EXPLAINED: THE STORY OF HOW CHELSEA FC CAME TO BE KNOWN AS THE PENSIONERS
Chelsea won their second Champions League on Saturday, defeating Manchester City 1-0. Thomas Tuchel and his side have mostly had a good enough season with the win sealing a dramatic six months for the club and its fans. Among the many accolades bestowed on their various players from time to time due to their successes, the club itself has a unique moniker that lives stoutly up to this day.
Everyone knows how Chelsea are called “The Blues” in reference to the kit they wear. However, during the first 50 years of their existence, this was actually not the case. The club, formed in 1905 in the most extraordinary of circumstances, has a deep-rooted connection to its home ground and the nearby Royal Hospital. FootTheBall takes you through why the more than century-old club has often been called “The Pensioners” and how the club moved away from that name.
A MOST UNIQUE START
Stamford Bridge in the early 1900s was an athletics stadium. In 1904, businessman Gus Mears had bought both the stadium and the adjacent market garden. His dream was to build the finest football ground there for the best matches.
However, his plans immediately hit a roadblock as Fulham FC, already an established club in the area refused to move to Stamford Bridge because of monetary issues. Mears briefly thought of selling the property to The Great Western Railway during those times. With no clear idea of what to do next, it was his friend Fred Parker who suggested that they should start a club themselves from scratch.
This meeting, which took place in a pub, is the stuff of legends. Though the scale of the work seemed daunting, Mears and his family members along with Parker immediately agreed. Since the name Fulham FC was already taken, they chose the nearby borough of Chelsea for their club and plans of entry into professional football were immediately put forward to the Football Association.
Other names suggested for the new club include Kensington FC, Stamford Bridge FC and London FC. Their rivalry with Fulham also started in this manner, since the pub’s location was just opposite the main entrance to Craven Cottage and since the Cottagers had refused Mears’ offer. The entry into the Football League, however, proved to be tougher than usual.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 4, 2020
Tottenham and Fulham objected to the club joining the Southern League. After that failure, the club signed several players, and on the strength of both them and the new stadium, they were granted entry into the Football League Division Two. Thus, Chelsea still remain the only club to manage this feat by not even playing a match.
The club was nicknamed The Pensioners for half a century after its foundation. This is due to their association with the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The place is home to British war veterans, who are called the ‘Chelsea Pensioners.’ During the World Wars years, many players left to join the military leading to the establishment of an unshakeable bond between the club and the community. Furthermore, players who returned after the battles signed up to play for the club and keep the connection going.
The crest for the club also had the insignia of a Pensioner figure during these years, along with the “CFC” logo that had come to symbolise the ever-deepening ties between these two entities. The connection still continues to this day, all these years later through Stamford Bridge as well the resident’s devotion to their beloved club.
Pensioners have a quota of seats given to them for home games at Stamford Bridge every season. In addition to this, when the club won the Premier League crown in 2005 and 2010, the Pensioners formed a guard of honour before the trophy presentation ceremony.
WHY THE BLUES THEN?
In 1952, former league winner Ted Drake became manager of the club. He is one of the most pivotal individuals in the history of Chelsea. Not only did Drake lead them to their first league championship, but he was also the one who did away with the “Pensioners” tag. He wanted the club to adapt to the times and get more aggressive, ruthless and professional in terms of playing and appearance.
Drake’s no-nonsense approach saw the crest of the club modified heavily. Out went with the Pensioner figure and the simple “CFC” writing. In came the blue ‘Lion Rampant Regardant’ in an upright position, holding a staff. It was taken from the coat of arms of the Chelsea borough itself, and also had three roses (England) and two footballs. This became the first Chelsea crest to appear on the shirts.
The evolution of the @ChelseaFC PRIMARY crest! 🔵
Which would you bring back? pic.twitter.com/sxw3UiNN1x
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) April 27, 2020
With time, the colour of the lion was changed to white, red and yellow under the new ownership of Ken Bates from the 1980s to 2003. The centenary of the club in 2005 saw them return to the crest of old with the blue lion holding the staff.
It's that time of the season. 🔊👕
— Champions of Europe 🏆 (@ChelseaFC) May 13, 2021
Their shirts too have historically remained blue, though the shades have changed. From ‘Eton blue’ to ‘royal blue’ which continues to this day. Therefore, Drake can be attributed to introducing the “The Blues” name and the new crest which we know of, but one thing has to be kept in mind- the Pensioners are never gone from the legacy of this football club.