Chelsea Football Club – Second Half Of Their Century

17Oct08

The 1955 league title success proved unsustainable as the side was ageing with only a few youth prospects. The year after winning the league Chelsea finished 16th and a succession of lower table finishes followed, this despite the emergence of a teenage striking protegee Jimmy Greaves, probably Chelsea’s best youth product ever. Greaves was without doubt a goal-scoring genius – still regarded by many as the finest finisher England has ever produced. He reached the 100-goal mark before turning 21 and by the time of his sale to AC Milan in 1961, Greaves had scored an incredible 132 times in 169 appearances.

In the swinging 60s Chelsea became 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. As the 60s moved into full swing fresh-faced players such as Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Barry Bridges, Bobby Tambling and Terry Venables began to emerge. Within those five would emerge Chelsea’s record ever goalscorer, our record ever appearance maker and our longest serving and some would say, greatest goalkeeper. The average age of the side dropped down to just 21.

In the sixties the fans were treated to top five finishes and three consecutive FA Cup semi-finals. Chelsea defeated Leicester City 3-2 on aggregate in the League Cup Final, which was Chelsea’s first knockout cup success. Evenings of glamorous European football were becoming a feature of Stamford Bridge life too. In the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, Italian giants Roma and Milan were beaten before Barcelona proved too strong at Camp Nou. A second FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park in two years followed but Wembley stayed just out of reach.

After managerial disagreements Venables’ clever passing was replaced with the dribbling ability of a young Scot named Charlie Cooke. Cooke is one of the greatest entertainers to have graced the Stamford Bridge turf, his creative skills combining perfectly with Peter Osgood. Osgood had somehow evaded the attentions of professional clubs until the age of 17 but once at Chelsea he was the new prince, and would soon be crowned King of Stamford Bridge.

In 1966 Chelsea reached their third successive semi-final at Villa Park. At the sixth time of asking, a Wembley FA Cup Final was reached. It was the first-ever all-London affair – the Cockney Cup Final as it became known with Tottenham Hotspur the opposition that afternoon in 1967. The fans relished the prospect of a showpiece occasion but the day turned out to be a damp squib. The deserved 2-1 defeat was made none the easier to bear by the presence of Greaves and Venables in Spurs colours. That was the last major occasion for Bobby Tambling in a Chelsea shirt although he stayed for another couple of seasons. The player who had taken the burden of goalscoring from Greaves found the net 202 times in 370 games – a Chelsea all-time record.

Peter Bonetti had developed into a goalkeeper of the highest standard. Ron Harris, Eddie McCreadie, Webb and Dempsey formed an uncompromising back-line. With John Hollins and Charlie Cooke in midfield there was a mixture of endeavour and flair. Peter Houseman supplied regular crosses from the left to where Osgood’s class and the battling qualities of Hutchinson awaited. Pulling the strings was an 18 year-old midfielder born within the sound of The Shed – Alan Hudson.

In 1970 Chelsea reached the FA Cup Final once more, this time against Leeds United – the reigning League Champions and the best team of the era. Leeds twice took the lead on a pitch that shamed Wembley’s reputation but each time Chelsea showed enough steel to equalise. For the first time in a Wembley Cup Final, the sides could not be separated on the day. The replay was at Old Trafford and was a ferociously fought and at times brutal game. Chelsea again came from behind to take the game into extra-time before Hutchinson’s long throw found its way to Webb’s head and Leeds were a beaten outfit. Osgood had scored in every round. After three finals and seven semi-finals, Chelsea had at last lifted their first FA Cup.

Cup victory brought qualification for the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Man City were beaten in an all-English semi-final to take Chelsea to Greece for the Final where the legendary white shirts of Real Madrid awaited. With Hudson and Cooke inspired, it was Chelsea’s turn to take, then surrender a lead, Madrid battling back to score a cruel equaliser in the dying seconds. Extra-time proved goalless and suddenly the army of Chelsea fans were making plans to stay in Greece another two days. They were not let down. Dempsey scored a rare and spectacular goal in the replay, added to by Osgood. Real Madrid pulled one back late on but this time there was no slip-up. Chelsea’s first European trophy was flying back home.

Stamford Bridge was no longer a home fit for returning heroes. Time had long moved on since the days when it was the finest sports venue in London. The club began to build a new 60,000 capacity stadium to match any but sadly the timing was poor and the plans flawed. The first stage – a new East Stand – was hampered by a multitude of problems and was completed a year late and a massive 1.3 million pounds over budget. Debt was a new and dangerous opponent. Just four years after the European triumph, Chelsea were relegated to Division Two. With the debts greater than 3 million pounds, it was an incredible decline.

During the 1970s and 80s the team had dipped in and out of the Second Division and serious financial difficulties lead to the sale of star players, such as promising midfielder Ray Wilkins to Manchester United. Crisis point was reached with the players unpaid and the bank not cashing Chelsea’s cheques. Ken Bates, a businessman who had previously been involved with smaller clubs up north was asked to invest. He bought the football club plus debts for a nominal one pound.

Kerry Dixon and David Speedie were among the players brought in whilst the club was operating on a shoe-string budget. The team stormed to the Second Division title in 1983. The rapid climb continued with a sixth place finish in the first season back in Division One, Dixon sharing the Golden Boot with 24 League goals and 36 in all competitions. He was destined to become the club’s second highest scorer after Tambling, finding the net 193 times.

At the beginning of the nineties, money became available for our first one million pound-plus purchases, midfielders Andy Townsend and Dennis Wise, but the seasons that followed were frustrating. In 1993 Glenn Hoddle was appointed as manager raising the club’s profile instantly and the quality of Chelsea’s play improved, slowly at first but the momentum built towards an FA Cup Final appearance at the end of his first season. Waiting at Wembley were Manchester United, a big occasion that came too early for this group of players. Chelsea lost 4-0 after a bright start. The scoreline was rather harsh.

In the nineties Chelsea slowly began to establish themselves as a major force in English and European football. Notable purchases in the nineties included Dutch superstars Ruud Gullit and Ed De Goey, Romanian Dan Petrescu, Italians Ginaluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo, French pair Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly, Uruguay’s Gus Poyet, Norweigan Tore Andre Flo and Welsh goal-scoring supremo Mark Hughes.

With Gullit in his first season as player-manager, Chelsea won their first trophy for 26 years when they beat Middlesborough to win the FA Cup in 1997. t took Di Matteo just 43 seconds, a Wembley Cup Final record, to fire his side ahead. Homegrown Eddie Newton sealed a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the second-half. A long 26 year wait for honours was over and what followed were the longest celebrations seen in the history of the famous old stadium.

The shock departure of Gullit in 1998 led to the appointment of another player-manager, the Italian striker Gianluca Vialli. Within three months Vialli had already collected two trophies. Middlesbrough were beaten 2-0 in the Coca Cola Cup Final with another youth product, Frank Sinclair, and Di Matteo the scorers. Then in Stockholm, over 20,000 Chelsea fans saw Zola rise from the bench to score the only goal against Stuttgart and secure the European Cup Winners’ Cup for a second time. The FA Cup was added in 2000 when Chelsea defeated Aston Villa 1-0, Di Matteo again, in the last final to be played at the old Wembley.

Vialli was in charge of a squad that many commentators felt was of good quality and depth and they made there first Champions League campaign. A famous Dennis Wise equaliser in Milan’s San Siro stadium, Galatasaray’s red-hot support silenced by a 5-0 win in Turkey and the giants of Barcelona beaten 3-1 at the Bridge were the highlights of the campaign. Chelsea equalled the British transfer record by paying fifteen million pounds for goalscorer Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. His first goal in his first game helped us raise the Charity Shield to make it six trophies in a little over three years.

Claudio Ranieri replaced Vialli as manager and after a season he began his transfer activities shipping out Wise, Poyet and Leboeuf. He spent 42 million pounds to bring in defender William Gallas, midfielders Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit, Slavisa Jokanovic plus wingers Jesper Gronkjaer and Boudewijn Zenden. In 2002 Chelsea made the Fa Cup final but lost 2-0 to Arsenal in Cardiff. Cup finals and top six finishes were becoming commonplace but debts accumulated in rebuilding the team, the stadium plus the construction of an adjoining hotel and leisure complex were causing concern.

The new dawn for Chelsea broke when the club was purchased by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003. It soon became clear the direction the club would be taking when Abramovich sanctioned the biggest close-season spending spree world football had ever seen.

Young English talent was bought in the shape of Glen Johnson, Wayne Bridge and Joe Cole. Other Premiership clubs were raided for Geremi and Juan Sebastian Veron while Damien Duff was a new club record purchase at 17 million pounds. Italy’s Serie A was the next port of call for two top level strikers, Adrian Mutu and Hernan Crespo, while the final piece in the jigsaw was Claude Makelele from Real Madrid. Over 100 million pounds was spent on players for the new season and away from the pitch, Abramovich took the club back into private ownership.

After four years without a trophy, the decision was taken to bring in a new coach capable of leading a concerted challenge for football’s highest honours. In just two seasons, Jose Mourinho had taken Porto to successive UEFA Cup and Champions League triumphs as well as back-to-back leagues plus domestic cups in his native Portugal.

One of Mourinho’s first acts was to hand the captain’s armband to John Terry, the best Chelsea youth product for over two decades. Portuguese internationals Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho and Tiago followed Mourinho to London. Two of Europe’s hottest young prospects, Petr Cech and Arjen Robben also arrived, as did Didier Drogba, raising the club record purchase fee to more than 20 million pounds. Mateja Kezman was a second new striker.

The Championship was won with the best points total and best defensive record in English top-flight history. Terry was the first Chelsea player to be voted PFA Player of the Year while Lampard, who had scored 19 goals from midfield in all competitions, was the Footballer of the Year. Chelsea may have fallen short in the Champions League again (losing to Liverpool in the semi-final) but a Carling Cup victory with the team from Anfield again the opponents, ensured 2004-5 was our most successful season ever. It truly was the perfect way to celebrate Chelsea’s first 100 years.

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