Chelsea again

SPEND, spend, spend. Blessed — if that be the word — with Roman Abramovich's billions, Chelsea continue to buy one star after another, risking a severe embarrassment of riches.

BRIAN GLANVILLE

SPEND, spend, spend. Blessed — if that be the word — with Roman Abramovich's billions, Chelsea continue to buy one star after another, risking a severe embarrassment of riches. Where will they all fit in? Who will win the ball in midfield? What can be the future in midfield of the England international, Frank Lampard, who emphatically came good last season? What is the future for the big, powerful 19-year-old striker Carlton Cole, so effective both in the air and on the ground, who happens to be that rarity, a player developed by the club?

"With Roman Abramovich's billions, Chelsea continue to buy one star after another, risking a severe embarrassment of riches. Where will they all fit in? What is the future for the big, powerful 19-year-old striker Carlton Cole (right), so effective both in the air and on the ground, who happens to be that rarity, a player developed by the club?" — Pic. MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES-

But all these goings on have plunged me back into the past where we are faced by the immense irony that the only time in their 98-year history that Chelsea ever won the League Championship, they did so with a team largely carpentered together from third division players, and even amateurs.

Its architect, the man surely most responsible for that sole success in the 1954/5 season was Ted Drake, who became manager of the club in 1952; and promptly transformed himself. I still remember him, at a midweek match played at the East London Orient ground, just months before he left his job as manager of Reading to take over at Stamford Bridge. He was noisy, ribald, fully, unrestrained. In the tea-room afterwards, he did an amusing, raucous double act with Joey Hulme, once like himself an England international, member of a famous Arsenal attack.

Drake had been the fearless, bulldozing centre-forward, constantly injured but never subdued. In the infamous Battle of Highbury against Italy in November 1934, it was he who had kicked the notoriously brutal Italian-Argentine centre-back on the foot in 90 seconds, sending him off the field in agony. "He kicked me deliberately," Monti told his supremo Vittorio Pozzo as he hobbled off. The rest of the Italian team believed him and began at once to "retaliate."

Personally I believe that was an accident as Ted always insisted to me. He also said that "for the first 20 minutes we were playing the best kind of football. You couldn't have got any better. In fact England went 3-0 up despite missing a penalty, then flagged in the second half against 10 opponents and won just 3-2.

Ted's career actually ended with a heavy fall playing for Arsenal at Reading. Promoted to manage Chelsea, the fashionable club that had never won a major title in its near half-century of existence, he was almost instantly transformed. I found it hard to believe that the quiet, subdued man in the pin-striped suit, who greeted me at an early Press conference at Stamford Bridge could be the same Ted Drake who had been so exuberant so recently at Orient.

But Drake at once set about transforming Chelsea as he had transformed his robust self. One of the first things he did was to take the Pensioner off the programme. That is to say the image of a Chelsea Pensioner, one of those old soldiers in antique uniform domiciled at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The nickname for Chelsea FC was The Pensioners, but Ted wanted none of that. They would be known in future simply as The Blues.

Next he set about rebuilding the team. Not in the present Abramovich way, regardless of expense, with an evident policy of `if it moves, buy it.' He may well have reflected that quite recently Chelsea had been trying to spend their way to success, and it hadn't worked. I am referring to the immediate post-War period when soccer in England officially restarted in 1946/7 after the wartime break, and Chelsea assembled what should surely have been the ideal inside-forward trio, capable of winning trophies galore: Walker-Lawton-Goulden.

Tommy Walker, the inside-right, was a greatly gifted Scottish international who came from Hearts in Edinburgh, son of an inside-forward equally famous in his time in Bobby Walker. Tommy had been a salient Scottish international for years. At one point during the War when Scotland were short of jerseys for an international — those were the days of clothing coupons! — he simply provided all 10 shirts himself. He was both a maker and scorer of goals.

Tommy Lawton was arguably the finest, most effective and prolific centre-forward of his day who had seemed a real capture when, late in 1945 he had arrived from Everton for �11,000. Powerful and adroit on the ground famously dangerous in the air where he seemed to "hang" above the ball, he had been playing for England since 1938 at the age of 19. He led during the War a superb England attack, Matthews, Carter, Lawton, Hagan, Denis Compton of cricketing fame.

The inside left Len Goulden had recently arrived from West Ham United, across Lonson. A pre-War star like the others, he had struck a memorably hard hit goal from distance against Germany in Berlin in 1938 when England beat the Germans 6-3 after being made to give the Nazi salute by their officials. Len was a clever constructive player. But what did Chelsea win with these three stars? Yet again nothing.

Between the wars they had signed such heroes of the game as Alex Jackson and Hughie Gallacher, respectively outside-right and centre-forward of the tiny, brilliant Scotland forwardline, alias the Wembley Wizards, which had thrashed England 5-1 there back in 1928. But they couldn't win any titles, either.

By sharp contrast, Drake brought in unregarded players from the third division and even amateur football. Johnny McNichol, a clever ball-playing inside-right, cost �15,000 from Brighton. Les Stubbs arrived, an inside-left, from Southend United. Best of all, a real coup, the 18-year-old left-winger Frankie Blunstone was bought from thirdrd division North Crewe Alexandra and in no time at all was playing for England. The red-haired skipper and left-half, Derek Saunders, who played all 42 Championship games, was brought from Walthamstow Avenue, an amateur club.

The one outstanding element in the team was its versatile centre-forward Roy Bentley, a Bristolian signed for �11,000 from Newcastle United in 1948, leader of England's attack in the ill-starred 1950 World Cup in Brazil, scorer of no fewer than 22 goals in the Championship season. You might say that Bentley put the icing on the cake; it was inconceivable that Chelsea could have won the Championship with a four-point lead without him. But the cake itself was crucial.