Jack Whitley’s place in Chelsea history was not forgotten but until recently, our former player and trainer’s grave in nearby Brompton Cemetery had been.
That is no longer the case however and on Saturday, prior to the match against Manchester City, fundraising efforts by Chelsea supporters came to fruition with the unveiling of a new memorial stone for Whitley on his previously unmarked grave. It was a ceremony attend by the fund organisers and supporters, Chelsea’s chairman Bruce Buck and descendants of Whitley.
He was a major figure for the club from our early years of existence up until the Second World War. In the wake of the short but colourful Chelsea career of the behemoth Willie ‘Fatty’ Foulke, he was our second significant goalkeeper and made his debut 110 years ago last month, keeping our first clean sheet as a top-flight club in the process.
Whitley went on to play 138 games before becoming the first team trainer, which in the days when the manager’s job was filled with administration, meant he was responsible for all areas of coaching and fitness, with a big role in player liaison and transfer negotiations. He was also the trainer of the England team on several occasions.
He continued to work for Chelsea until 1939 and died in 1955, shortly after our first league championship triumph. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery just to the east of Stamford Bridge, a fact that became lost over the course of time until rediscovered by Chelsea’s club historian Rick Glanvill.
The cemetery is also the final resting place of significant figures in Chelsea’s birth, including Henry Augustus Mears, who built Stamford Bridge as a football stadium and founded the club, and our first chairman Claude Kirby. Bobby Campbell, Chelsea manager in the late 1980s and early 1990s is also buried there.
However, Whitley is the only known former Chelsea player there so the Chelsea Supporters Trust, who are already involved in a project to maintain graves with assistance from the club, launched a crowdfunding appeal for a fitting stone memorial for the rediscovered grave.
‘We had to raise £5,500 for the stone and to pay for the plot and the licences, and we set ourselves a target of three months to do that,’ said Chelsea Supporters Trust chairman David Chidgey.
‘We raised it in a month, and that shows the generosity of Chelsea supporters and also the affection we have for former players. None of those who donated would have seen Jack play but the fact he wore a blue shirt was enough.
‘We had Bruce Buck here for the unveiling and it was fitting as Bruce recognises the importance of Whitley being the only Chelsea player buried in the cemetery next to Stamford Bridge.’
Whitley’s great grandson Andy attended the ceremony along with his nephew Harry on behalf of the family and spoke of pride in the occasion.
‘This is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of research and work,’ added Glanvill, ‘and we are absolutely delighted to finally put a memorial on here, crowdfunded by supporters from Chelsea and from other clubs such as Everton and Man United as well.
‘We would love Chelsea supporters if they are walking down to the ground through the cemetery to take a left turn into the north-east corner and have a look at Jack’s grave. Working with the Chelsea Supporters Trust on this has been so satisfying, including tracking down the family so we could get permission to put a stone on the grave, and Andy who is here at the ceremony is a lifelong Chelsea fan though he is from north Lincolnshire.
‘Jack Whitley’s role at Chelsea was hugely important and for a former footballer to go unmarked in Brompton Cemetery was an anomaly we had to clear up, and it is thanks to the supporters that we have. Supporters remember.’
- Click for information on a self-guided tour of the Chelsea-related graves in Brompton Cemetery, produced prior to the new memorial for Whitley