The club's decision to buy back parts of Stamford Bridge has Blues fans pleading with Abramovich and co not to abandon their beloved home. Will the sterilisation of Chelsea be completed by ending over a century of football at The Bridge?
Among all the coverage of ‘Tevezgate’ and the rugger boys’ misdemeanours, another story has started to demand column-inches in the back pages of the newspapers. Chelsea’s announcement of the intention to purchase the Chelsea Pitch Owner’s shares – an initiative established in 1993 to protect Stamford Bridge from redevelopers – has sparked fresh rumours of a move away from the Blues’ 106-year home. And if it comes to pass, I for one will be taking a pair of scissors to my season ticket.
As a season ticket holder of 16 years, Stamford Bridge has been my second-home for the vast majority of my life and no other Chelsea fan in history has known another home for their beloved Blues.
In a unique twist, Chelsea Football Club was actually formed to have a team to use the stadium, which was previously home to London Athletic Club, after Fulham turned down the offer to use the facilities. In a similar manner to Trigger’s classic line, “I’ve had the same broom for 20 years. It’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles”, the Bridge has undergone redevelopment over the years, losing the dog track, moving The Shed forward and rebuilding stands, but it is still the same home.
It hasn’t always been the ‘fortress Stamford Bridge’ as Blues fans have come to know and love over the last few years and yes, the credit for that has to lie largely at the feet of Roman Abramovich and his chequebook. And more credit where it’s due, the Russian has been known to make historically meaningful changes since his takeover in 2003.
The current Chelsea badge was his brainchild. Maybe he didn’t personally have his box of Crayola crayons out, but it was he who accepted Chelsea fans’ disliking of the Millwall-esque monstrosity used since 1986 and decided to revert to a modern version of the Blues’ most famous badge, sporting the lion rampant which was derived from the Arms of Earl Cadogan.
But while that change was sympathetic to our history (and yes Liverpool fans, ‘historeeeee’ is something we possess in bucket loads), the potential move from the Bridge is one which seems harsh and ultimately unnecessary. Let me explain.
As is the bugbear of fans at any top-flight club, ticket prices are extortionate and have led to boycotts of Champions League group games. A new stadium would be worse in this respect with the need to finance the relocation.
For over a decade, Chelsea has been a club on the up. Set in a cosmopolitan and swanky area of the capital, the Blues were attracting global stars long before the arrival of Roman Abramovich, with the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Ruud Gullit gracing the hallowed turf. And since the arrival of the aforementioned Russian, the club has hit the global heights, reaching the Champions League final in 2008 and with a growing fanbase in both the States and Asia.
Naturally, expansion would be an idea to bring to the table. Allegedly, the club has spent over £700,000 (or two-week’s wages to Samuel Eto’o) on exploring options for developing Stamford Bridge, none of which are viable. Most Chelsea fans could have told the board that years ago and saved a few pennies in the process. With the Fulham Road at one end and a railway line at the other, space on the current site is at a premium.
The capacity of Stamford Bridge stands at 41,837 – the eighth highest in the Premier League. The average Premier League attendance there for the 2010/11 season was 41, 435. Supporters of the move will argue that this is as good as selling-out and it is, but when one takes into account the attendances for lesser games, such as the Carling Cup, attendance (or lack of) becomes an issue.
Until Stamford Bridge is a sell-out in the manner of Old Trafford or The Emirates, the capacity argument falls flat. Why have a 60,000-seater stadium with 10,000 plus empty seats and have this advertised on global TV, when there is a near capacity crowd at the Bridge capable – but not always succeeding – of creating a hair-raising atmosphere. And if the new stadium does sell-out, where are these new fans coming from? Old supporters who left after becoming disillusioned with prices? Unlikely. More day-trippers and Korean tourists, endlessly snapping pictures and watching games through their iPhones, killing the atmosphere and tripping people up with their megastore bags? A much more likely outcome.
Additionally, as is the bugbear of fans at any top-flight club, ticket prices are extortionate and have led to boycotts of Champions League group games. A new stadium would be worse in this respect with the need to finance the relocation.
But the real question that needs asking is how honest are the club being over the proposed move? To tell Chelsea Pitch Owners that any move would only occur within a three-mile radius of Stamford Bridge before 2020 indicates that there is already a proposed site in mind. Whether this be within the radius before 2020 or outside after remains to be seen – the ‘trust us’ mantra just does not wash.
Too often clubs are all too ready to discard traditions and history in the hunt for financial gain. Sometimes there are some things more important to fans than riches. Chelsea’s board needs to take a long, hard look at what it has achieved over the last few years before taking steps to building the Sibneft Stadium and alienating fans of whom each and every one has an insurmountable affinity with our great stadium.
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