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Stockport v Chelsea 02/09/1905 League Division 2

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It was 110 years ago today that Chelsea Football Club played their first fixture.

Having been formed in March 1905 to grace a purpose-built Stamford Bridge which was then London’s biggest stadium, the new club was elected straight into Division Two of the Football League which at that time was predominantly northern and midlands clubs, and so it was that a squad recruited hastily and expensively during the summer by player-manager John Tait 'Jackie' Robertson boarded Friday night’s 6.05pm train from Euston Station to Manchester.

On Saturday 2 September 1905, having made the short journey from their Manchester hotel to the nearby town of Stockport, the new team from the capital, including the eye-catching and well-known figure of goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke, walked from the bus to Stockport County’s Edgeley Park.

Legend has it that one young local fan warned Foulke, ‘You’ll get licked today mister.’

‘It’ll be the first time this year then me’lad,’ was the reply from a player who had won the FA Cup twice at Sheffield United and owned an England cap.

Edgeley Park was widely regarded as the worst ground in the League and was hardly an auspicious setting for the start of Chelsea’s competitive history. The pitch at the time was described as ‘an almost unbroken expanse of ripe plantation grass in full seed’.

The following week’s Chelsea Chronicle, the match programme sold at the first home game, refers to an even and goalless first half.

In the second half, the 6ft 4in, 22-stone Foulke was the first Chelsea goalkeeper to save a penalty.

‘His nimbleness was indeed astonishing,’ wrote the Manchester Guardian of the player’s overall performance, but the aftermath of the save was unfortunate for Foulke and his new team-mates.

He threw the ball out and according to another match report: ‘It pitched on to one of the numerous lumps and deviated sharply to the right. Foulke took the only course open to him and charged from his goal, but Stockport inside-forward George Dodd reached the ball first, banging it straight at Marshall McEwan, who would have cleared it easily but for the fact that Tommy Miller was knocked into him by a County forward at the same time, and as a result the ball glanced off McEwan’s chest into the net.’

The first goal conceded by the Pensioners is recorded as Dodd’s rather than an own-goal and from that point on Chelsea had the better of the match.  

Jimmy Windridge hit the post twice and we were denied two penalties, the first when Martin Moran was barged over, the second when a Stockport defender handled on the line, so a Stockport club-record attendance of 7,000 watched the new club lose 1-0 away on their debut.

 

 

Chelsea XI

William Foulke, Robert McEwan, Robert Mackie, Thomas Miller, George Key, John Tait Robertson, Jack Kirwan
Martin Moran, David Copeland, James Windridge, Charles Harris

 

League Division 2

Attendance: 7,000

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Chelsea v Liverpool 04/09/1905 (Friendly)

 

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For the first match at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool were the visitors. Information on this game being somewhat difficult to come by, the following is taken from lfchistory.net:

 

Chelsea's first home game

Liverpool hold a prominent place in Chelsea's history, being the first team to play them in a match at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea's origins can be traced back to a small West London hotel in late 1904 where H. R. Mears, who had acquired the Stamford Bridge Athletic Grounds, ad the idea of forming a first-class football club to go with the athletics meetings that took place there.

When Mears made his feelings public he found very little support. The ground, close to the city centre, was an already established sporting venue. The terraces were constructed using soil from the Underground Railway and covered accommodation for 5,000 was constructed. The stadium was there, but what was missing was a team. To overcome this problem John Tait Robinson was employed, and he spent £500 in producing the team to go with the ground.

Robinson's most famous signing was Billy 'Fatty' Foulke who cost £50 from Sheffield United in May 1905. Billy Foulke holds a unique place in football folklore, being successful in winning two FA Cup winners medals in 1899 and 1902, a runners up medal in 1901 and he played once for England. He remained at Chelsea for just one season before moving to Bradford City in April 1907. He retired in November 1907 and passed away on 1st May 1916 after contracting pneumonia on Blackpool Sands where he was earning a living by inviting members of the public to score goals against him. He also represented Derbyshire at cricket (Information from, Chelsea: A Complete Record 1905-1991. By Scott Cheshire).

Chelsea first applied to join the Southern League, yet were turned down. Next, entry to Division Two of the football League was sought where, to everyone's surprise, they got in. Their first ever match was away to Stockport County on 2nd September 1905, where they lost 1-0. Their first ever match at Stamford Bridge was in a friendly played on Monday 4th September when Liverpool were the visitors. Chelsea produced a four page programme to commemorate this event. The front cover obviously focuses on the birth of Chelsea Football Club. The style of writing used remained in Chelsea's programmes right up to the Second World War, with the use of plays on words and snappy short paragraphs.

The second page contains a pen picture of that days referee, a Mr John Lewis whom Chelsea claimed, "In the whole history of Football there has been no more efficient, popular or respected referee." John Lewis was one of the founders of Blackburn Rovers for whom he played for 25 years previously. He refereed three Cup Finals and retired from officiating in March 1905, but was persuaded to return and officiate Chelsea's opening home game. The second page also contains season ticket price details, the best seats being £1's. Also listed were forthcoming fixtures at Stamford Bridge, both football and athletics, as well as an appeal for advertisers to use Chelsea's programme. The linesmen were also prominent members of the Football League being the president and future president respectively.

Page three contains a photograph and profile of William Foulke, Chelsea's new captain. It tells that he stood at 6ft 3in tall and weighed 22 stone, and in their words he, as fine a specimen of manhood as ever stepped onto the field. In spite of his bulk he possesses all the agility of a cat, combined with the playfulness of a kitten.

The line-ups appeared on the back page. Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners. Liverpool had played in the capital two days previously against Arsenal, losing 3-1. Their next game was at home to Blackburn, which they lost 3-1. This was followed by a 5-0 away defeat by Aston Villa. Not a great start to the season. Yet Liverpool finished the campaign as Football League Champions and were close to the double, losing in the FA Cup semi-finals to Everton.

This programme sold earlier this year at auction for £3,300. A good price for such a historic issue.

 

 

Chelsea XI

Foulke (cap), Mackie, McKewan, Key, McRoberts, Miller, Moran, Copeland, Robertson, Windridge, Kirwan

Goalscorers: McRoberts 2, Moran, Windridge

 

Attendance: 6,000

Half time score: 0-0

Final score: Chelsea 4-0 Liverpool

 

 

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Blackpool v Chelsea 09/09/1905 League Division 2

 

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A week had passed between an unfortunate defeat at Stockport on the team’s debut (the days filled partly by a friendly against Liverpool to test out the new stadium at Stamford Bridge) before there was a second chance for the brand new Chelsea to claim our first two points in Division Two.

The Pensioners had been handed consecutive away fixtures to start the season by the Football League and so it was back to the north-west of England the recently assembled group of players went, and whereas a shockingly bumpy pitch had been the sub-plot to the first outing, an incessant Lancashire downpour greeted the team from London for their second Saturday fixture, hosted at the seaside resort of Blackpool.
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The team line-up that lost a week earlier had two changes made to it but it retained a strong Scotland presence. Player-manager JT Robertson (pictured right) had recruited several of his compatriots in the summer and the very first of them signed, Bob McRoberts, came in for his debut against Blackpool. A centre-forward or a centre-half, he would be an important player in the initial seasons.

Again it was the behemoth William 'Fatty' Foulke in the Chelsea goal who drew much of the attention.

‘There was quite an ovation for him when he turned out,’ reported the Lancashire Daily Post in its match report, speculating that Foulke would have been an even bigger crowd-puller had the weather been fine. Instead the game at Bloomfield Road had been in some doubt but the standing water on the pitch subsided sufficiently before kick-off for the whistle to blow, although the attendance was undoubted affected with most of the 4,000 crowd sheltering under the roofed parts of the ground.

Blackpool had the early attacks but were kept comfortably at bay by a defence containing two more called Bob from north of the border - Mackie and McEwan. It was Chelsea’s Jimmy Windridge who had a shot saved.

Then the heaviest rain of the day began. ‘Foulke in his loneliness was a picture to remember,’ it was reported, the rain gushing off his body. Quarter-of-an-hour after the start, a single, large pool of water was across the turf.

George Key, signed from Hearts and in the Chelsea midfield, was proving the player most troublesome to Blackpool as the visitors had the better of the first half, although we had cause to be grateful when three chasing Seasiders could not reach the rolling ball in time in front of goal after Foulke had dropped it.

The second-half continued on in near-impossible conditions for football and for scoring goals, until 10 minutes from the end it was the Chelsea player-manager himself who won the day and made history. Robertson struck the deciding free-kick through Blackpool goalkeeper Arthur Hull’s legs. It was the new club's first goal and first winner.

The home side’s one mistake had been ‘not resorting to long shooting as Chelsea did,’ lamented the local reporter at the game, with the weather and the waterlogging continuing to dominate his thoughts.

Chelsea XI
William Foulke, Robert Mackie, Robert McEwan, Robert McRoberts, George Key, John Tait Robertson
Jack Kirwan, Martin Moran, David Copeland, James Watson. James Windridge

Goalscorer: John Tait Robertson
Attendance: 4,000

The people in the team photo above are:
(back row, non-players left-to-right) player-manager JT Robertson, founder and director HA Mears, honorary secretary Fred Parker, trainer James Miller, trainer Harry Ransom, secretary W Lewis.
(second row, l-r) Micky Byrne, Bob McRoberts, William 'Fatty' Foulke, David Copeland, Bob Mackie, Bob McEwan, James Craigie, assistant trainer Jack White.
(third row, l-r) Martin Moran, Charles Donaghy, Tommy Miller, James Robertson, Francis O'Hara, Jimmy Windridge, George Key, Jack Kirwan.
(front row, l-r) M Dowland, Seaton, Frank Wolfe, Dougal Watson.

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Fatty Foulkes had "all the agility of a cat, combined with the playfulness of a kitten!" - from the article on the Liverpool - Chelsea game.

 

I would be thrilled to bits if anyone had ever said that about me!!

I think Moi has all the agility of a cat combined with the playfulness of a kitten.

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Chelsea v Hull 11/09/1905 League Division 2

 

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This thread wouldn't be complete without mention of the first ever league fixture at Stamford Bridge, the first home win played on September 11th 2015 agains Hull. So here is a look back at the day league football arrived on the Fulham Road:

 

‘Played at Chelsea in fine weather. Both teams were at full strength.’

So began one matter-of-fact report of the first league match ever held at Stamford Bridge. After the furrowed turf of Stockport and the floods of Blackpool, it was at last time for competitive action at the place Chelsea could call home and this time the conditions for football and finding the net were good.

Consecutive away games had heralded the new club’s emergence, the first lost by a single goal and the second won by the same margin. Now London’s newest sporting attraction welcomed Hull City to what another newspaper described as a ‘magnificent ground’.

There are certainly no gripes in the writing about a poor quality of pitch, as there had been nine days earlier at Stockport County. Two days after that opening away fixture, Chelsea had hosted Liverpool in a friendly to test our new stadium, the result for the record a 4-0 win.

For the real deal against a so-far unbeaten Hull, 6,000 spectators came through the freshly installed turnstiles. The 11 Chelsea players they saw run out for kick-off that Monday 11 September 1905 were the same line-up that had won at Blackpool the Saturday just before.

'They're off!' were the words on the front of the Chelsea FC Chronicle, the matchday programme of the era, although the Pensioners, wearing lighter blue shirts than the present day, were slow starters in the game.

However Jacky Robertson and his team didn’t allow the visitors the upper hand for long, and the first competitive goal in front of the single grandstand and huge sweeping terrace was scored by Davie Copeland, a Scot who along with fellow forward Johnny Kirwan had been signed from Spurs where they had won the FA Cup at the turn of the century.

The Humbersiders could have drawn level but Fatty Foulke was a daunting sight for any penalty-taker and their player-manager Ambrose Langley planted his spot-kick straight into our goalie’s hands, the second one Foulke had saved in three games. From that point on, Hull deteriorated in craft and spirit with one reporter highlighting their lax marking of Chelsea’s front players. The moustache-sporting Copeland made it 2-0 by half-time with a clever shot.
1905_Jimmy_Windridge

Hull did become the first opposition team to score at the Bridge, the honour going to Peter Howe, but any fears of a further comeback were banished by the maiden Chelsea hat-trick. Jimmy Windridge (pictured right) would go on to score 58 goals in 152 appearances and become an England international, and the first of those three goals came in quick succession in that second-half. The final score was 5-1.

‘Now they have apparently got over their Stockport disaster, the new Southern organisation, with its galaxy of talent, will probably make rapid headway,’ noted the Manchester Courier.

London football fans must have liked what they watched or read. The attendance more than trebled for the next home game, played on a Saturday and pictured below, and in the final month of the season 67,000 were inside when Manchester United came to west London.  
 

 

Chelsea XI
William Foulke, Robert McEwan, Robert Mackie, Robert McRoberts, George Key, John Tait Robertson
Jack Kirwan, Martin Moran, David Copeland, James Windridge, James Watson

Goals: David Copeland (2), James Windridge (3)
Attendance: 6,000

 

Chelsea went on to finish the season in third place, nine points behind runners up Man U, who in turn finished four points behind Division 2 champions Bristol Rovers. We were that season't joint highest goalscorers, along with Man U, who also scored ninety goals, but conceded nine fewer than ourselves. Biggest win of the season was the 7-0 against Port Vale, eclipsing that season's 6-0 victories over Barnsley and Blackpool.

The rest as they say is history, a 110 years roller coaster ride veering wildly from glorious triumph to abject disaster and back again.

 

Here's to the next 110 years.
 

 

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Damned auto-correct! (Or something) Ah well, it's too late to edit it now.

 

In a parellel universe somewhere far far away. the date is September 1th 2125, a parallel FQ is looking back at a parallel Chelsea's first ever home league game, the 5-1 win over a similarly parallel Hull City, played on.September 11th 2015........

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