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Unearthing treasures of Chelsea's past

Saturday 17 November 2012 18.40 CET
Roman Abramovich (Chelsea FC)

"You've got no history" was the familiar refrain from the Liverpool FC fans in the away enclosure at Stamford Bridge last weekend – a reference to the fact that Chelsea FC's days as serial trophy winners began relatively recently.

If Exhibit A in Chelsea's defence is quite evidently the European Cup won in Munich in May, Exhibit B is rather less obvious: a 50-year-old Londoner called Rick Glanvill. "I point out to people who claim we have no history that nine times we have been the best supported club in England over a season – with the highest average attendance," he explains. "We've always been a big club, just not always a successful one."

Glanvill ought to know: after all, he just happens to be Chelsea's club historian. He is the man who wrote the club's official biography to mark their centenary in 2005 and acted as curator of the museum opened at Stamford Bridge six years later ("London's largest football museum," he is quick to note). 

Yet his association with Chelsea goes back much further. A lifelong supporter, whose boyhood hero was the gifted Scottish winger Charlie Cooke, he began writing for the club magazine and newspaper in the early 90s and his experience as a family historian and genealogist makes him perfect for the role of unearthing the treasures of Chelsea's past.

"Assisting the club on anything of a historical nature" is his broad remit. This includes everything from answering weekly queries from people "who believe their ancestors played for the club" to devising a guided tour of the Brompton Cemetery behind Stamford Bridge, the last resting place of Chelsea's founder, Gus Mears. He also helped Paul Canoville, Chelsea's first black player, write an autobiography.

The Chelsea of Canoville's day may seem rather unlike today's club, but Glanvill describes the Blues' struggles in the 70s and 80s as "the anomaly in our history", drawing a thread between the past under the Mears family, owners for some three-quarters of a century, and the present day under Roman Abramovich. "We were created by a bunch of millionaires to have a bit of fun through football and now we have a billionaire who is hoping to have a bit of fun through football as well.

"When Gus Mears died in 1935, he left the equivalent of £1.5bn in today's money," adds the author of the recently published The Chelsea FC Miscellany, explaining how "82,905 people came to watch Chelsea in one match in 1935, [but] they were much more interested in the fun and the entertainment and the business side of it than in silverware.

"Chelsea have always been an unusual club, we had a lord – Lord Cadogan – as our president when we started out and we've always had the association with showbusiness. Our supporters have numbered Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch. We've always been a cosmopolitan club and really having a Russian owner is just an extension of that story." A story that Glanvill knows as well as anyone.

Rick Glanvill's top five Chelsea moments
1. Winning the 1970 FA Cup final replay v Leeds United AFC
"That Chelsea team had swagger and that replay achieved the highest TV viewing figure for any British club football match – 28.5m people."

2. Ruud Gullit arriving in summer 1995
"It turned us from being a struggling team to a team on the back page of every newspaper around the world. Ruud had such an important role to play."

3. 1997 FA Cup final victory v Middlesbrough FC
"Roberto Di Matteo scored inside a minute, it was amazing. We hadn't had success for so long but it felt like the club had been completely rejuvenated."

4. Premier League champions at Bolton Wanderers FC in 2005
"We won the league for the first time in 50 years – before that we used to get taunted about winning it in black and white."

5 UEFA Champions League winners in Munich
"To do what we did in the home of our opponent, in a magnificent stadium with a fantastic atmosphere, and with Didier Drogba – probably my favourite all-time player other than Charlie Cooke – having such a part in the whole drama was overwhelming."

The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.

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