Although bigger crowds have watched the two teams play each other in Cup Finals and other showpiece occasions, the highest league attendance for a match involving Chelsea and Arsenal came in 1935.
That occurred in 1948 when Manchester United played Arsenal at Maine Road (Manchester City’s old ground) because Old Trafford was unavailable, because it had suffered war damage and was undergoing repairs. That was watched by 83,260 people, a record that is likely never to eb beaten because of the reduction in stadium capacities, and the replacement of sanding with seating.
The 82,905 souls that packed into Stamford Bridge on October 12th of that year was the highest ever n English football to that date, and the figure has only ever once been surpassed for a league match once since, and that was a game also involving Arsenal.
Arsenal were the dominant side in England in the 1930s, an era that began when they lured Herbert Chapman away from Huddersfield Town, who he had guided to an FA Cup triumph and back to back league titles.
Arriving in 1925, Chapman completely transformed Arsenal on and off the pitch. Unlike many of his English contemporaries, Chapman was a fan of the continental game and was not afraid to copy some of its tactical innovations. He also recruited new players and placed a high emphasis on fitness.
And off the pitch, he experimented with innovations like floodlights, and oversaw much of the development of the Highbury ground in the early 1930s, including the design of the scoreboard and the turnstiles at the ground.
He even persuaded London Underground to change the name of the adjacent Gillespie Road station to Arsenal, the first club in the world to have a football stadium named after.
The results soon followed. Never having won anything before, Arsenal won the FA Cup for the first time in 1930, and the league title the following year.
Four more league titles and another FA Cup would come before the outbreak of the Second World War brought an end to professional football until its end.
Arsenal’s success made them the team that everybody wanted to see and beat, and they drew huge crowds wherever they went.
By the time that the match was played in 1935, however, Chapman was gone. He had caught pneumonia on a scouring trip and unfortunately died. George Allison took over as manager, but the success continued.
At that time, Chelsea’s successes lay in the future. They had been founded in 1904, and had reached the FA Cup Fianl in 1915, losing eventually to Sheffield United, and, five years later, had finished third in the old First Division.
That though proved to be something of a high water mark, and, despite remaining in the First Division throughout the 1930s, were never serious title contenders.
That did not stop them packing their Stamford Bridge ground regularly though, and everybody it seemed wanted to watch the Arsenal match that October, including 15,000 who are reported to have made the journey from North London.
They were rewarded with a fast, open entertaining game which saw Cliff Bastin hit the post for the visitors in the first-half, but the scores remained scoreless at the interval.
Chelsea took the lead 10 minutes after the break when a move involving Billy Mitchell and Jimmy Ague freed up Joe Bambrick who evaded his marker and tapped the ball home.
That galvanised the league title holders into action and they got their reward for almost constant pressure when Jack Crayston equalised,
Both sides had chances to win it but it ended all square, and the crowd dispersed, although it took hours for the streets around Stamford Bridge to clear.
Andy is an exiled English football fan living in Cyprus. He loves all sports but football is his abiding passion, and he still has dreams every now and then about scoring the winning goal in a Wembley Cup Final, even though his playing days are long gone. He follows most major leagues, across Europe at least, and has a favoured team in each. When he’s not watching, listening, reading or downloading podcasts about football, he spend his time worrying about his beloved Arsenal.