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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chelsea FC History

One of the richest clubs in the world, Chelsea F.C. was founded on March 14, 1905 at The Rising Sun pub (now The Butcher's Hook). After a short time, the club was elected into the Second Division at the Football League AGM on May 29, 1905. Chelsea's first game took place away at Stockport County on September 2, 1905. They lost the game 1-0. Their first home game was against Liverpool in a friendly. They won 4-0. The Club began with established players recruited from other squads and promotion to the top flight was swift, but the club's early years brought no trophies. Chelsea reached the FA Cup final in 1915 but lost out to Sheffield United. They would have to wait forty years for their first major honour. However, they consistently attracted enormous crowds. 77,952 attended the fourth round FA Cup tie against Swindon on 13 April 1911, and 82,905 attended the league game against Arsenal on 12 October 1935. Safety considerations make such attendances impossible now: the current legal capacity of the stadium is 42,522.

In 1952, Ted Drake was appointed coach. One of his first actions was to remove the image of a Chelsea pensioner from the game programme and the club's old nickname was no more. In 1954-5, Chelsea won the First Division title under Drake with a squad that included captain and top-scorer Roy Bentley, goalkeeper Charlie 'Chic' Thomson, left-half Derek Saunders, inside-right Johnny 'Jock' McNichol, right-half Ken Armstrong, outside-left Frank Blunstone, full-back Peter Sillett and future England coach Ron Greenwood at centre-half.

Although Chelsea was only 12th in the table in November, they secured the title with a game to spare after a 3-0 win against Sheffield Wednesday. Key to the success were two league wins against eventual runners-up Wolverhampton Wanderers and a ten-game unbeaten streak in the title run-in. Chelsea's points total of 52 for that season remains the lowest to have secured the English League title. 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 Cup competition the following season. However, they were denied by the intervention of the Football League and the F.A., many of whose leading members were opposed to the idea and felt primacy should be given to domestic competitions, so the club withdrew.

The club wasn’t able to build on their title success, however, and there followed a succession of uninspiring mid-table finishes. This run culminated in relegation from the First Division in 1962 and the departure of Drake, who was replaced by player-coach Tommy Docherty. In his first season as coach Docherty led Chelsea to promotion.

Sixties to eighties (1960-1989): It's interesting to notice that the swinging 60s 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. A 60s Chelsea that oozed charisma and class ultimately failed to game its swagger with on-field triumphs. No major domestic titles were won, except for the League Cup in 1965 (Chelsea's first League Cup), followed by an FA Cup final loss to Tottenham Hotspur in 1967.

The early 1970s saw a very nice Chelsea squad which is still fondly remembered (not least because it was a couple of decades before its achievements were gameed at the club): it featured the likes of Ron 'Chopper' Harris, Ian Hutchison, Charlie Cooke and Peter Osgreat. In 1970 Chelsea ran out FA Cup winners (beating Leeds 2-1 in a pulsating final replay at Old Trafford). A UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph was added to the haul the following year—Chelsea's first European honour. The club also reached a second League Cup final in 1972, though lost out to Stoke City.

But there were no further success in that decade, as the discipline of the squad degenerated and an over-ambitious redevelopment of the stadium (which only got as far as the pioneering East Stand, which retains its place even in the modern stadium) threatened the financial stability of the club as well. Further troubles were caused by a fearsome reputation for violence amongst a section of the supporters (the boundary between passion and hooliganism being dangerously narrow in those days) and the club started to fall apart both on and off the field.
The financial troubles exacerbated the club's other difficulties and a spiral of decline began. Star players were sold off, the squad was relegated, and the freehold of the stadium site was sold off to property developers, which was to create serious troubles in the years to come.

Despite that, Chelsea retained its high profile; and its widespread base of supporters, many of them very hard core, saw it through what proved to be the very difficult years of the 1970s and 1980s. However, although relegated to the Second Division twice, it never fell further (although it came dangerously close).

Chelsea FC was, at the nadir of its fortunes, acquired from the Mears family interests by Ken Bates for the princely sum of £1, and Bates proved to be a real fighter as the new chairman, although his opponents included supporters (who did not take kindly to his suggestion of electrified fences to keep them off the pitch) as well as the property developers who now owned the freehold. In 1992, Bates finally outmanoeuvred the latter and reunited the freehold with the Club, by seeing the property developers go bust and doing a deal with their banks.
Meanwhile, Chelsea, having spent the early part of the decade in the Second Division, were promoted as champions in 1984, achieved two consecutive top six finishes in the First Division (with an impressive squad which included the likes of Kerry Dixon, Pat Nevin and David Speedie), were relegated in 1988 and finally won promotion to the First Division as champions again in 1989. This time, it managed to stay in the top flight: indeed, it has remained there ever since.

The 1990s: In a new golden stage, Chelsea had an amazing return to the First Division in 1989-90. Coach Bobby Campbell guided a team 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 runners-up Aston Villa. Campbell resigned a year later and he was replaced by Ian Porterfield, who helped Chelsea finish high enough in 1991-92 to qualify for the first-ever season of the Premier League. He quit halfway through the season and was replaced on a caretaker basis by former Chelsea hero David Webb, who guided Chelsea to an 11th place finish. Webb was replaced at the end of the season by 35-year-old former England midfielder Glenn Hoddle, who had just won promotion to the Premiership as player-coach of Swindon Town.

Hoddle's first season as coach saw Chelsea's league form dip slightly, but they reached the FA Cup final—and, although they lost 4-0 by Manchester United (who were awarded two penalties), this was sufficient to qualify Chelsea to compete in Europe for the 1994-95 Cup Winners Cup (since Manchester United had independently qualified for the Champions League). They reached the semifinals of the competition and went out by one goal to eventual winners Real Zaragoza.

Chelsea now had a decent team with several top class players, the most significant of which was courageous captain Dennis Wise. But chairman Ken Bates and director Matthew Harding were making millions of pounds available for the club to spend on players, and two world-famous players were signed in the summer of 1995 - Dutch legend Ruud Gullit (free transfer from Sampdoria) and Manchester United's high scoring striker Mark Hughes (£1.5million). Hoddle guided Chelsea to another 11th place finish in 1995-96 and then quit to become coach of the England squad.

Gullit was appointed player-coach for the 1996-97 season, and had an impressive first season in management by winning the FA Cup (and finishing sixth in the Premiership). The 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley ended Chelsea's 26-year wait for a trophy, and was a happy end to a season which had looked to be dominated by sadness after the death in October of director and financial benefactor Matthew Harding in a helicopter crash.

Gullit was suddenly sacked in February 1998 with Chelsea set for a top-five Premiership finish, and another player-coach was appointed—33-year-old Italian striker Gianluca Vialli. Vialli began his management career in style with victory in the Cup Winners Cup and the League Cup. He also guided Chelsea to a third-place finish in the 1998-99 Premiership campaign, high enough for a first-ever appearance in the Champions League. Vialli also guided Chelsea to another FA Cup victory in 2000. By now, Chelsea had a top-notch multi-national team which included the likes of Italian striker Gianfranco Zola, Dutch goalkeeper Ed de Goey, Nigerian full-back Celestine Babayaro, Italian midfielder Roberto di Matteo and French centre-half Frank Leboeuf.

The new millennium: Glory days came for the team, as Vialli was dismissed in September 2000 and replaced by another Italian, Claudio Ranieri—who guided them to another FA Cup final in 2002 but was unable to prevent them from losing to double winners Arsenal.

Ken Bates unexpectedly sold Chelsea F.C. in June 2003 for £60 million, making 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 all of it. He then went on a £100 million spending spree before the start of the season and landed players like Claude Makélélé, Geremi, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Damien Duff.

The spending saw a great return, with Chelsea finishing the Premiership runners-up and reaching the Champions League semifinals after beating Arsenal in the quarterfinals. But Ranieri was sacked after ending the season trophyless, and Abramovich recruited José Mourinho (who had lifted two Portuguese league titles, a Portuguese Cup, a European Cup and a UEFA Cup with FC Porto) as the club's new coach.

2004-05 was the most successful season in the history of Chelsea Football Club. They secured the Premiership title in a record breaking season by gaining 95 points from 38 fixtures (ending a 50-year wait for the title with the highest Premiership points total for a 38 game season), along with setting records for: most wins (29), fewest goals against (15) and most clean sheets (25) in a 38 game season. All this in the season that also saw "The Blues" lift the League Cup. Mourinho was regarded by many as one of the best coachs in the world, and many of Chelsea's players were also critically acclaimed by journalists and supporters alike and figured prominently in the English national side (and other national sides). In addition to the two major trophies won, Chelsea reached the semifinals of the Champions League, losing to the eventual winners Liverpool to whom they had conceded only one goal.

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