Why Is the Chelsea Stadium in Fulham?

Stamford Bridge, one of the oldest football stadiums in England, has been the home of Chelsea FC since the side was first formed over 100 years ago, back in 1905. Whilst the London clubs around them, such as Arsenal, Tottenham, and West Ham, have all moved to new grounds, the Blues have remained loyal to Stamford Bridge. However, despite being the home of Chelsea, the stadium is actually located in Fulham, rather than in Chelsea, and we will highlight the reason behind this in this article.

What Is the Difference Between Chelsea & Fulham?

London map
Kensington & Chelsea is located right next to Hammersmith & Fulham

Chelsea and Fulham are neighbouring areas of west London, both of which sit right on the banks of the Thames. However, despite the closeness between the two areas, and their many similarities in terms of socio-demographics, they are actually located in separate boroughs, with Chelsea being part of the extremely affluent London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Fulham being located in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Whilst both of these are rather affluent areas, Kensington and Chelsea is actually the wealthiest borough in all of London, home to 12,000 people classed as “high earners”, which corresponds to a yearly salary of more than £150,000. Hammersmith and Fulham is just slightly behind, having a total of 7,000 residents that fall into the same category. So, neither are exactly bad places to live, at least for some.

Why Is the Chelsea Stadium in Fulham?

When it was first opened in 1877, Stamford Bridge was home to London Athletic Club, who used it for track and field sports, rather than football. However, this all changed in 1904, when the lease to the ground was acquired by a pair of plucky businessmen, who were also brothers, called Gus and Joseph Mears.

The pair purchased Stamford Bridge with the intention of turning it into the top football ground in the country, where high-profile games could be played, but they just needed a team to play there! Their initial idea was to persuade nearby Fulham FC, who had been founded back in 1879, to relocate to the new and improved Bridge, but they were unable to convince the club’s chairman, Henry Norris, to do so. After this rejection, the brothers considered selling the land to the Great Western Railway Company, who would have turned it into a coal yard, but they were convinced not to and instead decided to set up their own team.

Since the area in which Stamford Bridge was situated, Fulham, already had its own team, the Mears brothers decided to name their new club after the neighbouring borough of Chelsea. Thus, Chelsea FC was born in March 1905. However, the club initially struggled to take off, and as the story goes, Gus Mears was reportedly considering giving up on his dream of founding a football club. However, whilst discussing this matter, his dog, allegedly (!) bit his colleague, Fred Parker, who remained in favour of his idea, even after being chomped! Mears was apparently so impressed with the reaction of Parker, that he decided to take his advice and keep going with Chelsea. So, basically the Chelsea stadium is in Fulham because of the actions of a Scottish Terrier in 1905!

Why Didn’t Fulham Accept the Brothers’ Proposal to Move to Stamford Bridge?

Craven Cottage in Fulham
Craven Cottage (Cosmin Iftode | Bigstockphoto.com)

In 1904, the year in which the Mears brothers offered the club the chance to play at the newly acquired Stamford Bridge, Fulham had a serious problem at their current stadium, Craven Cottage. London County Council were effectively trying to get the ground closed, as they were worried about the safety of the stadium’s spectators.

Fans at Craven Cottage would watch matches from the ground’s only stand, affectionately known as the “Rabbit Hutch”, which consisted of four wooden box-like structures which each held around 250 people – and would definitely not pass any health and safety regulations nowadays! This intervention from the council left the club with a choice perfectly summed up by The Clash: “should I stay or should I go?”

However, having gone through eight different grounds between the club’s initial creation in 1879 and 1896, when they played their first game at Craven Cottage, you can imagine the club’s reluctance to move yet again. Although Henry Norris, the Fulham chairman, may have been tempted by the “go” option offered by Gus and Joseph, he instead decided to stay and fight for the beloved Craven Cottage.

The club did so by committing a record £15,000 towards rebuilding their existing ground, hiring famous stadium architect Archibald Leitch, who also built Highbury and Ibrox, to do so. This must surely be a very popular decision with Fulham fans to this day, considering that Craven Cottage has remained their ground ever since, and has been renovated and extended on a number of occasions. That said, the Stevenage Road Stand that Leitch constructed is still used to this day, although it was renamed the Johnny Haynes stand in 2005, following the tragic passing of the former England captain.