Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ugly Ducklings Who Came Good; Hero of '55 on What It Will Take for Blues to Win League Title Once Again

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Ugly Ducklings Who Came Good; Hero of '55 on What It Will Take for Blues to Win League Title Once Again

Article excerpt


IF CLAUDIO RANIERI wants some tips on how Chelsea can win their first league title in 49 years, he could do worse than visit a modest housing estate in Reading. Roy Bentley still lives in the town, whose football club he managed for six years in the 1960s, but his heart will always be at Stamford Bridge. As an innovative centre-forward, Bentley captained Chelsea to their solitary Championship success in 1955, the highlight of a glittering career that also brought him 12 England caps.

Although their wages and lifestyles are incomparable - Bentley was paid [pounds sterling]8 a week at the peak of his career - there are similarities between the team assembled by Ted Drake and Ranieri's superstars.

Like Ranieri last summer, Drake bought the bulk of a new team when he arrived from Reading in 1952, though his newcomers such as Les Stubbs, Peter Sillett, Stan Wicks and Frank Blunstone were recruited from the lower divisions.

Drake's Ducklings, as they became known because of their tender age, took a while to settle in and narrowly avoided relegation in 1954, but their manager was given time. Bentley still follows Chelsea's results closely and hopes that Ranieri will be given a similar opportunity.

He said: "Ted said all along that it would take him three years and he was right. It doesn't matter how good you are, it takes players time to get used to each other. It's the same now, but the money is vastly different.

"Ted bought seven or eight players at the same time just as Ranieri has done. Ranieri's brought in eight world-class players, but with all respect to our boys they wouldn't consider themselves world class. We were written off as Third Division players, but that was a load of nonsense."

Chelsea were a standing joke long before Drake was mocked for scouring the lower leagues for potential ugly ducklings. In the late 1930s, a comedian wrote a satirical song entitled "The Day That Chelsea Won The Cup" so fanciful was the notion, but Drake changed all that.

The former Arsenal striker transformed the entire club, bringing in new players, changing the badge and becoming the first manager to take charge of training sessions.

Bentley said: "Everyone was used to Chelsea being a variety, vaudeville team, a complete joke. We were known as a joke club, but if they'd seen Ted speak to us in training noone would've doubted us. Ted changed everything you could think of and was way ahead of the game.

No-one else did any coaching about how to play the game and he was also the first to get reports on the opposition.

"The only thing he slipped up on was the Chelsea Pensioners. He moved them from trackside to the top of the stand because they were the last seats to be sold, but a lot of them were very old and couldn't climb up the steps. There was no demand at all for tickets as they'd rather be at the front. …

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