of that season was a 4–2 win over European champions Liverpool in the FA Cup. Shellito resigned midway through the following season with the club having won just three league games by Christmas. Even the brief return of Osgood did little to improve the club’s fortunes. Shellito’s successor, former double-winning Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower was unable to stem the slump and the club were relegated again with just five league wins and 27 defeats, ushering in one of the bleakest periods in Chelsea’s history.
Wilkins, one of the club’s few remaining stars, was sold to Manchester United and England’s 1966 World Cup final hero Geoff Hurst became manager in September 1979 with Bobby Gould as his assistant. Their arrival saw an immediate upturn in Chelsea’s form, and for a large period Chelsea topped the Second Division table, but a late collapse saw them finish fourth, meaning the club missed out on promotion on goal difference. In the next season the team struggled to score goals, going on a nine-match run without one, winning only 3 matches in 20 and finishing 12th in 1980–81. Hurst was sacked.
In 1981, Mears resigned as chairman, ending his family’s 76-year association with the club. One of Mears’ last actions was to appoint former Wrexham boss John Neal as manager. A year later, Chelsea Football & Athletic Company, heavily in debt and unable to pay its players, was acquired from the Mears family interests by businessman and one-time chairman of Oldham Athletic, Ken Bates, for the sum of £1, though for reasons which remain disputed, he did not buy SB Properties, the company which now owned the Stamford Bridge freehold. By this point, Chelsea were in a parlous financial state and losing £12,000 a week. Bates would later describe what he took over as “a social club with a little football played on a Saturday”.
“ There were hangers-on in the wrong areas, all over the club. I wrote everything off and started again. Chelsea used to have a bootman to clean the boots. The apprentices just stood around watching him clean away. He went. The directors had their own chauffeur to drive them around town. He went. Even the lottery lost money. How? There were just two birds selling tickets. They went. ”
1981–82, an otherwise forgettable season during which Chelsea again finished 12th, Chelsea went on their first significant FA Cup run for years and drew European champions Liverpool in the fifth round. They outplayed their illustrious opponents and won 2–0. In the quarter-finals, they were pitted against old rivals Tottenham who, in a pulsating game, won 3–2, despite Chelsea taking the lead through Mike Fillery. The 1982–83 season proved to be the worst in Chelsea’s history. Following a bright start, the team slumped dramatically, going on a nine-match winless run as the season drew to a close and faced relegation to the Third Division which, given the club’s financial troubles, could well have dealt it a killer blow. In the penultimate game of the season at fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers, Clive Walker hit a last-minute winner from 25 yards (23 m) to ensure a crucial 1–0 win. A draw at home to Middlesbrough in the final game ensured the club’s survival by two points.
Battle for the Bridge
As noted above, when Bates bought Chelsea in 1982, he only bought the club and not SB Properties, the company which now owned the freehold of Stamford Bridge; the club and the stadium had been separated in financial restructuring during the late 1970s. Bates initially agreed a seven-year lease, which would keep Chelsea at Stamford Bridge while its future was decided.
According to Bates, he and David Mears, the majority shareholder of SB Properties, shook hands on a deal which would see Chelsea acquire Mears’ stake in SB Properties for £450,000. Bates, however, later discovered that Mears was also in discussions with Crystal Palace owner Ron Noades, with a view to moving Chelsea away from Stamford Bridge and have them ground share with Palace at Selhurst Park. Mears and Lord Chelsea subsequently sold their shares in SB Properties to property developers Marler Estates, giving Marler a 70% stake in the company. This began a long campaign by Marler to force Chelsea out of Stamford Bridge so it could be sold off and redeveloped.
Over the next decade, Bates waged a war of attrition against Marler, acquiring a minority stake in SB Properties and initiating a series of court injunctions and delaying tactics, designed to wear them down. He also launched the “Save the Bridge” campaign, with the aim of raising £15 million to acquire the freehold from Marler. Marler in turn put forward several schemes which would see Chelsea removed from Stamford Bridge. David Bulstrode, chairman of Marler, proposed a merger between Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, with Chelsea then relocating to Rangers’ Loftus Road stadium. In March 1986, Marler’s plans to redevelop the Stamford Bridge site without Chelsea were approved by Hammersmith and Fulham Council; the council reversed its policy when the Labour Party gained control of it in May 1986. In December 1987, in a “momentous decision”, Bates’ own plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge into a modern football stadium were approved by the council’s planning committee.
Chelsea were nonetheless served notice to quit Stamford Bridge, upon the expiry of the lease in 1989. Cabra Estates, however, which had purchased Marler in 1989, were eventually bankrupted in the property market crash of 1992. This enabled Bates to do a deal with their creditors, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and reunite the freehold with the club. Bates then created the Chelsea Pitch Owners, a non-profit organisation owned by the fans which in 1997 purchased the freehold of the stadium, the club’s naming rights and the pitch to ensure that property developers could never again try to purchase Stamford Bridge. Following this, work was begun to renovate the entire stadium (bar the East Stand), making it all-seater and bringing the stands closer to the pitch and under cover, which was finally completed by the millennium.
The summer of 1983 marked a turning point in Chelsea’s history. Manager John Neal made a series of signings who were to be crucial in turning around the club’s fortunes. In came striker Kerry Dixon from Reading, skillful winger Pat Nevin from Clyde, midfielder Nigel Spackman from AFC Bournemouth and goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki from Wrexham in addition to John Hollins returning as player-coach, all for a combined total of less than £500,000. Dixon struck up a prolific strike partnership with fellow Neal signing David Speedie and both linked up well with Nevin, a combination that would produce almost 200 goals in three years.
The new-look Chelsea began the 1983–84 season with a 5–0 win against Derby County on the opening day and romped to promotion; among the highlights were a 5–3 at Fulham and a 4–0 win over Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United. After a dip in form around Christmas, Neal signed winger Mickey Thomas and Chelsea did not lose another game that season. Dixon hit 36 goals in all competitions – a seasonal tally bettered only by Bobby Tambling and Jimmy Greaves – and promotion was sealed with another 5–0 win over old adversaries Leeds United. The team were crowned Second Division champions on the final day with a win away at Grimsby Town, with some 10,000 Chelsea fans making the trip to Lincolnshire.
Upon their return to the First Division, Chelsea were unlikely European contenders in 1984–85, eventually finishing sixth, although the events at Heysel that season rendered European qualification moot. They were also on course to reach their third League Cup final, drawing relegation candidates Sunderland in the semi-finals. Ex-Chelsea winger Clive Walker, however, inspired his team to a 3–2 win at Stamford Bridge to seal a 5–2 aggregate win for Sunderland, which was followed by a near-riot; the game continued with mounted police and supporters on the pitch, with the violence later spilling over onto the streets. Neal retired at the end of the season due to ill health, and was replaced by Hollins.
The 1984–85 season is also notable for the erection of an electric perimeter fence around the pitch at Stamford Bridge, the response of chairman Ken Bates to regular pitch invasions and fights during matches. The local council, however, refused permission for the electric supply to the fence to be switched on, and it was dismantled within months of being erected.
In Hollins’ first season, Chelsea challenged for the title, topping the table in February, but long-term injuries to Dixon and Niedzwiecki, combined with a poor run of results, especially during the Easter period, during which the side conceded ten goals in two games, appeared to end their chances. A 2–1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford and another by the same scoreline over West Ham at Upton Park – effectively denying the latter the title – left Chelsea three points behind leaders Liverpool with five games remaining. One point from the remaining fixtures, however, denied them the title and they finished sixth again. In the same season, the inaugural Full Members Cup was won with a 5–4 win over Manchester City at Wembley, thanks to a Speedie hat-trick and in spite of the opposition fighting back from 1–5 down.
Following this new beginning, the form of the side slumped again, finishing 14th in the next season. The spirit of the side began to disintegrate after Hollins and his assistant Ernie Walley fell out with several key players, notably Speedie and Spackman, who were subsequently sold. Hollins was sacked in March the following season with the side again in relegation trouble. Bobby Campbell took over in March but could not prevent Chelsea’s relegation via the short-lived play-off system with a loss to Middlesbrough, a match which was again followed by crowd trouble and an attempted pitch invasion, resulting in a six-match closure of the terraces the following season. Nevertheless, the club bounced back immediately and emphatically, despite failing to win any of their opening six league games, and were promoted as Second Division champions with 99 points, 17 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City. Importantly, Chelsea had managed to hang onto striker Kerry Dixon, who had a similarly prolific new partner up front in the shape of Gordon Durie, and Chelsea entered the 1990s as a First Division side.
The 1990s: Back on track
Chelsea had an impressive return to the First Division in 1989–90. Campbell guided a squad of mostly unremarkable players to a creditable fifth place in the final table. Although the ban on English clubs in European football was lifted that year, Chelsea missed out on a UEFA Cup place because the only English place in the competition that year went to league runners-up Aston Villa. In the same season, he led Chelsea to their second Full Members Cup success, with a 1–0 win over Middlesbrough in the final at Wembley. Despite recruiting the club’s first million pound players, Dennis Wise and Andy Townsend, the next season proved a disappointment, as Chelsea finished 11th in the First Division and were knocked out of both cups by lower league opposition.
Campbell was promoted to general manager at the end of the season; he was succeeded as team manager by first team coach Ian Porterfield, who helped Chelsea finish high enough in 1991–92 to qualify for the first-ever season of the Premier League. Porterfield was sacked halfway through the 1992–93 season, with the team having not won a league match for two months. He was replaced on a caretaker basis by 1970 FA Cup hero, David Webb, who steered the club clear of relegation and eventually secured an 11th-place finish. Webb was replaced by 35-year-old former England midfielder Glenn Hoddle, who had just won promotion to the Premiership as player-manager of Swindon Town.
Hoddle’s first season as manager saw Chelsea’s league form dip slightly, and for a time they were threatened by relegation, with the goals of £1.5 million signing Mark Stein playing an important part in survival. In the same season, Chelsea reached the FA Cup Final, where they faced Premiership champions Manchester United, a team Chelsea had beaten 1–0 in both league games that season. After going in 0–0 at half-time, United were awarded two second-half penalties by referee David Elleray in the space of five minutes, both of which were scored. With Chelsea having to attack, it left gaps in defence and United eventually won 4–0. This was nevertheless sufficient for Chelsea to compete in the 1994–95 Cup Winners’ Cup, since United had already qualified for the Champions League. They reached the semi-finals of that competition, going out 3–2 on aggregate to eventual winners Real Zaragoza.
With Chelsea’s future at Stamford Bridge now secure, Bates and millionaire director Matthew Harding were now making money available for the club to spend on players. In the summer of 1995, Chelsea recruited two world-famous players, Dutch legend Ruud Gullit, on a free transfer from Sampdoria, and Manchester United striker Mark Hughes (£1.5 million), both of whom would play a significant role in the club’s future success. Hoddle also signed talented Romanian full-back Dan Petrescu for £2.3 million. Hoddle guided Chelsea to another 11th-place finish in 1995–96, and another FA Cup semi-final, and then resigned to become manager of the England national team.
The Italian Renaissance: Gullit, Vialli and Zola (1996–2000)
Gullit was appointed player-manager for the 1996–97 season, and added several top-class players to the side, including European Cup-winning Juventus striker Gianluca Vialli, cultured French defender Frank Leboeuf and Italian internationals Gianfranco Zola (whose skill would make him a firm favourite with the crowd and see him become one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players) and Roberto Di Matteo (the latter for a club record £4.9 million). They were later joined by the powerful and prolific Uruguayan midfielder Gus Poyet and Norwegian “super-sub” Tore André Flo. With such players, it was under Gullit and his successor that Chelsea emerged as one of England’s top sides again and gained a reputation for playing a neat, entertaining and attractive passing game performed by technically gifted players, though the club’s inconsistency against supposed “smaller” teams remained.
Gullit capped an impressive first season in management by leading Chelsea to their highest league placing since 1990 (sixth) and winning the FA Cup, ending the club’s 26-year wait for a major trophy. The most memorable match of the run was a fourth round comeback against Liverpool, in which Chelsea, inspired by Hughes, overturned a 2–0 half-time deficit to win 4–2. The 2–0 victory over Middlesbrough in the final at Wembley got off to a frantic start with Di Matteo scoring after 43 seconds; Eddie Newton’s late goal clinched it. The win was a happy end to a season which had looked to be dominated by sadness after the death in October of popular director and financial benefactor Matthew Harding in a helicopter crash following a League Cup match against Bolton Wanderers.
Gullit was suddenly sacked in February 1998, ostensibly after a contract dispute, with the team second in the Premiership, and in the semi-finals of two cup competitions. Another player-manager was appointed, the 33-year-old Vialli. Vialli began his management career in style by winning two trophies in two months. The League Cup was secured with another 2–0 win over Middlesbrough at Wembley (with Di Matteo again on the scoresheet). Chelsea reached the Cup Winners’ Cup final following a dramatic semi-final win against Vicenza. Having lost the away leg 1–0 and then conceded an away goal, Chelsea bounced back to win 3–1 on the night and go through, with Hughes again the catalyst. They won their second Cup Winners’ Cup title with a 1–0 victory against VfB Stuttgart at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, with Zola scoring with his first touch having been on the pitch for just 17 seconds. Following that, Vialli led the club to a 1–0 win over European champions Real Madrid in the Super Cup at the Stade Louis II in Monaco.
During the 1998–99 Premiership campaign, Chelsea made their first sustained challenge for the title for years. Despite an opening day loss against Coventry City, the side were not beaten in the League again until January and topped the table at Christmas. Their title chances eventually disappeared after a home loss to West Ham and consecutive draws against Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday in April, which saw the Blues finish third, four points behind winners Manchester United. A season which promised much ultimately ended trophyless, with Chelsea’s defence of their Cup Winners’ Cup title ending in a semi-final loss against Mallorca while they were knocked out of both the other cups in the quarter-finals. Third place in the league was nevertheless high enough for a first-ever appearance in the Champions League.
Forty-four years after being denied entry to the inaugural championship, Chelsea made their debut in Europe’s premier competition in August 1999 and they put in a series of impressive performances en route to a quarter-final tie against Barcelona. It included memorable draws at the San Siro and the Stadio Olimpico against Milan and Lazio respectively, as well as a thumping 5–0 win against Turkish side Galatasaray at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium. During the first leg of the quarter-final against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea took a 3–0 lead, only to concede a late Luís Figo away goal. Trailing 2–1 during the second leg at the Camp Nou, the team were just seven minutes away from the semi-finals, but conceded a third and were eventually beaten 5–1 after extra time, losing 6–4 on aggregate.
By now, Chelsea had a top-notch multi-national squad which included Zola, Di Matteo, Poyet, Dutch goalkeeper Ed de Goey, and French World Cup-winning trio Frank Leboeuf, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps. Under Vialli, Chelsea would become the first side in English football to field a starting 11 composed entirely of foreign players, highlighting the increasing internationalization of the game. The 1999–2000 season saw inconsistency return to Chelsea’s league form as the side struggled to juggle Premier League and Champions League commitments, ultimately finishing a disappointing fifth. Vialli did lead the team to a second FA Cup win in four years that season – this time against Aston Villa, with Di Matteo again scoring the winner – in the last final to be played at Wembley before its redevelopment. The Charity Shield was added in August with a 2–0 win against Manchester United, to make Vialli Chelsea’s then most successful manager.
Claudio Ranieri (2000–2004)
Vialli spent almost £26 million on new players during the summer, including high-scoring Dutchman Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and talented Icelandic striker Eiður Guðjohnsen, but was dismissed in September 2000 after winning just one of the opening five matches and, once again, with rumours circulating that the manager had fallen out with important players. He was replaced by another Italian, Claudio Ranieri, who, in spite of his initial problems with the English language, guided them to another top six finish in his first season. Ranieri gradually re-built the side, reducing the average age of the squad by selling some older players, including Wise and Poyet, and replacing them with John Terry, William Gallas, Frank Lampard and Jesper Grønkjær.
Ranieri’s second season saw some more progress, mainly in the cups, with Chelsea reaching the League Cup semi-finals and another FA Cup final, but was unable to prevent them from losing to double winners Arsenal in the latter. League form saw little improvement, though, and Chelsea again finished sixth. With rumours of the club’s perilous financial state circulating, Ranieri was unable to sign any more players. As a result, expectations of Chelsea in the 2002–03 season were more limited. Chelsea nevertheless made an unexpected title challenge and, in perhaps one of the most significant matches in the club’s history, defeated Liverpool 2–1 in the final game of the season to finish fourth and secure the final Champions League berth ahead of the Merseysiders.
With the club facing an apparent financial crisis, Bates unexpectedly sold Chelsea F.C. in June 2003 for £60 million. In so doing, he reportedly recognised a personal profit of £17 million on the club he had bought for £1 in 1982 (his stake had been diluted to just below 30% over the years). The club’s new owner was Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who also took on responsibility for the club’s £80 million of debt, quickly paying most of it. He then went on a £100 million spending spree before the start of the season and landed players like Claude Makélélé, Geremi, Hernán Crespo, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Damien Duff.
The spending saw a good return, with Chelsea finishing as Premiership runners-up (their best league finish for 49 years) and reaching the Champions League semi-finals after dramatically beating Arsenal in the quarter-finals. But Ranieri may have been sacked because of some bizarre tactical decisions in the semi-final loss against Monaco (for example, switching central midfielder Scott Parker to right-back and right-back Glen Johnson to centre-back to accommodate more attackers in the team) and for ending the season trophyless. Nevertheless, Ranieri was given a hero’s send-off in his final match in charge. That match also gave Chelsea fans a glimpse of what could easily have been if not for Abramovich’s takeover, as Chelsea handily beat Leeds United, who were relegated, managerless, virtually bankrupt and seemingly destined for oblivion. In Ranieri’s place, Abramovich recruited José Mourinho (who had lifted two Portuguese league titles, a Portuguese Cup, a Champions League title and a UEFA Cup with Porto) as the club’s new manager. Abramovich also brought legendary Dutch scout Piet de Visser, who scouted Ronaldo and Romário for PSV, and is considered one of the greatest scouts in history.
José Mourinho: Double League Champions (2004–2007)
José Mourinho became Chelsea’s most successful manager, leading the club to five major trophies in five seasons.
2004–05 was the most successful season in the history of Chelsea Football Club. After a slow start to the league season, scoring eight goals in their first nine games and trailing leaders Arsenal by five points, Chelsea’s title campaign gradually picked up momentum, driven by the high-scoring Frank Lampard and the return from injury of talented young Dutch winger Arjen Robben. They topped the table after a win against Everton in November 2004 and never relinquished their lead, losing only one league game all season and winning a record 29, gaining a record 95 points in the process. A record-breaking defence, led by captain John Terry and his new partnership with Ricardo Carvalho, the versatile William Gallas, fullback Paulo Ferreira, midfield linchpin Claude Makélélé and goalkeeper Petr Čech, provided the backbone of the side, conceding just 15 goals all season and keeping 25 clean sheets while Čech went a Premier League-record 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal. Chelsea eventually secured the title with a 2–0 away win at Bolton thanks to two goals from Lampard, almost 50 years to the day since they had won their last league title. Winning the league completed a domestic double for the club, since Chelsea had already won the League Cup in February after a thrilling 3–2 win over Liverpool in the final at the Millennium Stadium.
In the Champions League, Chelsea coasted through the group stages, qualifying for the knockout phase with two games to spare, and were drawn against Barcelona, one of the strongest sides in Europe. In the first leg at the Camp Nou, Chelsea took a 1–0 lead but had Didier Drogba controversially sent-off in the second half with Chelsea still ahead, and the Catalans eventually won 2–1. Mourinho claimed that Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard had spoken to referee Anders Frisk at half-time – a claim later proved correct – and that the result had been “adulterated”. After receiving death threats from Chelsea fans, Frisk retired and Mourinho received a two-match touchline ban for bringing the game into disrepute. Chelsea won a pulsating return leg 4–2 at Stamford Bridge, with John Terry heading in a controversial winner to send them through. In the quarter-finals, a 4–2 home win over German champions Bayern Munich and a 3–2 loss in Germany were enough to ensure passage through to the semi-finals, where they faced Liverpool. Following a 0–0 draw at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool went 1–0 up at Anfield thanks to Luis García and Chelsea were unable to break down a resilient defence, thus missing out on the chance of a treble.
A year later Chelsea retained their league title, setting more records in the process. Winning their first nine games, the side emphatically set the pace in the Premier League – including a 4–1 win over Liverpool at Anfield – and at one stage were 18 points ahead of nearest rivals Manchester United. Following a late-season blip, and with United on a run of nine consecutive wins, the points gap was closed to seven points as Chelsea went into a key match with West Ham. A goal down after ten minutes and a man down after 17 following Maniche’s sending off, the side bounced back to win 4–1 and maintain the gap. The title was eventually secured with a 3–0 win over United at Stamford Bridge. They became the first London club to win back-to-back league titles since the 1930s, and only the fifth side to do so since the Second World War. They also set the record for the most clean sheets (six) from the start of the season and equalled the best home record for a top division team since Newcastle United in 1906–07 (18 wins and 1 draw from 19 games). In the cups, however, there was less success as they were knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and the FA Cup semi-final by Liverpool.
The 2006–07 season saw Chelsea relinquish the Premier League trophy to Manchester United after remaining second in the league for the majority of the season. The club were still in the running to achieve an unprecedented quadruple at the end of April, and played all but one of the maximum 63 possible games at the start of the season. They won the League Cup by beating Arsenal 2–1 in the last ever English cup final at the Millennium Stadium, and beat United 1–0 in the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley Stadium; Chelsea were also the last team to win it at the old Wembley. They reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, only to be knocked out again by Liverpool, this time in a penalty shoot-out.
Post Mourinho Era (2007–2009)
On 20 September 2007, Mourinho left Chelsea by “mutual consent” following an indifferent start to the season and after several months of well-documented friction between Mourinho and Abramovich. Shortly afterwards, Israeli Avram Grant, who had been appointed Chelsea’s director of football on 8 July 2007, was announced as Mourinho’s successor.
Despite the managerial upheaval and a high level of player absence (in all, members of the team were unavailable for selection 286 times in the 62 fixtures), Chelsea were on course to win three different competitions, a feat previously achieved by only two other English clubs, Liverpool in 1983–84 and Manchester United in 1998–99, but ultimately finished as runners-up in all three. Chelsea reached their third League Cup final in four years, but suffered a surprise 2–1 defeat to mid-table Tottenham at Wembley. Chelsea emerged as United’s closest rivals in the title race; a 2–1 victory over United at Stamford Bridge in April left the teams level on points with four games remaining. The teams were still level on points going into the final game of the season, although United’s superior goal difference meant Chelsea had to better their result; in the event, Chelsea drew 1–1 with Bolton Wanderers and United beat Wigan Athletic to take the title.
Champions League 2007–08
Grant also led Chelsea to their fourth Champions League semi-final in five years, and they were again drawn to face Liverpool, although this time it was Chelsea who prevailed, winning 4–3 on aggregate to reach the final for the first time in their history. Their opponents in the final were Manchester United, making it the first all-English final in the competition’s history. In an even game, Lampard’s first-half strike cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener, and the teams remained at 1–1 for the rest of the match, taking the final to a penalty shootout, where John Terry and Nicolas Anelka’s misses from the spot gave United victory.
After the conclusion of the 2007–08 season, Chelsea became the highest ranked club under UEFA’s five-year coefficient system used in the seeding of European club competitions in the following season, a sign of the consistency of the club’s performance over the first five years of Roman Abramovich’s ownership.
Grant was sacked as Chelsea manager three days later. Grant’s replacement was Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, who had guided Brazil to victory at the 2002 World Cup and Portugal to runners-up at UEFA Euro 2004. However, despite a bright start which saw Chelsea top the league table early in the season, Scolari was sacked on 9 February 2009 due to “results and performances of the team… deteriorating at a key time in the season”, and with the club lying fourth in the Premier League. Russia national team coach Guus Hiddink was appointed caretaker manager until the end of the season. Under Hiddink, performances and results improved; Chelsea lost just one more game all season, eventually finishing third in the league and reaching the FA Cup final.
In the Champions League, a 7–5 aggregate win over Liverpool in the quarter-finals, including an epic 4–4 draw at Stamford Bridge, took Chelsea to another semi-final, against Barcelona. After drawing 0–0 in the first leg at the Camp Nou, Chelsea took an early lead in the second through Michael Essien, but in a controversial game in which Chelsea squandered numerous chances and had several penalty appeals turned down, a stoppage time equaliser from Andrés Iniesta sent Barcelona through on away goals. In the immediate aftermath, Drogba caused more controversy after swearing at referee Tom Henning Øvrebø. In consolation, goals from Drogba and Lampard gave Chelsea a 2–1 victory over Everton in the FA Cup final at Wembley on 30 May, the club’s second FA Cup triumph in three years.
The Ancelotti era (2009–2011)
Chelsea FC parade through the streets of Fulham and Chelsea after winning their league and cup double, May 2010
Former Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti was confirmed as Hiddink’s successor on 1 June 2009. He started his career by winning the World Football Challenge, played in the United States. In Ancelotti’s first competitive match, Chelsea met Manchester United in the Community Shield. The game ended in a 2–2 draw, with Chelsea winning 4–1 on penalties to take the trophy, the club’s first victory in a shoot-out since beating Ipswich Town in the League Cup in January 1998.
On 3 September 2009, in a rare but not unprecedented punishment, Chelsea were banned from registering any new players for the next two transfer windows, in January and Summer 2010, after FIFA’s dispute resolution chamber (DRC) ruled that French winger Gaël Kakuta had breached his contract with French club Lens when he joined Chelsea in 2007, and that Chelsea had induced him to do so. The club were subsequently cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the transfer ban was lifted.
At the end of a season in which Chelsea exchanged places at the top of the table with Manchester United several times, and were briefly leapfrogged by Arsenal, they sealed their third Premier League title in six seasons with an emphatic 8–0 home win over Wigan on the final day of the season. The win also took Chelsea’s league goal tally for the season to 103, the highest since Tottenham Hotspur scored 111 in the 1962–63 season, and the first time in Premier League history that a club had scored 100 or more goals in a season. A week later, Chelsea completed the first “league title and FA Cup double” in their history by beating Portsmouth 1–0 in the FA Cup final, thanks to a Didier Drogba free kick, his seventh goal in six cup finals for Chelsea.
Chelsea began the 2010–11 season with a loss to Manchester United in the Community Shield. Chelsea’s Premier League season started well with wins in their opening six League games, two by a 6–0 scoreline, although a dip in form saw them fighting to stay in the top four. On 31 January, Chelsea made headlines by signing a pair of stars in the final moments of the January transfer window, David Luiz for £21.3 m from Benfica and a British transfer record of £50 m for Liverpool’s Fernando Torres. The two signings proved not to be enough to salvage something from Chelsea’s season and they failed to win a trophy. As a result, Ancelotti was dismissed as manager shortly after Chelsea’s 1–0 defeat to Everton on the final day of the season.
André Villas-Boas: The project (2011–12)
On 22 June 2011, André Villas-Boas was appointed as the new Chelsea manager on a three-year contract, with immediate effect. On 14 August, Chelsea drew 0–0 their first match of the 2011–12 Premier League season away to Stoke City. Villas-Boas won his first match as Chelsea manager the following week after the Blues beat West Bromwich Albion 2–1. On 22 August, Chelsea and Valencia agreed a deal for Spanish international winger Juan Mata, who signed for £23.5 million. The following week, another new signing arrived in the form of Mexican midfielder Ulises Dávila, who signed a five-year contract. On transfer deadline day, Raul Meireles joined the Blues from Liverpool, while Yossi Benayoun and Patrick van Aanholt departed on season-long loan deals to Arsenal and Wigan, respectively. Gaël Kakuta also joined Bolton on loan until 1 January 2012. On 18 September, Chelsea suffered their first defeat of the season, losing 3–1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
On 29 November 2011, Chelsea were knocked out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage by Liverpool, who won 2–0 at Stamford Bridge. The loss was Chelsea’s third in four games. Four days later, Villas-Boas confirmed the departures of Nicolas Anelka and Alex, both of whom had handed in their respective transfer requests to the club. The announcement was made after the away match against Newcastle which Chelsea won 3–0, putting them back into the Champions League qualification places. On 6 December, Chelsea won their final Champions League group game 3–0 against Valencia, securing progress to the knockout stages. Racing Genk’s 1–1 draw against Bayer Leverkusen meant that Chelsea topped Group E. On 12 December, Chelsea inflicted league leaders Manchester City’s first league defeat of the season, coming from behind in a fiery encounter with goals from Raul Meireles and a late penalty by Frank Lampard to turn the deficit into a victory. On 21 February 2012, Napoli beat Chelsea 3–1 in the first leg of their round of 16 tie.
Double European Champions
On 4 March, following a 1–0 defeat against West Brom, André Villas-Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager after nine months in charge; his win percentage was under 50%, which was unprecedented for Abramovich-era Chelsea managers. At the time of his sacking, the team were fifth in the league and on the brink of Champions League elimination after a disastrous 3–1 away loss to Napoli; many fans supported the decision, with the song “Roman Abramovich, he sacks who he wants” being sung at the first match after his sacking. A club statement read that results had “not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season”. Italian first team assistant manager (and former Chelsea player) Roberto Di Matteo was appointed caretaker manager until the end of the season. In his first match in charge, Chelsea beat Birmingham City 2–0 to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals thanks to second half goals from Juan Mata and Raul Meireles. Two weeks later, on 14 March, Chelsea beat Napoli 4–1 in the second leg of their Champions League second round match, overturning a 3–1 deficit from the first leg. Due to defeats for Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City, this left Chelsea as the only English team still in Europe. The good run of form under Di Matteo continued on 18 March when Chelsea progressed to the final of the FA Cup after beating Leicester City 5–2 at Stamford Bridge; this match was particularly notable for Fernando Torres ending a 24-match goal drought .
On 4 April, Chelsea progressed to the Champions League semi-finals for the sixth time in nine seasons, courtesy of a 3–1 aggregate win over Benfica. This set up a tie against holders Barcelona, the sixth time the two clubs had been drawn against each other in the competition, and the fifth in eight years. On 15 April, Chelsea progressed to their third FA cup semi-final in four seasons by thrashing rivals Tottenham 5–1 at Wembley; Didier Drogba scored first to extend his incredible record of scoring at every match he’d played there (seven at the time). Three days later, Chelsea faced Barcelona at Stamford Bridge as heavy underdogs. Despite Barcelona dominating possession and having the greater number of chances, Chelsea secured a hard-fought 1–0 win to gain the upper hand. In the return leg a week later at Camp Nou, it looked like Chelsea were going out as they went 2–0 down and had captain John Terry sent off within the first 45 minutes. However, a goal on the stroke of half-time from Ramires put Chelsea into a winning position, one which they maintained thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty miss. In the dying moments, Fernando Torres scored to clinch a place in the final, giving Chelsea a “truly remarkable” 3–2 aggregate win.
Despite their progress in the cups, Chelsea’s Premier League form remained indifferent, with draws with Tottenham and Arsenal and a home loss to Newcastle effectively ended their chances of finishing in the top four of the League table. This meant that they would have to win the Champions League to secure qualification for the following season’s competition. In the FA Cup final, Chelsea faced Liverpool. Chelsea were the better team for the first hour; Ramires put them ahead early in the match, and in the second half Didier Drogba doubled the lead. Despite Liverpool halving the deficit with an Andy Carroll strike, Chelsea held out to win their seventh FA Cup, largely thanks to heroics from goalkeeper Petr Čech, who pulled off the save of the season to narrowly deny Andy Carroll an equaliser; this was Chelsea’s fourth success in the competition in six seasons and the best record of any club in the competition since Wanderers won it five times in seven years in the nineteenth century.
In the UEFA Champions League final, Chelsea’s opponents were Bayern Munich. By coincidence, the match was being held at the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s home ground. Bayern took the lead after 83 minutes through Thomas Müller, but five minutes later Drogba headed in the equaliser – his ninth goal in nine cup finals for Chelsea – to take the game to extra time. Bayern were awarded a penalty, but Arjen Robben’s strike was saved by Petr Čech. The game remained 1–1, meaning it went to a penalty shootout. Bayern took a 3–1 lead after Juan Mata saw his penalty saved, but Čech then saved Ivica Olić and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s efforts, leaving Drogba to score the decisive spot-kick to clinch Chelsea’s first Champions League title in their history. In 2013, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) ranked Chelsea the number one team in the world, replacing Barcelona at the top of the world rankings.
Roberto Di Matteo was made permanent manager but was sacked in November 2012 and replaced with Rafael Benítez, an unpopular choice with many Chelsea fans owing to Benitez’ association with Liverpool and comments he had previously made about the club, and he received a “fiercely hostile reception” as he was introduced at his first home game, a 0–0 draw with Manchester City on 25 November 2012. Benítez’ tenure saw mixed results; Chelsea lost the Club World Cup Final to Corinthians and were beaten in the League Cup semi-finals by Swansea City. They finished third in the Premier League, ensuring Champions League qualification, and won the UEFA Europa League. In so doing, Chelsea became the first side in history to hold two major European titles simultaneously and the fourth club, and the only British club, to have won all three of UEFA’s major club competitions until 2017, when Manchester United won their first UEFA Europa League trophy.
Mourinho’s second spell (2013–2015)
On 3 June 2013, Chelsea announced the appointment of José Mourinho as manager for the second time on a four-year contract. In his first year, the 2013–14, Chelsea did not win any silverware for the first time since 2010–11, but Mourinho said that the season was a transitional one for the club. In the following season (Results), Chelsea won the Premier League title, sitting eight points clear of runners-up Manchester City F.C. The 2015–16 season, however, saw a poor run of form from the Premier League champions, also with several high-profile “scandals” on the part of Mourinho. From August through to December, Chelsea won just 5 of their 19 games, and on 17 December, Mourinho was sacked by the club.
After Mourinho’s second spell (2015–present)
After the sacking of Mourinho, Guus Hiddink was named caretaker manager for the remainder of the 2015–16 season. The team went 12 consecutive matches without a loss following the sacking of Mourinho, winning six and drawing six. This streak ended on 16 February 2016 after Chelsea lost to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. Chelsea then lost the second leg of the round of 16, losing 2–1 at home thus being knocked out of the competition on 9 March. This was followed by an elimination from the FA Cup on 12 March after a 2–0 loss to Everton. League form improved, however, with Chelsea rising from 16th, one point away from relegation, to eighth place after an incredible fightback after going 1–0 down to win 1–2 away against Southampton.
The team’s form began to slip, however, with a disappointing 1–1 home draw against Stoke City, and a 2–2 home draw against West Ham, resulting in Chelsea slipping down to tenth. Chelsea registered a 1–4 away win at AFC Bournemouth, with Eden Hazard finally getting on the score sheet, and after going down 0–2 against rivals Tottenham, fought back to draw 2–2, Hazard again scoring to seal away any chances of title contenders Tottenham winning the Premier League. Chelsea drew 1–1 away to Liverpool and played out a 1-1 home draw against Leicester City, with Claudio Ranieri, former Chelsea boss, being received a guard of honour. Former Juventus and then-current Italy national team head coach Antonio Conte was confirmed as new Chelsea manager in March 2016. He took charge for the 2016–17 season following Italy’s participation at UEFA Euro 2016.
Under Conte the team performed very well in the 16-17 season winning the league title and setting the record the most wins of 30 out of 38 total games in a season English Premer League.
Off the pitch, on 29 November 2016, Chelsea became implicated in the UK football sexual abuse scandal after announcing it was investigating allegations of historical sexual abuse in the 1970s, including a secret payment to a former player who had accused the club’s ex-chief scout Eddie Heath of child sexual abuse. On 2 December, the former player was named as Gary Johnson, who said he was paid £50,000 not to go public with allegations that he was sexually abused by Heath; the following day, Chelsea apologised “profusely” to Johnson, who later demanded further financial compensation from the club. Also on 3 December, The Independent reported a Chelsea youth player’s allegation that Dario Gradi, then Chelsea’s assistant manager, visited the player’s family’s home to “smooth over” a complaint of sexual assault against Heath in 1974; Gradi was among the first to be targeted by a FA enquiry, and, in connection with these allegations, Gradi was suspended by the FA on 11 December 2016. Meanwhile, former Chelsea youth goalkeeper Derek Richardson also alleged abuse by Heath.