On Saturday September 2nd 1905, just before three o’clock, a marching band, followed by a rabble of excited football fans draped in red and white stripes, wound its way through the Victorian streets of Stockport into County's Edgeley Park stadium. The largest ever crowd for the Cheshire club had come to catch the League debut of this glamorous new team from London, Chelsea FC.
Chelsea lost out, narrowly, 0-1. But some principles, established straight away, have resonated ever since. The team was attractive and ambitious, with many non-English players (albeit Scots and Irish); they played football with attacking flair; and they participated in a ‘first’ – larger-than-life keeper Willie Foulke had to adhere to a brand new rule dictating that goalies must stay rooted to the line when County were awarded a penalty.
Skipper Foulke – who saved the penalty – was a boisterous, 6’3”, 22st Shropshireman. One opposing forward felt facing him was “as though darkness had come over the goal.” He was marketed much like David Beckham is today, albeit on difference criteria: men marched around town when Chelsea were visiting with sandwich boards saying: 'Come and see the 23 stone goalkeeper!'
The England international was just one of many big names drawn in the summer to the new name in English football. Manager John Tait “Jacky” Robertson, himself a Scotsman, had managed to recruit, amongst others, the prolific Johnnie Kirwan, David Copeland and 5’7” inside-forward Jimmy Windridge, who notched our first hat-trick in the 5-1 home debut win over Hull on Sept 9th.
“What do you think of our Ground… Good enough for SECOND Division Football, is it not? And it is only a baby as yet. Wait until is it full grown, and then – well, we shall see what we shall Chel-sea.” Chelsea Chronicle, Sept 4th 1905
The novelty of the capital's first big professional Football League club drew massive crowds all around the country. On Good Friday 1906, for the crunch visit of title rivals Manchester United, an extraordinary attendance of 67,000 was recorded at the Bridge - more than three times the figure for the return fixture at Clayton.
With record-breaking numbers drawn to Stamford Bridge it was clear the club was too big for this level. Robertson's men decimated lesser opponents: Barnsley 6-0, Lincoln 7-0, Blackpool 6-0, Port Vale 7-0, Orient 6-0, Leeds 4-0.
But a poor spell of earning just three points from a possible ten (it was two for a win in those days) during the run-in meant that our expected promotion charge fizzled out behind runaway winners Bristol City and Manchester United, who claimed the other promotion slot.
The Fulham Chronicle ran articles to decide a nickname for the exciting debutants. Against ‘The Chinamen’, ‘The Buns’ and ‘The Cherubs’, we might be grateful that ‘The Pensioners’ came out on top, even though, as the Football Star observed, it was “rather suggestive of the lights of other days.”
Our motto in that first season was less in dispute. “Don’t worry!” was the regular rallying cry of millionaire owner Gus Mears (pictured left). It served just as well for most of the 100 to follow.
• League: Finished third in Division Two
• FA Cup: Reached third qualifying round v. Crystal Palace
• Fact: Our first ever signing – and goalscorer – was Robert ‘Bob’ McRoberts
• All the rage: double decker buses rumble along the King’s Road for the first time