One of the longest-running stadium sagas in football may now have taken a step towards a resolution with the news that Chelsea Football Club have agreed to purchase 2.4 acres of neighbouring land, potentially paving the way for a complete rebuild of their traditional Stamford Bridge home.
In July 2023, Todd Boehly and the Clearlake Consortium agreed in principle to purchase the patch of land between the West Stand and Fulham Broadway Tube Station. Currently owned by Stoll, the site provides housing for veterans with additional care needs. Fast forward to November 2023, and it appears that the deal has now been rubberstamped, with a statement from Stoll reading,
Today we have announced that we have agreed to sell the majority of our Fulham site to the Chelsea FC ownership group following a nine-week resident consultation. This will enable us to establish new properties, better services for veterans and secure Stoll’s financial sustainability.
Whilst there has been no official announcement from the club regarding plans for the land, the most likely scenario is that the additional space will be used to facilitate a complete redevelopment of Stamford Bridge.
The Only Place the Blues Have Called Home
Those opposed to the club moving to a new site will likely be delighted with this development, as this corner of SW6 is the only place Chelsea have ever played their home games. Built back in 1877 by Archibald Leitch – the man behind Celtic Park, Ibrox, Craven Cottage, and Hamden Park – Chelsea moved straight into the stadium upon the formation of the club in 1905, and there they have remained ever since through good times and bad.
Why the Need for Change?
Given that long history, it’s no surprise that the Chelsea faithful have an affinity for the famous old ground. However, time and the game move on, and despite extensive renovation to convert the stadium to an all-seater venue during the 1990s, Chelsea has now outgrown their traditional home.
With all clubs under increasing pressure due to financial fair play regulations, any source of additional revenue is to be welcomed. With that in mind, a bigger, better stadium has been on Chelsea’s wish list for some time – driven by the dual motives of much-needed modernisation, and increased gate receipts.
Progress towards a new stadium made progress under Roman Abramovich, with the former owner initially contacting Stoll in 2017. Having been derailed by the enforced sale of the club, these plans have now been resurrected under the new regime. With London neighbours West Ham, Arsenal, and, particularly, Tottenham now boasting hugely impressive modern stadia, Chelsea may soon be on the road to joining them.
Upgrade, Relocate or Rebuild
The question of whether Chelsea would upgrade the stadium, move to a new location, or demolish the current ground and start again has been the subject of much debate. Perhaps this land purchase brings us closer to having our answer.
Plans to upgrade the current site have long been touted but have been fraught with difficulties. The stadium’s proximity to the underground tube network brings a host of logistical problems, whilst the rising water table around sections of the ground has also created a headache. In addition, an upgrade would necessitate that each stand be closed whilst the works took place. Even if successful, an upgraded old stadium may not measure up to the best new purpose-built facilities in the land.
One possible solution to the problem is to move to a new location. Despite the misgivings of sections of the fan base, this has looked a realistic option over the past decade. Battersea Power Station had been touted as a possible new site, with Earls Court emerging as a potential option in more recent times. Despite seeming to gather momentum in 2023, a spokesperson for the Earls Court Development Company appears to have poured cold water on the prospect stating,
We have recently launched a draft masterplan for a transformative mixed-use scheme to bring the wonder back to Earls Court, which will see 4,500 homes, 15,000 jobs, acres of public space and cultural facilities in an ambitious zero carbon development. There is no football stadium in our masterplan.
A complete rebuild now seems the most likely option, which estimates suggest could come at a cost of a cool £1.5-2 billion and take five to seven years to complete. A new Stamford Bridge could be on the horizon but may not move firmly into view until around 2030.
How Will the New Stadium Look?
If, and when, plans for a new stadium are officially announced, no doubt spectacular blueprints and artistic impressions will swiftly follow. For now, we can only speculate. However, two things do seem almost certain. Firstly, in order to make maximum use of the new land, it will be necessary to rotate the direction of the pitch by ninety degrees, meaning that the new pitch will run from East to West, as opposed to North to South as is currently the case.
Secondly, and most obviously, Stamford Bridge Mark 2, will surely be significantly bigger. The stadium’s current capacity of 40,341 is only the ninth largest in the Premier League, which is simply too small for a club with the Champions League as the minimum objective. It is unlikely that the new ground will come close to the Premier League-highest 76,100 capacity of Old Trafford, with a new capacity in the 55,000 to 60,0000 range seeming most likely – enough to move Stamford Bridge comfortably into the top five largest Premier League stadiums.
Where Will Chelsea Play Whilst Works Take Place?
Should development get underway, the most pressing question for fans will be, where will Chelsea play their home games in the meantime? Moving into Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground would make the most geographical sense – should Chelsea’s near neighbours prove amenable. However, the 25,700 capacity could prove off-putting given the resulting reduction in the gate receipts, which – over a five-to-seven-year period – would equate to a considerable sum.
The 80,000-capacity Twickenham avoids that issue. However, the Rugby Football Union have rarely shown an inclination to stage football matches at their flagship venue, notably foregoing the opportunity to be included as part of the 2018 World Cup Bid.
Or perhaps Chelsea will do a Spurs and take up residence at Wembley Stadium for a few seasons. Marginally closer to the current site than Twickenham, the 90,000 capacity would be more than enough to satisfy demand, and, having approved Tottenham’s request in the past, the FA would likely be happy to house the Pensioners at the national stadium, whilst a new and improved Stamford Bridge takes shape.