Chelsea and Arsenal met in the First Division of the Football League at Stamford Bridge for the first time on the 9th November 1907 – 30 years after the stadium had first been opened for use by the London Athletic Club. Chelsea won 2.1 with both goals scored by George Hilsdon. Arsenal’s reply came from Charlie Satterthwaite.
George Hilsdon was the first player to score 100 goals for Chelsea and a weather vane modelled on him can still be seen at Stamford Bridge. Legend has it that Chelsea will suffer ‘great misfortune’ if it is ever removed, as it was during ground works in the late 1970’s when Chelsea were in financial and football decline. Hilsdon was the victim of a gas attack on the Western Front in WWI and never played professional football again, dying in 1941. His grave is unmarked.
This first match was watched by a then-record crowd for England’s top division: 65,000. Arsenal were still known as and based at Woolwich Arsenal at the time but they had a huge away following for this match due to it also being the 66th birthday of King Edward VII. The munitions factory - where many of the workers who followed the club were based – was closed for the day, hence they were free to travel to West London.
In fact, Arsenal could have been more local rivals of Chelsea than Tottenham Hotspur. A local businessman – Henry Norris – had a significant role in the development of both clubs. Amassing a fortune from property Norris became a Director and then Chairman of Fulham. Another Edwardian businessman called Henry – Henry Augustus Mears – had acquired Stamford Bridge with a view to it becoming one of the finest venues for association football in the capital if not the whole country. He offered Norris the chance to move Fulham FC to the ground but Norris refused to pay the annual rent of some £1500 and so Mears created his own team – Chelsea FC – in 1905. Had Norris not been so careful with his money, there might not have been a Chelsea football club at all.
Five years later Norris, still Chairman of Fulham became a majority shareholder of Woolwich Arsenal which had gone into voluntary liquidation. Becoming Chairman of that London club too, Norris proposed merging them with Fulham to form a super-club. The move was blocked by the Football League and so Chelsea and Fulham remained local rivals rather than Chelsea and Arsenal.
This match between the two teams in 1907 was the first ever to be played by two London clubs in the First Division and so the first major ‘London derby.’ All subsequent league meetings between the two sides to date have been in the top tier of English football (the old First Division and now the Premier League).
Woolwich Arsenal got their revenge the following season with a 2.1 win on 28th November 1908 – Chelsea’s goal coming from George Hilsdon again. The Gunners won on Chelsea turf in the season after that as well, before the first draw – 1.1 – in this league fixture on 15th February 1913. This was the last time the two sides met before Woolwich Arsenal moved to Highbury and changed their name to Arsenal.
Indeed, after that win in their first meeting, Chelsea did not win the fixture again until 13th December 1919 when they won 3.1 with goals from Robert McNeil, John Cock and Henry Ford in front of a huge post-war crowd of 60,000.
The fixture on 12th October 1935 was played in front of another enormous crowd: 82,905, which was the second highest recorded attendance for an English league match. It finished in a 1.1 draw. Joseph Bambrick scored for Chelsea and Jack Crayston for Arsenal
Arsenal's record league win at Stamford Bridge came in front of 74,667 football fans on 29th November 1930 - a 5.1 victory, with David Jack scoring a hat-trick as Arsenal moved closer to their first League Championship win and domination of English football in the 1930s. They scored five times again on 24th November 1934 - in a 5.2 victory this time - with legendary Arsenal centre-forward Ted Drake scoring four of Arsenal’s goals. Drake would go on to manage Chelsea in 1952 and was largely responsible for changing their nickname from The Pensioners to The Blues.
The Gunners also scored five goals in a 5.3 win on 29th October 2011 with Robin Van Persie scoring a hat-trick for the victors.
Chelsea’s largest win in the fixture came in a 6.0 win in the Premier League on 22nd March 2014 which was also for Arsène Wenger (the Arsenal manager) his 1000th game in charge. This is the highest number of goals Chelsea have scored against Arsenal in a league fixture at Stamford Bridge and also represented the biggest margin of victory by The Blues. Oscar scored two goals that day, along with one each from Samuel Eto'o, Andre Schurrle, Eden Hazard and Mohamed Salah in front of an attendance of 41,614.
The sides are neck and neck in terms of wins in this fixture. In the years when Chelsea have gone on to win the League Title, they have never lost at home to their rivals from North London, drawing the matches in the 1954/55 and 2004/05 seasons and winning each of them in 2005/06, 2009/10 and 2014/15.
For Arsenal, in the 13 seasons where they have finished as League Champions, they have only lost at Chelsea on two occasions (Chelsea were in the Second Division in the 1988/89 season so there was no fixture) – on 29th August 1970 when Paddy Mulligan and John Hollins scored for Chelsea and Eddie Kelly got one back for Arsenal - and on 2nd February, 1991. Kerry Dixon and Graham Stuart scored for Chelsea that day with Alan Smith replying for Arsenal in front of a crowd of 29,094. This was the only league defeat of the season for George Graham’s Arsenal team and their first in 27 First Division matches, stretching back to a 2.0 loss at Luton Town on 21st April 1990.
Chelsea have won the last three league fixtures at Stamford Bridge including a 3.1 win on 4th February 2017 which featured a brilliant individual goal from Chelsea's Eden Hazard and left Chelsea 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League table as a consequence.
You can read the full Arsenal FC story in our First Football Histories book.
Author: Mark Rasdall
Title: Founder, The Football Ground
Date: 6th February 2017