First off, you need to read this in your head as though a certain type of commentator is speaking these words to you. This post was a labour of love for me, and as such, it is fairly long. I encourage you to read the first section, and then read whatever you feel interested in after that. I've designed each section to be able to stand relatively independent of the others (barring the crucial "Beginning" part).
Chelsea has been exceptional in that it has spent most of its existence firmly in the top flight of English football (especially since the 1930s). In recent decades, they've triumphed higher than ever before. However, there was a time before Chelsea was, well... Chelsea. A time before Drogba and Lampard, Zola and Poyet, Bobby Tambling and Peter Osgood, and yes, even before Jimmy Greaves and Roy Bentley. This was the infancy stage, the earliest hours of the dawn of the greatest club in the world.
As with anything great, it began with a man and his dog.
Gus Mears, whose catch phrase was "don't worry" and who was honored by hundreds of supporters at his funeral. After his passsing, the club would face serious challenges without his leadership. - via 1.bp.blogspot.com
The man was Henry Augustus Mears and the dog was a Scotch Terrier whose name has been lost to the ages and whose bite was the catalyst for Chelsea Football Club.
But first, a few details.
Before the club came the stadium. Its construction began in April 1877, undertaken by the wealthy Waddell brothers, who would leave the grounds with significant debts shortly after its completion. Stewardship of the ground was taken up by John Stunt, who was a boot maker and small business owner. Finally, in stepped the financially sound Mears brothers. Gus and J.T. were co-owners of a major London-based construction company, and they had inherited sizable wealth from their father, Joseph, just a few years before. The took over ownership of the ground from the heirs of Stunt's estate. One stipulation of Stunt's will was that the grounds be used for athletic purposes. That was suitable to Gus Mears, who had already planned on the stadium housing Fulham, then (and now) in a sad situation at Craven Cottage.
However, when Fulham declined the move, Mears was left with a somewhat vacant stadium. In stepped one handlebar-mustachioed Frederick Parker, close friend of the brothers, who joined them and financial contributors in a meeting over the fate of the unoccupied ground. After pleading for the foundation of a new club, which he felt should be called Chelsea,* Parker found himself walking alongside Gus, feeling pessimistic about the likelihood of the club's inception. Rick Glanvill's excellent club biography includes Parker's recollection of the moment:
*Rather than Kensington FC, London, FC, or Stamford Bridge FC.
"his dog... coming up from behind unobserved, bit me so severely through my cycling stockings so as to draw blood freely. On telling the owner, 'Your damned dog has bitten me, look!' and showing him the blood, instead of expressing concern he causally observed, 'Scotch terrier; always bites before he speaks.'
The utter absurdity of the remark struck me as so genuinely funny that although hopping about on one foot and feeling blood trickling down, I had to laugh heartily and tell him he was the 'coolest fish' I'd ever met."
- Glanvill, Chelsea FC: The Offical Biography, 71.
Apparently, Parker's handling of the bite so impressed Gus that he was convinced to reconsider his decision on the matter of Stamford Bridge. And just like that, the inception of a Chelsea F.C. began to become a reality. A swaggering entrepreneur, Mears set about signing a squad of experienced players, and gaining admission into the second division. On the 11th of March 1905, The Times announced the founding of the new club. SW6 had their very own genuine football team (because Fulham doesn't count)!
Although it was Mears' money and direction that ultimately provided for the club's founding, it would never have happened without the passion of Parker and the bite of the terrier.
What a bunch of studs. Or didn't they wear cleats in those days? Yes, they did. (H.A. Mears is pictured second from the top-left, J.T. Robertson to the left, and I bet you can guess which one is "Fatty" Foulke) - via www.chelseafc.com
From the start, Chelsea's squad would be full of well-known stars. There was John Tait Robertson, a Scot from Glasgow, who was the team's first player-manager, and had the honor of scoring their first league goal. Chelsea's tradition of having a J.T. leading the team from the center of defense runs deeper than most today know. In goal we had William Henry "Fatty" Foulke, who legend places at 6'4" and weighing over 300 pounds by the end of his career. He was the team's captain, despite his hot temper, which had already led to an incident. In 1902, Willy, fully nude, had run out of the team's dressing room after a game, chasing after a referee with whom he was contending the allowance of a goal from the day's match. The official was only saved by the grace of FA representatives, who were on hand to prevent Fatty Foulke from tearing the hinges off of the broom cupboard door, behind which cowered the terrified referee.
In those early days, despite the legend around such characters, there was little romance between players, fans, and club. The squad contained just one Londoner, Frank Wolff, considered a "Chelseaite by birth," and he was a rare contributor to the side. In those days, it was often like that; for decades, most of Chelsea's star players hailed from Scotland, Northern Ireland, or the English countryside. Some of the best players in the world at the time were Scottish, and Chelsea signed a wagon-full. In the first few years, when we really didn't have no history and Arsenal was the established side in London, club loyalty was inevitably low. However, that would change, and quickly. This was partly due to the players, as Chelsea would always look to sign stars, but often just as much buzz came from the club's atmosphere.
The Ground and Surrounding Area
"One of the marvels of Chelsea FC had originally been the scale and grandeur of its ancestral home... For long periods in our history we boasted the largest club venue in England, setting records yet to be beaten."
- Glanvill, 63, 66.
Just 40 years before the club's inception, the area of Southwest London which it would come to call its home was hardly even suburban, containing only a cricket ground, a market garden, and cemetery. Then came Stamford Bridge, headquarters of the London Athletic Club, which held international competitions up into the 1930s. Gus and his brother J.T. had purchased the ground with the intention of making it the nation's finest stadium. The embankments were built from the soil excavated in the construction of the Picadilly line tunnels, and the finished work was something to behold.
The Bridge in early days. There was a special aura about the place. - via 1.bp.blogspot.com
Walham Green station. Many of you have probably never heard the name. It was the official appellation given to the tube station we know today as Fulham Broadway, the closest to the Bridge. In the early days (it was known as Walham Green all the way until 1952), the station's surrounding area, which came to be called by the same name, was a symbol of the diversity of the club.
"Even though few people know its proper name, Walham Green is what it always was - a vibrant mixture of the very poor living almost uniquely cheek by jowl, with each end of the scale displaying an unusual spirit and lust for life in utterly different ways, coexisting relatively politely."
- Glanvill, 64.
The area was not only filled with a socioeconomically varied population, but their diversity came to manifest itself in the numerous shops and pubs in the area. There was the Janes family pub, owned by some of the club's directors; one of whom is said to haunt the cinema that replaced it. The area where now stands the shopping complex which contains Fulham Broadway was once home to several smaller stores, including a "shabby" sports shop that would sell Chelsea gear to fans. This was the backdrop to Chelsea. I've included a video here that comprises part one of a pretty wonky 80's documentary of Chelsea FC's history, but if you watch the first minute (just before the awful "music" kicks in) you can get a better idea of how the area has changed from then until now.
Fanship and Atmosphere
"Even at its birth, the club's feet were in working class Fulham, but its head was in prosperous Chelsea."
- Glanvill, 58.
Chelsea's first game was a 5-1 win over Hull City, before a crowd of roughly 6,000. Among the multitude were the middle-class laborers that lived in close proximity to the stadium, as well as well-to-do socialites from the finer areas in and around Kensington Gardens. The same is true today. Chelsea is still a club of glitz and glamour, as always; however, the closest residences around Stamford are not the wildly luxurious flats and ritzy manors of royalty and celebrities but the modest homes of hard-working middle class citizens. Rest assured, Chelsea has throughout the years been both a club of the common person and linked with some of the world's most fashionable personalities and one of the world's greatest cities.
Imagine it. The 8th century English sport brought into newness in the 1900s before your very eyes. - via www.chelseafc.com
However, it would be the latter group that would naturally form the face of the club's following. This was only furthered by Chelsea's association with the music hall. Not only were there numerous of these local attractions to be found in the nearby areas, but members of the club have come to be musically involved as well. Before the famous "Blue is the Colour" triumph, Chelsea star Jack Cock (oh, grow up; that's his real name) would debut at the Granville Theatre of Varieties in 1921. That same theatre hung a banner celebrating Chelsea's title grab in 2005. The now infamous song "Celery" is actually derivative of an old music hall number, "Ask Old Brown." Surprisingly, the bit about tickling a person's bum with a certain produce item was present in the original version.
Whether or not Frederick Parker had this sort of tomfoolery in mind when he described the potential for CFC as "a new club that is bound to become one of the best in the country" is unknown. Nevertheless, Chelsea was in, it was hip, it had "it" and it wasn't giving "it" back. One thing Mears left the club with that it would never truly lose was its association with coolness and royalty. After promotion in 1907, Chelsea began consistently drawing the best support in the country. It seemed there was no place but up to go for CFC. However, there were troubling matters grouping on the club's horizon.
No, not that JT or that scandal. My, how history does (sort of) repeat itself, though. After Gus' death, the club's ownership would eventually pass on to his brother, who had this one chance to destroy evil forever... wait, no, that's a different story (damn you, Isildur!). Still, Tolkien's tale of human weakness is not out of place in this moment of the club's history. Okay back to the old British voice.
Following Gus' passing, the Bridge was willed to his sister Beatrice. The Chelsea Football Club, now determined to be in control of its on destiny, endeavored to purchase the ground from her. However, somehow behind the scenes, Beatrice decided to sell the property to her brother, J.T. It was then that Mr. Mears came forward with the idea of a lease. Something fishy was most certainly afoot.
An FA investigation revealed that J.T. had marked up the property's value £6,250, looking to make an instant profit on the stadium's sale. Furthermore, the less honorable Mears brother had been overcharging the club for work done to the ground, which he had been contracting out to his own company. This work was poorly and slowly done, and came with a 20% premium for Mear's construction co. Moreover, we're still feeling today the effects of the failure to plan appropriately for pedestrian traffic around the stadium. Our ability to expand now is limited by the incompetence in practice then. This was sadly to be another lasting legacy of the Mears family.
This post just needed some color. - via cs11149.vk.me
This is why I feel strongly that we should feel less sentimental about leaving our dear stadium behind. It was too often the rich man's profiteering tool, and too infrequently the sacred home it ought to have been. No longer a gem of London, England, and the world, it is clear that it will never again reach the heights it knew in the days fans hoped it might replace Wembley as the national stadium. The ground preceded the club, and it will see its demise if we do not see its abandonment.
For gits and shiggles, why don't we hear what you think?