It took 10 seasons to reach Chelsea’s first FA Cup Final, but it was a far from joyous occasion. The 1914/15 season had continued despite the outbreak of World War One ...
The ultimatum to withdraw from Belgium ignored, Britain declared a state of war with Germany at 11pm on 4 August 1914. No aspect of life in England would ever be the same and football neither enjoyed nor offered sanctuary from the horrors that followed.
Four days later the Defence of the Realm Act made it illegal, amongst other things, to buy binoculars, light fireworks, use invisible ink when writing abroad or buy strong alcohol in a railway refreshment room.
In August 1914 many British ex-footballers had training jobs based in the heart of the conflict, in Germany, Austria and Belgium. A former coach at the Bridge, Harry Ransom, was in Budapest, ‘but managed to reach London safely after being twice stopped on suspicion of being a foreign spy.’
At first football attempted to carry on regardless, but a ferocious attack by the media and parliament on so-called shirkers among the playing staff and supporters knocked the game back on its heels.
In many walks of life hordes of workmates were going off to fight in ‘pals regiments’. But recruitment drives at London grounds were unsuccessful. Notoriously, not a single volunteer joined up at Stamford Bridge, where a Colonel Burn had lectured a crowd of 16,000. (Perhaps announcing that his own son had already been killed in France was not the cleverest enticement.)
Chelsea had responded regularly in the matchday programme with contempt for the ‘mud-slingers’, publishing a photograph of a crowd comprising almost entirely of men in uniform and therefore ‘doing their bit’ for King and country (pictured top). They also printed dozens of letters from fighting men craving to hear how their beloved Pensioners were faring, particularly as they progressed to the FA Cup final for the first time ever in 1914/15.