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Chelsea’s first cup final – a century ago

On Friday it is 100 years since Chelsea Football Club appeared in our first FA Cup final. The Pensioners, as was the club’s nickname then, were 10 years into our existence and even the FA Cup as a competition was a mere 43 years old.

Although we were beaten by Sheffield United on the big day, the match retains an important place in Chelsea history, and in English football’s as well with it played under the dark shadow of the First World War that had covered Europe and beyond.

From the photograph above of army uniformed supporters watching from the terraces, it is clear why the game came to be known as the ‘Khaki Cup Final’. To give a flavour of the era and to mark the anniversary, the official Chelsea website today tells some of the stories around the occasion in the format of our usual Pre-Match Briefing, but written in the style of the Chelsea FC Chronicle (the matchday programme of the time) from when we were a decade old. Club historian Rick Glanvill takes up the tale…


TALKING POINTS            

We have now been informed that football as we know it will cease next month, and that Chelsea – in whichever form – will ply our trade under the localised auspices of the London Combination, not the Football League.

When so many loved ones are perishing in the trenches and oceans enveloped by the Great War, the threat of relegation was always the lesser one. The possibility that fate might befall the Pensioners is now suspended, and glory may still await.

From the kick-off tomorrow at around 3.30pm, until the outcome of the match is confirmed, it is our players Bob Thomson and Jack Harrow, rather than overseas battlegrounds Neuve Chapelle and the Dardanelles, that preoccupies the minds of sports fans. The frightfulness of Zeppelin raids on the east coast momentarily will give way to the missile kicks of Cook from the right flank.

Why should not the Pensioners, the ‘Pride of London,’ lift a trophy that has a value beyond measure (greater even than the estate announced in Lord Rothschild’s recent will)? Who’s to say the club's Chelsea Pensioner, our ‘young veteran’ will not have another campaign medal on his scarlet tunic by the day’s end? 

‘They don’t play a bit like a club at the bottom of the League!’ exclaimed one reporter from the West Bromwich area after his men had been routed by four goals to one in the league last week. And the remark was quite justified by the Chelseaites’ display. 

The team has taken a time to settle down but is now playing capital football, even without Harrow and Thomson. Harry Ford was in fine form down the wing and paved the way to two goals, in addition to scoring one. Croal and McNeil worked admirably together, though Lieutenant Woodward (pictured right) was not quite on his mettle after his engagements with the Kaiser in France.    

There were two main arguments for the continuance of football during the current conflict and both have been proved correct. The first was that the ‘game’ is a professional business, with livelihoods, profit and shareholdings at stake.

Throughout the 1913/14 incarnation of this competition, 76 games were played by 64 clubs in the competition proper, attracting 1,707,009 spectators – an average of 22,500 each game – with total gate receipts of £85,229. Up to and including the semi-final, Chelsea FC’s gate receipts have totalled £8,266.

During the last five seasons the Association distributed £55,837 among the semi-finalists. Two seasons earlier Sunderland received £12,000 from the first four rounds, and £4,580 more for attaining the semi-finals and final. Is it a wise or foolish man who removes the distribution of such widely spread revenue from the commercial realm?

The second argument for carrying on the great game during the war was that it is good for public morale. There has been no more eloquent evidence of that aspect than in the pages of the Chelsea FC Chronicle, where dozens of letters each week demanded news of the team’s progress, or for a match-day programme to be sent to the front.

And everyone wishes to be present for the Pensioners’ maiden bow in the FA Cup final, it seems. The window-cleaners of Blackburn, for instance, who have been on strike for want of another penny an hour, have agreed to resume work only if their employers might see their way clear to awarding them a day’s holiday as well as free passage to the final at Manchester.  

Well, not everyone. Pity Mr F N Charrington, who long ago abandoned his family brewing business for honourable reasons, to campaign against drunkenness, but whose opposition to this most illustrious soccer event appeared to be founded on more precarious moral ground yesterday.

His antipathy towards our great friend (and sometime registered player) Mr George Robey (pictured left) and the popular music halls is renowned. He sees them as honeypots to the drunkard. 

Last night this neo-champion of Temperance also arranged a protest against the final in its host city. The Mancunian public demonstrated interest by staying away in their droves. And like a preacher in an empty church Mr Charrington wandered off his main topic, football and the war, onto his more familiar ground of ‘the demon drink.’

Let us the hope the Chelsea forwards tomorrow have as simple a task as renowned soccer journalist Mr J A H Catton, pen name ‘Tityrus,’ last night. Mr Charrington’s meanderings made his winning speech as easy as a tap-in from six yards with no goalkeeper.

Mention of ‘Cottonopolis’, or Manchester if we are avoiding city nicknames, does raise the issue of the choice of venue by the Football Association. It had long been rumoured the owners of last season’s venue, Crystal Palace FC, were unhappy with present arrangements, which required them not to play at their own stadium for 12 days before the final. They understandably requested considerable financial compensation for the moving and rearranging of matches.

It appears no agreement on this was concluded, yet Crystal Palace and Villa Park, the home of Aston Villa, were announced as the only bidders to stage the Association’s 1915 showpiece. Shortly after that, word came out that neither was successful but that the final would definitely not take place in London. This became all the more curious a decision, when The Den at Millwall was considered suitable for the FA Amateur Cup between Clapton and Bishop Auckland last weekend.

We must conceded, as one preview has put it, that ‘the home of Manchester United is a splendidly equipped and commodious enclosure, and the city of Manchester, in addition to being a centre of football itself, has the advantage of easy accessibility by road and rail to the densely populated townships of Lancashire and Yorkshire, not to forget the Potteries and even the Midlands itself.’

Also, from the same source, that ‘the adherents of Chelsea are to be commiserated with on the ironical circumstance of the final being banished to the provinces in the very year when London’s favourite team has gallantly fought its way to the last and most honourable round of all.’

However the decision not to offer reduced-fare travel from the South is one the club vehemently protested. A full-price rail fare in straitened times is a rough deal, but we know many of you are making it none the less. The restrictions on travel during time of war is a valid reasoning – we all accept the movement of troop and armament should have priority, and that fuel is at a premium. 

That several thousand will make the trip by train or charabanc from London to back the Pensioners is a huge credit to the popularity of Chelsea, but those sporting the blue-and-white rosette will be outnumbered by those making the short trip across the Pennines in red-and-white from Sheffield, at a ratio of perhaps four to one in an expected turn-out of 50,000.

Of course, were the final in London, as usual, followers of the Blades would have had to make the long journey and the ratio far worse in west London’s favour.

The weather will also be less familiar to grand final regulars. In twenty years at the Crystal Palace there has been on one or two occasion a little shower, and once even a little snow, but for the most part this showpiece has been blessed with perfect spring sunshine.

The characteristic fog and rain predicted for Manchester tomorrow will not be the only aspect differing from last year’s host in south London, which is a larger and more open arena.

Rumours that the Red Devils’ stadium would have no supply of food or drinks is proving less reliable. Problems have been averted on the refreshment front with a local catering company arranged to provide sandwiches et cetera.

Mr Fred Taylor and his cohort have been much heartened to hear that many supporters will be travelling ‘Oop North’ for the big game despite the difficulties. Our captain has received several telegrams and the team has very much enjoyed the reading of them.

There will also be an opportunity to pick out from the crowd our former favourite goalkeeper Willie Foulke (pictured right) – though ‘Babe’ is hardly difficult to identify at the best of times. He has said he will be supporting the team of his home town of Sheffield. That is quite acceptable, just as long as he is kept away from the Pensioners’ pre-match buffet. Otherwise Mr Taylor, our current captain and a fellow Yorkshireman, might have summat to say about it!

It appears a full battalion from His Majesty’s press has decamped from Fleet Street to Manchester to cover the big final. The same newspapers who have studiously boycotted any reporting of professional football have suddenly revived an interest.

Far be it from us to suggest their vicious campaign against the continuation of the national game during the war could be compromised by the likely sales figures a match report of the biggest game of the season might achieve.   

Award-winning brass ensemble the Irwell Old Prize Band, conducted by Mr J W Higham, will play patriotic and martial airs beforehand and during half-time.

Their repertoire will comprise the following:

Grand march ‘Reliance’ (Ord Hume)

Fantasia (Irish) ‘Land of the Shamrock’ (Newton)

Pot pourri (Patriotic) ‘Tipperary Land’ and ‘A Sailor’s life’ (Cope)

Fantasia (Scotch) ‘Scotland for Ever’ (Round)

The national anthems of the Allies – Britain, France and Russia


Officers from all services and all over the country made applications for tickets. In addition hundreds of wounded soldiers, representative of the south, Scotland, Ireland and Wales will be present in large numbers this afternoon.

The guest of honour for the final last year was His Majesty King George – no stranger to the portals of Stamford Bridge. This year’s winners will be presented with the trophy by Edward Stanley, Lord Derby (pictured left, on the stage to the left of our Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George).

Should the goals tallies be level after the allotted time, thirty minutes of extra time shall be played. If, after that, the two teams still cannot be separated, the teams will leave the field for battle to be rejoined next Saturday at Goodison Park.

There will be no peace for the Pensioners after today, for next up, as soon as Monday, is a game against Everton. We swallowed the Toffees in the semi-final of the cup but they might secure the championship that same evening. Here’s hoping we have a little silverware of our own to compare.



In our short career, Chelsea has never been this far in this competition. Sheffield United will be making their third appearance at this stage.

Our two league meetings this season ended in 1-1 draws. At Stamford Bridge, attended by 20,000 spectators, the Southerners dominated proceedings, Gough working heroics to prevent shots from Harry Halse (pictured right) and Bob Thomson. Early into the second half Fazackerley drew goalkeeper Jim Molyneux off his line and passed to Davies for a shot into an empty net. Within a matter of minutes Bob McNeil equalised from a Harry Ford cross, and the game was tied.  

Just last month at Bramall Lane, before a crowd of 6,000, V J Woodward played his match of the season in place of Jimmy Croal. Bob Thomson had the ball in the net for the visitors just past the first quarter, but the visitors’ defence was placed under sore pressure and eventually succumbed, Fazackerley scoring with his head. Both sides were denied of a penalty by the referee.

One previous FA Cup meeting came in the first round on 3 January 1912. Chelsea defeated the Blades 1-0 at the Bridge in front of 34,000 people. The goal was by George Dodd – by coincidence the man that had scored the first goal against Chelsea in our history, for Stockport County in September 1905.

Sheffield United were in the First Division and it remains the only time in our short history we have beaten a team from a higher echelon.

The Chelsea line-up that day: Whitley, Bettridge, Cameron, Harrow, Taylor, Downing, Douglas, Whittingham, Thomson, Dodd, Bridgeman.

Sheffield United v Chelsea in all competitions

Games played 13
Chelsea wins 5
Sheffield United wins 2
Draws 6


Experts suggest tomorrow’s match will see a clash of styles: the tricky and clever combination play of the Anglo-Scottish Blues pitted against the all-English Sheffield with their superior strength and cutting edge, hardened in previous cup battles. As today is St George’s Day, let us hope St Andrew has a say in matters tomorrow!

Adherents of the Pensioners will desire that the significantly higher level of performances in this knock-out competition persists: in the league, relegation remains a constant worry.

Neither secretary has maintained a consistent team selection over the course of the tournament, though the Blades have nine players from the team that reached the semi-final the previous season.

While no survivors from the triumphant FA Cup-winning side of 1902 remain available to Sheffield United, they have the folk memory of that and the previous season, in which they were runners-up, on which to draw. 

Not so ten-year-old Chelsea; the first FA Cup final to be staged in the provinces is also the first in which the capital’s biggest club has ever played. However Harry Halse won the FA Cup once apiece with Manchester United and Aston Villa – sometimes ‘off his own boot,’ it was said – and achieved the First Division title twice with the Red Devils, in 1908 and 1911.

Halse’s experience is most welcome against what statistics, as well as the naked eye, reveal to be one of the best defences in the league, with English considered by many the finest left-back in the country.

Happily the seasoned Chelsea defender Jack Harrow appears to have recovered from his leg troubles to assume his position on the left of the back two, next to Wally Bettridge, and Andy Walker looks fit enough to resume his duties on the left of the three half-backs – though at the outset of his career Walker was in fact a centre-forward.

Captain Fred Taylor will be at right-half, with Tom Logan, like Walker a son of Caledonia, in the centre. The fear would be that the triumvirate may prove too light against the comparative shire horses in the Sheffield ranks.   

What a proud day for Fulham-born twenty-one-year-old Harry Ford! The former West London Schools outside right is now in his third season for the Pensioners and has notched three goals in this competition, including the all-important winner at Newcastle in the fourth round replay game.  

His wing partner today will be Halse, a native of Leytonstone and onetime Manchester United front man. The all-London combination makes for an effervescent Pensioners right wing.

Chelsea’s left wing has the trained schoolteacher Jimmy Croal – a master, also, of the ball – alongside former carpenter Bob McNeil – and education and industry are just the qualities the two Scots display with regularity.  

Doubts remain as to the fitness of regular no.9 Bob Thomson (pictured right), rated the best in the country at present, following the dislocation of his left elbow suffered in the League defeat at Bolton earlier this month. The renowned Lieutenant V Woodward, who is home on leave from the Army and performed admirably in the beating of West Bromwich Albion by four goals to one last week, is on standby.

Thomson, should he play, will have his arm in bandages – symbolic kinship with the many injured servicemen who have been invited to the match. Bob, as we all know, already plays with a disability, having the use of only one eye since the age of seven. When the ball comes to him on his ‘bad’ side, the forward says, ‘I just shut my other eye and play from memory.’ Yet the Croydon native has struck six times in the eight games of our progression to the final.

Should Thomson prove himself fit, Woodward, the finest ever England captain, has let it be known that he would not stand in the way of a man who has performed heroics in the glorious cup run, while he was fighting an even greater battle in France. As an amateur he would like to see any medal go to a professional man, to whom it may mean more.

There is also the possibility that the manager, Mr Calderhead, could move Halse, who outscored Woodward by two goals to one against the Throstles, to the centre in the usual 2-3-5 formation.

The Blades, who start as favourites, will line up in a similar formation. Between the sticks will be the Chesterfield-born Gough who, at 5ft 10½in, enjoys a 1½in advantage over his Chelsea counterpart Jim Molyneux (which is typical throughout the line-ups). He has proved himself most proficient at stopping high shots.

At the rearguard, the two Geordie full-backs, Cook and English, both have a hefty kick on them and are as strong as they come despite being just 5ft 7in and 5ft 8in respectively. 

Ahead of them is a formidable half-back line featuring Utley, the £2,000 man from Barnsley, in the centre. As powerful as an ox driving through the opposition ranks, he is equally able in his defensive duties. How Chelsea would like to have had available our ‘Great Dane,’ Nils Middelboe, to help counteract Utley and company, as was the case in the 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane last month. Sadly, his other work as a banker has a prior call on our amateur international.

Either side of Utley will be the long-striding Sturgess, and Brelsford, who few men ever have the better of in a full-on shoulder charge. Together they form one of the most famous trios in English football. 

The wing combination of fleet-footed Simmons, outside right, and inside-forward Fazackerly, who has returned to his best form recently, will be of grave concern to Mr Calderhead.

On the left flank Masterman, formerly of Gainsbrorough Trinity, took his time to realise a starting berth but is now one of the first names inked on the team sheet. His dribbling and shooting are wonders to behold and he shoots hard anywhere near goal. At outside, the Blades have the brilliant passer Evans, from Chester, who has represented both England and Wales.

At the apex of the side, do not be deceived by the figure of Kitchen. At 5ft 7in he is not a big man for a centre-forward, but the Brigg man is as urgent and direct as any attacker in the country, with a powerful and accurate shot to match.

All in all Sheffield represent formidable adversaries, with the definite advantage in power, height and experience. Novices Chelsea will need to be at our very most wily and efficient to render this first cup final appearance a successful one.   




Chelsea manager-secretary

David Calderhead

Days in charge


In the last 10 Cup finals, the team that started as favourites lost six.

Chelsea have won five of our last 11 games in all competitions.


Chelsea's run to final

First round v Swindon (h) – D 1-1 (Thomson), Replay (home again, by mutual arrangement) 5-2 (Thomson x3, Ford, McNeil)

Second round v Arsenal (h) – 1-0 (Halse)

Third round v Manchester City (a) – Thomson

Fourth round v Newcastle United (h) 1-1 AET (Thomson), replay (a) 1-0 (Ford)

Semi-final v Everton (at Aston) 2-0 (Croal, Halse)


Chelsea’s next two games

Monday 26 April 1915 – Everton v Chelsea – First Division

Wednesday 28 April 1915 – Notts County v Chelsea – First Division



Founded 1889


Sheffield United in the FA Cup

Winners: 1899, 1902

Runners-up: 1901

Semi-finalists: 1914


Sheffield United got into three finals in four years before our founding:

1898/99 – beat Derby County 4-1 at Crystal Palace

1900/01 – lost 3-1 to Tottenham in a replay (first game 2-2) at Burnden Park

1901/02 – beat Southampton 2-1 in a replay (first game 1-1) at Crystal Palace

Seven seasons in a row, from 1907 to 1913, United were evicted from the cup in the first round each year

Sheffield United's run to final

First round v Blackpool (a) – W 2-1

Second round v Liverpool (h) – W 1-0

Third round v Bradford (h) – W 1-0 after extra-time

Fourth round v Oldham Athletic (a) 0-0, after extra-time. Replay (h) 3-0

Semi-final v Bolton Wanderers (at Blackburn) 2-1


Sheffield United's Kitchen has scored four goals in run to the final.


Sheffield United manager-secretary

John Nicholson

Days in charge



First Division fixtures

Saturday 24 April is also the last weekend of Football League action of the 1914/15 season.

Notts County v Newcastle

Blackburn Rovers v Middlesbrough

Bradford Park Avenue v Manchester City

West Bromwich Albion v Bradford

Oldham v Liverpool

Sheffield Wednesday v Burnley

Sunderland v Tottenham

26 April

Everton v Chelsea

Man Utd v Villa

Bolton v Sheffield United

28 April

Bradford Park Avenue v Bradford City

Newcastle v Aston Villa

Notts County v Chelsea


Mr H H Taylor hails from Altrincham. He administered the whistle in Sheffield United’s FA Cup semi-final last season.


There are no suspensions. The Army has granted Lieutenant Woodward special leave to play the game should he be selected.


Tomorrow, the official Chelsea website will summarise what happened in the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Sheffield United on Saturday 24 April 1915.  


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