History

The 1950s

Chelsea’s immense support had kept the faith after the war and, hungry for the familiar thrills and escapism, almost 70,000 watched Chelsea draw with neighbours Fulham in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Bridge.

The decade began with the narrowest of escapes in May 1951: a 4-0 last-day win meant Billy Birrell’s men finished on 32 points, the same as Everton and Sheffield Wednesday.

Those goals allowed the Pensioners to cling to the top flight with a 0.044 better goal average. Two of them came from the first significant graduate of the new Chelsea youth scheme, 18-year-old Bobby Smith. Soon Peter Brabrook, Jimmy Greaves and others would join the production line.

FORMER MANAGERS

William Birrell

photo of Manager: 1939-52 Manager: 1939-52

Ted Drake

photo of Manager: 1952-61 Manager: 1952-61

In the meantime mere survival was never enough for the ambitious board and in 1952 Birrell made way for a thrusting young boss, Ted Drake. He represented a new generation demanding renewal of a dowdy Britain learning to handle teenage rebellion.

Drake oversaw a root-and-branch revamp – everything from training methods to the old Pensioner nickname – and boldly predicted league success within three years.

He was as good as his word and the longed-for title came in the club’s jubilee year, 1954/55.

KEY PLAYERS

Roy Bentley

photo of Player: 1948-56 Player: 1948-56

Frank Blunstone

photo of Player: 1953-64 Player: 1953-64

Jimmy Greaves

photo of Player: 1957-61 Player: 1957-61

Floodlights were also finally added to the stadium and further prestigious friendlies scheduled, against the likes of Hidegkuti’s famous Hungarians, along with the resumption of exotic and money-spinning continental trips, including the first of many tours of the United States.

Disappointingly, Chelsea’s pioneering participation in the inaugural 1955 UEFA European Cup was blocked by the Football League. The new model ‘Blues’ did eventually debut in European competition: the 1957/58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

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KEY MATCHES

CHELSEA 1 LIVERPOOL 0

Rooted to the foot of the table, winless for as long as anyone cared to recall, Chelsea needed a miracle to avoid relegation in April 1951. READ MORE>>

CHELSEA 1 WOLVES 0 / CHELSEA 3 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 0

‘Chelsea are really a better side than the United – at least, so some of the best of the Northern critics tell me,’ wrote ‘Citizen’ of the Daily Mirror on Good Friday 1906. READ MORE>>

CHELSEA 2 SPARTA PRAGUE 0

Noteworthy primarily for the first use of the 170-foot high floodlights at the Bridge by a senior side – though Chelsea’s Juniors had played a private evening match just before this official opener to test, adjust and flaunt the new sparklers. READ MORE>>

CHELSEA 6 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2

‘These wonderful Chelsea youngsters – some of them are just over their soccer teething,’ wrote Ross Hall of the Daily Mirror after this demonstration by arguably Chelsea’s greatest youth product of all time. ‘Sixty-two thousand fans were privileged to see the coronation of Greaves, King of Sharpshooters.' READ MORE>>

1950s Matchday Programme Cover

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