London football in crisis: but only two can go down. Chelsea v Arsenal 1910.

100 years ago London had three Division I clubs – Woolwich Arsenal (who were actually in a small town in Kent), Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.

All three were having a tough time of it, and the only things that were keeping all three from being relegated were

a) In those days, only two clubs went down

b) Bad as the London teams were, Bolton was worse.

So Chelsea v Arsenal on Easter Monday 1910 was a big one. When the three London teams played each other the crowds were always much bigger than for other games, and when relegation was an option, this added to the tension.

Chelsea’s position in the league was one of the most disgraceful that there could be, for they were one of only three teams (Bradford City and Thames were the only other two I know of) who were simply given a place in the league for political reasons.   When Chelsea fans 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) 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 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 they did a deal with Great Western Railway who wanted it as a coal dump but then renaged 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.

Stamford Bridge, September 1905.  The club is just a few weeks old.

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

But there was never any thought of Chelsea winning anything, any more than there was of Woolwich Arsenal winning something, and Chelsea against Woolwich Arsenal on Easter Monday 1910 was nothing but a relegation match.


The book “Making the Arsenal” covers the history in 1910, including the role of Archie Leitch who was the architect for the stand at Woolwich Arsenal, Chelsea and Fulham.   There’s quite a bit of detail in the book about the state of the Chelsea ground in 1910, and for the game against Arsenal sections of the terracing were roped off because of problems.  You can read more in the book, which takes the form of a diary of a football journalist.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010

8 Replies to “London football in crisis: but only two can go down. Chelsea v Arsenal 1910.”

  1. Hi.

    Little comment about ‘London’ clubs. Although the spuds often make comments about Arsenal not being a real London club the truth of the matter is that we’ve played in London (proper) for far longer than they have. We (obviously) moved to London pre WWI whereas technically their ground wasn’t in London until the reorganisation of boroughs in the mid-60s (?).

  2. Ralph – I would love your argument to be true, but I am not too sure of this. As a child I lived in London N17, on the boundary of Wood Green and Tottenham. I know for sure out postal address in Devonshire Hill Lane was London N17, and that our rates were paid to Tottenham local authority. While Southgate Hospital by the NCR junction with the A10 where I was born was indeed in Middlesex, and so in that regard not in London, Tottenham was.

    I wonder if you are thinking of the creation of the Greater London Council – which drew together all the local authorities such as Wood Green and Tottenham, but as far as I know before that there was the London County Council (LCC) which I think still included Tottenham.

    I would love to be wrong in this – but before I lead the assault with your data, I need to get this dead right. My question would be, if Tottenham was not part of the LCC, where was it? Southgate and Enfield were in Middlesex, a county in its own right. And Tottenham?

  3. Oh blimey – do I have to blame my Dad for mis-informing me?

    What he told me was that that when the LCC was dumped in the mid 60s some of the metropolitan boroughs (that he said weren’t part of London ‘proper’ up until then) became part of Greater London and that included our impoverished friends.

    He worked in local Government in London so it may be that it’s only from that view that the info is technically correct…but I have been able to wind up a lot of spuds over the years with that titbit without response!

  4. Ralph and Andy – you are right and I am 100% wrong – and what a story it is. Arsenal were in London before Tottenham H. I feel an article coming on.

  5. While we’re on the subject of London boroughs…

    Stamford Bridge is in an area of London known as Walham Green.

    This area is in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and not in the so called “Royal” Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

    Before 1979 it was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Fulham.

    Was Stamford Bridge, and therefore Chelsea FC, ever part of any administrative district with the name Chelsea in its title?

  6. I don’t know about the geography, but one interesting thing is that while the owners of the land were trying to set up a football club from nothing, they played with all sorts of titles, including Kensington FC, London FC, Hammersmith FC and for some reason hit on Chelsea.

  7. I think you should share this with the world ‘cos whenever you get into a ‘chat’ with a spud they always quickly run out of ways to try and prove their betterment and finally decide to drop their ultimate WMD – The London Bomb. Oh their sad faces when it explodes in the silo…absolutely brilliant!

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