The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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London welcomes Russian ‘Chelski’

London: Nearly sixty years ago Chelsea played a famous bridge-building friendly against Moscow Dynamo. Now they have been bought by one.

Roman Abramovich, the 36-year-old Russian billionaire who has agreed to buy the company that owns Chelsea, was said on Wednesday to be determined not only to make the club champions of England, but also of Europe.

Jonathan Clare, a London-based spokesman for Abramovich, told the Evening Standard: “This is not a snap decision. His people have been looking at a number of football clubs. They were looking for a club that was already good but also had the capability for further development to the highest levels of the game.”

That means long-overdue success in the English league and challenging European giants like Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Chelsea celebrate their centenary in 2005 — which is also the 60th anniversary of their famous post-World War II friendly against Moscow Dynamo and the 50th anniversary of their only English title success in 1955.

If Abramovich has his way then Chelsea, who play in next season’s Champions League qualifying round, will celebrate those anniversaries in style.

Abramovich has bought into a glamorous, if inconsistent club. Formed in 1905, Chelsea had to wait 50 years before winning their first major honour — the English league title in 1955. Typical of Chelsea, they were crowned champions with the lowest ever title-winning points total.

Until their recent success in Cup competitions, Chelsea’s “golden era” was the early 1970s. They attracted celebrity fans from the showbiz set and the location of Stamford Bridge near the trendy boutiques of the King’s Road gave them a certain elan. The success, however, was short-lived.

By 1975 Chelsea had been relegated to the old second division to start the “twilight years” of their existence. For the next decade-and-a-half the club, playing in a dilapidated Stamford Bridge with average gates of around 8,000, yo-yoed between the top two divisions, narrowly avoiding relegation to the third division in 1983.

By then, however, Ken Bates had arrived on the scene, buying Chelsea for one pound and inheriting their debts. Slowly, but surely, he rebuilt the club into the force they are today, developing the stadium into one of the best in the country. As author Brian Woolnough says in his book about Ken Bates, My Chelsea Dream: “There is no question that he saved Chelsea from folding and without this extraordinary character there would be no ‘Chelsea, Chelsea’ today.”

Or, as the tabloids had it on Wednesday, “Chelski, Chelski.” The deal Bates has struck with Abramovich is an extraordinary one as Bates will remain in control of the day-to-day running of the club as chairman while effectively clearing at a stroke debts of around £70 million.

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