Chelsea Football Club has been good at celebrating special anniversaries. The year 2005 saw us reach the major milestone of 100 years-old. What better way was there to mark the centenary than by becoming champions of England for the second time in our existence?

Our golden jubilee had been similarly honoured. The club won silverware in the 1960s, the 70s, the 90s and at the turn of the new millennium, but 1955 was the year we finished above all other teams in the League for the first time.

It was also Chelsea's earliest major trophy. The first five decades had seen the club develop into an integral part of sporting life in England's capital city with famous players and a large, often full stadium.

Chelsea were popular, but achievement fell a long way short of that now enjoyed by the current team, which began the second 100 years of Chelsea history as the best in the land and the biggest football story throughout the world.


Even if trophy success proved elusive in the first 50 years, the club had been set up for the big time from the moment Henry Augustus Mears had a change of heart one Sunday morning in the autumn of 1904.

Of all the decisions that have shaped the history of Chelsea FC, there can be none more crucial than the one this Edwardian businessman made that particular day.

Gus Mears was an enthusiast for a sport that had taken northern Britain by storm but had yet to take off in the capital in quite the same way. London at the turn of the century failed to provide a single team to the Football League First Division.

Mears had spotted the potential for a football club to play at an old athletics ground at Stamford Bridge, an open piece of land in west London. It was a ground he planned to massively redevelop.

But unforeseen problems had followed, as did a lucrative offer for the land. Mears was on the verge of selling up and abandoning his sporting dream.

Colleague Frederick Parker, an enthusiastic supporter of the football stadium project attempted to dissuade him but on the fateful Sunday morning, Parker was told he was wasting his time.

As the two walked on, without warning Mears' dog bit Parker, drawing blood and causing great pain, but only an amused reaction from Parker.

"You took that bite damn well," Mears announced before telling his accomplice he would now trust his judgement over others. "Meet me here at nine tomorrow and we'll get busy," he said. Stamford Bridge was alive once more.

Not that Chelsea FC was in the original plan. The finest sports stadium in London seemed a little out of place on the edge of well-heeled and arty Chelsea but as history shows, Mears had chosen well. The proximity to the vibrant centre of town made it perfect as a new venue for football.

Due to financial disagreement, nearby Fulham Football Club, already in existence declined an offer to abandon the less grand Craven Cottage and move in. So in contrast to the history of so many clubs, Mears decided to build a team for a stadium, rather than the other way round.

On March 14th 1905, a meeting convened opposite the stadium in a pub now called The Butcher's Hook. One item on the agenda was a name for the new club. Stamford Bridge FC, Kensington FC and intriguingly, London FC were all rejected. Chelsea FC was what it was to be - and the story had begun.

John Tait Robertson, a Scottish international was the first player/manager and a squad of respected players was signed, providing a league could be found to compete in.

The Southern League was the natural choice for our location but they were unwelcoming to these upstarts. Undaunted, Chelsea simply set our sights higher and went straight for the northern-dominated Football League.

On May 29th 1905, the Football League AGM dramatically elected us to the Second Division. Parker again proved persuasive as we became the first club ever to make the League without having kicked a ball.


The first competitive game was on September 2nd 1905, a 1-0 defeat away at Stockport. Chelsea didn't take long to prove worthy of the League's faith. The crowds flocked to Stamford Bridge with 67,000 recorded against Manchester United on Good Friday of that first season. At the end of the second season, we were promoted to Division One.

Those early days saw Stamford Bridge populated by spectators rather than passionate fans, attracted by what was to become a Chelsea tradition for signing star names.

Chelsea's first ever goalkeeper cut one of the most distinctive figures in the game. An England international weighing over 22 stone, Willie 'Fatty' Foulke was an immense man with a deep-loathing for both centre-forwards and referees.

In the second year came George Hilsdon, nicknamed 'Gatling Gun' after a famous early design of machine gun. He was the first in a long-line of centre-forwards to be worshipped by the Stamford Bridge crowd. The 107 goals Hilsdon scored in six seasons led to a weather vane being modelled on him, still a feature of the stadium today.

His partner in attack was Jimmy Windridge, scorer of the first Chelsea hat-trick in the club's opening home game - a 5-1 defeat of Hull City.

Nils Middelboe, known as 'The Great Dane' was our first foreign player and was immensely popular during eight years at the club.

Vivian Woodward was the greatest amateur centre-forward of his day and together with Hilsdon and Windridge, gave Chelsea three England international attackers. If that wasn't enough strike power, there was Bob Whittingham, scorer of 80 goals in just 129 appearances.

With such firepower, gates of 50,000 were not unheard of in that pre-World War I decade although the results were not always to the crowd's liking.


1910s
One relegation back to Division Two was suffered in that time, followed quickly by promotion but eighth place in Division One was the highest in our first ten years of existence.

The First World War cast a dark shadow over football but during the opening months of the conflict, Chelsea marked our first decade by reaching our first FA Cup Final.

The 1915 Final was held in Manchester at Old Trafford - virtually impossible for Chelsea fans to reach under the circumstances. The opposition, Sheffield United, were more local and the considerable number of military uniforms visible amongst the largely Yorkshire crowd led to the game being dubbed 'The Khaki Final'. With the odds stacked against us, Chelsea lost 3-0.

1920s
The FA Cup would provide the major moments for both Chelsea and Stamford Bridge in the 1920s.

Although he had passed away in 1912, Mears' original vision for his stadium was realised when three FA Cup Finals were played there in the years immediately prior to the opening of Wembley Stadium in 1923.

Chelsea very nearly reached the 1920 occasion, losing 3-1 to Aston Villa at the semi-final stage.

Centre-forward that day was Jack Cock, the Chelsea glamour boy of that era. Decorated during the war, as well as stylish goalscoring, he did a neat line in singing on stage of an evening.

Although the 1920s began with the highest league placing up to that point, third place in Division One behind West Brom and derby, the decade proved to be possibly the least remarkable in the club's history.

Relegation was suffered in 1924 with return to the top flight only coming in at the end of the 1929-30 season.

A sign of unexceptional times was that two of the favourite performers of the era were both left-backs, England international Jack Harrow giving way to Scottish international Tommy Law midway through the decade after 333 games.


1930s
Emerging from the horrors of war to face economic depression, Londoners wanted distraction and entertainment in their limited spare time. Crowd figures at the Bridge continued to rise, culminating in an October Saturday in 1935 when 82,905 crammed into the curving terraces for a league game against Arsenal - the highest official attendance ever recorded at the ground. It remains the biggest attendance in English league football too.

It was little wonder this London derby proved such a draw. Arsenal had built London's first great side - winning four out of five championships in the early 30s.

The pressure had long been on Chelsea to compete with our local rivals. Having never been shy of spending cash since our birth, at the start of the 1930s the club splashed out in style. Continuing strong links with north of the border - three Scottish international forwards were bought for large sums. Alec Cheyne, Alec Jackson and Hughie Gallacher.

Small in stature, Gallacher was the biggest name in the game. Chelsea prised him away from Newcastle with a club record £10,000 fee.

The Stamford Bridge spectators, who had recently emerged from watching six years of Second Division football, our longest spell out of the top flight, caught their first glimpse of the new sparkling forward line in a 6-2 win over Man United. Hopes were sky high but expectations were not matched.

By Christmas both Birmingham and Derby had found the Chelsea net six times. Arsenal scored five at the Bridge. The pattern had been set for lower table finishes. It was a big disappointment.

An FA Cup run in 1932 brightened the mood and Chelsea found ourselves in our third semi-final. Ironically for Gallacher it was against Newcastle. The wee man scored past his former team but Chelsea lost 2-1. The next season we finished 18th out of 22 teams.

Those two redoubtable servants - Jack Harrow and then Tommy Law had ensured quarter-of-a-century of quality at left-back, but it wasn't enough to tip the balance.

Some of the stars missed too many training sessions and misfired in too many matches. It was a side high on ego but low on team spirit. While Gallacher's 81 goals in 144 games was a good return, he is remembered just as much for his indiscipline and volatile temper. After just over four seasons, he left for the north once more.

As London drifted to war again, Chelsea did little to lift the spirits of our fans. It often took England international goalkeeper Vic Woodley to prevent relegation being added to the worries.


1940s
War-time football saw normal competitions abandoned for regional versions and guest players turning out for sides. In Chelsea's case that meant games for Matt Busby, future England captain George Hardwick and future England manager Walter Winterbottom plus Scotland legend Billy Liddell and former Arsenal star Eddie Hapgood.

Chelsea appeared at Wembley for the first time in the Football League South Cup Final in 1944, losing to Charlton, before winning in front of the king in the same competition 12 months later against Millwall.

At the end of the World War II, Stamford Bridge had survived the bombing and just six months after Victory in Europe was declared, the 40 year-old stadium hosted what remains one of its most momentous occasions - Dynamo Day.

London was desperate to see top level football once more and there were few bigger draws than the mystery of a team travelling over from war-time allies Russia. Moscow Dynamo opened a tour of Britain against Chelsea and it seemed the whole city came to watch.

The turnstiles were closed with a recorded 74,496 having passed through but the shut gates proved no obstacle to the football-starved masses. Just how many gained illegal entry will never be known - although estimates put the total crowd at 100,000.

Such were the scenes around the pitch that the 3-3 result seems incidental but scoring Chelsea's third was a new centre-forward by the name of Tommy Lawton. Fast of foot, powerful of shot and a legend at heading for goal, Lawton was England's number nine, keeping Chelsea firmly in the spotlight.

In his first full season he broke a club record with 26 goals in 34 First Division games, yet the team finished 15th. By the summer, cracks between player and club had appeared. After an all-too-brief two years, he was gone.

Two months after Lawton's transfer, Chelsea spent just over half of the British record £20,000 they had received on a new striker. Again Newcastle were raided, this time for Roy Bentley.

Once again devastating in the air, Bentley was more mobile than his predecessor - and more long-lasting. In each of his eight full seasons at the Bridge he was club top scorer.


1950s
Chelsea set-off on the FA Cup trail. In 1950 and 1952, Arsenal were played in the semi-final. Both ties went to replays and both were lost.

Between those two seasons, relegation was avoided by a mere 0.044 of a goal. Chelsea was a club ripe for change.

Manager Billy Birrell retired after the second disappointment against Arsenal so in May 1952, Chelsea appointed Ted Drake.

Drake had been a top class centre-forward for both Arsenal and England and had championship medals to his name. His managerial reputation had been growing at Reading.

He would sweep away the last vestiges of a more amateur age from Chelsea, declaring: "Too many people come to Stamford Bridge to see a football match instead of cheering Chelsea. For years now the players must have been thoroughly sick of all the music-hall publicity. Let's have people eating, sleeping and drinking Chelsea."

Drake removed the Chelsea Pensioner from the club's badge and banished 'The Pensioners' nickname that had been bestowed soon after our formation.

He abandoned the manager's office, donned a tracksuit and involved himself in training. He expanded a youth and scouting programme began under Birrell, a move that was to pay dividends for future managers.

Progress was slow at first but Drake was using his knowledge of the lower divisions to sign a different sort of Chelsea player - value-for-money performers who like the club, were hungry for their first silverware.

Around players he had inherited - Bentley, Ken Armb, long-serving captain John Harris, Stan Willemse and Eric Parsons - Drake built Chelsea's first complete team.

John McNicholl, Les Stubbs, Stan Wicks and Peter Sillett all arrived from the lower leagues. Crewe's Frank Blunstone was an 18 year-old star-in-the-making who was a target for many big clubs. Drake even brought in amateur club players - Derek Saunders, Jim Lewis and Seamus O'Connell.

O'Connell was to have one of the most memorable debuts in Chelsea history - scoring a hat-trick as Chelsea went down 6-5 to Manchester United at an enthralled Stamford Bridge. That was in October 1954, one of a run of six games that yielded only two points. Hardly the form of champions!

By Bonfire Night, Chelsea were firmly mid-table. Drake ignited his team and they embarked on a run of points accumulation. As Easter arrived, Chelsea were four points clear of Wolves - the League Champions and our nearest challengers. They were the next visitors to Stamford Bridge.

The 75,000 fans who were packed in saw the game locked at 0-0 as it entered the last quarter-of-an-hour. Then Wolves' England captain Billy Wright illegally punched away a goalbound shot.

To the dismay of everyone in blue, the referee had missed the handball - but the linesman hadn't. The penalty was eventually given and Sillett thumped it home for a crucial victory.

The Championship was won in the penultimate game, at home to Sheffield Wednesday on St. George's Day 1955.

Bentley, by now England's first choice centre-forward, had been an inspirational captain, scoring 21 goals. Parsons and Blunstone on the wings were key weapons in front of a strong defence, marshalled by Wicks.

Such success unfortunately proved unsustainable. The Championship winning side was an ageing one with only Sillett, Blunstone and Wicks on the rise - the latter two soon to be struck down by injury.

The year after winning the League Chelsea finished 16th and a succession of lower table finishes followed, this despite the emergence of a teenage striking protégée. His name was Jimmy Greaves, probably Chelsea's best youth product ever.

Greaves was without doubt a goal-scoring genius - still regarded by many as the finest finisher England has ever produced.

Equally comfortable with both feet, his close-control, lightning darts through the defence and unerring accuracy helped him score five goals on three occasions. He reached the 100-goal mark before turning 21 and by the time of his sale to AC Milan in 1961, Greaves had scored an incredible 132 times in 169 appearances.


1960s
The importance of young Jimmy Greaves' goals to Chelsea was clear for all to see when the season after he left, we finished a distant bottom in Division One. Ted Drake had paid for the decline with his job a couple of months into the relegation season.

Chelsea were crying out for another overhaul and elevated from the coaching ranks to oversee it was 33 year-old Tommy Docherty. The flourishing youth system instigated by Birrell and encouraged by Drake was ready to bear fruit. Docherty was brave enough to pick it.

As the 60s moved into full swing, he ruthlessly hacked out the deadwood and selected fresh-faced players with names like Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Barry Bridges, Bobby Tambling and Terry Venables.

Within those five would emerge Chelsea's record ever goalscorer, our record ever appearance maker and our longest serving and some would say, greatest goalkeeper. The average age of the side dropped down to just 21.

Promotion was soon won and a classy side started to produce the most consistent league and cup form seen at the Bridge.

Improved fitness and the youth of the players resulted in fast-paced football cheered on by an increasingly partisan crowd, particularly in an area of the southern terrace that had taken the name 'The Shed'.

The fans were treated to top five finishes and three consecutive FA Cup semi-finals. In 1965, a treble of trophies came close.

Leicester City were defeated 3-2 on aggregate in the League Cup Final, those days a two-legged affair. It was Chelsea's first knockout cup success.

Liverpool proved too strong in our first FA Cup semi-final for 13 years and the League Championship dream was killed-off late in the season by two defeats up north - the first at Liverpool, the second at Burnley after Docherty had sent home seven players who had broken curfew at the team's hotel.

Evenings of glamorous European football were becoming a feature of Stamford Bridge life too. In the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, Italian giants Roma and Milan were beaten before Barcelona proved too strong at Camp Nou.

A second FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park in two years followed but Wembley stayed just out of reach. Chelsea were strong favourites against relegation threatened Sheffield Wednesday in 1966, but on a rough pitch, the Yorkshire club were allowed a smooth ride to a 2-0 win.

That defeat hit Docherty hard and he chose to break up a squad yet to reach its peak.

The manager's relationship with his captain Venables had reached breaking point and he replaced the future England coach's clever passing with the dribbling ability of a young Scot named Charlie Cooke.

Cooke is one of the greatest entertainers to have graced the Stamford Bridge turf, his creative skills combining perfectly with Peter Osgood. Osgood had somehow evaded the attentions of professional clubs until the age of 17 but once at Chelsea he was the new prince, and would soon be crowned King of Stamford Bridge.

Unfortunately, Osgood suffered a broken leg in October 1966 but that didn't prevent a third successive semi-final at Villa Park. At the sixth time of asking, a Wembley FA Cup Final was reached.

It was the first-ever all-London affair - the Cockney Cup Final as it became known with Tottenham Hotspur the opposition that afternoon in 1967. The fans relished the prospect of a showpiece occasion but the day turned out to be a damp squib. The deserved 2-1 defeat was made none the easier to bear by the presence of Greaves and Venables in Spurs colours.

That was the last major occasion for Bobby Tambling in a Chelsea shirt although he stayed for another couple of seasons. The player who had taken the burden of goalscoring from Greaves found the net 202 times in 370 games - a Chelsea all-time record.



Time ran out for Docherty whose relationship with the board of directors had worsened considerably after long-serving chairman Joe Mears, nephew of Gus, died.

A replacement was found in Dave Sexton who had previously worked as coach under Docherty before taking up management himself with Leyton Orient.

The new man augmented the squad with big characters - defenders John Dempsey and David Webb plus brave striker Ian Hutchinson, bought for just £5,000 - half the price of Hughie Gallacher nearly 40 years earlier.

Peter Bonetti had developed into a goalkeeper of the highest standard. Ron Harris, Eddie McCreadie, Webb and Dempsey formed an uncompromising back-line.

With John Hollins and Charlie Cooke in midfield there was a mixture of endeavour and flair. Peter Houseman supplied regular crosses from the left to where Osgood's class and the battling qualities of Hutchinson awaited. Pulling the strings was an 18 year-old midfielder born within the sound of The Shed - Alan Hudson.

Chelsea were in fashionable step with the King's Road scene of the time and many celebrities spent their Saturday afternoons in the crowd


1970s
In 1970 we reached the FA Cup Final once more, this time against Leeds United - the reigning League Champions and the best team of the era.

Leeds rarely took prisoners and although Chelsea had style and poise, we weren't a team to be bullied either. It was to be a titanic battle.

Leeds twice took the lead on a pitch that shamed Wembley's reputation but each time Chelsea showed enough steel to equalise. For the first time in a Wembley Cup Final, the sides could not be separated on the day.

The replay was at Old Trafford and was a ferociously fought and at times brutal game. Chelsea again came from behind to take the game into extra-time before Hutchinson's long throw found its way to Webb's head and Leeds were a beaten outfit.
Osgood had scored in every round. After three finals and seven semi-finals, Chelsea had at last lifted our first FA Cup. We also finished third in the League for the second time in our history.

Cup victory brought qualification for the European Cup Winners' Cup. Man City were beaten in an all-English semi-final to take Chelsea to Greece for the Final where the legendary white shirts of Real Madrid awaited.

With Hudson and Cooke inspired, it was Chelsea's turn to take, then surrender a lead, Madrid battling back to score a cruel equaliser in the dying seconds. Extra-time proved goalless and suddenly the army of Chelsea fans were making plans to stay in Greece another two days.

They were not let down. Dempsey scored a rare and spectacular goal in the replay, added to by Osgood. Real Madrid pulled one back late on but this time there was no slip-up. Chelsea's first European trophy was flying back home.

Stamford Bridge was no longer a home fit for returning heroes. Time had long moved on since the days when it was the finest sports venue in London. The club began to build a new 60,000 capacity stadium to match any but sadly the timing was poor and the plans flawed.

The first stage - a new East Stand - was hampered by a multitude of problems and was completed a year late and a massive £1.3 million over budget. Debt was a new and dangerous opponent.

Problems were arising on the pitch as well. An all-time European record aggregate score of 21-0 was set against a team from Luxembourg as the defence of the Cup Winners' Cup began but we were eliminated next round by little known Swedish outfit Atvidabergs. And although another Wembley cup final was reached - the 1972 League Cup - unfancied Stoke City won the day.

By 1974 rifts between Sexton and two of his stars, Osgood and Hudson, were beyond repair. Both were sold as initially the board backed the manager - but when the next season began badly too, they sacked him.

Just four years after the European triumph, Chelsea were relegated to Division Two. With the debts greater than £3 million, it was an incredible decline.

Eddie McCreadie, left-back during the recent success took over and the lack of money gave him no choice other than to field homegrown youngsters plus a few old hands still around - Harris, Bonetti and Cooke. Against the odds it came together well and within two seasons, Chelsea were back in the First Division. Ray Wilkins, captain at just 18 was the new hero of the Bridge.

Yet no sooner had the step forward been made than another big one was taken backwards. McCreadie walked out after failing to agree personal terms on a new contract.

Sixteenth place that first season back was followed by bottom spot the next. As Chelsea dropped down a division again, Wilkins was sold to Manchester United to ease the financial crisis.

Creditors were howling at the door as three managers in four years, Ken Shellito, Danny Blanchflower and Geoff Hurst, failed to revive fortunes.


1980s
Long seasons were spent in Division Two, crowd trouble was a continuing headache and gates plummeted. Just 6,009 watched a London derby against Orient in 1982. Those who did turn up despaired at the quality of football played.

Crisis point was reached with the players unpaid and the bank not cashing Chelsea's cheques. Ken Bates, a businessman who had previously been involved with smaller clubs up north was asked to invest.

He bought the football club plus debts for a nominal £1. The stadium remained with a separate company.

What he found he was later to describe as 'a social club with a little football played on a Saturday'. Even the club's supposed fund-raising lottery was losing money!

While Bates went to work off the field, it was the left existing manager, experienced John Neal, to sort out matters on it.

The next season didn't go well. Chelsea teetered on the brink of relegation to the Third Division - a drop that could well have been fatal. A do-or-die game at fellow strugglers Bolton was deadlocked until, in the dying minutes, Clive Walker unleashed an unstoppable shot for a lifeline victory. A draw in the final home game that followed secured Second Division status.

In the close season, a large number of players were shown the door. With a modest budget, the shrewd Neal set about finding replacements. He worked wonders.


Six players were signed in the summer of 1983 for minimal money and the new-look team gelled instantly, winning the first game 5-0. It stormed to the Second Division Championship in style.

In tricky winger Pat Nevin, prolific striker Kerry Dixon and battling David Speedie, signed a season earlier, the fans had worthy idols once more.

The rapid climb continued with a sixth place finish in the first season back in Division One, Dixon sharing the Golden Boot with 24 League goals and 36 in all competitions. He was destined to become the club's second highest scorer after Tambling, finding the net 193 times.

Yet as with the previously promoted side, progress was again hit by the loss of a manager. Ill-health forced Neal to stand down.

John Hollins had been brought back to Chelsea as player/coach. Now our third highest appearance maker behind Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti was handed total control of the reigns.

A second sixth place-in-a-row was consolidation and the squad was strengthened by some quality players including full-backs Steve Clarke and Tony Dorigo, midfielder Micky Hazard and pacy Gordon Durie up front.

But the dressing room spirit was dissolving, important players were sold and the team tumbled down the table. Hollins paid with his job.

After four years back in Division One we were relegated once more, with a talented squad still there. This they proved by cruising to the Second Division Championship a year later with 99 points and a club record unbeaten league run.

Now under the guidance of Bobby Campbell, it was followed up by an impressive fifth place on the First Division return.
Similar progress off the pitch was proving problematic. Disloyal actions by former directors allowed ownership of Stamford Bridge to fall into the hands of property developers.

A long war of attrition followed. Millions that could have been spent on players were used up in legal fees as Bates refused to give up in the fight to keep Chelsea playing at a ground so integral to our history. Eventually a collapse in the property market dealt the speculators a fatal blow.


At the beginning of the new decade, money became available for our first £1 million-plus purchases, midfielders Andy Townsend and Dennis Wise, but the seasons that followed were frustrating. We failed to rise above mid-table and far, far too often were knocked out of the cups by lower league opposition. It was an embarrassing habit - giant-killed 13 times in just 12 seasons.

The football lacked panache and neither Campbell nor his successor Ian Porterfield stayed long.

In 1993 Glenn Hoddle was appointed to the manager's chair. Instantly the club's profile was raised and the quality of Chelsea's play improved, slowly at first but the momentum built towards an FA Cup Final appearance at the end of his first season.

Waiting at Wembley were Manchester United, a big occasion that came too early for this group of players. Chelsea lost 4-0 after a bright start. The scoreline was rather harsh.

The next year was one of progress again as Hoddle's tactics took a squad of limited size and ability to the European Cup Winners' Cup semi-finals, but his biggest contribution came in the summer that followed.

With the future of Stamford Bridge now secure, extra funds were available. A player of the very highest reputation was needed to kick-start the club and Hoddle was the magnet that persuaded Dutch legend Ruud Gullit to leave Italy for west London.

Another coup followed when we signed striker Mark Hughes from Man United. With the purchase of Romanian international wing-back Dan Petrescu soon after, flowing, passing football was back on the menu.

In just one season, Gullit was already being labelled Chelsea's best player ever and when Hoddle departed to become England manager in the summer of 1996, there was no-one better placed to take over than the ex-World Player of the Year.

Using his European knowledge and contacts, Gullit brought in famous Italian striker Gianluca Vialli, quickly followed by the Italian international midfielder Roberto Di Matteo and French sweeper Frank Leboeuf. Gianfranco Zola - another superstar of Serie A - was signed a few months later.

The FA Cup Final was reached in thrilling fashion and this time Chelsea were ready.

It took Di Matteo just 43 seconds, a Wembley Cup Final record, to fire his side ahead. Homegrown Eddie Newton sealed a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the second-half. A long 26 year wait for honours was over and what followed were the longest celebrations seen in the history of the famous old stadium.

Sadly not present was Matthew Harding, a lifelong supporter and young millionaire who had become vice-chairman. He had died in a helicopter accident when returning from a game a few months earlier. His legacy is the stand at the north end of Stamford Bridge, a construction he played a big part in financing and now bears his name.

The team was strengthened once more in the summer as Chelsea were quick to exploit the 'post-Bosman' transfer market. Gullit's eye for talent was as good as any manager in Chelsea history as inspirational midfield goalscorer Gustavo Poyet and young Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo were snapped up for next to nothing.

Added were Celestine Babayaro, England left-back Graeme Le Saux - returning to the club where he had first broken into the game - and goalkeeper Ed de Goey. All five would play a major part in the seasons that followed.

The next campaign was another historic one although Gullit was not to survive it. After new contract talks broke down in early 1998, he was replaced from within by Vialli.

Three months later Vialli already had two trophies to his name. Middlesbrough, again, were beaten 2-0 in the Coca Cola Cup Final with another youth product, Frank Sinclair, and Di Matteo the scorers.

Then in Stockholm, over 20,000 Chelsea fans saw Zola rise from the bench to score the only goal against Stuttgart and secure the European Cup Winners' Cup for a second time.

In the summer that followed, Frank Leboeuf was in the France team that won the World Cup. His central defensive partner in the Final, Marcel Desailly had just weeks before signed for Chelsea. Our profile on the world stage was rising all the time.

It was shades of 1971 once more as mighty Real Madrid were defeated to win the European Super Cup in Monaco, Poyet finding the net.

The season that followed saw our first genuine challenge for the English League title since the 1960s. We were to finish third, four points behind winners Man United having lost only three games. De Goey set a new Chelsea record for clean sheets in a season.


2000s
Third place meant the 1999/2000 season would bring Champions League football for the first time and it proved to be to Chelsea's taste as we became the first English club to reach the quarter-finals at the first attempt.

A famous Dennis Wise equaliser in Milan's San Siro stadium, Galatasaray's red-hot support silenced by a 5-0 win in Turkey and the giants of Barcelona beaten 3-1 at the Bridge were the highlights of the campaign.

The Spaniards eventually knocked us out in the mighty Camp Nou but there was plenty of consolation as we contested the last ever FA Cup Final at the old Wembley Stadium. It was Aston Villa's turn to suffer the Di Matteo Wembley goal habit - 1-0 the final score.

Just 20 years after the club had teetered on the brink of financial collapse, Chelsea equalled the British transfer record by paying £15 million for goalscorer Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. His first goal in his first game helped us raise the Charity Shield to make it six trophies in a little over three years.

Lifting the silverware was inspirational west London-born captain Dennis Wise, enjoying his reward for 11 years of outstanding service and his efforts in pulling together a multinational squad.

All was not well below the surface however. Problems were occurring between Vialli and an increasing number of his players and some of his transfer purchases had not worked out. The team was an ageing one and with the need for much rebuilding imminent, the club decided to look elsewhere for someone to oversee it.



Claudio Ranieri, an Italian who had built knockout cup-winning sides at Fiorentina in his homeland and Valencia in Spain was selected. His first season ended with Chelsea qualifying for Europe for a fifth season-in-a-row.

Hasselbaink won the Premiership Golden Boot with 23 league goals, earning him the right to be named in the same breath as Hilsdon, Bentley, Greaves, Osgood and Dixon when Chelsea centre-forwards are discussed.

Ranieri began his transfer work, shipping out Wise, Poyet and Leboeuf. He spent £42 million to bring in defender William Gallas, midfielders Frank Lampard, Emmanuel Petit, Slavisa Jokanovic plus wingers Jesper Gronkjaer and Boudewijn Zenden.

The rebuilding of a new compact Stamford Bridge was completed for the start of the 2001/2 season and for an FA Cup quarter-final that same campaign, Chelsea travelled to Tottenham.

This fixture had grown into no ordinary London derby. Over 12 years Chelsea had built an incredible unbeaten run over our local rivals, having not lost a single game to them during that time.

But in January 2002 in a League Cup semi-final, Spurs had recorded a rare and heavy success - beating us 5-1 on their patch. We returned six weeks later in the FA Cup, hungry for revenge and thumped them 4-0. Fulham were then beaten in the semi-final but a third consecutive London derby in the Final at Cardiff was lost to Arsenal 2-0.

Cup finals and top six finishes were becoming commonplace but debts accumulated in rebuilding the team, the stadium plus the construction of an adjoining hotel and leisure complex were causing concern.

There was relief when a win in the final game of the 2002/3 season over Liverpool saw us and not them qualify for the lucrative Champions League. But the debt burden still made the club ripe for new investment and on July 2nd 2003, Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea.

Just 36 years-old, Abramovich was a Russian billionaire almost unknown in England at the time.

News of the sale came out of the blue, and at first the picture was unclear. Would there be money for new players, would there be a change in manager and would Gianfranco Zola remain at the club?

Funds had been unavailable to offer the soon-to-be 37 year-old a suitable new contract. Now everything had changed but Zola had already given his word to a club back home in his native Sardinia. In this most incredible of weeks for Chelsea, possibly the most universally popular player ever to wear our shirt departed.

It soon became clear the direction the club would be taking when Abramovich sanctioned the biggest close-season spending spree world football had ever seen.

Young English talent was bought in the shape of Glen Johnson, Wayne Bridge and Joe Cole. Other Premiership clubs were raided for Gérémi and Juan Sebastián Veròn while Damien Duff was a new club record purchase at £17 million.

Italy's Serie A was the next port of call for two top level strikers, Adrian Mutu and Hernán Crespo, while the final piece in the jigsaw was Claude Makelele. The past Champions League winner from Real Madrid would anchor the midfield.

Over £100 million was spent on players for the new season and away from the pitch, Abramovich took the club back into private ownership.

The new-era Chelsea put down an impressive early marker with our first win at Anfield in 11 years in the opening Premiership game.

In November 2003 came two significant wins. Lazio were beaten 4-0 in Rome to set a new record margin of victory for a foreign team in Italy and then Premiership champions Manchester United were defeated to send Chelsea top of the table.

The championship challenge stuttered over Christmas but in the Champions League quarter-finals at Highbury, Arsenal were memorably beaten for the first time in 17 meetings.

Unfancied Monaco, managed by former Chelsea player Didier Deschamps stood between us and the Champions League Final. But in two games of wildly-fluctuating fortunes, the team from the Mediterranean principality won through. Back home, second place in the domestic league table was Chelsea's second best finish ever.

The squad had changed a lot under Ranieri's control and had a younger look but after four years without a trophy, the decision was taken to bring in a new coach capable of leading a concerted challenge for football's highest honours.

In just two seasons, Jose Mourinho had taken Porto to successive UEFA Cup and Champions League triumphs as well as back-to-back leagues plus domestic cups in his native Portugal.

Brimming with self-assurance, the 41 year-old set about instilling the same belief in a squad which had again been bolstered. Portuguese internationals Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho and Tiago followed Mourinho to London. Two of Europe's hottest young prospects, Petr Cech and Arjen Robben also arrived, as did Didier Drogba, raising the club record purchase fee to more than £20 million. Mateja Kezman was a second new striker.

One of Mourinho's first acts was to hand the captain's armband to John Terry, the best Chelsea youth product for over two decades.

A win over Manchester United on the opening day began the Premiership trail and once top spot had been gained in November, it was never likely to be relinquished.

The Championship was won with the best points total and best defensive record in English top-flight history. Terry was the first Chelsea player to be voted PFA Player of the Year while Lampard, who had scored 19 goals from midfield in all competitions, was the Footballer of the Year.

Chelsea may have fallen short in the Champions League again (losing to Liverpool in the semi-final) but a Carling Cup victory with the team from Anfield again the opponents, ensured 2004-5 was our most successful season ever.

It truly was the perfect way to celebrate Chelsea's first 100 years.

Never someone likely to sit on his laurels, Mourinho immediately went to work on adding more silverware to the first season title win and was backed financially as Chelsea spent big on Michael Essien from Lyon, making the Ghanaian a new club record purchase and the world's most expensive African.

England's Shaun Wright-Phillips was another £20 million-plus addition, important re-enforcement given the successful use of wingers the previous campaign, and Asier Del Horno from Spain was a new left-back. Hernan Crespo returned from loan for a second isolated season.

The wait for more trophies was a short one - Arsenal, our closest challengers the previous year, were defeated in the Community Shield and then again in the opening home game as the Blues raced away for a Premier League record nine straight wins at the start of a campaign.

The run included a 4-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield, the home side's worst defeat there in over 35 years. With title opposition nearly extinguished by November, Chelsea didn't let up despite defeat at Old Trafford. Victory in our last ever game at Highbury came midway through a club record 10 consecutive league wins.

Champions League progress was not so smooth - eventual winners Barcelona gaining revenge for the previous year in the first knockout stage - but although domestic form did falter a little in early spring, what had seemed likely from the off was confirmed as second-placed Man United were comprehensively beaten 3-0 as April closed to take the crown.

Chelsea became the first London club to win back-to-back championships since the 1930s. Frank Lampard, voted second best player in the world during the season, netted a remarkable 20 goals from midfield and broke the Premier League record for consecutive appearances.

In the summer of 2006, goodbyes were said to stars of the trophy wins, Eidur Gudjohnsen, William Gallas and Damien Duff especially. Prominent players on the world scene Andriy Shevchenko (for a club record fee), Michael Ballack and Ashley arrived to signal the intent to stay at the top.

However the third season under Mourinho was different from the out-in-front experience of the previous two. A steady start was severely jolted by a serious head injury to Petr Cech. Form was maintained until the Christmas period, a fortnight that was the backbone of the back-to-back title wins.

This time the Blues stumbled through the holiday season, further injuries to John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho and Carlo Cudicini far from helping. Though Cech returned, the casualty list remained long through to May, forcing Mourinho to play what he described as survival football.

Surviving may have meant runners-up in the league but it also included Chelsea's first domestic cup double. The Champions League ended at the semi-finals at Anfield (again) but the Carling Cup was won against Arsenal in Cardiff and then the FA Cup against champions Man United at Wembley, making Chelsea the last lift the trophy at the famous old stadium and the first at the shiny new one.

The goalscoring hero on both occasions was Didier Drogba, who enjoyed an outstanding season packed full with 33 goals.

Mourinho had led the club to the full quota of the domestic trophies available but his stay at Chelsea had only a few months to run.

In September 2007, the most successful manager in the club's history left by mutual consent. Avram Grant, who had joined as director of football in the summer, moved into the manager's chair as a change in playing style was sought.

Despite guiding Chelsea through a potentially difficult period the season was to prove a nearly one. Losing finalisits in the Carling Cup, a shock FA Cup exit to Barnsley with the competition seemingly there for the taking and despite a gritty pursuit in the title race ultimately falling just short.

The Champions League final could have provided the ultimate silver lining on a difficult season but bad luck was to be the final footnote as Chelsea lost on penalties in a dramatic match. Avram Grant left the club 3 days later and in June Luis Filipe Scolari was announced as the club's new manager.