When Chelsea were first admitted into the Football League the marquee signing was, of course, the £50 purchase of Willie Foulke from Sheffield United. But he wasn’t even close to being the biggest purchase of a spending-spree which was almost Abramovich-like in its day. That honour belonged to Jimmy Windridge for whom the club paid Small Heath £190.
Windridge was born in Birmingham’s inner-city, in an area called Sparkfield one of five children to James and Harriet. After leaving school he followed his father in working for the Birmingham Small Arms company as a gun rifler.
After initially playing for local team Small Heath Alma he joined Small Heath in 1903 following in the footsteps of cousin Alex Leake who started at the club before moving on to Aston Villa and winning five England caps. Windridge played just 26 times for the then-first Division club, scoring seven before the Londoners came in with their offer.
That fee was conditional on Chelsea actually being elected to the league and he was one of three brought in within 24 hours from the Second-City club (who would soon become Birmingham City) alongside Bob McRoberts and James Robertson.
Of course Chelsea were elected and Windridge was a star from the outset.
He was in the line-up for the first-ever league match, a single-goal defeat at Lancashire Combination champions Stockport County on 2 September 1905.
Two days later the opening of Stamford Bridge was celebrated with the friendly visit of a Liverpool team which had won the 2nd Division the year before.
Reporting on the first match the West London Observer said of the new stadium: “The immense ground affords accommodation for over 60,000 already and still embankments are soaring skywards, while the gigantic stand on the eastern side rears itself along the whole length of the ground like a huge battleship”.
A crowd reported as somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 fans saw skipper ‘Fatty’ Foulke lead Chelsea onto the Stamford Bridge pitch for its first-ever match.
After a goalless first half the Blues went in front when McRoberts ‘dashed through the defence’ to score Stamford Bridge’s first-ever goal. Liverpool tried to fight back and hit a succession of low shots on the Chelsea goal but Foulke ‘in spite of his bulk got down to them as nimbly as a cat’.
The home team went back on the attack and McRoberts doubled the lead when scoring from a Windridge cross. Scottish right-winger Martin Moran got a third before, after the match had been halted due to a burst ball, Windridge made the score 4-0 with what was described as; ‘a really splendid goal’.
Next, Chelsea visited Bloomfield Road and recorded their first-ever league win with a long-range shot from player-manager John Tait Robertson proving enough to beat Blackpool.
Chelsea played their first home league match on Monday 11 September 1905 kicking off at 5pm against Hull City, another newly-elected club. Scot David Copeland scored twice in the first-half to put the Blues on their way. After the break Windridge scored twice inside four minutes to double the advantage and after Hull had pulled one back he completed the club’s first-ever hat trick to put the seal on a 5-1 win.
In October Windridge scored twice in his team’s first-ever FA Cup tie, a 6-1 preliminary round win over 1st Grenadiers but by early November he had been dropped from the team with David Copeland taking over at inside-left.
Chelsea performed well in his absence and Windridge had to wait until February before he got another chance with the first team. He scored two minutes into his return and, despite being out of the line-up for three months, still finished with 14 league and two cup goals.
George Hilsdon. Jimmy’s ally
For the 1906-07 season Windridge had a new ally up front in the quest for goals with George Hilsdon shrewdly brought in from West Ham. The pair combined for 46 of the team’s 80 (Hilsdon 28, Windridge 18) as the Blues won promotion at the second time of asking.
The pair’s goals had played a huge role in helping Chelsea get to the top flight and both scored in the first-ever game in the 1st Division. On 7 September 1907 Sheffield United visited and in front of over 25,000 at Stamford Bridge it was Hilsdon, set up by Windridge who got the club’s first goal in the division. But then things started to go wrong.
Before half time, full-back Joe Walton was carried off with a serious injury (one which forced him to miss the rest of the season) leaving the team with 10 men and the visitors soon equalised when Drake beat ‘Pom Pom’ Whiting. In the second half the depleted home team were unable to hold off the Blades who scored three more with Windridge managing a consolation with what ‘The Sporting Life’ called; ‘A delightful goal’.
Windridge was carried off during a November win over Bristol City but he returned in time to score in the 4-1 Christmas Day victory at Liverpool. He also got two in the 9-1 FA Cup win at Worksop in early 1908 where Hilsdon scored six and this form saw both players picked for the England team that travelled to the Solitude Ground in Belfast to play Ireland in February 1908.
Hilsdon scored twice in the game with future Chelsea star Vivian Woodward, then of Spurs, getting the other goal in a 3-1 win.
The same trio were picked to play against Wales at Wrexham a month later and all got on the scoresheet. Woodward grabbed a hat-trick, Hilsdon scored twice and Windridge got one as England romped to a 7-1 win with Billy Wedlock scoring the other goal.
Next up was a clash with the ‘Auld Enemy’ at Hampden Park and the selectors unsurprisingly made no changes to the front three with the Chelsea pair featuring just 72 hours after a Hilsdon hat-trick had seen the Blues record a 3-0 win at Everton.
Previewing the match, the wonderfully named newspaper ‘The Scottish Referee’ called Windridge; ‘The best backer-upper in the league’ and further praised him saying the inside-forward; ‘always makes for combination and sacrifices self to assist his partner. Most of Hilsdon’s goals come from the ‘Brum’s’ judicious passes’.
A new world record attendance of 121,452 were present and they saw Andrew Wilson of The Wednesday give the Scots a first-half lead. Even before this the visitors had suffered a blow when right-winger John Rutherford was injured making him a virtual passenger for the remainder of the match.
England drew level with 15 minutes remaining and it was Windridge who levelled. The man described as ‘Windridge the Wizard’ in the ‘Athletic News’ shot from distance and the ball hit the net just under the crossbar before rebounding back into play. The Scots tried to play on but referee Jim Mason signalled a goal and the game was, and finished, all square.
The Hungary and England teams in 1908
After Chelsea had ended their first season in the top flight in a respectable 13th, thanks in large part to Hilsdon and Windridge who scored 34 of the team’s 53 goals both were chosen for that summer’s national team continental tour. Four matches were played with England winning all comfortable by an aggregate of 28 goals to two. Windridge played, and scored, in every match including two in the 6-1 win over Austria in Vienna.
He played just one more match for his country, failing to score in the 4-0 win over Ireland at Bradford’s Horton Park Avenue ground in February 1909, the first since the tour, where the goals came from Hilsdon and Woodward who each bagged a brace. For that match a third Chelsea man, right-half Ben Warren, also made the line-up and Windridge, although not scoring, was brought down for the penalty that Hilsdon converted for his second goal. Even though he failed to get on the scoresheet, the ‘London Daily News’ called him the best of England’s three inside-forwards and indeed went further calling him ‘perhaps the greatest currently playing’.
However he (along with Hilsdon) was surprisingly dropped for the next match, against Wales, and his international career came to an abrupt end with eight caps and seven goals and having equalled the record of scoring in six consecutive matches.
Windridge made 34 starts for Chelsea in that 1908-09 season, scoring six times and his appearances tally gradually dropped over the next three campaigns, although he got the winner in the December 1909 victory over Spurs in the first-ever clash between the clubs. In November 1911 he was sold to Middlesbrough for a fee ‘exceeding three figures’. By the time he left the club he was the only survivor from the first league match and his Stamford Bridge career came to an end with 143 league starts and 54 goals.
Windridge spent three seasons on Teeside before going ‘home’ and signing for Birmingham in 1914. In 1915 he scored five times in one match against Glossop before his career was brought to an end by the outbreak of the Great War.
Also an accomplished cricketer, Windridge made seven first-class appearances for Warwickshire.
In later life Windridge made his home back in Birmingham and was mine-host first at The Woolpack and then at the Bull’s Head in Hall Green and it was here that he passed away in September 1939, leaving behind his wife Nellie.
Jimmy Windridge was undoubtedly overshadowed during his time at Stamford Bridge by bigger personalities such as Willie Foulke, George Hilsdon and Vivian Woodward. But ‘The Wizard’ clearly played a major role in taking the club to the top flight, and in helping to keep them there. Also the job as Hilsdon’s ‘backer-upper’ could not have been better performed.