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2. From the Blues to the Doghouse (1905-1935)


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Chapter 2 - From the Blues to the Doghouse (1905-1935)

Chelsea appointed Glasgow Rangers’ John Tait Robertson as their player manager on March 27th, 1905 and by the middle of May he had pretty much pulled an entire squad together. We had a stadium, a team but no league to play in. Some ‘electioneering’ including vast quantities of whisky took place and to cut a long story short Chelsea, along with Leeds City and Burslem Port were elected into the football second division. The stadium was leased to Chelsea by Gus Mears for £2,000 per year.

In their preview of the 1905-06 season the Athletic News said: ‘Thanks to the enterprise of Mr H A Mears the club will have one of the best equipped grounds in the country’

sb%201905.jpg Chelsea’s first ever game was a 1-0 second division defeat away at Stockport County on September 2nd, 1905 and the first game to be staged at the Bridge was two days later when first division Liverpool visited for a friendly. Gus Mears kicked the game off and Chelsea won 4-0 (although delighted at the score Gus was heart broken to find the wheels of his horse drawn carriage removed by visiting fans). The first league game was staged on September 11th and Chelsea romped to a 5-1 win over Hull City. It was as grim up North then as it is now but at least you can escape quicker now! 76 games, and two seasons, after being formed Chelsea had won promotion to the first division.

laundry%20man%20outside%20bridge%20main% As a modern stadium it didn’t take long before the Bridge was used to stage games other than those featuring Chelsea. In March 1906 it staged the match between the Football League and Scottish Football League, then very much a prestigious game in the football calendar and in the following years it would be used for many international matches, both at international and amateur level. Gus Mears’ vision of the stadium being a national sporting arena was becoming a reality however on February 4th, 1912 he died and Stamford Bridge, certainly as a football venue, lost its founding father. His death in 1912 meant he never witnessed the Bridge being used as an international football venue. That was to happen a year later when, on April 5th, 1913, it staged the British Championship decider with England beating Scotland 1-0. Gus left controlling interest of the stadium to his sister, Beatrice Adelaide Mears and in July 1920 Chelsea bought from her the freeholds for the properties surrounding the Bridge (418, 420 and 440 Fulham Road) for £1,250 and in April 1921 the freehold for the stadium passed to J T Mears (the JT not being John Terry, and actually being Joseph Theophilus).

On 26th February 1914 the Bridge was the venue for none other than a baseball match and not just any baseball match. This one was between The New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox as they concluded a World Tour. They paid the grand sum of £30 plus expenses between them for the hire of the ground. Nine years after this the American Legion Baseball season was founded and for two years Sunday afternoon baseball was a regular event at the Bridge. 1914 also say Chelsea pay £26 10s 0d to install a rifle range in the East Stand to allow the players to learn to shoot due to the impending War. When war did break out the Queens Westminster Rifles used the ground for drilling purposes.

king%20meets%20players%20feb%201920.gif November 1st 1919 saw royalty at the Bridge as King Alfonso VIII of Spain paid a visit to witness us thrashing Bradford 4-0, Alfie was a man for a chant and treated the Blues fans to first recorded rendition of ‘We’re the middle, We’re the middle, We’re the middle of the Shed’. Now Kings are like coppers, you can never bloody find one when you need one, but turn your back for a minute and there are two of the buggers watching you letting down the tyres of the Liverpool team bus. So it was at the Bridge when in the following February King George V joined 40,000 other spectators to watch Chelsea knock Leicester out of the FA Cup 3rd round by 3-0. Although the Palace declined my invitation to confirm or deny the rumour I have it on good authority that the King was heard to chant ‘Oh When the Blues Go Steaming In!’

After that they were all at it. Before 1924 was out King George V had been back on a few occasions, The Prince of Wales has been a couple of times, the Duke of York four times and George V even brought Queen Mary along once as he fancied a few bevies and needed a designated driver.

In 1920 the Bridge was chosen as the venue for the first post war FA Cup final which was between Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town. The stadium capacity was increased to just shy of 80,000 but only 50,018 turned up with one of the reasons given being that the event lacked the glamour of the cup finals that were held at Crystal Palace (well this was the reason suggested, conveniently ignoring the fact that the FA pumped up the ticket prices – some things never change!).

1922%20fa%20cup%20final.gif Despite this the Bridge was chosen as the venue for the 1921 and 1922 finals with the 1922 final making history by being the first FA Cup final to be decided by a penalty (Huddersfield Town converting to beat Preston North End). That was the last year the Cup Final was held at the Bridge as Wembley Stadium had just been constructed and this also put an end to any idea that Stamford Bridge would become London’s premier sporting venue. As the end of the 1920s loomed Joseph Mears, a man whose affiliation to Chelsea was always in question as he was considered to be more interested in making money out of the stadium than the success of the club, started to consider new ways of making money out of the Bridge. His original idea of staging greyhound racing there was not met with great enthusiasm by the Chelsea board and it fell by the wayside. What did take off though was ‘Cinder Track Racing’ which was basically the late 1920s version of Speedway. Mears met a man called Claude Langdon who has been introduced to speedway by a friend of his called Lionel Willis who had, in turn, discovered it whilst holidaying in Australia. The Bridge’s cinder track made it an ideal location and the first event was held on May 5th, 1928 with nearly 50,000 people showing up to watch it.

Cinder Track Racing proved to be a massive success, attracting crowds as high as 50,000 every Wednesday and Saturday night, and developed beyond domestic meets in 1930 when the Bridge hosted a test between Britain and Australia in 1930. In 1932, with popularity still as high as ever it all came to an unexpected end. Langdon stated that the reason for this was that Mears called it to an end as he was still keen on the greyhound racing idea and also stated that he was puzzled by Mears’ decision and also heartbroken by it. Although Speedway would never be seen at the Bridge again that event in May 1928 was the start of a sport which would be massively popular in Britain forever more.

dog%20kennels%20curving%20round%20behind So the bikes were cleared away, the dog traps moved in and things got a tad messy! In July 1932 Major L Lyne Dixson came to an agreement with JT Mears to run greyhound meets at the Bridge between May and August and Mears also agreed to a number of required stadium alterations. Two key changes were made to the agreement before the Chelsea board would agree it. First that Chelsea chairman William Claude Kirby be appointed as a director of the Greyhound Company (to protect the club’s interests) and second that no dogs be allowed on the pitch. Years later we would break that agreement by not banning Robbie Savage from playing at the Bridge. However somebody somewhere was a sneaky git and someone else was careless as it transpired there was a clause in the paperwork which allowed Dixson to establish a company of his own (which he called ‘The Stamford Bridge Stadium Limited’ and issue it a license without the consent of the football club (and some think Peter Kenyon is a fool!). Relationships between the football club and the greyhound organisation were always somewhat tetchy and in particular when the ‘The Stamford Bridge Stadium Limited’ complained to Chelsea that football games had been scheduled in the period when they were tenants of the stadium (the games were scheduled for August 1934 and May 1935). In addition there were various arguments about the allocation of responsibility for the upkeep of various parts of the stadium.

Click here to read Chapter 3 - Moscow and Motors (1935-1950)

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