A pride of London as the club's slogan indicates, Chelsea is one of the many clubs that the city of London has. Although the club is not yet the most successful club in the English capital, it is still the only one to have won the Champions League. A trophy obtained thanks to the pugnacity of its emblematic owner, Roman Abramovitch. Discover with us the historical Chelsea Football Club timeline.
Birth and debut in the elite of English football
The date 10 March 1905 is engraved in gold letters in the annals of Chelsea football club. This, for the simple reason that it refers to the time when the club was officially founded. But the history doesn't start there. It goes back to the mid 1904's when Gus Mears, the club's founder, bought the Stamford Bridge Athletics Stadium to build a football pitch.
He first approached a local Fulham football club to inform them about his intentions. However, when the club was reluctant, he decided to found his own football team for his new stadium. The name of the team had to best represent the district in which the stadium was located. As the Fulham club existed he opted for the borough of Chelsea for the naming. The Chelsea FC club was born a year later.
Chelsea FC entered the English football league a few months after its foundation in September 1905. Despite rather disappointing attendance figures, the new London club was soon to enter the English Premier League. Thus, in its second year of existence, the blues already had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best teams in the kingdom. However, the team will have great difficulty with the elite of English football. With results on a rollercoaster ride, the club was relegated for the first time in 1910 before returning two years later. They remained there until 1915 when the English football championship was suspended due to the World War. Chelsea FC has reached the final of the FA Cup this year of 1915 and lost heavily against Sheffield United.
When Chelsea returned to the English pitch, they recorded best results. Indeed, the club finished third behind West Bromwich Albion in the 1920 championship. During the same period, Chelsea FC's appeal to the English public improved year by year. To achieve this, the club relied on great players such as goalkeeper Willie Foulke, forward George Hilsdon nicknamed "Gatling Gun" and striker Jimmy Windridge. Unfortunately the trophies did not follow.
A championship title then nothing at all
After Gus Mears, Ted Drake is certainly the second most prominent personality of the Chelsea football team. A former striker for another London football team, Ted decided in 1952 to pursue his career at Stamford Bridge. That year he became head coach of a team struggling to win trophies. From the moment he arrived, he didn't hesitate to point out the lack of application of the Chelsea players to prick them in their pride. He also decided to completely change the team's nickname.
For him, a blaze like "The Pensioners" does not allow a team to be taken seriously by its opponents. The former Arsenal striker will also apply this desire for change to the club's coat of arms. The representation of "The Pensioner" will be banned for good. The hurricane of change at Chelsea was thus underway and will extend to the club's recruitment policy. From now on, there will be no more question of buying popular players. Instead, Drake opted for players from lower divisions. For him, these players had more motivation to win trophies. This radical choice paid off in the first year of Ted Drake's management of the team. Chelsea FC finished eighth in the championship with a young team.
In 1955, Ted's new Chelsea reached the grail by winning the English championship under the nose of the great Wolverhampton team, who were defending champions. But the club's first title of history was no easy task. The most important moment of the season was the head-to-head with Wolves at Stamford Bridge, which ended in a goalless draw, enough to keep the blues comfortably ahead of their opponents.
The year 1955 was definitely the year of the blues and could have been better if Chelsea FC had been able to participate in the European Champion Clubs' Cup as winners of the English championship. Unfortunately, the English federation decided to not allow his team to participate. Chelsea was therefore forced to withdraw officially on 26 July 1955. The club will not see Europe until years later because the club will be unable to win another title in the years to come.
1960-1975, the cup’s period
The end of the 1950s will be marked by disillusionment for Ted Drake and his team. In addition to repeated national failures, the club would even end up losing Jimmy Greaves who was one of the best English players of the time. In the absence of the man who scored 132 goals in 169 games with the blues, Chelsea FC will eventually be relegated at the end of the 1961-1962 season. As a result, Ted Drake was dismissed to be replaced by Tommy Docherty.
Like Drake before him, Docherty decided to build a new team. Chelsea FC's new leaders in the 1960s were Peter Osgood, Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti. The new youthfulness of the team will very quickly help the club to climb back up in the elite of the English championship and to settle there durably. For nine successive years, the club finished each time in the top 7 of the best teams in the English championship. However, it would have great difficulty in establishing itself on the English throne.
During the 1964-1965 season, the club was very close to the throne with two games to spare. However, two defeats at Burnley and Liverpool would shatter the London club's dreams of glory. Fortunately, there will be no shortage of trophies to crown the efforts of the young Chelsea guard. The FA Cup, League Cup and Europe will be the hunting ground for the trophies.
The first trophy gleaned by the club during this period was the League Cup. It was won in the same 1964-65 season after a 3-2 win over Leicester, the first ever knockout cup final in the history of Chelsea FC. It was followed by two more knockout cup victories between 1965 and 1972, one in the FA Cup and another in the European Cup Winners' Cup. Both were achieved without coach Tommy Docherty, who was fired at the end of the 1966-1967 season. It was his replacement Dave Sexton who enabled the London club to win these trophies, well helped by English striker Peter Osgood, nicknamed "The King of Stamford Bridge".
Victory in the FA Cup was in 1970 and the European Cup Winners' Cup wining was in 1971 against the great Real Madrid. This period was also marked by the fervour of the blues fans who settled on a southern terrace later known as "The Shed". A name which today refers to one of the four stands at Stamford Bridge Stadium.
1975-1992: a time for loose
The 1980s remains to this day the darkest period in the history of Chelsea FC. Yet its beginnings were marked by an ambitious project that was supposed to place the club in another dimension. Unfortunately, the project would eventually put a strain on the club's finances, forcing the management to opt for the sale of the team's best players. A decision that will lead to the relegation of the club.
The buyout of the club will therefore be proposed to the businessman Ken Bates who was known for his interests with the football world. Bates bought the club in 1982 for a pound's worth of money which forced the businessman to pay off the club's debts. However, the stadium remains the property of various real estate companies. In his first year of management, Ken was on the verge of disaster. Indeed, during the 1982-1983 season, the club will have had all the difficulties in the world to maintain itself in the second division. A victory in the final moments and a draw at home in the last match will prevent the club from being relegated to the third division.
The following season will be the season of the big clean-up within the squad. Many of the players were asked to simply leave the club in order to make place for players adapted to the club's now modest budget. With Neal's clever recruitment, the club quickly moved up to the first division in 1984, finishing first in the second division championship. Neal, who the following year kept the club in the first division, had to give up his position due to illness.
His replacement, John Hollins, was unable to manage the team following the arrival of good players as reinforcements during the 1986 inter-season. Disagreements within the team forced the club to sell some of its players once again. Chelsea FC was once again relegated to Division Two in 1988. But this episode was quickly forgotten when Hollins was sacked and replaced by Bobby Campbell. The latter would allow the club to climb back into the elite the following year by finishing top of the second division championship once again.
A rebirth thanks to the Premier League
From the 1992-1993 season, the English football championship changed its name to become better known as the Premier League. While a club like Liverpool struggled to enter the new era of English football, Chelsea was able to return to success and put the dark years behind them once and for all.
The person who will best instil this winning mentality in the club was Ruud Gullit, who arrived in London in 1996 as a player-coach. Thanks to the recruitment of players such as Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf and Gianfranco Zola, coach Ruud helped the club to win several trophies. However, 1996 did not remain in the memory of the blues fans as a good year. This was due to the tragic death in a helicopter of Matthew Harding. A legendary Chelsea fan who is regularly acclaimed during Chelsea’s games.
The first title of the Gullit era came in 1997 to end a famine that had lasted for 26 years. The 1997 FA Cup was the trophy that dusted off the club's trophy cabinet. Facing Middlesbrough, Chelsea opened the scoring quickly after 43 seconds of play thanks to Matteo Di Matteo. Another goal from Eddie Newton this time ensured a 2-0 win for the club.
During the 1997 inter-season, the club continued to strengthen with the arrival of players such as Gustave Poyet, André Flo, Graeme Le Saux, Ed de Goey and Célestine Babayaro. However, the next victories of the club will be achieved without coach Gullit who was replaced by Gianluca Vialli in the middle of the season. The new coach hardly had to settle down when his team was already celebrating two new trophies. The first was the Carling Cup, which was once again snatched from the poor Middlesbrough team on the same score of 2-0 with another goal from their executioner Di Matteo.
The second trophy won by Chelsea FC in 1998 was the European Cup Winners' Cup. On 13 May 1998 in Stockholm it took the entrance of the huge Gianfranco Zola for Chelsea to get rid of the Stuttgart team in the final by a narrow score of 1-0. This year will be a great year for the London club, which will qualify for the Champions League for the first time in its history after a third place in the championship.
The following year the club will once again beat Real Madrid but this time in the European Super Cup thanks to the only goal of Gustavo Poyet. However, a few months later the team will fail to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League because of a catastrophic return match in Spain against FC Barcelona. Vialli's players were unable to maintain the two-goal lead they had built up in England by falling 5-1.
Roman Abramovitch as president
The arrival of Roman will be the beginning of the big moves at Chelsea with the ultimate goal of winning the Champions League. A budget of nearly £100 million will be spent on recruiting the best players. Players such as Claude Makélélé, Juan Sebastian Veron, Damien Duff or Joe Cole will be recruited from the summer of 2003. Huge sums of money will also be invested to restructure the training centre and renovate the Cobham training centre.
Despite a rather successful first season with Ranieri, the Russian billionaire will decide to disembark Claudio Ranieri to hire the young José Mourinho as head coach. For Roman, José Mourinho was the only coach capable to bring his team to the top of England and Europe. The first part of the contract will be correctly completed. Between 2005 and 2008, José will make the club win its first elite championship in fifty years. Better still, it will allow the club to make the first back-to-back in its history before winning several national cups.
However, José Mourinho's Chelsea will never make it to the Champions League final because of their successive defeats against Raphaël Benitez's Liverpool. After a painful separation between José Mourinho and Chelsea in 2008, the club will pass Liverpool for the first time in history of Champions league to reach the final. That year it was another English club, Manchester United, who put an end to Roman's dreams by beating his club on penalties after a hard-fought final.
Neither Avraham Grant nor Guus Hiddink will be able to satisfy the Chelsea boss in his quest for the European grail. Carlo Ancelotti's record double league and cup double in 2010 is hardly enough to appease the Russian billionaire's hunger. Despite an exceptional attacking game, Ancelotti will be replaced by André Villas-Boas who ends up making his players unhappy because of some questionable choices.
It is in the middle of the 2011-2012 season that the second Portuguese to have coached the Chelsea team will be fired. Di Matteo as a simple interim coach will achieve the feat of offering the club the only Champions League in its history thanks to a route that will lead the club to beat Bayern Munich on penalties at the Allianz Arena.
This final victory marked the end of an era at the club. The main architects of the epic will leave one by one to make way for new players and coaches. Rafael Benitez, the club's former nemesis, will enable the club to win a UEFA Europa League title in 2013. The return of José Mourinhoen 2013 will allow the club to win a Premier League and a League Cup in 2015. Italian coach Antonio Conte will in turn glean a league and FA Cup between 2016 and 2018 before leaving the place to Mauricio Sarri. The latter remains the last Chelsea coach to bring a trophy back to Stamford Bridge. These include the Europa League trophy snatched from Arsenal in Baku in 2019.