Teetering under the weight of debt and failure on the pitch, the board sold Chelsea Football Club for one pound to a businessman and vice-chairman of Wigan Athletic, Ken Bates, on Friday 2 April 1982, ending a 77-year connection with the founding Mears family.
In fact Gus’s descendants still controlled the freehold on the land under Stamford Bridge. Having failed to reach agreement with them to unite club and ground, Bates was hurled into a draining 10-year battle against housing developers to retain the club’s ancestral home.
Despite the threat of extinction, fortunes soon picked up on the playing side. New manager John Neal redeemed himself after almost dropping to the third tier for the first time in the club’s history in 1983, by securing promotion back to the top flight in electrifying fashion the following season.
— Manager: 1979-81
— Manager: 1981-85
— Manager: 1985-88
— Manager: 1988-91
Shrewdly-bought players such as Eddie Niedzwiecki, Kerry Dixon, Pat Nevin, David Speedie (signed a year earlier than the others) and Nigel Spackman joined superior homegrowns including Colin Pates and John Bumstead to form the heart of a side that would twice finish in the top six of Division One with dynamic, attacking football.
A new commercial era entered football: Chelsea’s first shirt sponsor in 1983 was Gulf Air. Less positively, the popular rampant lion badge was consigned to history for trademark reasons three years later.
English football was banned from Europe after the Heysel disaster, and Bates’s idea to replace lost revenue was the Full Members Cup. Chelsea beat Manchester City in the thrilling 1986 final that ended 5-4. A grand day out for 68,000 fans at Wembley also brought silverware for the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, not opened since 1971.
— Player: 1983-88
— Player: 1983-92
— Player: 1982-87
— Player: 1975-84
— Player: 1981-86
— Player: 1976-91
— Player: 1983-88
— Player: 1979-88
Neal’s grave illness saw assistant coach and 1970s legend John Hollins step up. Key players left, Chelsea’s results dipped and in March 1988 Bates’s friend Bobby Campbell was called in with the club 16th in the table. The new manager was unable to stave off a unique relegation through a First Division/Second Division play-off system. Thankfully, inspired by new skipper Graham Roberts and his record 12 penalty successes, the Blues charged back at the first attempt with an astonishing 99 points.
Spirit Of The Age
1984 was the year of the Yuppies – ‘young, upwardly-mobile professional people’ much-derided for dressing like posh grandparents, splashing cash ostentatiously and barking ‘sell!’ into mobile phones the size of a wardrobe.
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