History is not easy to change.
Quite the opposite, actually. The reputation of football clubs (as well as our own reputation as human beings) is largely influenced by past events and results. If good times repeat themselves over the years, a positive image starts to form itself in our minds and that club slowly builds that positive perception. Once they have it, their underlying mission is to preserve the status quo.
But what if they don’t have such a strong, fearful background to begin with? Is it possible to start mingling with giants Liverpool or Man. United? How long does it take to reach comparable levels, how many trophies are needed to do so? Today’s All About tells the tale of Chelsea’s growing relevance, one that took long enough to come, but seems like it’s here to say.
Created by Gus Mears in March 1905 at the Rising Sun Pub (currently name The Butcher’s Hook), Chelsea Football Club sat alongside neighbours Fulham in England’s First Division from early on. With a timid presence that lasted for two World Wars, Chelsea dangled between mid-spots and relegations that forced them into various Second Division streaks. Not much glory so far – the best they could get for almost 50 years was the 1915 FA Cup final (lost to Sheffield United) and a 3rd League place in the 1919-20 campaign, despite frequently bringing in reputed players and staff.
The first pivot moment came in 1952, when former forward Ted Drake took the helm and started revolutionizing the club. Youth structure, signing policy, everything. Chelsea went on a different approach of the game and it definitely worked – in 1955, they surprised many theoretically stronger sides with a less-known squad that won the first League title. They were a bit bigger now: better positions in the First Division would earn them a little more respect from their competitors from London and Manchester. However, they would have to wait until the 70’s to collect more trophies: After an FA Cup win over Leeds, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup traveled from Athens to London, when Chelsea beat a colossal Real Madrid side in Greece.
After that, dark times. Relegation, debt, hooligans. Investments gone wrong led to a deep financial crisis. Ken Bates acquired Chelsea for the nominal sum of 1£ (one pound) and battled with sportive mediocrity and legal issues throughout the 80’s and part of the 90’s.
When the 21st century was already smiling around the corner, things got better. A lot better. With Ruud Gullit as manager (and two Italian coaches after him, Claudio Ranieri and Gianluca Vialli), Chelsea recovered FA glory and gained international exposure with their first UEFA Champions League appearance in 2000-01 season. But the best was saved for a couple of years later: Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the club from Bates, cleared debt with his endless funds and made the luckiest bet in his life: signing an up-and-coming Portuguese coach who had just won the UEFA Champions League with F.C. Porto.
After an incredibly long draught (50 years!), John Terry lifted the Premiership trophy towards the sky in an unforgettable moment for any Chelsea fan. In a span of 7 years (2004-2011), the team won 12 major honours (including their first UEFA Champions League in an absolute epic final against Bayern Münich), carving their name in English football’s history. A true stand was made; players were seen as legendary as they were immersed in the club’s so long-awaited greatness.
Chelsea were probably the unwilling pioneers of this new wave of privately held football clubs with humongous amounts invested each year. Still, as mentioned in our Sports Stories before, you cannot solve all problems just by throwing money at them. You have to throw it with criteria, throw it in the right directions. And they did. Once a less relevant club in the country, Chelsea is now regularly seen in the Premier League’s top 6 spots. Their major accolades include:
- 6 League Titles
- 7 FA Cups
- 5 League Cups
- 2 European Cup Winners’ Cup
- 1 UEFA Champions League
- 1 UEFA Europa League
- 1 UEFA Super Cup
When we look at the age of most of the club’s key figures, it becomes easier to conclude that Chelsea’s brightest times have come in the last couple of decades:
- Ted Drake: Chelsea’s first great glory, the manager performed deep transformations and reaped the benefits, winning the club’s first prizes;
- Roman Abramovich: Not an active piece on the field or sidelines, but the Russian businessman’s entrance in 2003 was truly life-changing;
- Didier Drogba: The Ivorian striker was the club’s lead man upfront during their most successful era. Came back for a second stint in 2014;
- John Terry: Chelsea commanded the defensive line through almost 20(!) years and 500 matches;
- Frank Lampard: Midfielders with such goal-scoring prowess are very, very rare. Still the club’s all-time top goalscorer (211 successful efforts).
- José Mourinho: Witty, funny, controversial and, above all else, successful. The Special One gave Chelsea fans hope and tears of joy.
There are more sharks than ever in this new footballing ocean, and the Chelsea lads compete where it is almost impossible to establish long-lasting dominance. However, they have had their reign at the throne for a fair amount of time in the beginning of third millennium – can they bring another spring of joy to Stamford Bridge soon? Curiously enough, the beautiful blue venue has been the club’s home ground since day one (renovated in 1998), unlike many other cases in which exorbitant investments have been made in new infrastructure.
Through their recent glories, Chelsea have proven that the present is the best moment to make history.