Chelsea Football Club is greatly saddened by the passing of Albert Sewell MBE, the person who chronicled the club for three historic decades as we won our first league, FA Cup and European honours.
Sewell, who was 90 when he passed away yesterday, became editor of Chelsea’s match programme in 1949 and was a pioneer. It was he who developed the magazine-style, feature-heavy publication familiar today, setting a trend throughout football.
He wrote a book marking the club’s 50th anniversary which therefore became the definitive work on our league championship win of 1955 - Chelsea, Champions! (he is pictured above interviewing manager Ted Drake) - and edited a later series of hardback Chelsea yearly books which coincided with the trophy-successes of the early 1970s.
Sewell was also the football editor for a Fleet Street news agency, and he was a specialist in football statistics. He took up a role as statistician and researcher for the BBC’s new Match of the Day programme in 1968, which ran alongside his Chelsea work for a decade.
The Chelsea match programme had been a pamphlet, little more than a team sheet since 1905 until the club decided to upgrade in time for Christmas Day 1948. The price doubled for the new 16-page edition but it sold out rapidly and was hugely successful for the rest of the season. It was handed over to Sewell who filled the pages with player interviews, features with their families, fans’ letters, articles by football writers, insider gossip and, of course, a good helping of statistics past and present.
In the 1960s, Chelsea became the first club to introduce colour photos to its programme, which Sewell edited until 1978. He continued working for the BBC for another 27 years and was frequently referenced during broadcasts by presenter Des Lynam as ‘my man Albert’, when his facts and figures illuminated the football coverage. ‘Every week I've received Albert's notes - six pages of editorial gold dust,’ praised commentator John Motson on Sewell’s retirement.
Sewell was made an MBE for his services to the game, somewhat appropriately in 2005, the year of Chelsea’s centenary and second league title win.
He provided the foreword to an official history of the Chelsea programme published in 2016 and was still contributing to the programme as recently as last season.
Chelsea sends our deepest condolences to Albert’s family and friends at this difficult time.
Club historian Rick Glanvill writes:
Albert Sewell set the gold standard for statistics gathering and reporting at Chelsea FC. Everything that went before was hap-hazard in comparison and everything since follows in his wake.
As a club we were so lucky that while a young writer he happened to accept the job that introduced football’s first magazine-style match programme just after the war.
The original editor moved on to set up a similar arrangement at Arsenal, so Albert took his place, ushering in decades of achingly diligent number-crunching, as well as innovations such as the Chelsea Book series of the early 1970s.
He achieved legend status later when he moved on to the BBC and Match of the Day, but he was always a Chelsea man at heart. Those of us involved in such things regularly sought clarification on past stats, and he would jovially, patiently, precisely set out the answer.
On our recent book, [club statistician] Paul Dutton and myself found a minor but important anomaly in own-goal scorer figures in a long ago season. Albert was at the helm at the time, but the end-of-season programme gave one statistic, and his yearbook a few months later another.
A brief conversation solved the problem. ‘Well if I changed it over the summer it means I’d found a problem and got to the bottom of it,’ Albert said. As ever, that was good enough for us.
It was some comfort to his children that in his 91st year Albert was still active and sharp as a button. In May he attended fellow Chelsea fan John Motson’s BBC leaving do, then the next day watched his beloved Blues at Wembley beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup. How he will have enjoyed totting up all the data from that victory.
We will all miss him very much.
Hugh Hastings, now the club’s photo archive manager who worked with and then succeeded Albert Sewell as editor, writes:
For Chelsea fans like myself, who started watching matches at the Bridge in the mid-1960s, the name Albert Sewell is as much part of Chelsea FC as ‘Royal Blue’, ‘The Shed’ and ‘Peter Osgood.’ Albert’s old-fashioned sounding name masked the fact that here was a genuine innovator.
How on earth were the Chelsea board of directors persuaded at the time to remove adverts and create a 16-page programme packed with content and costing sixpence? In those post-war days every penny counted for families and businesses, so it was a genuine culture shock to see Chelsea take this route. But how right they were.
Roll on to 1977 and I am writing a polite letter to Albert at Chelsea, asking if he might be interested in my services as a photographer. I had noticed the club was paying for agency pictures and I thought, as I went to the games and I was a young, 20-year old aspiring professional photographer, I could shoot the action and save the club some money.
Albert set me a test of taking a portrait photo of Steve Finnieston at the Bridge, which he was pleased with, and I was taken on. Albert was a bundle of energy and great to work for; full of ideas and novelties and although in his later career he became very well known to viewers of BBC’s Match of the Day as the man with the head for stats, actually he was so much more.
I tried for six years to do justice to his legacy by editing the programme in the same way I thought Albert would do, but I was not in his league, though we achieved a few good things.
Each of us editors in our own times was standing in the footsteps of one man, Albert Sewell, who loved Chelsea and was so driven to share his enthusiasm for the club with its supporters that he invented a publication for it. We are forever in his debt. And by the way, what a gentleman he was. Rest in peace Albert, your work goes on.