Chelsea Football Club have played their home games at Stamford Bridge since 1905. The club itself was founded to make use of the stadium acquired by Ray and Gus Mears, and although it has been significantly redeveloped over the years, it remains on the same plot of land in SW6.
The freehold of the site is owned by the Chelsea Pitch Owners, a consortium of fans set up in the 1990s to stop the threat of a forced sale to property developers. John Terry is the current president, and the CPO lease both the ground and the Chelsea name back to the club for a pittance.
Redeveloping the stadium throughout the years has taken the club to the brink of bankruptcy on several occasions.
Ken Bates, the previous owner of Chelsea, was able to buy the club in 1982 for just £1 due to the mountain of debt that the East Stand had incurred before his plans for the West Stand left him in a similarly perilous position. Roman Abramovich’s billions have made these concerns a thing of the past, but the current restrictions on revenue generation could cause problems in the future.
The introduction of all-seater stadia following the Hillsborough disaster reduced capacity to a maximum 41,800. Including food, beverage and merchandise purchases, matchday revenue at Stamford Bridge was £261.1 million for the 2011-12 season, behind Manchester United’s £320.3 million and way off Real Madrid’s £414.7 million.
The current site at Stamford Bridge is awkward to say the least. An article on the official website highlights the issues that are preventing expansion, most notably the lack of emergency exit routes. Currently, all spectators leave the stadium complex onto the Fulham Road, with alternative routes blocked by a railway line on one side and houses which flank the site.
Although adopting the Safe Standing campaign would allow for a higher capacity—and better atmosphere—another exit route would still need to be found. An expensive footbridge over the railway line leading to Brompton Park Crescent would be the only real option, needing permission from Transport for London, National Rail and the local residents.
As perfect as this option would be at keeping everyone happy, the government have no plans to discuss the legislation that requires all-seater stadia any time soon.
This leaves Chelsea with no viable option for the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge.
Bids were submitted for the Earls Court Exhibition site, a mere 10-minute walk from Stamford Bridge. The bulk of that site has been sold to developers who are planning a multipurpose residential and leisure complex, but there is a sliver of land which is owned by Transport for London that Chelsea could yet buy. However, the size and accessibility of this new site present more problems than developing the current stadium, leaving it as an unlikely last resort.
Their bid for the Battersea Power Station complex was rejected in favour of a Malaysian planning consortium. Fans who had been sceptical about moving were largely won over by the artist’s impressions that were leaked to the Daily Mail, but by then it was too late.
This leaves the club stuck between a railway line and a conservation area.
The CPO have stipulated that the club will be unable to call themselves Chelsea FC if they leave Stamford Bridge. The club have offered to buy back the name and the site freehold with a guarantee that they will not move more than three miles from the current site before 2020. However, this proposal failed to get the 75 percent majority needed from the CPO shareholders and without a confirmed site for relocation, that is unlikely to change.
Without Stamford Bridge there would never have been a Chelsea FC, but a 60,000-seater stadium is a necessity to sustain their status as a top club. As painful as it may be, Chelsea need to move on—or risk being left behind.