Chelsea were founded on 14 March 1905 at The Rising Sun pub (now The Butcher’s Hook), opposite the present-day main entrance to the ground on Fulham Road, and were elected to the Football League shortly afterwards. The club’s early years saw little success; the closest they came to winning a major trophy was reaching the FA Cup final in 1915, where they lost to Sheffield United. Chelsea gained a reputation for signing big-name players and for being entertainers, but made little impact on the English game in the inter-war years.
Former England centre-forward Ted Drake became manager in 1952 and proceeded to modernise the club. He removed the club’s Chelsea pensioner crest, improved the youth set-up and training regime, rebuilt the side, and led Chelsea to their first major trophy success–the League championship–in 1954–55. The following season saw UEFA create the European Champions’ Cup, but after objections from The Football League and the FA Chelsea were persuaded to withdraw from the competition before it started.
The 1960s saw the emergence of a talented young Chelsea side under manager Tommy Docherty. They challenged for honours throughout the decade, and endured several near-misses. They were on course for a treble of League, FA Cup and League Cup going into the final stages of the 1964–65 season, winning the League Cup but faltering late on in the other two. In three seasons the side were beaten in three major semi-finals and were FA Cup runners-up. In 1970 Chelsea were FA Cup winners, beating Leeds United 2–1 in a final replay. Chelsea took their first European honour, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup triumph, the following year, with another replayed win, this time over Real Madrid in Athens.
The late 1970s and the 1980s were a turbulent period for Chelsea. An ambitious redevelopment of Stamford Bridge threatened the financial stability of the club, star players were sold and the team were relegated. Further problems were caused by a notorious hooligan element among the support, which was to plague the club throughout the decade. In 1982 Chelsea were, at the nadir of their fortunes, acquired by Ken Bates for the nominal sum of £1, although by now the Stamford Bridge freehold had been sold to property developers, meaning the club faced losing their home. On the pitch, the team had fared little better, coming close to relegation to the Third Division for the first time, but in 1983 manager John Neal put together an impressive new team for minimal outlay. Chelsea won the Second Division title in 1983–84 and established themselves in the top division, before being relegated again in 1988. The club bounced back immediately by winning the Second Division championship in 1988–89.