Although Chelsea FC are seen as a mainstay in the Premier League, a key member of the “big six” and an enormously consistent club when it comes to finishing near the top of the table, they have been through some ups and downs over the years… literally.
Despite winning every single major international and domestic trophy, Chelsea have also been relegated from the top flight on six different occasions, although they have never dropped below the Second Division of English football.
In What Seasons Were Chelsea Relegated?
Here we’ll run through each of Chelsea’s relegations from the top flight of English football, beginning with the first time they suffered such indignity, more than a century ago.
- League Position: 19th
- Points Tally: 29 (38 game season)
- Manager: David Calderhead
Chelsea’s fifth season in English football saw them relegated from the First Division for the first time. They finished 19th (ahead of bottom club Bolton Wanderers) in an altogether disappointing season in which they were also knocked out of the FA Cup in the first round.
The Blues had finished in a more respectable 11th the season before, so this marked a real loss of form for the club. However, they enjoyed a relatively short stay in the Second Division, as they clinched promotion just two seasons later. They retained manager David Calderhead, who went on to become the club’s longest-serving manager, a record held to this day, having been in charge for a total of 26 years.
- League Position: 21st
- Points Tally: 32 (42 game season)
- Manager: David Calderhead
The 1923/24 season saw Calderhead’s side face their second relegation of the Scot’s reign as Chelsea manager. The First Division had been extended to 22 clubs (after it had returned following World War One), and this was therefore a 42-game season. However, Chelsea only managed to win a measly nine league games but once again decided not to part with the long-serving Calderhead.
They actually finished level on 32 points with 20th-placed side Nottingham Forest, but had a worse goal average so were relegated. This time, the Blues spent more of a lengthy period in the Second Division, as they failed to regain their First Division status until the 1929/30 campaign.
- League Position: 22nd
- Points Tally: 28 (42 game season)
- Managers: Ted Drake, Tommy Docherty
After enjoying a spell of 32 consecutive First Division seasons, Chelsea were again relegated in 1961/62. Ted Drake, who had won the club’s first league title back in the 1954/55 campaign, left the club mired in mid-table after several poor results. Drake was therefore sacked, with the club’s embarrassing FA Cup loss to Fourth Division side Crewe Alexandra serving as a catalyst for his removal. In his place, the club hired Tommy Docherty as player-manager, who failed to prevent them from sliding to the bottom of the First Division and facing a third relegation.
This time around they finished bottom of the pile, four points behind Cardiff City (who were also relegated) and five points behind near-neighbours Fulham who occupied the all-important 20th place in the table. However, Chelsea only spent one season in the Second Division, as they were immediately promoted back to the top flight.
- League Position: 21st
- Points Tally: 33 (42 game season)
- Managers: Dave Sexton, Ron Suart, Eddie McCreadie
In Chelsea’s 61st competitive season, they were once again relegated from the First Division – on this occasion, after a 12-year stint. The Blues began the season with Dave Sexton as boss, who had been in charge since 1967, but he was quickly sacked in October, following a spell of poor results. His replacement was Ron Suart, whose tenure as Chelsea manager was very short, as he himself was sacked in April as the club’s abysmal form continued, including a 1-7 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Chelsea were therefore forced to find a third manager for the season, doing their best impression of Watford’s modern-day managerial merry-go-round. The club settled on Eddie McCreadie, the ex-Chelsea left-back, who was unable to prevent the Blues from sinking to 21st in the table, as they were relegated by a single point, with London rivals Tottenham occupying 19th position (as three clubs got relegated that year).
- League Position: 22nd
- Points Tally: 20 (42 game season)
- Managers: Ken Shellito, Danny Blanchflower
The 1978/79 season was enormously disappointing for Chelsea, as they finished firmly bottom of the pile, with their lowest ever points tally. The Blues managed just 20 points from 42 matches, only winning five league games and finishing with a goal difference of -48. Ken Shellito began the season as Blue’s boss, having previously succeeded Eddie McCreadie. However, Shellito was sacked not long into the campaign, leaving the club mired in 20th place, careering towards a fifth top-flight relegation.
His replacement was Tottenham legend, Danny Blanchflower, who had a serious mountain to climb to rescue the ailing Blues. The Northern Irishman failed to do so, and his tenure as manager was utterly disastrous: of the 32 games for which he was in charge, Chelsea only managed to win five, including games in the Second Division! He was sacked early into the 1979/80 campaign.
- League Position: 18th
- Points Tally: 42 (40 game season)
- Managers: John Hollins, Bobby Campbell
Chelsea’s sixth and final relegation, up to this point, was quite possibly the most painful. Chelsea finished on 42 points, not anywhere near what you would typically classify as “relegation form” and finished in 18th on goal difference, despite being level on points with both Charlton Athletic and West Ham. This meant Chelsea faced the Second Division play-offs as they battled to stay in the top flight. First they faced Blackburn, whom they beat 6-1 on aggregate over two legs. Then they faced Middlesbrough in a two-legged final and went down 2-1 on aggregate, meaning they were condemned to relegation to the Second Division.
The Blues had begun the season with club legend, John Hollis, in charge, who had played a total of 436 games for Chelsea. However, following some really poor form, including a four-month spell in which his team failed to win a single league game, he was eventually sacked in March 1988. Hollins was then replaced by his assistant, Bobby Campbell, who took over as caretaker manager for the remainder of the season, which only gave him eight games to pull off a great escape. Campbell was unable to save the Blues, and they dropped down to the Second Division for the sixth time. However, they didn’t stay there very long. Chelsea stormed to the Second Division title in the 1988/89 season, with an impressive tally of 99 points.
Are Chelsea Likely to Be Relegated Again?
Since their last relegation, Chelsea have established themselves as one of the most successful clubs in the world, having won two Champions Leagues and five Premier Leagues, amongst numerous other honours. The club has also enormously benefitted from the ownership of Roman Abramovich, as the Russian oligarch injected millions and millions of pounds into Chelsea during his reign, allowing the West London side to sign some of the best players in the world.
The Blues have asserted themselves as a core member of the “big six” in the Premier League and with the top-notch players at their disposal and with Abramovich having sold up to a consortium with equally deep pockets, it is highly unlikely that they will ever be relegated again. But football has a habit of throwing up big surprises from time to time, so never say never.