Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Stadium move thoughts

I come from a pretty conservative family. Any changes are hard to take at the best of times – whether it is a new government in power, some new fashion or ‘star’ invading our lives. It took me years to get used to the fact that Kerry Dixon was no longer with us and I am still having difficulty accepting the new Chelsea Football Club crest – introduced over five seasons ago.

The announcement from Chelsea yesterday that it hoped to buy back the shares held by CPO shareholders was sad news as it finally, officially signalled the intention of the club to move elsewhere. While lying in bed I shed a tear remembering all the great memories I had from the Bridge from standing in the Shed (albeit also when we were relegated against Boro) to sitting in the East Lower with my Dad and being able to obtain the autographs of my favourite players… how immensely large the stadium seemed to be to me when the East and West Stands were the only proper parts of the ground. And how before the redevelopment of the Bridge we always seemed to be miles away from the play no matter where we sat!

The argument to move to a new stadium is simply one of economics – a new stadium could (according to the media) bring an extra £50 mio of revenue a year. I presume we can sell the site where Stamford Bridge is at a premium which could easily fund the building of a modern stadium. Considering how much money Roman has pumped into the club it is understandable that at some stage he wants Chelsea to be a going concern and not a loss making club. As much as I despise Arsenal, their model is one we need to copy although one wonders how this will work when they are relegated at the end of the season together with Liverpool and … er… QPR.

The main problem is the effect a new stadium has had on a club. Don’t ask me why, but in the UK it seems to be a poisoned chalice to move. Not only does the atmosphere seem to suffer, but the seeming dilution of quality amongst the support by having more bums on seats has created a fickle atmosphere. Some out-of-town new stadia are a complete pain to get to (Reading and Bolton are not exactly walking distance from the train station).

With no bias whatsoever, Chelsea is by far the best situated stadium in the UK. There is so much to do in the area whether it is entertainment or nourishment – the weaknesses are the transport links, the sheer congestion in and around the ground and the woeful facilities. I can live with the latter because of the former. I am surprised that it has been difficult for Chelsea to create another exit from the ground behind the Matthew Harding Stand which would allow fans to have a short cut to West Brompton and Earl’s Court. I also shudder thinking about the complete waste of time that is the “Chelsea Club” in the rear of the ground and the hotel… but then again due to the council not wishing for us to increase our capacity by much when we originally redeveloped the ground under Bates (completely forgetting that during our history attendances of 60k or more were a regular occurrence) our hands were tied at the time.

There is no easy solution as there is little room to build at The Bridge. The main worry for me is whether we will regularly fill a stadium with 55/60k fans. If we do move then I would love for us to remain close to the Bridge. I cannot quite fathom what is wrong with Earl’s Court as a new venue – it has better transport links and is still down the road from the hustle and bustle of the King’s Road.

I love Stamford Bridge because of its character and I easily forgive its weaknesses. The conservative and romantic in me simply cannot imagine Chelsea playing anywhere else, but in a modern era where a club needs decent income to be a going concern (especially in a financially difficult climate) I reluctantly understand why the owner wishes to find us a new venue. I just hope the environment they find contains as much soul and variety as we have encountered in SW6 1HS.

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