The 1930s

This was a contrasting decade of enduring milestones but no silverware; of many social landmarks but little genuine change.

The end of David Calderhead’s long reign as secretary-manager – at 26 years the longest in our history – came to its mediocre conclusion in June 1933. He created the Chelsea blueprint for investing in crowd-pleasing talent from wherever it might hail, and on 26 December 1930 fielded a team of eight internationals from across the British Isles.

He had achieved stability and popularity yet the closest he had come to bringing trophies to the Bridge – now with its roof over the Fulham Road End, dubbed ‘the Shed’ – had been the FA Cup way back in 1915 when we were beaten finalists.


David Calderhead

photo of Manager: 1907-33 Manager: 1907-33

Leslie Knighton

photo of Manager: 1933-39 Manager: 1933-39

New man Leslie Knighton again trawled for talent, notably and successfully across the Irish Sea to maintain the magnetism of Stamford Bridge. It worked. ‘Mighty throngs have often been associated with the Chelsea ground at Stamford Bridge since the club was formed,’ said the Guardian: marvelling at an extraordinary new English attendance record of 82,905 set at the Bridge in October 1935.

Despite the stars and the crowds, consistency and success still proved so elusive that a variety artiste, Norman Long, captured the popular view of the Pensioners with his satire about the earth turning on its head when the club finally win the cup.

The sudden loss of three experienced board members in quick succession was another setback to progress, though the arrival of third-generation director Joe Mears would eventually have a hugely positive influence in the boardroom.


Hughie Gallacher

photo of Player: 1930-34 Player: 1930-34

George Mills

photo of Player: 1929-43 Player: 1929-43

Vic Woodley

photo of Player: 1931-39 Player: 1931-39

The Pensioners also reached out to the world even more, reaching the final of the prestigious 1937 Paris Expo tournament, a forerunner of the European Cup. The club’s first black reserve player, British-Jamaican forward Fred Hanley, was signed in 1938.

Knighton came no closer to meeting the board’s title ambitions, though, and in 1939 he made way for Billy Birrell, a Scot with the vision to revolutionise the nurturing of young footballers at Chelsea. Hitler and Germany had other ideas, and the project was put on hold for six years as Britain was again plunged into war.

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1930s Matchday Programme Cover