The Pensioners’ first cup final for 29 years meant that, as pre-war, Chelsea ‘will be discussed wherever football is a topic,‘ asserted the Lancashire Evening Post on 4 April 1944. ‘Arsenal may have been the glamour team, but Chelsea were everybody’s favourite.’
However the highlight of the day would prove to be meeting US General Dwight D Eisenhower (pictured below) beforehand, for Charlton lifted the cup following a 3-1 victory. There would be better luck when Birrell’s men returned the following season on 7 April 1945, Millwall the victims on a grand occasion that easily compared to any FA Cup final.
The 1944 League South Cup game had been attended by 85,000, produced a record gate of £26,000, of which £12,000 was taken by the government in Entertainment Tax. Even that figure, a record for any sporting occasion during wartime, was exceeded by the 1945 final. Total receipts exceeded £29,000, with £13,300 going to the tax man – the biggest ever contribution from a sporting event.
An extraordinary £30,000 was returned to people who had applied – unsuccessfully – for tickets for the event (Chelsea were allocated 800 standing and 800 seated). However the only match of the year at Wembley was not played for charity: Chelsea and Millwall each pocketed £4,000. The players were each paid £2.
Oddly, Chelsea wore red, and Millwall white as opposed to the familiar blue of both, and were greeted by the Chelsea-supporting King George VI in his uniform of Admiral of the Fleet. Up in the stands were the Queen in a blue ensemble with a beige fur and the young Princess Elizabeth in her ATS uniform, attending her first club football match.
Although Millwall drew the ‘lucky’ no.1 dressing room, ‘everything today is in [Chelsea’s] favour,’ commented the Daily Worker on the morning of the game. ‘Their defence is sounder, their forwards are all potential match-winners… Their wing-halves, the most important players in any team, have all the experience and stamina necessary.
‘On the other hand,’ the newspaper continued, ‘Chelsea are… Chelsea. Last year they were favourites. In five minutes they were one up and storming the Charlton goal eager for more. But the old Stamford Bridge fever seized them when they were on top and brimful of confidence, and they faded away.’ Not so a year later, despite having the same half-back line.
Skipper Johnny Harris was one of eight guest Pensioners, the others being regulars George Wardle (Exeter City), and Danny Winter (Bolton), Ian Black (Aberdeen), George Hardwick (Middlesbrough) and John McDonald (Bournemouth and Boscombe), while Len Goulden (West Ham) and Les Smith (Brentford) were both debutants. McDonald and Wardle ensured Chelsea won 2-0, and we remain the trophy-holders to this day.