Revealing Chelsea’s Formative Plans to Convert Stamford Bridge Into a 60,000-Seater Super Stadium
With his team back on Championship form, and a new contract on the way for the man who helped it arrive there fully FFP-compliant, Roman Abramovich only needs one more thing sorted at Chelsea: the ground.
The issue of Stamford Bridge’s capacity has been a weeping sore ever since everyone’s favourite Russian landed his helicopter in SW6. Attempts to resolve that—notably the botched attempted “land grab” of Chelsea Pitch Owners shares in October 2011—have come to nought so far. But from what I hear, big moves are afoot.
Abramovich himself sent out a crack team to investigate the feasibility of redeveloping Stamford Bridge as a 60,000 capacity super stadium fit for the FFP era. That was initially expected to report back last September, but after the public relations disaster of the last attempt to convince fans that changes were necessary, eggshells have been well deployed underfoot this time.
There seems to have been a concerted effort to get all the ducks in a line, as spin doctors are one to say, and Chelsea’s support could seldom have been more receptive to the possibility of a “trust me, I’m Roman” plea than right now.
Sources close to the redevelopment project tell me fully fledged paper plans exist showing a new, improved Stamford Bridge on the existing site—though you won’t hear that from the club itself.
But I’m told there is a confidence within the club, following changes to planning legislation, that the requisite permissions can be secured within the season—perhaps even by the end of 2015.
Which means, depending upon your confidence in a planning system that now firmly puts the applicant ahead of the local objector, the potential that 2015-16 may even be Chelsea’s last season at Stamford Bridge as we know it.
However, nothing has been left to chance, and rather than browbeating locals into accepting contentious plans, or taking advantage of loopholes, the club has spent over a year meeting what the wonks like to call “stakeholders”—local residents, businesses, influential bodies and community groups. Their aim has been to find what issues those that matter might have with this development.
The hope is to get that rarest of things: a proposal that suits everyone. That will require the redevelopment of a whole stretch of Fulham Road, improved public transport access, and safeguards to ensure matchday exuberance is less likely to spill over into neighbouring homes and gardens.
This is no mere facelift, but a full demolition and rebuilding job, and that will require the movement out of the Chelsea area for at least a season, probably two.
Earlier suggestions that the Blues might march into Twickenham for a campaign or two were met with horror in the genteel streets surrounding the home of rugby.
But much consultation has been conducted in this area too and, coupled with a significant recent change in the political climate in that locality, there is a belief that what was once seen as impossible may be made to happen; maybe with a spreading of the impact across more than just the one stadium venue.
These are exciting times for Chelsea. After a decade of saying it could not happen, there is the real prospect that in 24 to 36 months time, Stamford Bridge could become a 21st Century sporting venue fit for generations to come.
This will undoubtedly be a major story over the coming closed season. Watch this space…