West London property investors Capital and Counties (C&C) have once again approached Chelsea with a proposal that would see the club vacate Stamford Bridge, their home of 105 years, in order to relocate to a new 60,000 capacity stadium that C&C are hoping to develop on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Earls Court exhibition centre.
Chelsea first surveyed the site more than three years ago but eventually dismissed the move as unfeasible. However, the deadline for plans to be submitted for the redevelopment of the Earls Court site is due to pass at the end of the year and, in a move seemingly borne out of sheer desperation, C&C have approached the club once more.
C&C’s original plan was to allow architect Sir Terry Farrell to build 8,000 new homes on the site, but such a undertaking would not prove to be nearly as lucrative as having Chelsea move into a brand new stadium.
A spokesman for the club admitted that they would be looking into the latest offer, although they would be giving it no more credence than any other proposal they have received:
“We will always look at proposals put to us and we get two or three of these a year, but we have no definite plans to move stadium at this time.”
The proposed plans enter their latest bout of public consultation, with members of fellow landowners Transport for London and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham joining C&C for discussions over the protracted fate of the Earls Court site.
Earls Court has been steadily hemorrhaging it’s commercial and economic viability for years now (thanks chiefly to the emergence of the nearby O2 Arena venue), and will be demolished after hosting the 2012 Olympic volleyball competition – meaning the new stadium wouldn’t be ready until at least 2015.
As mentioned, Chelsea flirted with the idea of moving to the site nearly four years ago but talks eventually petered out.
However, the site is now larger and, due to concerns that the reigning Premier League champions are being ‘left behind’ as a result of Stamford Bridge’s relative lack of capacity, owner Roman Abramovich is said to be putting serious consideration into committing to the new stadium, as this could feasibly be the last opportunity for the club to move grounds without straying from the area of London in which it has spent the last century.
So said Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck:
“It is very difficult for us to make the philosophical decision that we are going to move on. Certainly we wouldn’t leave west London or thereabouts and there are very few sites available.
We have to do things with our other commercial activities to make up the deficit that is created by the fact we don’t have a 60,000 seat stadium.”
The general consensus is that Chelsea have outgrown Stamford Bridge as, despite taking the Premier League title last term, the club still found themselves fifth in terms of average attendance in the top flight behind rivals Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Stamford Bridge currently accommodates around 41,000 fans compared with around 48,000 at the City of Manchester stadium, 60,000 at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium and 76,000 at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.
Whereas dreams of a new stadium may serve to set Chelsea fans’ imaginations roaming through the various possibilities, the feeling seems to be that Abramovich will ultimately not choose to take up C&C’s offer, as it seems that even the oligarchs are feeling the current financial pinch.
The Russian billionaire has already explored the possiblity of adding an extra tier on the Matthew Harding stand – tacking on another 5,000 to the capacity in the process, but the costs involved were deemed ‘prohibitive’ and would take ‘too long to recoup’ for it to be a viable option in boosting Chelsea’s matchday revenues.
It is altogether more likely that Abramovich will work toward obtaining a ‘naming rights’ deal for Stamford Bridge (a la the Emirates), with talks reportedly already underway with an anonymous company over a new decade-long deal to rename their current home.
It should only be a matter of time before Chelsea fans are making their way to the Anusol Arena come Saturday afternoon.