Ted Drake was
one of London football's favourite adopted sons, and little wonder. As a
fearless, rampaging centre-forward in the 1930s, he contributed an
avalanche of goals to the cause of all-conquering Arsenal; and two
decades later he guided less fashionable Chelsea to the high-point in
their history, their sole League Championship to date.
But there was more to the popular Hampshire man's appeal
than his professional accomplishments, impressive though they were. Ted Drake
was blessed with an infectiously sunny outlook on life in general and football
in particular. As a player he was dashingly courageous, thrillingly bold; as a
manager he was committed, perhaps a trifle idealistically at times, to that same
positive approach; and throughout more than half a century spent in and around
the game he was a modest, cheerful and unfailingly gentle man.
But for a relatively minor injury which forced him to miss
a schoolboy trial, Drake might never have taken his place in Highbury folklore
as arguably the Gunners' greatest ever marksman, certainly until Ian Wright came
along. That trial had been organised by Arsenal's north London rivals, Tottenham
Hotspur, who had been keen on the all-action youngster, but needed a little more
evidence before signing him. Thus the opportunity passed by and Drake slipped
into non-League soccer with Winchester City, while making his living as in
apprentice gas-meter inspector.
Soon a Southampton scout spotted his potential and he
became a Saint in November 1931, wasting little time in establishing himself as
a dynamic performer. Drake's method was direct: fast, immensely strong and
immeasurably determined, he packed a ferocious shot in either ''peg'', was
combative in the air and, while his approach was not overburdened with subtlety,
he could control the ball with commendable dexterity. Thus equipped, he netted
48 times in 72 League outings for Second Division Southampton before joining
Arsenal for pounds 6,500 in March 1934.
On acquiring Drake at the second attempt - the player had
refused to leave the south coast for the capital a year earlier - George
Allison, Arsenal's manager, described his purchase as ''the best centre- forward
in the world''; a bit steep perhaps, though before long the broad- shouldered
marksman was proving that the description might not be entirely fanciful.
That spring he contributed seven strikes in 10 games to
help secure the League title, then scored 42 (including seven hat-tricks) as the
Championship was retained in 1934/35 (Arsenal's third in succession), overcame
injury to snatch the only goal of the 1936 FA Cup Final against Sheffield United
and top-scored yet again as the Gunners garnered their fifth League triumph of
the decade in 1937/38.
Memorable individual performances were many during this
golden sequence, but two stand out with deathless clarity. He began the first,
at Villa Park in December 1935, as an unlikely hero, having been out of form and
nursing a heavily strapped knee; he ended it having scored all the Gunners'
goals in a 7-1 victory - still a joint record for a single match in the English
top division - and having hit the post with one of only two other shots.
If that encounter offers the most vivid illustration of
Drake's hunger for goals, then a game at Brentford in April 1938 surely serves
as the most telling example of another characteristic: bravery to the point of
foolhardiness. That afternoon he broke two bones in his wrist, received nine
stitches to a head wound and was carried off the pitch twice - the second time
unconscious, slung over the shoulder of trainer Tom Whittaker.
Indeed, many believed that it was this very
whole-heartedness which shortened Drake's career. Often he played on in pain and
it was a back injury sustained on an Army PT course, and later exacerbated on
the football pitch, that forced him out of the game in 1945. He retired having
netted 139 times in 182 League and FA Cup outings for Arsenal and six times in
five matches for his country, his future with England having been curtailed by
the emergence of the brilliant Tommy Lawton.
After the Second World War, in which he served in the RAF
as a flight lieutenant, Drake turned to management, beginning with non-League
Hendon before taking over at Reading in 1947. He proved an uplifting leader of
men, moulding the Royals into an entertaining, free-scoring side which missed
out narrowly on promotion from the Third Division (South) in both 1949 and 1952.
On the strength of that achievement, Drake took over as
manager of Chelsea in June 1952, breezing into a rather staid Stamford Bridge to
invigorating effect. One of his first acts was to banish the Chelsea
''Pensioner'' from the club badge, thus removing joke- fodder for a generation
of music-hall comedians, and soon the club was transformed from First Division
strugglers to title contenders.
The culmination of the revolution came in 1954/55 when
Chelsea upset all known odds by outstripping mighty Manchester United and Wolves
to win the Championship, making Drake the first man to earn that particular
honour as both player and manager. Few had believed that Drake would inspire
what was mainly a combination of rookies and shrewd but inexpensive transfer-
market acquisition into such a force, and the elated boss declared that it meant
more to him than all his own playing successes.
As Champions, Chelsea were entitled to a place in the newly
launched European Cup but, sadly for the ebullient Drake, the League and the
Football Association forbade entry and the Stamford Bridge board accepted the
ruling. A year later Manchester United were to ignore similar opposition, a
decision which offered a fascinating insight into contrasting degrees of vision
and ambition at two leading clubs.
In fact, in the event the Londoners probably would have
proved ill-fitted to face continental opposition. In the second half of the
1950s, despite the hyperbole surrounding the so-called ''Drake's Ducklings'' -
highly promising young players such as Jimmy Greaves, Terry Venables and Peter
Bonetti - results fell away alarmingly.
The board, having tasted success, wanted more. Tension grew
between directors and manager and in September 1961, following a disagreement
over the appointment of Tommy Docherty as a coach, Drake was sacked.
Disillusioned, he left the game who became the a bookmaker, but later he regretted
the decision and in 1965 he returned to the game to assist the Fulham manager
Vic Buckingham. That lasted only until Buckingham himself was dismissed in 1968,
after which Drake returned to the betting business before serving a six-month
term as assistant manager of Barcelona in 1970.
There followed a spell as an insurance salesman before he
went back to Fulham, running the reserves before becoming chief scout in 1975,
and then a life president of the Craven Cottage club.
Ted Drake, a gifted all-round sportsman who played county
cricket for his native Hampshire in the 1930s, retained a lively interest in
football into his eighties, though excursions from his Wimbledon home to watch
matches became increasingly rare as his health deteriorated. Unlike some of his
contemporaries, Drake betrayed no trace of bitterness that he had played in an
era when material rewards were meagre, a telling measure of a fine footballer
and a delightful man. - The Independent obituary