Chelsea’s First League Title in 1954/55

The last couple of seasons may have given Chelsea fans little reason to cheer but the past two decades have still been the most fruitful in the club’s history. Since the 2004/05 season, the Blues have collected 5 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, and 4 European titles.

Many Chelsea supporters have become accustomed to regular silverware as a result, but the west London club have historically not enjoyed such success. Founded in 1905, it took them five decades before they won their first major trophy, this coming in the form of a First Division title. This did not prove to be a foundation for further league success either as the Blues had to wait another 50 years before winning another top-flight title.

How Did Chelsea Win the 1954/55 League Title?

Ted Drake, manager
Ted Drake, manager (Rossem |

With this being Chelsea’s only top division league win of the 20th century, it really stands out as a special achievement. They did win the Second Division in 1983 and 1989 but only once in the first 99 years of their existence did they find themselves finishing at the very top of the English football ladder. By all accounts, it was a completely unexpected league victory too, as the Blues had finished in eighth place the season prior, fully 13 points off the pace (back when a win was worth just two points as well). Somewhat incredibly, it was also the year that they suffered their heaviest-ever league defeat, an 8-1 hammering at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It was not as though the club underwent major changes in the summer of 1954 either. Joe Mears was still chairman, Ted Drake still manager and Chelsea’s main goal threat remained as Roy Bentley, who had netted 21 goals in the 1953/54 campaign. There was no reason to make any drastic changes of course, as their eighth-placed finish was the joint-best they had managed in the First Division since 1920 and was an improvement of 11 places from the season before.

The 1954/55 campaign began brightly enough but there was no indication at all of this being a title-winning team. The Blues spent the first five games unbeaten, a nice run but nothing too out of the ordinary, but then failed to win any of their five games in October, losing four of them. Among the defeats was a crazy 6-5 loss to Manchester United. This cold streak put them in the bottom half of the table, so it looked like being a standard old season for the London club.

Reliable Team

This proved to be no regular season though as Chelsea dusted themselves off and went the next seven games unbeaten. In fact, from November to the point of winning the league with a game to spare, the Blues lost just three matches (Arsenal away, Man City home, Aston Villa away). What turned the Blues into such a formidable opponent remains difficult to determine, especially as they made little in the way of new signings. Of the nine players (Derek Saunders, Eric Parsons, Roy Bentley, John McNichol, Ken Armstrong, Stan Willemse, John Harris, Les Stubbs, Bill Robertson) to feature in 25+ league games, most had been at the club since the 1940s, and all of them had been part of the squad the season before.

Just like with Leicester City in 2015/16 though, sometimes teams can suddenly click and this can lead to a shock result. It is not like you could say the Blues did not deserve it either. Even with their final-day defeat, with the title already secured, they finished four points clear of second place Wolves (the very team that beat Chelsea 8-1 the season before) and with a much better goal average (which was used instead of goal difference back then).

A Collective Effort

It was very much a collective effort rather than the Pensioners being dragged over the line by one key man. Captain Bentley remained a threat but his tally of 21 league goals was the same as he had managed the season before. There were just modest improvements all over the pitch combined with the ability to show up for the big matches. Chelsea would regularly impress against their title rivals, never losing these big six-pointers, or four-pointers we should perhaps say!

Chelsea (52 points) beat second-place Wolves (48) home and away and took three points from both third-place Portsmouth (47) and fourth-place Sunderland (47). Had they not had such a good record against these title challengers then it might have meant the Blues’ wait for a league title would have gone on even longer.

Comparison to Present Day

By today’s standards, Chelsea’s record in 1954/55 does not look very title-worthy. Converted to three points for a win, the London side’s points per game works out to be 1.71 (72 points from 42 games). In a 38-game Premier League season, this would return 65 points, a total that would most likely see a club finish outside the top four.

It must be stressed though that the English top flight was simply much more competitive back then, with even the relegated Leicester collecting 35 points. There was not the same financial disparity between clubs we see today, so it was just not possible for those at the top to dominate the league the way they do these days. That said, it was the lowest points tally for a league winner since Arsenal (52) in 1937/38, so there was an element of good timing involved.

What Happened Next?

Despite being the defending champions, Chelsea returned to old habits and finished 16th. They would not finish better than 11th before being relegated in 1961-62, despite having four years of Jimmy Greaves scoring goals at an incredible rate (124 in 157 league games). To make matters worse, the Blues did not take part in the inaugural edition of the European Champions’ Cup in 1955/56, which they qualified for, due to pressure from the Football League. The reason for this is that Football League did not want clubs to have a major distraction from domestic football.

When Will League Success Return to Stamford Bridge?

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino (vverve |

As the Blues showed us in 1954/55, football can surprise us sometimes, so even given their recent struggles, Chelsea could turn into title challengers at any moment. Their young squad is only likely to improve over time and if they can do a better job at keeping playing fit, big improvements are surely in the offing. Questions will remain over whether Mauricio Pochettino is the right man for the job but if needs must, Chelsea do have a knack for replacing managers to good effect.