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3. Moscow and Motors (1935-1950)


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Chapter 3 - Moscow and Motors (1935-1950)

On October 12th, 1935 a struggling Chelsea team entertained Arsenal at the Bridge yet despite the club’s poor league form a crowd of 82,905 turned up to cheer Chelsea to a credible 1-1 draw.

sb%20chelsea%20vs%20dynamo%20moscow.gif That attendance still stands today as the officially the highest recorded attendance in the history of the stadium. I say officially because ten years later, in November 1945 Chelsea entertained Moscow Dynamo in a game designed to try and put a bit of joy back into post war Britain and also foster good relationships with Russia. With the stadium seemingly packed half an hour before kick off the gates were locked with an estimated 15,000 fans outside still desperate to get in. Like a Liverpool fan at a cup match many of them were not prepared to miss the match and thousands got in via whatever method was available to them. The official attendance on the day was recorded as 74,496 but the actual attendance was estimated to be in the region of 100,000.

For the record the game ended 3-3 (Moscow Dynamo were expected to give us a bit of a spanking) and their 3rd equaliser was a bloody mile offside! After the game one of the Chelsea team asked the ref how on earth he had not seen the offside and he replied that he had allowed the goal for reasons of diplomacy. One of the Chelsea team replied along the lines of ‘Diplomacy! You just done me out of my bonus!’

1935 also saw the passing away of two massive names in Chelsea’s history. Joe Mears died in October and Claude Kirby did likewise in November. Initially the vacant seat on the ‘The Stamford Bridge Stadium Limited’ was given to Mears’ son Joseph (Joe) Henry however within two months he decided to stand down and was replaced by Jack Budd. Joe Mears was more interested in the football side of things and in October 1937 he got a motion passed which extended the license of Stamford Bridge Stadium Limited in return for them footing the cost of a new covered stand with a 2,500 seating capacity. This was to be the first increase in the Bridge’s seating capacity since it had been converted into a football stadium.

sb%20leitchs%20folly.gif Part of this adaptation was an angular construction which was built to provide shelter from the elements for the pitches set up by bookies and the punters betting on the greyhound races. It was an odd looking part of the stadium, not really fitting in with the rest of the stadium’s design and it soon became nicknamed ‘Leitch’s Folly’ (after Archibald Leitch who was still in charge of the stadium’s design). If you haven’t guessed what ‘Leitch’s Folly; is then the following extract from a letter written by a Mr C Webb in the match day programme for a Chelsea vs Leicester game on September 7th, 1966 makes it all very clear.

"From now on we wish the Fulham Road End to be called ‘The Shed'“

sb%20leitchs%20folly2.gif So Leitch’s Folly at the end of the 1930s was the birth of ‘The Shed’ – the thing we associate with Stamford Bridge more than anything else was actually designed with a greater focus on greyhound racing than football. However significant ‘The Shed’ turned out to be in the history of the club it was not the key part of Joe Mears’ inspired stadium enhancement. The key part was the new North Stand. After much haggling, the likes of which were never seen again until Barry Fry became a football manager, a deal was struck whereby Stamford Bridge Stadium Limited contributed £16,000 to cover the cost of the stand. However the impending second World War almost threw a spanner in the works as safety concerns caused the British Government to close down all London stadiums due to the safety concerns. This left Chelsea with bills to pay, no income to cover them and an ever decreasing overdraft. A reversal of policy by the Home Office (due to recognition of the need for football to provide entertainment to the general public, clearly nobody had taken the time to watch how Fulham were playing) meant that games could once again be staged, albeit with gates restricted to 15,000 at the Bridge. The North Stand was finally completed in 1939 and was a two tiered stand.

north%20snd%20east%20stand%20circa%20194 As it turned out the Bridge was hit twice by bombs during WWII, one falling on the West side terracing and the other landed just in front of the North Stand (which was still being built at the time) however neither caused particular damage. War time had a dramatic impact on attendances but after it ended people began to return en masse and on Sept 22nd 1945 just shy of 36,000 people descended on the Bridge for a game against Wolves. Chelsea had expected far less and the problems encountered that day persuaded them to open the North Stand ahead of schedule for the visit of West Ham on October 13th, 1945.

The summer of 1948 gave petrol heads a chance to savour the Stamford Bridge experience when ‘Midget Motor Car Racing’ was staged there. The event was watched by no less than 60,000 spectators and it was a sight to be seen with American marching bands and Hollywood film star Lana Turner in an open-top limo. It had been billed as a spectacular but the whole thing was a major disappointment as the slower cars ended up triumphing because the faster ones kept skidding on the cinder track. Attendances slumped to 10,000 within a week and the organisers took action by laying hardcore (in the process removing four corners of turf from the pitch). This failed to resurrect the interest of the public and Midget Car Racing died a quick but expensive death. The price for the club was not so much financial but considerable nevertheless. Forty years after that disastrous experiment the club were still having problems cultivating the turf at one end of the ground due to the amount of hardcore which was left under the ground.

Click here to read Chapter 4 - Dreams are Free, Building Them Isn't (1950-1974)

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