Most soccer teams have an emotional link to their home stadium, but the history of few teams and stadiums are as intertwined as that of Chelsea FC and Stamford Bridge, their London home. Built in 1877, Stamford Bridge was an athletics track until 1905 when two brothers (HA and JT Mears) purchased it with the intention of attracting an existing team to play there. When this plan failed, they decided to take the bull by the horns and create their own team – Chelsea FC.
And so began 100 years of soccer history with many ups and downs along the way.
The Story Of The Blues
Chelsea Football Club was officially formed on March 14 1905 in The Rising Sun public house opposite the main entrance to the current stadium. A few weeks later, the team joined the Second Division of the growing Soccer League, and they played their first game (against Stockport County) on May 29, 1905.
A long, uneventful period followed and it was not until 1955 that Chelsea won their first league title. Initially nicknamed “The Pensioners” after the nearby Royal Hospital (home of army pensioners), an early manager thought it gave the wrong impression – and ever since, Chelsea have been known as “The Blues”.
The swinging 60s made Chelsea the fashionable heart of London, but the success of the surrounding area was not duplicated on the field at Stamford Bridge. The team did become known off the pitch for their fashionable clothes, accessories, and
celebrity lifestyles and the club enjoyed a certain celebrity in the media during this period. The trophy cabinet however remained largely empty, and although Chelsea came close with an FA Cup final loss in 1967, the only major success of the decade was winning their first League Cup in 1965.
Things Can Only Get Better
Matters did not improve during the 1970s and 80s, with the team dipping in and out of the Second Division and serious financial difficulties leading to the sale of star players.
At the club’s lowest financial point, the Mears family were forced to sell the club to new owner Ken Bates for a price of $2 USD (yes two dollars!). The passionate supporters of Chelsea stayed loyal however, and some of the players from this
troubled era ranked among the best in England. Notable among the players of this period are the team’s famous goalkeeper Peter Bonetti, who played for the team 729 times between 1959 and 1979, and striker Peter Osgood who scored 150 goals in 380 appearances between 1964 and 1979.
Although Jimmy Greaves became better known for his later career at Tottenham Hotspur, he started playing soccer at Chelsea, scoring in his debut game (a feat he repeated with every team he subsequently played for). In 1960, aged 20, Greaves became
the youngest player ever to score 100 English league goals, and his 1960-61 tally of 41 league goals remains a record at Chelsea to this very day.