Another New Coach? Are They Taking the Pelham?

(Or How Close to Barking Can You Get a Sphinx?)

In keeping with the melancholy and wistful mood engendered by all the speculation over the future of our Double winning manager, I find myself humming the Louvin Brothers classic version of an old American folk standard, “In the Pines”, which features the following lines, in amongst lots of woohooing and general yodelling.

The longest train I ever saw went down that Georgia line
The engine passed at six o’clock and the cab passed by at nine

[Chorus] In the Pines etc.

The longest train I ever saw was 19 coaches long,
The only girl I ever loved is on that train and gone.

(For those who are interested enough, here’s a very, very long train in Georgia. Set it running while you read on.)

If you were standing by the railway line that runs behind Stamford Bridge you’d have seen 24 coaches pass you by (not including caretakers). John Robertson would have passed at 1905 and Carlo Ancelotti at 2009. (That’s only about an hour and four minutes which shows that our trains are much faster than those on the Georgia Main.)

But seriously folks, in 106 years of football we’ve had 24 coaches or more properly, for most of them, managers. However giving them their proper title would have ruined my beautifully crafted opening, “doncha” think?

Those of you with a natural bent for arithmetic will already have calculated that we’ve averaged a manger roughly every four and a half years.

What we really need, you’ll be thinking, is a gritty Scotsman who can hang in there for the thick end of nearly thirty years and get us a bit of continuity.

The “Sphinx of Stamford Bridge” anyone?

Those steeped in their Chelsea history will lean back at this point, take a puff or two on the briar, hook their thumb into the waistcoat pocket and murmur, “David Calderhead 1907 to 1933 of course.”

For the rest of us it is worth noting that we did the old “employ a Scots person for 20 odd years” long before it was either profitable or popular. And where did it get us? Unfortunately despite spending a few bob and recruiting a fair amount of talent there were no league titles or trophies to show for it.

Now when you take a 26 year reign out of the equation, you’re talking a manager every three and half years.

But interestingly between the end of Calderhead’s reign in 1933 and Dave Sexton quietly closing the door behind him in 1974, we’d only had four other managers – Knighton (ex-Arsenal), Birrell (ex-QPR), Ted Drake and the Doc (the only other Chelsea manager to have also managed Porto). So far that is…

Six managers in 67 years albeit with a couple of World Wars in there. Sounds quite stable. No one put in a shift of less than six years.

Let us together take pause to consider those teams around us, and how they have coped in the managerial stakes.

(That train still rolling eh?)

(For purposes of comparison, I have taken 1905 as the starting point and excluded Caretakers or Committees. Where managers serve more than once, that is counted as a separate manager on each occasion. But nationality only once. Simples.)

Arsenal: 15 (4 Scots, 1 N. Irish, 1 French, 9 English)
Everton: 20 (3 Scots, 1 Welsh, 1 N. Irish, 1 Irish, 11 English)
Liverpool: 18 (4 Scots, 1 French, 1 Spanish, 10 English)
Manchester United: 16 (5 Scots, 1 Irish, 10 English)
Manchester City: 33 (6 Scots, 1 Welsh, 1 Swede, 1 Italian, 24 English)
Tottenham: 28 (2 Scots, 1 N. Irish, 1 Argentine, 1 Swiss, 1 French, 1 Dutch, 1 Spanish, 19 English)

To complete the comparison, here is the roll of honour for the highest office in football.

We can break it down as follows:

Chelsea: 24 (6 Scots, 1 N. Irish, 3 Italians, 1 Dutch, 1 Portuguese, 1 Brazilian, 1 Israeli, 10 English)

Not as shabby as one might think and we’ve certainly employed our quota of Scots, enough English, and more so than anyone, have opened up to the “foreign” manager.

And it certainly stands comparison with our neighbours: given that Fulham have had 33 and QPR 37 separate appointments in a similar time frame.

But it is worth emphasising that since 1974 we’ve worked our way through 16 managers in 37 years.

A managerial Merry-Go-Round? A bleedin’ Moulinex Blender more like! (Other makes of blender are, of course, available.)

Feeling dizzy? Have a gin, dab your forehead and lie down on the couch. (I’m not posh enough to have a chaise-longue. Do they even do them at World of Leather? Other furniture stores are available of course.)

But what of the Premier League era I hear you ask? We don’t care about you old timers dribbling on about the Middle Ages.

Well, we’ve had nine, Liverpool seven, City 11, Spurs 10, Arsenal three and United just the nameless “One”. And what of Rovers, the only other winners of the Premiership outside of “The Holy Trinity”? That’ll be another nine then.

What conclusions do we draw from all this? Well as Mr. MacAree of SB Nation blog “We Ain’t Got No History” recently argued, there is nothing ethically wrong with hiring and firing, of itself. It’s whether it works for the team. And it may to some extent have worked for the team under both Bates (eventually) and Roman, as there has been a more than steady improvement in the club’s fortunes. However you cannot set aside the greater resource, which was available in the latter part of the Bates era and very much in the Abramovich era. But equally it has been allied to perhaps a more “winning” mentality than previous eras.

(About half that train will have rolled past by now.)

If there is anything, other than a rather overdeveloped sentimentality, which makes me question the rather hurried comings and goings of these later years, it is this: there is not just a revolving door with the team management of late, but with the whole sporting side. Arnesen is now departing. There have been a number of talented coaches in the club staff who because they were good and ambitious have moved on. From the outside looking in, it is difficult to tell if there is a succession plan, a core of people maintaining a sense of continuity. Ancelotti, whether by choice or edict arrived with a small staff. If that is to be the fashion, who is taking up the slack? Who is providing direction? There is a lot of emphasis on who we should get in. But is there the same emphasis on support once they’re here?

It surely makes sense for the Academy, Reserves and ancillary setup to be as stable as possible even if the coaching of the first team changes with the weather. There must be a benefit to the club if they can bring through some playing staff from these junior ranks. Players who have been coached in a stable environment, who follow a “club” ethos and are primed to perform in a committed and professional manner, if only to give traction to those who come in from around the world and look for a centre to the organisation.

When you consider Ted Drake’s overhaul of the youth setup it is perhaps no accident that the 60s and early 70s was a time of comparative success, partly fuelled by a pool of young talented players. And when the club failed to maintain this we had little to fall back on in the hard times. It’s not about producing half a dozen stars every year but it is about trying to keep a core of people at the club who can provide a centre left undisturbed by the tornado whipped up by the managerial comings and goings. There are signs now with the success in the Youth Cup carrying through to the Reserves that this may have started. It needs to continue.

We have been fortunate enough to see a central group of senior players become a component in seeing the team through some difficult times. Kalou, despite being accused of not supporting Ancelotti was very recently trying to make the point that there needed to be a cohesion amongst the players, irrespective of who is coaching or managing. Not all clubs have this. We should be trying to feed this from within.

But enough preaching and philosophising. Come with me on a journey.

It is a journey not just across London but across time. Waiting at Fulham Broadway is our 23 coach train (Carlo is still with us and has gone ahead with the team). In each carriage sits an ex-manager ready for a trip up the District Line to watch us play West Ham.

The carriages are ordered by length of service, briefest tenure at the rear. Each carriage can hold say about 150 people, so that’s about 3,450 of us.

Here’s a map of the route for those of you who are unfamiliar with the District Line. We’re heading for Upton Park.

Now I understand that many of you will be incredulous at the way I’m stretching credibility but stay with me. Just because West Ham have taken the drop doesn’t mean we can’t play them in a cup game. And the District Line does run sometimes.

So choose your carriage. And yes, some of you will have to travel with Avram.

(I reckon the track should be nearly clear now down in Georgia.)

Losing carriagesWell, we pull out smoothly from Fulham Broadway and spirits are high. It’s beer and sandwiches all round, with canapés and white wine spritzers for the ladies. But we’re just halfway to the next stop when the trouble starts. We’re losing carriages off the back of the train.

So by the time we get to West Brompton, we’ve already lost Ken Shellito, Ron Suart, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Avram Grant and Danny Blanchflower.

Only one stop and we’re down to 18 coaches. 750 of you ain’t getting to the game.

On to Earl’s Court we go. But just past the halfway point we lose two more: John Robertson – our first manager – and Geoff Hurst.

And before we can pull into the station Ian Porterfield and Ruud Gullit are gone as well.

Two stops and we’re down to only 14 coaches. That’s 1350 fans stranded on the line.

Pelham 123You’re all familiar with the trope, common in film, where someone uncouples carriages, hijacks trains and so on. The Taking of Pelham 1·2·3 springs to mind.

Well something like that seems to be going on and we keep losing bits of our train. I suspect interlopers from the Hammers.

OK, signal to green, next stop Gloucester Road. Just a quarter of the way there and more trouble. Who’s gone now?

Eddie McCreadie.

Blimey just past half way and was that Luca? Yes. Gianluca Vialli.

And shortly before we arrive: John Hollins.

So three stops and we’re down 12. Over half a train. 1800 loyal souls marooned in the tunnels and cuttings. Deep breath, it’s on to South Kensington. Oh no, we’ve left one in the station!

Glen Hoddle.

And before we get too far down the line they’ve shortened the train again.

Bobby Campbell.

Wait, no it can’t be…

Jose Mourinho. The most trophied manager in our history.

Crikey, down to eight, I hardly dare to look around. Perhaps the perpetrator is in this carriage. Oh God we’re slowing down. I must get to the next coach.

Addio Claudio Ranieri.

So we roll into South Ken with just the seven left. Only the fourth stop and we’ve but a thousand odd to take on the Spammers.

Next station, Sloane Square. Goodness me we seem to be keeping it all rolling. Yes we’ve reached the fifth stop with our seven intact.

A mistake! Whaddya mean? Who? Oh no someone went just outside South Ken.

It was John Neal.

Down to six.

Panic is now general and we’re all looking at each other with rising suspicion.

Victoria next. But as we’re getting ready to pull in he’s gone. Who?

Tommy Docherty.

Right, we’re six stops down the line and we’ve lost 18 coaches. That’s nearly as many as the longest train someone ever saw. So where’s my girl now? On this train or gone?

Not again, they’ve got to the couplings one more time. Another one left standing at the platform.

Leslie Knighton.

How are we going to look turning up with 600 at the Boleyn? Where’s this? St James’s Park. At least we’ve managed to keep four coaches together through one stop.

Westminster next. What? No we’ve only just got going again. Who’ve we lost?

Dave Sexton.

So into Westminster. Eighth stop only three carriages. Less than 500 fans left. Nightmare.

Right, we’ve made it to Embankment. Let’s hope for the best.

Disaster. We’re only half-way to Temple and there goes one of the greats.

Ted Drake.

Pelham 123 threeInto the tenth stop, Temple. Two carriages. 300 fans. Those evil Hammers have reduced our train to this.

Well there’s nothing for it but to plough on. Blackfriars, Mansion House, we’re making some headway now. Into Cannon Street. Monument next. Whoa. What the… who’s standing still just as we leave the thirteenth station?

Billy Birrell.

We’re down to the last coach. 150 of us. All eyeing each other nervously. It’s just us and David Calderhead left.

Train crashMonument, Tower Hill, Aldgate East, Whitechapel, Stepney Green, Mile End. Maybe we’ve survived. That’s 19 stations. Bow Road, Bromley-by-Bow. Oh lordy West Ham. This could get ugly. Keep the dead-man’s handle down we ain’t stopping. We can’t go to the game, we’ll get mullered before we make it to the ground.

Plaistow, Upton Park, don’t stop… East Ham, that was 25 stations.

Change of plan. We’re going to Barking for a cup of tea and a visit to JT’s old house instead.

Oh no. We’re going too fast! What’s that on the track?! It’s all going wrong in a chorus of screams and grinding metal.

Oh dear, now we’ll never see Barking and neither will the Sphinx.

There are 41 comments

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  1. Nick

    A brilliant post, Blue Bayou. Thanks.

    Recently, during a damp day down here in deepest Cornwall, I made a few changes to the blog’s stylesheet. If things look a bit messy, try force-refreshing your browser’s cache (hold down the Shift key, click the Refresh button). Hopefully that’ll fix things.

    Anyway, I have an allotment to water. Later.

  2. Anonymous

     More fine stuff, BB – have I told you I can see part of the overground section of the District Line from my front window? A webcam might be arranged for a suitably large fee.

    I was thinking about that recent Kalou quote too, though more from the negative side. The club has certainly fostered an attitude that managers and their assistants are an entirely disposable commodity of limited value – hence  the summary dispatch of Wilkins and appointment of Emenalo and Clement this season, and indeed the appointment of Uncle Avram. 

    Basically it seems it hardly matters who occupies the nominal positions, those mysterious “sources close to the Russian tycoon” will make all the player purchase and sale decisions and the team will engender its own winning mentality encouraged by or in spite of the efforts of the coaching staff. 

    Is that really a sustainable strategy in the long term, though, particularly when the Terry/Lampard/Drogba types fade out of the team and need replacements to continue that spirit?

  3. Anonymous

    Let’s see, I personally don’t really blame Carlo he had a hard full of injuries, malaria riddle season with Wilkinson debacle in the middle  Nice combination isn’t it? However, Roman and board might see it differently, of course. Let’s see what they are going to do at the end and the end is near. 
    My guess Villas Boas as manager and Hiddink as football director, if they decide to dispose Carlo.   

  4. Cunningplan

    Well this is it guys, a final goodbye to you all, as previously mentioned doomsday arrives at 7am tomorrow morning courtesy of a prediction by Harold Camping.

    I know where I’ll be heading, I’m sure it’s going to be hot, just hope most of us end up in the same place. 😉

    • NorthernVA

      If I understand Harold’s prediction I do “believe” if we are not one of the chosen people we are supposed to still stay on earth for five more months. I think that is how the whole hell on earth thing factors into the equation. Obviously that s.o.b missed our bad moment.

      In any event I think the man should be brought up for sainthood. The man has essentially given the world a gift of Halloween in May. 

  5. NorthernVA

    BB- great read. I don’t know if you managed to see this interesting bit from Chelsea TV. It really is the definition of a take down. Patrick Barclay’s reaction to the entire scene is priceless. Really goes to show what passes for journalism these days. Carlo may have hope after all

  6. Anonymous

    on the 10:15 to Lime Street and discovered I’m sitting next to Steve Atkins, head of comms at Chelsea. I’ve tried grilling Steve for some juicy titbits but fortunately he’s extremely professional and won’t tell me anything interesting.

  7. Cunningplan

    Well I think that might well be the final nail in Carlo’s coffin.
    Looking forward to the summer break, before we do it all again.

  8. Jon

     wow we sucked today. I think that’s it for CA. We just don’t have that winning mentality anymore. I know there was nothing to play for but conceding late against the Toon and this dire display just shows our lack of passion and attitude. 

    No way Jose would have let those games slide. 

    P.S. I am now really worried about Torres, he is just terrible at the mo. Let’s hope next season he brings it all together. 

  9. Anonymous

    Jesus, that was awful.

    Defeat AFTER they’d gone down to 10. Clearly a meaningless game, but Carlo fielded almost his strongest team and we shit out, big time. Just unacceptable.

  10. Anonymous

    It is / we are, utterly batshit mental.

    Can’t say I’m too surprised, but you have to wonder who’ll be next. If this season has fallen short of expectations, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to give someone time in the job to build a legacy. Success immediately is a must.

    Worrying times, are there really any great candidates?

  11. Anonymous


    It’s enough to make we West London dwellers seriouly interested in Brentford FC.

    But no, on we go, wedded to our club with hollow-eyed resignation.

    I honestly don’t care who they appoint next (as long as it’s not Mad Rafa). What effing difference will it make? Win a bunch of games, lose a few as well, out they’ll go.

    I’m genuinely nauseous with despair at the thought of the press conference introducing Mr X. It’ll all be An Opportunity Too Good To Pass Up and Great Club With a Fantastic Future and Building On Foundations For The Future and all the bullshit bullshit bullshit.

  12. bluebayou

    Culinery Tip

    You’ll find us in the spice rack. Wedged between the beef stock and chicken stock.

    Labelled laughing stock.

  13. bluebayou

    And thanks to those who posted they’re enjoyment of my article. Should have said it earlier. But you know, preoccupied with the end of the world and now this.  So Carlo didn’t make it to Earls Court..

  14. Benjami

    Don’t know how to feel really.


    Sad we didn’t give him more time, we did finish 2nd and were a little unlucky.

    The team have been performing poorly at the same time achieving a great
    run of wins to the end of the season, with CA winning two managers of
    the month award.

    CA was a classy guy who had earned the respect of the media and his colleagues.

    He deserved and had earned from RA to give him more time, with which we would have gained more respect from the media.

    Would have attracted high profile players with a more European style. (Italian/Spanish speaking)

    He failed his objectives set by the board.

    Team looks extremely demoralised and has lost the winning mentality in big game situations (see last game)

    What happened during those few months (that cost us the title)

    Poor performances over the season against the top teams in the big games (exc a few anomalies).

    Has cost us money to sack him early 😛

    Looks a little lost in the Premiership and lonesome on the touchline (Personally I believe this is the board and CA’s fault, he should have demanded someone to support him in his contract, board shouldn’t have sacked Wilkins, board should have appointed a replacement)

    Never felt confidence in his team tactics and selection from Wilkins being sacked.

    Who next? For me there are only a few in the world I would consider

    TSO (highly unlikely)
    Pep Guardiola (highly unlikely, my personal choice, would work so hard to prove himself as a lot of people believe it is just his team not him that is winning everything, I might add I believe that as well)
    Hiddink (too old for me, great director of football)
    Zola (great assistant too inexperienced to manage)
    André Villas-Boas (too much TSO mark II, not enough experience at this level to manage players like Drogba/Torres/Terry/Lamps)

    Please not Rafa, please please please 🙁

  15. Harry

    CA knew well, the writing was on the wall. Despite, many going off thier rockers, and blaming RA or chelsea board, One has to look carefuly that any manager joins chelsea FC is given his goals. Managers at the helm are not rated according to thier good looks or personality. CA in two consecutive attempts failed in champion league quarter finals. the team is very placid to losses and void of any idea. The buck stops with manager, and CA sacking has been spot on. This is by no means to be disrespectful to CA or the likes. Sorry chaps, only performance counts.

  16. bluebayou

    Opta, who claim to be some sort of repository of statistical knowledge are tweeting CA’s win percentage in comparison to JM, Grant, Scolari and Hiddink.

    Scolari and Hiddink didn’t do a full season. How can that even be touted as some sort of credible statistical comparison? Why don’t they put Wilkin’s 100% recored as caretaker in there.

    Snake Oil Salsesmen.

    btw Is McGarry a credible source? If so we’re in a Glorious Revolution of 1668 scenario. The Dutch are invading. Whether we want them to or not.

    And Ancelotti must really have upset the suits. Our only Double WInning manager, not even a face to face meeting at the office for forms sake.

    • Nick

      Saw their tweet on Twitter, BB, and briefly considered retweeting it. But, having studied psychology at uni many moons ago, my alcohol addled brain realized that sample size wasn’t being taken into account. Snake oil salesmen indeed.

      No one is on match report duty this week. I will post the usual links and quotes etc. at some point, just as soon as my heart’s in it again. Feeling a tad apathetic about the whole shebang at the moment. What a shambles.

  17. PauloF

    Sturridge will miss the first 3 games of next season with suspension.

    We scored 14 goals more than Blackpool this season – imagine someone had told you that would happen at the start of the season?

  18. bluebayou

    And Chapeau to the boy Watts (see tweet above).

    Nothing becomes a crisis like an apposite quote.

  19. Anonymous

     Been on Twitter for most of night. Mixed views across CFC fraternity, but majority in favour of Carlo. Those, like me, who aren’t unhappy at the decision are immediately labelled ‘disloyal’ or ‘plastic’ . Thats what I hate, the utter intransigence of the blind faithful. Some fans are like religious fundamentalists with thier ‘if you’re not with us then you’re against us’ fuckwit utter cuntery attitude.

    I’ve far more to say on why I think its right and why I think Carlo had lost the team (Man Utd onwards seems to show that) despite the patronizing ‘we love Carlo; shit from the players but I do agree, replicating the faux pas actions of West Ham (Avram), Spurs (Jol), Newcastle (too many to mention), WBA (Robbie) etc is no way to carry on.

    But to those who think this is new, think back to Ken Bates…a serial sacker of managers but one who would unswervingly embarrass the club with his words and actions. His post-Harding death comments were an unsurpassed low in our checkered history and his electric fence idea showed the utter contempt he had for us fans.
    Yes, I want stability, but Arsenal have had that for 6 years or more now and in that time, in all this RA induced chaos we’ve won 3 premierships, 3 FA Cups, 2 Carling Cups, 2 Community Shields, god knows how many CL QFs and SFs and one final. Hmmm …..maybe Chaos theory CFC style is the answer

  20. Ososdeoro

     If Carlo did not know that he was sacked going into today’s game, then his lineup in my opinion showed an intransigence regarding the development of young players that will never be overcome. This had been, I thought, an easily fixable shortcoming in Mr. Ancelotti. But I guess I was wrong, so I don’t feel nearly as bad about this as I thought I would.

  21. Setnofva

    The next coach will be Villas-Boas, because he faces football as a science. Chelsea will be lucky if he signs for Clesea! 

  22. Ososdeoro

     another blog notes there are rumors of a Guus director/van Basten manager thing possible. Interesting.

  23. Anonymous

    Regardless of whether Carlo should have been sacked I don’t have a problem with doing it straight after the game.  At least it kills days of tedious speculation.  My sympathy for Carlo wasn’t enhanced by yesterday; traipsing all the way to Everton only to be given a performance where

    1. not a single player (until the introduction of Josh) could pass
    2. we allow a second rate forward to waltz through our defences as if it was a remake of Escape to Victory
    3. there’s no movement
    4. our play is just so so predictable
    5. when the opponents go down to 10 men and we need to kill them off we bring on the deadly Paulo Ferriera

    Personally I think 2nd is a bit flattering and even our recent good run our performances haven’t been convincing e.g. West Ham 3-0 we could easily have been two down if Robbie Keane had remembered how to shoot.

    Sorry Carlo, you seem like a lovely bloke and I’m really impressed with your improvement in English but this season has been a disappointment and there have been no signs of improvement.

    • Anonymous

       I never saw this coming from you, However I agree. Pointing to the board and blaming them in entirety smacks of Liverpoolitis. 

  24. bluebayou

    Optatwat – Dr Bayou’s Statistical Service – “Science is our only master”

    CA’s winning percentage 63%
    RA’s Chelsea appointing trophy winning managers percentage 50% (JM, Grant, Scolari, Ancelotti)

    Ray Wilkins winning percentage as Caretaker Manager 100%
    RA’s Chelsea appointing trophy winning caretaker managers 50% (RW, GH)

    I think I’ve made my point

  25. Der_Kaiser

    Can we have Ian Holloway next please?  If we’re going to continue down this path, the let’s at least have a decent giggle while we’re doing it.

    • Anonymous

      If ever a man looked crushed yesterday it was Holloway as he was doorstepped by Geoff Shreevs whilst forlornly trudging off the pitch. I look forward to Geoff popping up at the next funeral I go to and asking me ‘well Tony, how does it feel to have buried someone  very close to you’

      A lot of people don’t like Ollie because of his playing to the press. I just wish football had more like him and McCarthy at the top level. 

      Loved McCarthys post match ‘ I knew we’d do it, it was a piece of piss’ comment.

  26. Antonio Diez

     do i have an option to “like” prejudicially whatever BB comes up with? also, do i have the chance to change the button to “Absolutely spot on mate, as usual”?

  27. Ososdeoro

     Yeah GJ, like both Holloway and McCarthy a lot. Pieced together properly they’d make a great manager. It would be a perfect blend of creativity and smarts on the one hand, and hard-nosed blunt determination on the other.

  28. Shipping News - Chelsea FC Blog

    […] hotter than Fishy Fred’s chip fryer on a busy Friday night.It started when I gave Nick the Blog a steer in the direction of the District Line. Strange goings on. Too many bodies by the tracks. And I could see trouble for the Italian.And it […]

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