Ted Drake, The Man Behind Chelsea First League Championship

Edward Joseph Ted Drake was the manager of Chelsea from 1952 to 1961. He led the club to their first league championship, in the 1954-55 season


In his playing days, Drake was a prolific centre-forward for Southampton and Arsenal, once scoring seven goals in a single game against Aston Villa on 14 December 1935, an English top-flight record which still stands.
With Arsenal, Drake won two league titles and an FA Cup. Drake topped the scoring charts in each of his five full seasons in north London ending his spell at the Club with a tally of 136 goals from 182 games. Were it not for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 his record would almost certainly have been more excellent. He was capped five times for the England national team and scored six goals.

Drake served in the RAF during World War II and retired from playing shortly after the war ended, owing to a back injury. In 1947, he turned to management and enjoyed a fruitful spell at Reading, leading them to runners-up place in the Southern Third Division in 1952. A few months later, he was appointed manager of Chelsea.
Drake immediately introduced a series of changes at Chelsea, aimed at modernising the club and ending its dated association with the music halls. He removed the Chelsea pensioner crest from the matchday programme and insisted the club adopt a new badge, which led to the adoption of the classic “Lion Rampant Reguardant” crest. This in turn saw the Pensioners nickname gradually replaced by the Blues. He also demanded more vocal and partisan support for the team at Stamford Bridge:

“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.”
On the pitch, the start of Drake’s reign was unfortunate; Chelsea finished 19th in the First Division – one point from relegation – in the 1952-53 season. The following season saw some improvement, with the team finishing 8th and setting a (then) club record of 14 games unbeaten. A year later Drake led Chelsea to their first major trophy, the league championship.

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Though the team were only 12th in November, they lost just four more games that season and secured the championship thanks to a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday on 23 April 1955. Of particular importance was a run of seven wins in ten matches during the title run-in, and two wins over eventual runners-up Wolves (the last gasp 4-3 win at Molineux and a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in April, secured with a Peter Sillett penalty).

Stamford Bridge Legends

Drake’s Chelsea failed to build on the title success and finished 16th in the 1955-56 season. The championship-winning side was gradually broken up, replaced by youngsters emerging from the club’s youth set-up, among them Jimmy Greaves, Peter Brabrook and Ron Tindall. The club was marooned in mid-table for the rest of the 1950s, a barren spell mainly lit up by Greaves’ prolific goalscoring. The nadir of Drake’s tenure came with a 2-1 home defeat to Fourth Division Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup in January 1961. Drake was sacked after a poor start to the 1961-62 season and replaced by player-coach Tommy Docherty.
After leaving Chelsea, Drake held various posts at neighbouring Fulham, including reserve team manager, director and, eventually, life president. He died on 30 May 1995.

70 years from his original appointment, Chelsea honour Drake with their new home shirt with a design that channels 1950s style for a new generation of Blues fans.

The ‘heritage-inspired shirt design notably features a Henley collar, and the simple, traditional blue base ensures the focus is instantly drawn to it. The heraldic lion – which was also introduced by Drake – features along the Henley neckline in a turquoise pattern, bringing forward a style from the time with a contemporary twist.
The club’s new pre-match shirt features a distorted version of the same turquoise outline of the ‘lion rampant regardant’ collar, taking over the whole of the torso for a striking warm-up option for the new season.


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.

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