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The Knighton and Birrell Years, 1933-52

By Gary Watton
March 12 2014

Leslie Knighton was entrusted with solving what he called the 'Chelsea riddle', but the west Londonders in the 1930s lived in the shadow of the accomplishments of Arsenal. Billy Birell was appointed with the task of post-war reconstruction. However, Chelsea were now confined to relegation escapologists rather than championship-hopefuls. Only two good FA Cup runs in 1950 and 1952 made amends.

1933-34: Chelsea finished nineteenth in Division One. They miraculously escaped the drop by winning six and drawing one of their last nine fixtures.

Best result: CHELSEA 5 Sheffield United 0 (Hughie Gallacher scored twice in the first half hour while Jack Horton also recorded a goal in each half.)

Horrible result: CHELSEA 0 Tottenham Hotspur 4 (A Hunt hat trick contributed to this one-sided outcome. Tommy Law also missed with a penalty attempt.)


1934-35: Chelsea finished twelfth. This was quite an achievement, considering that the team lost ten of their first fourteen matches.

Best result: CHELSEA 7 Leeds United 1 (Leeds took an early lead and then Chelsea scored five before half time! Lethal Joe Bambrick grabbed four goals.)

Horrible result: Liverpool 6 CHELSEA 0 (Wright and Nieuwenhuys produced a goal in each half. The Reds scored four times after the interval.)


1935-36: Chelsea finished eighth, five points below second spot and but only five above the drop zone! They only lost two of their last thirteen encounters.

Best result: CHELSEA 5 Blackburn Rovers 1 (Harry Burgess and Dicky Spence shared four goals while George Mills also weighed in with a goal.)

Horrible result: Everton 5 CHELSEA 1 (Stevenson scored the first and last goals, while George Mills provided a consolation for the visitors.)


1936-37: Chelsea finished thirteenth. Chelsea only won once in their last seven outings and miserably failed to score in five of them.

Best result: CHELSEA 4 Everton 0 (George Mills scored twice in the second half to complete his hat trick. Sam Weaver recorded the opening goal.)

Horrible result: Portsmouth 4 CHELSEA 1 (Parker scored the first and last goals for the hosts. George Gibson recorded a consolation for the visitors.)


1937-38: Chelsea finished tenth, eleven points below the champions Arsenal and three above the relegation zone. They won only one of their last five fixtures.

Best result: CHELSEA 6 Liverpool 1 (The Scousers grabbed an early goal, but George Mills stole the show with a treble. This was a great start to the season.)

Horrible result: Derby County 4 CHELSEA 0 (Two goals in the first quarter of an hour and two after the interval contributed to this crushing defeat.)


1938-39: Chelsea finished twentieth. They scored one goal in each of their last six matches. Joe 'ten goal' Payne scored the goal in each fixture!

Best result: CHELSEA 5 Grimsby Town 1 (Dicky Spence opened the scoring and although Grimsby equalised, he added one of three second half goals.) 

Horrible result: Stoke City 6 CHELSEA 1 (Steele helped himself to a first-half hat trick. Spence's goal was simply a consolation effort for struggling Chelsea.)


1946-47: Chelsea finished fifteenth in Division One. They lost six of their last ten matches but comfortably finished clear of the relegation zone.

Best result: Huddersfield Town 1 CHELSEA 4 (The great Tommy Lawton scored Chelsea's first three while veteran Dicky Spence added a fourth goal.)

Horrible result: Stoke City 6 CHELSEA 1 (Ormiston and Peppitt shared four goals. According to the records, the score was 6-1 at the halfway stage!)


1947-48: Chelsea finished eighteenth. They lost five of their last seven matches as they came perilously close to exiting the top league.)

Best result: CHELSEA 4 Stoke City 1 (A Caton goal provided Stoke with the half-time lead. However Ken Armstrong scored three times in the second half.)

Horrible result: CHELSEA 0 Manchester United 4 (A hat trick from Morris proved decisive. Poor Benny Jones made his debut in this demoralising defeat.)


1948-49: Chelsea finished thirteenth, immediately above four B-teams: Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Blackpool, and Birmingham City!

Best result: CHELSEA 6 Everton 0 (Roy Bentley scored two and Tommy Walker converted a penalty. The other scorers were Bowie, Campbell, and Macaulay.)

Horrible result: Portsmouth 5 CHELSEA 2 (The south coast team led three-one at the halfway stage. Bentley and Jones scored for the outplayed visitors.)


1949-50: Chelsea finished thirteenth again. The team failed to win any of their last seven league matches, thereby missing out on a top ten finish.

Best result: Birmingham City 0 CHELSEA 3 (A goal from Roy Bentley and a double from Reg Williams gave Chelsea the best possible start to the season.)

Horrible result: Aston Villa 4 CHELSEA 0 (Four different players found the back of the net on a bad day for Harry Medhurst and his defence.)


1950-51: Chelsea finished twentieth in Division One. They miraculously escaped a near-certain relegation by winning their last four league outings.

Best result: CHELSEA 4 Bolton Wanderers 0 (A Bentley double in the first twenty minutes and a Bobby Smith double helped Chelsea last match escape bid!)

Horrible result: CHELSEA 1 Portsmouth 4 (The hosts had won 3-1 at Portsmouth on Christmas Day, and then on Boxing Day, the visitors gained revenge!)


1951-52: Chelsea finished nineteenth. The relegation strugglers lost five of their first six matches and won only once in their last eight fixtures.

Best result: CHELSEA 5 Middlesbrough 0 (Seamus D'Arcy helped himself to a hat trick and then England centre-forward Roy Bentley added two more goals.)  

Horrible result: Aston Villa 7 CHELSEA 1 (A hat trick from Goffin and a double from Gibson put Chelsea to the sword. Aston Villa led 3-0 at the halfway stage.)

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The Knighton and Birrell Years, 1933-52
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