10 March 1905: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and the battle of the grounds


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By Tony Attwood

On this day Chelsea FC were founded.

And why, you may quite reasonably ask, should that be of interest to us?  Well, it is interesting given that some Tottenham fans still argue that Arsenal somehow tricked or bribed their way into the first division in 1919.

The fact that this is not so, has been shown in enormous detail on the AISA Arsenal History Society site – if you ever want to read the full story it starts at The first suggestion that Arsenal could be elected to the 1st division.

There’s a lot of it, but that is because we bring in a huge amount of evidence, rather than the generalised “Arsenal must have bribed their way in” that many books and sites use.

Now I mention this because Chelsea’s arrival in the league is much more curious than Arsenal’s arrival in the first division over 100 years ago, and yet it doesn’t get mentioned.  However one of the totally legitimate things that Chelsea did, had a huge impact on Henry Norris, the man who guided Arsenal to Highbury and to the 1st Division.  And so it’s worth noting.

Chelsea in fact are one of only three teams (Bradford City and Thames were the only other two I know about) who were simply given a place in the league for reasons that had nothing to do with their football related achievements.

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, then a director at Fulham to move that club to the ground.   Norris did indeed announce in 1904 that Fulham was leaving Craven Cottage, although this may well have just been 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 the Stamford Bridge site as a coal dump.  However the owners then reneged on that deal and decided they could make more money out of returning to their thoughts of it being used by a 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 hinder 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 attempt to stop Arsenal moving to north London in 1913 was treated with derision.  Tottenham in fact, shot themselves in both feet, in their attempts to make themselves the one and only Southern League club in London (Arsenal at the time already being in the Football League).

Stuck with a ground and no league to play in Chelsea applied for a place in the Football League, and got in as the League wanted to extend its influence at the expense of the Southern League – so having more London clubs in was helpful.   Certainly, Chelsea had a big (although not very well built) ground.

Despite a lack of real success, the crowds did indeed turn up, and the first Chelsea v Arsenal match got 55,000 in the ground.

Henry Norris certainly noted this success of placing a very large stadium in the heart of a residential area, and that had an enormous influence on his drive to move Woolwich Arsenal from Plumstead to Islington eight years later.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Details of other series can be found on our home page and on the column on the right side of this page.   In particular, you might like to note…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

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