CHELSEA HAVE experienced everything in the past 19 years; great players, memorable matches, an extraordinary trophy haul that has created an unprecedented period in their 118-year history. A vast amount of money that has been spent to bring success almost on an annual basis, but the most appropriate monument to the club’s elevated status would be a statement stadium, or at least a football ground that can meet the demand for tickets at Stamford Bridge. The capacity of the club’s ancestral home is 40,000 – a modest stadium by modern standards and some distance behind most of Chelsea’s peers.
Stamford Bridge is a neat football arena, certainly more compact than the stadium when it was a huge bowl with a space-age stand, the first phase of Brian Mears’ bold and unfortunately-timed redevelopment plan, on one side and crumbling terraces at both ends. While many Chelsea fans of a certain age hanker for the old days when you needed binoculars to see the action from behind each goal, in the club’s lost decade of 1974 to 1984, when the crowds plummeted, you could almost have died of exposure
When the ground was finally redeveloped under Ken Bates, it made for a more contemporary experience, but it also created a 41,000 all-seater home. The location of the ground means it is now a challenge to make the place bigger, but equally, it is a major hurdle to try and move. Chelsea, if they are to make Stamford Bridge a 60,000 ground, have to find ways to expand their footprint in London SW6.
Real estate and land in London falls into rare earth territory and the cost is astronomical, but Chelsea have bid £ 50 million for a patch of land adjoining the stadium which is currently owned by the Stoll Housing Association. This could be a very controversial transaction if it goes ahead given the shortage of homes in London. However, it will not be a proposition that will be solved in a short time frame. The right people have been consulted, but ultimately, Chelsea are missing out on considerable matchday and commercial revenues while they can only accommodate 40,000 people at their games.
Chelsea’s income from matchdays
|Matchday income£m||% of total income||Average attendance|
Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United all have 60,000 home grounds. Stamford Bridge is almost always sold out and obtaining tickets is like seeking the Holy Grail, especially on an ad-hoc basis, hardly surprising given the club is now one of the most popular in the world. Football has never been more popular, or more capable of extracting value from the product, so now it the time to increase crowd capacities.
Stamford Bridge is the ninth biggest ground in the Premier League and the smallest among the “big six” clubs. Manchester United, for example, have 30,000 more fans at each home game, which not only benefits various revenue streams, but also makes the club more inclusive. If the current owners succeed in their ambition of rebuilding Chelsea’s home game, the infrastructure surrounding the club will also need to be adapted for purpose. At present, the route home from Stamford Bridge involves a big percentage of the crowd using Fulham Broadway underground station. The current set-up is an improvement on how it used to be, but a further 20,000 spectators leaving the ground would need to be absorbed into the frenetic procession to and from games. This is a dilemma that faces all London sports grounds, there is almost always a shortage of space in the capital.
Have Chelsea left it too late? Has the club lost the initiative in the great Premier power struggle? Certainly, Chelsea have been overtaken by Manchester City and, temporarily, perhaps, Liverpool. In 19 seasons, they have won 17 major trophies, but only two in the last five years. That could be three in five if they manage to win the Champions league a third time. Furthermore, the ground that was once a fortress – between 2004-05 and 2009-10 they lost just three home games in the league – is no longer a place to fear. Since 2018-19, Chelsea have lost 16 at home. Their record against the other “big six” teams at home has also deteriorated in that timeframe. Over the past five years, their win rate is less than 25%.
Clearly, the ambition is to restore Chelsea to title contenders judging by the amount of money being spent on new, young talent. Whether it works remains to be seen, but the huge outlays of cash in the summer and in January were a statement of intent by the consortium led by Todd Boehly. Now the focus is switching to the ground project that was abandoned under Roman Abramovich. If the blueprints produced by esteemed architects, Herzog & de Meuron become reality, Chelsea will have a superb, eye-catching home that can ensure supply meets demand. The Basel-based practice designed the Allianz Arena in Munich, the Beijing bird’s nest and the superb and quite beautiful Bordeaux stadium. There could be no finer representation of the modern Chelsea.