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Ted Drake (1952-1961)

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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Ted Drake (1952-1961)

Written by Bluebeard in August 2007

drake1.jpg As a player, Ted Drake (b.1912 Southampton) started out at Southampton before moving to Arsenal. He also played county cricket for Hampshire, both as an amateur and as a professional. He was a typical old-fashioned centre-forward, and he quickly made his name as a prolific goalscorer. His career was blighted by the war, and he received only five England caps, scoring six goals. In 1945 he had to retire due to a spinal injury, and so took to management, starting with Hendon in 1946, and then Reading the following year.

When Ted Drake took over as manager of Chelsea in the summer of 1952, the club were looking shaky, having finished in the bottom four of Division One for the previous two years. Drake wasn’t impressed with what he saw at Stamford Bridge, and brought in some sweeping changes. He changed the clubs nickname from ‘The Pensioners’ to ‘The Blues’, and brought in a new club badge to give Chelsea a better image. With Billy Birrell’s youth scheme already up and running, Drake added scouting reports. He also introduced a new, tougher training regime, based on ball work, which was rare at that time, with hardman Jack Oxberry installed as coach to oversee things.

Another problem that Drake tried to deal with was the nature of the home crowd at Stamford Bridge. Back then the fans applauded both teams equally, and there was hardly any cheering, much less singing or chanting. Drake appealed to the Chelsea supporters to become more partisan and hostile in order to give the players a positive home advantage. Sadly, this never happened in his time at the club, but the idea seemed to really take off from the late 60’s onwards!

Transfer dealings also changed at Chelsea – gone were the big name signings, and in came players from lower league clubs. Drake brought in John McNichol from Brighton, Les Stubbs from Southend, Jim Lewis and Derek Saunders from Walthamstow Avenue, Seamus O’Connell from Bishop Auckland, and most notably of all, Frank Blunstone from Crewe Alexandra.

In his first season in charge, Chelsea again finished in the bottom four, but the team was gradually being rebuilt. The following year we finished eighth, our highest position since before the war, helped along by an unbeaten run of 14 games, a new club record. Unfortunately, Chelsea also set another club record in that 1953/54 season, by losing 8-1 at Wolves, though to be fair we were down to nine men due to injuries – no substitutes in those days!

55champs.jpg 1954/55 was Drake’s third season as manager, and it was to prove to be a momentous one. By November, Chelsea were sitting in mid-table obscurity after losing three games in a row, one of which was the infamous 6-5 loss to Manchester United at the Bridge. However, they were only to lose three more league games before winning the Division One title for the first ever time.

Chelsea were steady rather than stylish that year, and were helped along by some inspired defensive displays, getting described as ‘mean and purposeful’ by the press.

The league was won in the penultimate game of the season. Chelsea had to beat Sheffield Wednesday at home, and hope that Portsmouth’s didn’t get a win at Cardiff. The crowd surged onto the pitch after we won 3-0, but then there was near total silence all around the ground as everyone awaited the result from Ninian Park. After what seemed an eternity the news filtered through that Pompey had slipped up – Chelsea were champions! Impressively, the reserves and junior teams both won their respective leagues too.

The following year was definitely a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. After just one win in the first four games, Chelsea lost 5-1 at home to Portsmouth. They continued to struggle, and eventually finished in sixteenth place as Drake sought to find the right balance of youth and experience. Still, we did get some silverware that year – we beat Newcastle 3-0 in the Charity Shield game at the Bridge in September – a trophy which was even less prestigious then than it is now.

tambling_168368s.jpg Chelsea’s championship winning side was gradually broken up and replaced by youth players, including the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Peter Brabrook and Bobby Tambling. The Chelsea youth team won the South East Counties League seven years out of eight between 1955 and 1963, and came second in 1956. They also won the Youth Cup in 1959/60 and 1960/61, so at least the future was looking promising. Some of the players who featured in the youth team at this time included Peter Bonetti, Ken Shellito, Barry Bridges, Terry Venables, Bert Murray, David Cliss and Allan Harris, as well as the aforementioned Greaves & Tambling.

Unfortunately, the first team performances were very erratic, scoring loads of goals at one end, but conceding loads of goals at the other. This proved very frustrating for the young Greaves, and when Chelsea accepted a bid from AC Milan for him in the summer of 1961, he left for Italy.

The departure of Jimmy Greaves was the beginning of the end for Ted Drake. He’d become almost desk-bound, was rarely seen at the training ground, and consequently he lost touch with the players. The fact that he hadn’t found a replacement for Greaves, and his captain Peter Sillett was out with a broken leg didn’t help. Against Drake’s advice, the board brought in Tommy Docherty to coach the side and bring on the youngsters. Drake told Docherty that he wasn’t his first choice and that he’d wanted Vic Buckingham, but made it clear there was nothing personal in it.

Out of favour with the board, Ted Drake left Chelsea early in the 1961/62 season, his contract cancelled by ‘mutual consent’, and Tommy Docherty took over as player/manager. Drake’s last few years at Chelsea weren’t exactly inspiring, but he will always be remembered as the man who took us to our first ever League Championship.

Managerial Record

Highest League Position 1st (Div 1) 1954/55

Trophies Division 1 Champions 1954/55


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