Following the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we remember the connections between the late monarch and Chelsea FC...
Royal connections are not so much in Chelsea’s blood, they are our cultural heritage. It could well be a visit by the then Prince of Wales and his family in spring 1907 that prompted the move from our original, lighter Eton blue shirt colours to the more regal shade we have worn every season since.
The future George V – Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather – was present that day and reportedly supported London’s ambitious new club. In December 1920, by which time he was King, Chelsea footballer Jack Cock noted in his Globe column that the monarch was in the main stand at Stamford Bridge for a 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
‘The King stayed until the finish and came out of the stand with the crowd,’ he wrote. ‘Not one of the 60,000 crowd enjoyed the game more than he, and one of his equerries told me the King always inquired how Chelsea had fared after their matches.’ His son, George VI, the Queen’s dad, was also said to be a follower of Chelsea.
At one stage a Manchester newspaper sarcastically suggested the royal family were at the Bridge so often there should be a sign above the gate saying ‘By Royal Appointment.’ In truth, the club’s closest connection with anything regal is in the form of the scarlet-jacketed Chelsea Pensioners from the nearby Royal Hospital (established for service veterans by King Charles II), who for over a century have been handed tickets for home matches.
Chelsea do have one huge claim to fame with the late Queen, however. While still Princess Elizabeth, she was at Wembley with her family for the wartime equivalent of the FA Cup, the Football League (South) Cup final on 7 April 1945 (pictured top). This was the first club football match she had ever attended and one of the people chaperoning her through the day (and the tactics) was Chelsea Vice-President A V Alexander, MP, First Lord of the Admiralty.
As head of state, Queen Elizabeth did not present the trophy at any of Chelsea’s later FA Cup triumphs. Her sister Princess Margaret was on royal box duty for the 1970 final, but at the replay the victorious Blues were presented with the trophy by Dr Andrew Stephen, chair of the FA. The Queen’s grandson William has executed those duties in recent finals.
However, Queen Elizabeth has met Chelsea players and staff while presenting state honours, not least to a ‘speechless’ Chelsea Women’s coach Emma Hayes, an MBE in 2016, and Gianfranco Zola, who received an honorary OBE in 2004.
When the Queen was introduced to the former Chelsea man at an Embassy reception in Rome, she declared, ‘Ah, the great Italian footballer.’ This week Zola revealed he was taken aback to be addressed so glowingly but soon learned that was her way with everyone. ‘She was a splendid lady, always informed on any subject,’ he said.
On an accompanying scroll, his citation reads, ‘The most enduring and popular foreign player in the history of Chelsea Football Club, an excellent ambassador and the ideal model for young fans.’ Many of those words apply to Queen Elizabeth’s long reign.
Back at Wembley in 1945, the 90,000-strong crowd sang a rousing rendition of ‘God save the King.’ Poignantly, that will be the case again now and at any future FA Cup finals the Blues should reach.