‘Blue is the color, football is the game’ goes the song the Chelsea squad recorded ahead of their 1972 League Cup final clash with Stoke City. And blue certainly is, and always has been, the color for the Stamford Bridge club.
Ever since its humble beginnings in 1904, when London businessman Gus Mears founded the club after failing to convince Fulham to take up residence in his newly-purchased Stamford Bridge athletics stadium, Chelsea have worn blue.
However, the blue jerseys the fledgling team initially turned out in were quite different from the kind of shirts worn by the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and David Luiz today. Not least because of the advances in the technology of sporting attire and the prevalence of sponsor logos on modern football tops, but also because the blue Chelsea originally turned out in was much paler, lighter, almost turquoise shade called ‘Eton blue.’
The simple design of the Eton blue tops, with their round neck and button-up collars, was combined with plain white shorts and black socks. This is how Chelsea continued to appear on match days up until 1912, when a switch was made to the royal blue which has since become synonymous with the club. So much so, in fact, that West London side’s nickname is simply the Blues.
Despite the change of shirt, the white shorts and black socks remained in place right up until 1961, when the socks also became white. The next, more radical, change came shortly after in 1964. Scottish manager Tommy Doherty, who also had a spell at the helm of Manchester United during his career, was in charge of Chelsea and decided that the club’s shorts should also be royal blue to match the shirt.
Doherty was of the belief that, by switching to blue shorts, Chelsea took on a more modern look, and one which was unlike any other major club in England at the time. The fiery Scot’s decision to see his team’s shorts match their shirts has stood the test of time, with the Stamford Bridge side having stayed true to the same kit layout ever since.
That wasn’t the only kit change that Doherty instituted at the club, however. In the build-up to their 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Villa Park, the manager insisted that the Blues should wear black and blue stripes in hope of emulating the great Inter Milan side of that era.
Much as Don Revie’s idea to have his Leeds United side draw inspiration from Real Madrid by matching the colors of Los Blancos, Doherty too hoped that his team would benefit from mirroring the Nerazzurri. How much a part the shirts played cannot be known, but Chelsea lost the semi-final to Wednesday, who went on to contest the final against Everton at Wembley Stadium — a game attended by Beatles duo John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Undeterred by the failed experiment, Chelsea tried to channel the spirit of another great side from the past for a period in the mid-1970s, wearing a red, green and white away strip supposedly as an homage to the famous Hungarian national side of the 1950s.
The great Hungary team of Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti and Sandor Koscis famously thrashed England 7-3 at Wembley in 1953, before going on to finish as runners-up in the following year’s FIFA World Cup, and are widely regarded as one of the best sides never to have been crowned world champions. Unfortunately for Chelsea, they experienced no such glories while wearing the same colors, remaining trophyless from their 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup triumph until being crowned Second Division champions in 1984.
In more recent times, the Blues have sported some garish away kits, with luminous oranges and yellows a particularly misguided choice, while the grey and orange number from the mid-1990s often appears on polls to determine the least appealing jerseys in memory.
The blue home shirt remains a classic, however. A simple configuration which, if adhered to properly, always produces attractive jerseys.
Blue is the color; long may it remain so.
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