Younger football fans often joke that Chelsea have got no history prior to Roman Abramovich and his oil money, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Chelsea might not have had a long list of major honours to their name when Abramovich took over – although a First Division title, three FA Cups and two League Cups is hardly nothing – but football is about much more than winning trophies.
We’re here to tell you a story about Chelsea.
A story about risk and about rejection, about triumph out of adversity and about turning dreams into reality.
It’s a story about bricks and mortar, about love, hope and passion. It’s a story about flags, tube stations and more flags. It’s a story about one man and his dog…
This may seem a strange place to start, but the future is always more important than the past.
Get in your DeLorean to 2019, and all of what you see in this architectural model will be a reality. The Egg Slicer cometh. The architects say it will have stone columns that resemble Westminster Abbey. It will be a monument to football. A statement of wealth and prosperity for one of London’s pre-eminent football clubs.
But Abramovich isn’t the first Chelsea man to have grand designs for Stamford Bridge. In fact, if it wasn’t for one man’s lofty ambitions in stadium building, then we wouldn’t have a Chelsea Football Club at all. They are a club born out of a white elephant stadium project. You better get back in that DeLorean…
As stories of how football clubs were founded, Chelsea’s takes some beating. No history? Pah!
It’s 1904, and London businessman and football fan Mr Henry Augustus ‘Gus’ Mears has had a brainwave.
With Wembley not yet built, the Crystal Palace no good for FA Cup Finals and a few London clubs eyeing up new stadiums, he’s bought himself an old athletics ground between two railway lines in West London. Surely any property endeavour worth its salt must have a station close by?
He’ll build a massive football ground right by the Fulham Broadway, big enough to hold internationals and cup finals. Every club in London will surely jump at the chance to be his tenant?
Unfortunately for Mears, Fulham and others turned down the chance to relocate, and by 1905 he had given up on his dream and all but decided to sell the land to the Great Western Railway Company to be used as a coal yard.
The story goes that Mears passed on the news to his acquaintance Fred Parker, a supporter of the original idea who was then bit by Mears’ dog. His reaction to having a chunk taken out of his leg was simply to chuckle.
So taken aback was Mears by Parker’s cool outlook that he knew right at that moment that he was a man not to be doubted. Mears knew what he needed to do. It was time to build a new football club.
Chelsea! Mears did it. He pitched up with his own team right on Fulham’s doorstep. Right next door to the Chelsea pensioners, just off the Kings Road and a stone’s throw from the railway station. Des res or what?
Now, you didn’t come here for the history lesson and pictures of shiny signs, did you? Are you ready for some football hipsterness?
Ah, the best bit of any football ground. Just off their ‘estate’. At Stamford Bridge the Chelsea Land theme park ends at the gates off the Kings Road. There, the ‘unofficial’ boys pedal their wares.
I was chuffed with the photo of this bloke. Fag in mouth watching the youngsters in their three stripes go by. He’s seen it all, hasn’t he?
You don’t see this flat across from the ground when you watch the millionaires play. But I always go for a walk about when I’m photographing a game, especially at Premier League level.
I always seem to find something a little grottier than what the Premier League would have you know about. It feels like walking off a movie set.
Champs in the 50s, hip in the 60s, cosmopolitan in the 90s and rich in the noughties. Sound good so far? Now let’s get on to the 70s and 80s.
Nearly skint by an overly ambitious stadium redevelopment (you seeing a recurring theme here…) the Shed End rocked with naughty boys while Chelsea played in the Second Division.
There are still a few lads knocking about if you look for them….cigarettes, scarves….Aqua Pura. Not like the old days I’m sure.
John Terry (or JT round these parts) is leaving Chelsea this season. No player splits opinion quite like Terry, but there are no questions about this particular fan’s view of him.
Said fan was a thoroughly nice chap who took me for a coffee down the Fulham Broadway Tube Station and told me stories of the old Shed End in that naughty era. He had Lampard on his other leg and the lion rampant across his back. You still think this is a club of plastics?
Shed End I hear you say? Yes indeed. One of those notorious old terraces with a gruff sounding name.
Now, I know from previous articles that you lot are partial to the odd plaque. So here’s a belter from the old wall. This wall is the only bit that remains of the ground that Archibald Leitch, ground designer extraordinaire, laid out for the Mears.
It still encloses Stamford Bridge, but now it sits as a boundary between the modern stadium (retail shop, club offices and hotel) on the one side and the des-res apartments, cottages and courtyards of leafy Chelsea on the other.
It’s an unusual survivor from the original Bridge, but a survivor nonetheless. I for one was delighted to see the Egg-Slicer development give it a reprieve.
Remember kids, visit all these places while you can….
The Bridge is modern, but fortunately not that modern. If you head under the East Stand and keep walking away from the Kings Road, then you’ll come to a gate. A proper football ground gate. One with holes in it so that you can see in to the pitch.
It’s these gates that give you just enough of a glimpse inside to get excited. I think I have a slightly misspent youth peering through the tiny holes in football ground gates hoping to catch a glimpse of something, anything to do with the inner workings of a football club.
These days, they sometimes let me in. Who would have thought we could get that excited over a green rectangle eh?
Visiting football grounds in London always feels different to me. I think it’s the hustle and bustle outside that makes them more like secret gardens when they are empty.
They are remarkably peaceful away from a match day. I always think about the big moments of games gone by.
This incarnation of the Bridge always reminds me of Liverpool coming here at the end of the 2002-03 season. Chelsea needed a draw to secure Champions League football. If that wasn’t enough, a result would also rubber stamp a takeover by one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Defeat would result in years of overspending coming home to roost. Financial Armageddon loomed large. Fortunately for the home crowd, after a Liverpool opener, Marcel Desailly equalised in the goal down to the right and Jesper Gronkjaer famously scored the winner in the goal to the left.
That Liverpool result paved the way for the Chelsea we know today. For extraordinary spending, trophies galore and Champions League nights full of flags and banners. Speaking of banners, did you spot the one on the left?
Yep, this one. The Special One. Jose Mourinho. What a relationship he had with this football club in the modern era.
Admittedly, he had Abramovich’s money to spend, but he spent it wisely. The same year that Abramovich’s Chelsea were exploring the new world of the Champions League semi-finals, it was Mourinho’s Porto who won the whole bloody thing. Abramovich wanted his man and Mourinho made the job his own.
Charismatic, dogmatic, marmite. He’s a Chelsea man, though. One of Us. Isn’t he?
Hmmm. Mourinho may be working in red now, but this part of London is blue. You know those Champions League nights you’ve seen on the TV? Well yes, they are partial to the odd flag down here.
This one is particularly important. The League Champions Flag flew only once from Stamford Bridge before 2005. Since then it’s been raised on a further four occasions. Mourinho is responsible for three of them.
If Conte can hold off Spurs he’ll make it six for the club but Jose had a message for him: the young upstart has got to win four for the club before he knocks Jose off his perch.
I told you, didn’t I? They bloody love them round here.
This one tells a story. 1905 is the year of Gus Mears and his rather influential dog…
This was what Abramovich came for. This was his passion and something that no London club had ever got its hands on before.
It’s one of the great curiosities of Chelsea and Mourinho that it wasn’t the Special One who delivered the trophy. While Jose was off working through Europe’s top jobs, it was Bobby Di Matteo, caretaker, who brought the big one home.
Not that Abramovich should really care. London’s first champions of Europe – their place in history assured.
It’s a scary time for opposing teams nowadays. Just count the internationals on show. They’ve always been capable of putting an exciting side on the pitch, but since 2003 this lot haven’t looked back.
It’s a bit different to Mr Mears’ effort. Matthew Harding and Ken Bates developed this end of the ground. Refined now, all seated and with the club hotel and offices just behind it, it’s a far cry from when it looked over the greyhound track and had a tin roof.
You’ll see the players celebrate in front of their own down there. The Shed still has a fine voice, and in this age of clubs marketing our own nostalgia back to us, it’s being permitted a little bit of its own identity.
Obviously, it will never be the same again: the Peter Osgood chants now sit side by side with modern names like Didier Drogba and flags of world nations. Organised nostalgia will only ever go so far.
Get your phones out and get this lot in focus, this is the West End and its box office. Here’s Cesc Fabregas being admired by a young fan.
Cesc, an Arsenal player for many a year that came to Chelsea to win a league…via Barcelona. Oh, how the cycle of football never stops.
He isn’t the only world class player to do it either. While once they came to wind down their career and enjoy London life, now they seek medals on the world’s greatest stage.
It isn’t just on the pitch where the money has been spent. Roman has put 50p in the meter for you up in the stands too. Is it ‘proper’ football when you get a radiator? Don’t answer that, just enjoy it come December.
So there you have it. You’ve seen the world’s best play, in the fancy-dan end of London. They even put the heating on. Life is good.
Now see the boundary walls of Mears’ great stadium adorned with their famous faces on your way out. Keep going on to the Kings Road and grab at least a pint. The whole crowd will be going for the tube so no point being stuck in the rush. Mears was spot on about those railways…..
Yep. He was pretty much spot on across the board, wasn’t he? He dreamt only of a stadium but created a club that, love them or hate them, you can’t imagine football without.
They are the club from the posh end of town, loadsamoney, and whether you like to admit or not, a fantastic history of ups and downs.
Oh and that tube station rush down the Fulham Broadway? Bearable if you’ve been at the game, but not so great if you’ve just been lolling round Abercrombie & Fitch. Did she tell you to change at Earl’s Court? Don’t worry pal, just blame it on the dog….