The politics of football and the anniversary of oddity – how Chelsea joined the league.

Only three teams (Chelsea, Bradford City and Thames Association) have been given a place in the league for political reasons.   When Chelsea fans occasionally try and point the finger at Arsenal over the promotion in 1919 they not only ignore the facts of the 1919 situation (the match fixing etc and Arsenal’s support for Chelsea in supporting the move that Chelsea be allowed to stay in the first division, despite coming bottom of the league) they also like to “forget” their own origins.

In 1904 the Mears brothers bought the freehold of Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground as a speculative venture when the previous owner died.  Their aim was to get Henry Norris at Fulham to move his club to the ground.   Norris however was always more interested in intrigue than straight opportunities, and when he announced in 1904 that Fulham was leaving Craven Cottage, it was primarily a ploy to get the rent on his ground (owned by the Church Commissioners) reduced.

When Fulham did a new deal with the church for a lower rent on the Cottage the Mears brothers did a deal with Great Western Railway who wanted it as a coal dump but then reneged on that and decided they could make more money out of the football club.   (There is a story, almost certainly untrue, about a dog causing the change of mind, but there’s no real evidence of anything quite so bizarre.  Money was almost certainly the key).

So Chelsea Football Club were founded on 10 March 1905 and they applied to play in the Southern League.  Tottenham objected – which was bizarre in the extreme, and shows the oddity of Tottenham’s approach at the time.  There was no reason why the existence of Chelsea in the Southern League could help Tottenham, and the objection was well noted when Arsenal moved to Highbury in 1913.   “Tottenham object to everything” was the call, and the club’s reaction in 1913 was treated with derision.  Tottenham in fact, shot themselves in both feet.

Stuck with a ground and no league to play in Chelsea applied for a place in the Football League, and got in.  One might wonder how and why the League was so willing.  Certainly the League wanted to extend its influence and ensure that the Southern League became weaker – so having more London clubs in was helpful.   Certainly Chelsea had a big (although very badly built) ground.  And certainly the League was a highly corrupt organisation – even then.

On 29 May 1905, having no players, no history, no supporters, no nothing save a ground, they got a place in the league.

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