Les Stubbs: Tenacious forward who helped Chelsea to their first League title in 1955

Les Stubbs was a salt-of-the-earth type of footballer, short on artistry but long on strength, commitment and physical courage, sterling qualities which helped Chelsea to the League title of 1954-55. It was the first major trophy in their history and a triumph which destroyed forever the club's unfair image as a music-hall joke.

Although the energetic front-runner supplied a mere five goals in 27 appearances during the campaign and lost his place periodically to a precociously gifted young amateur, Seamus O'Connell, he proved an admirable and unselfish foil to Roy Bentley, the elegant England international marksman. Ever the stout cudgel to Bentley's stylish rapier, Stubbs typified the indomitable spirit of Ted Drake's modestly assembled but impeccably drilled combination, which defied widespread expectations that the more fashionable Wolverhampton Wanderers or Manchester United would prevail. True, the men from Stamford Bridge suffered 10 defeats and garnered what was to remain the lowest championship-winning points total (52) since the War, but still they finished the equivalent of two wins better off than their nearest rivals, Wolves.

As a teenager Stubbs had shone for Great Wakering Rovers, the club which carried the name of his home village in Essex and which still flourishes today, before joining neighbouring Southend United of the old Third Division South, in May 1948. The powerful rookie thrived at Roots Hall, weighing in with 40 goals in 83 games for the Shrimpers, a tally which attracted the attention of Drake, who was renowned for plucking talent from the League's lower reaches.

Stubbs moved to Stamford Bridge for £10,000 in November 1952, but made a slow start to life in the top flight, appearing only five times and failing to score as the Blues only narrowly avoided relegation the following spring. But gradually, as the shrewd Drake massaged his confidence, Stubbs blossomed, earning a regular place and scoring nine times as the team rose to the top half of the table in 1953-54.

That set him up for his telling contribution to the title-winning season, during which his ceaseless industry endeared him to the Stamford Bridge fans and suited the make-up of Chelsea's forward line. His fearless foraging in all attacking areas created plenty of space for Bentley and deep-lying inside-forward Johnny McNichol to exploit, while he linked effectively, too, with wingers Eric Parsons and Frank Blunstone.

Often Stubbs excelled in taxing away fixtures, such as at Sheffield United, where he struck the winner, and at Sunderland, where he registered in a 3-3 draw; but his most memorable hit came at Wolverhampton in December. That afternoon in the Molineux mud Chelsea were facing the reigning champions, who led 3-2 near the end before Stubbs eluded the England captain Billy Wright to equalise, then Bentley plundered the decisive goal in stoppage time.

Crucial though such contributions were, however, none were as spectacular as his 40-yard effort in a 4-1 demolition of Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge, where regulars talked about the raking trajectory of his shot for years afterwards. Yet just as Stubbs's star appeared firmly in the ascendancy, there came the challenge of O'Connell, who never turned professional, choosing instead to help his father in a cattle-dealing venture, and that despite scoring a hat-trick on debut in a 6-5 defeat at Old Trafford.

Despite O'Connell's refusal to forsake the family business, after the championship campaign Stubbs could never quite cement his claim to the No 10 shirt, and as the decade wore on he was engulfed by a rising tide of young talent, the likes of David Cliss, Ron Tindall, Peter Brabrook and the incomparable Jimmy Greaves.

They were tagged "Drake's Ducklings" by the newspapers, a nod in the direction of the Busby Babes, and although only one of them might have been expected to thrive with Manchester United before the Munich air crash of 1958 – Greaves would have walked into any team, in any era – the Stamford Bridge door was gradually being closed in Stubbs's face. Still, he played for a London representative side in the inaugural Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, set up in 1955 to promote international trade.

By the time of his transfer back to Southend in November 1952, Stubbs had accumulated a respectable 35 goals in 122 senior appearances for Chelsea. He remained with the Shrimpers for a season and a half before leaving the League, initially to serve Bedford Town, finally returning to his roots with Great Wakering. He played on for Rovers until he was 53, latterly in a pair of spectacles secured by an elastic band.

In 2005, half a century on from Chelsea's first League title, he was one of the survivors of Drake's team to attend the Stamford Bridge celebration of the club's second title, secured that year under José Mourinho.

Leslie Levi Stubbs, footballer: born Great Wakering, Essex 18 February 1929; married (one daughter, one son); died Great Wakering 1 February 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?