Sunday 9 November ~
When Chelsea were formed in 1905 they wanted to call themselves London FC. This was blocked by the FA who seeking to develop professional football in various districts of the capital and wanted clubs to take names based on their localities – although a little later, Arsenal were not required to add Highbury to their name after they moved from Woolwich. Today, Chelsea have denied reports in several papers that they are considering a reverse relocation to Arsenal's, to Battersea, on the south side of the river a few miles from their current home.
Architects HOK claim to have had a meeting with Chelsea officials at which they presented plans for ground with a capacity of 65-75,000. A club official was scornful: "We are approached on a regular basis by developers and others with a commercial interest in driving up the price of property." But there is little doubt that the club could make a huge sum of money from selling the land in and around Stamford Bridge which would more than match the cost of constructing a new ground elsewhere. And it is known that they have commissioned studies into ways of expanding the capacity of Stamford Bridge which is hemmed in by the adjacent shopping district.
Although they have been playing at their ground for over 100 years, Chelsea are less rooted in their local community than any of the major London clubs, with a fanbase spread across the city and the surrounding region. So on the face of it, a move to the south side of the river wouldn't inconvenience most of their fans, but it remains to be seen whether they would have need of a significantly larger stadium. Chelsea were the best supported club in the Football League for much of the 1920s but that was partly a consequence of Stamford Bridge's size relative the other First Division grounds in London. In modern times Chelsea's hardcore support has been roughly on a par with West Ham’s and significantly behind that of Arsenal and Spurs. This has begun to change during the Abramovich era but many new Chelsea fans are consummate consumers of Premier League brand, as satellite viewers both in the UK and, increasingly, overseas rather than matchday attendees.
While Spurs say they have over 20,000 people on a waiting list for season tickets at White Hart Lane, which holds less than 40,000, Stamford Bridge is regularly below capacity for League and European games. And if spectators aren't turning up now, with the team on top of the League and playing their most expansive football since the Abramovich takeover, when will they ever come? Indeed it has been suggested that Premier League gates have now peaked, with the recession having a significant impact. In which case they might not need to be in a hurry to expand Stamford Bridge let alone relocate to stage their 4-0 home strolls in front of a half-empty Abramovich Dome, riverside views notwithstanding.