Stamford Bridge was already the home of the London Athletic Club but the owners – ‘Gus’ Mears and his brother J.T., sons of one of the capital’s wealthiest building contractors – were determined to introduce their favourite sport to the arena. According to Mr Benson, Gus Mears had expected near neighbours Fulham FC to jump at the chance of using the stadium for an annual rent of £1500 but the Cottagers’ chairman declined the offer. Eventually, Mears’ close friend Frederick Parker agreed to help fund the development of the site into a major sporting venue with a football team to match. The renowned Glasgow architect Archibald Leitch was commissioned to design the ground and on May 8th 1905, The Chelsea Football & Athletic Company was born.
It was not until the club’s Golden Jubilee year in 1954-55 that the Chelsea fans had something to shout about as in that season Ted Drake’s team clinched the championship. In mid-November, the team were still in mid-table with the most memorable game a 5-6 home defeat by Manchester United. But in the next 24 games, Chelsea lost only three times and on March 23rd 1955 the club sat on top of the Division One table for only the third time in its history.
At the start of the Easter programme, Chelsea had a four-point lead over nearest rivals Wolves who had two games in hand and the two teams met at the Bridge on Easter Saturday. By all accounts it was a cracking game which ebbed and flowed but it was the home side who clinched the points courtesy of a penalty fifteen minutes from time. This meant that the final home match against already-relegated Sheffield Wednesday would clinch the title and Chelsea made no mistake, winning 3-0.
But on this day in 1988, Chelsea found themselves in Division Two having been relegated from the top flight a few months previously. The team had made a good start to the season, lying in fifth spot after 17 games just three behind table-toppers Portsmouth who had also dropped out of Division One in May that year. First half goals from Tony Dorigo and Kerry Dixon were enough to give Chelsea victory against a Shrewsbury team which had future Everton, Manchester United and now West Ham manager David Moyes in its line-up, moving them up to fourth in the table.
It was ironic that the club celebrated its 3,000 League game at a time when the future of Stamford Bridge was in doubt due to a long-running dispute with property developers who owned the freehold of the site. The programme featured a page on the fund-raising efforts to ‘Save The Bridge and Build A Future’ including a celebrity luncheon with comedian Roy Walker and ITV personality Ian St John which raised £2500 and a £10 note signed by Hollywood stars James Garner, Ernest Borgnine and Bob Hope which fetched £100!