Fifty years before a Jose Mourinho led Chelsea swept the rest of England aside, Ted Drake, Arsenal great watched on from the touchline as the Blues’ captured their first league title in 1955.
Edward Joseph Drake took charge of the Stamford Bridge outfit in 1952 and set about a revolutionary set of changes that would set the club on a pathway to success three years later. Commonly known as ‘Ted,’ Drake, rather ironically for Chelsea fans, he began his foray in football with a storied career as an Arsenal player.
A prolific forward for Arsenal in the 1930s, he was a key member of numerous title-winning sides, breaking countless records. Most noted for his pace, power and goalscoring ability, Drake famously bagged 42 goals for the Gunners in a 1934/35 title win. To this day, he holds a stand out scoring record. In a 7-1 league win for Arsenal at Villa Park in that very season, Ted remarkably helped himself to all seven.
After a career interrupted by the Second World War, Drake made his way into football management. Eventually landing up at Chelsea after a spell at Reading in 1952, he would impose his fiery, decisive character on a side characterized more for celebrity than championship pedigree.
Not unlike his successor 50 years later, Drake tore up the copybook immediately upon his arrival and changed Chelsea forever. Until that point, the club was known as ‘The Pensioners,’ had a reputation for big-name, unsuccessful signings and was synonymous with the affluence of its surroundings. The club had more affinity with the theatre and artistic flair of the Royal Court than it did for an FA Cup win or First Division title.
But Ted instigated to a change. Out went ‘The Pensioners’ and in came ‘The Blues.’ Out went the expensive, unproductive signings and in came younger, hungrier players. The Chelsea pensioner on the club badge was disposed of and replaced with the first iteration of the Blue Lion we still see on the crest today. In training, more emphasis was placed on the use of the ball and sessions were demanding, intense and comprehensive. In every way, Chelsea began to reflect the man in charge.
In stark contrast to Mourinho’s use of millions to craft a new side, Drake was able to pluck players like midfielder Frank Blunstone and goalkeeper Charlie ‘Chic’ Thomson using his superior knowledge of the lower reaches of the English leagues and, to an extent, Scottish football. Together with other young players like Peter Sillett, Peter Brabrook and latterly Jimmy Greaves, they would become known as ‘Drake’s Ducklings,’ young players of ability, hunger and a determination to succeed and work for their expectant manager.
His championship winning side of 54/55 did not start off with much notoriety though, showing the inconsistency characterized by the pre-Drake era. But come the turn of the year 1955, Drake saw his team begin to rack up wins, eventually overcoming defending champions Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 at Stamford Bridge late in the season to all but seal the title.
Such was the story of Drake and his Ducklings that season that, having won the title, they were clapped onto the pitch at Manchester United for the last game of the season by Matt Busby’s world famous ‘Busby Babes.’
Had Chelsea been permitted to contest the first edition of the European Cup by the Football Association in 1955/56, perhaps Drake’s Ducklings and not Di Stefano’s Real Madrid would be talked about today.
But nevertheless, the sweeping changes Ted Drake made to the club, turning it from a club of aesthetic prominence to one of professional pedigree, will forever be remembered in Chelsea history. A demanding, intense but highly knowledgeable and committed football man, Ted was every bit the larger than life character and sure to remain a legend at both the Emirates stadium and Stamford Bridge.
By Dan Hill
Edited by Jai Mcintosh
Abishai John, sportskeeda.com: https://www.sportskeeda.com/football/chronicling-chelsea-historic-1954-55-first-division-title-winning-season
Alan Hubbard, independent.co.uk: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/from-chic-to-cech-a-world-of-difference-for-drakes-ducklings-507868.html
Sandomenicohouse.com, ‘The Charm of Chelsea: wallow in the London district’s history and myth’: https://www.sandomenicohouse.com/blog/the-charm-of-chelsea-wallow-in-the-london-districts-history-and-myth/