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Abramovich’s Stamford Bridge Redevelopment Off The Table

March 2020 marks the
expiry of planning permission to expand Stamford Bridge to a 60,000
capacity at the cost of up to £1 billion. Chelsea owner Roman
Abramovich’s redevelopment project is not yet dead in the water but it
may have to begin again from scratch with no official update being given
to the public.

The
Blues had been granted planning permission by the City of London in
March 2017 to begin knocking down buildings around Stamford Bridge over a
period of three years. Not a single bit of work has been done with the
expiration date set for March 31.

Phase 1 of the stadium
plans would by now have seen the demolition of the club’s museum and the
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels that lead onto the external concourse
around the ground.

Chelsea were also due to have found a
temporary home at Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium or the London
Stadium by now but that has not happened either.

Abramovich
halted the project due to strained diplomatic relations between the west
and Russia. A host of wealthy influential billionaires who are close to
Russian PM Vladimir Putin, including Abramovich, faced sanctions from
the U.S. and the Blues owner saw his Tier-1 investor visa application
revoked by the British government.

A short statement from
the Blues failed to tell the full story as Abramovich ended his ambition
to make the club even more competitive with a bigger stadium.

“Chelsea
Football Club announces today that it has put its new stadium project
on hold,” a statement read in May 2018 . “No further pre-construction
design and planning work will occur.

“The club does not have
a time frame set for reconsideration of its decision. The decision was
made due to the current unfavourable investment climate.”

West
London club Brentford are set to move to a new home in the summer,
while Arsenal, West Ham and Tottenham all boast significantly bigger
stadiums in the capital than the Blues’ 41,631-capacity home.

Tottenham
have now overtaken Chelsea as London’s richest club according to the
2020 Deloitte Football Money League and that is without taking into
account the benefits of a full season in their new 62,000-seater
stadium.

Abramovich clashed with supporters in the past over
plans to move Chelsea to Battersea. He tried to buy back the freehold
land owned by the club’s fans through the Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) but
he was rejected in 2011. This kept Chelsea playing football in SW6.

“Chelsea
Pitch Owners is a Limited Company set up by the former owner Ken Bates
in order to separate the ownership of the land where the stadium is from
the club itself,” chair of CPO Charles Rose said to Goal.

“What
it means that Chelsea is obliged to play their football at Stamford
Bridge until the owners of CPO, generally the fans, give them permission
not to do so. It is important because that means in the event of
whenever the club changes ownership, then the club’s home stays
permanent.

“It isn’t unique but it is in top-flight
football. The way it is actually structured is that Chelsea loaned CPO
the money to buy the ground and therefore CPO have an obligation to
repay the loan over 999 years to the club.

“In return, the
club get the ground for no rent, a peppercorn rent. In that agreement is
the clause that Chelsea FC have to play their football on the grounds
of Stamford Bridge. While CPO owns the ground where the stadium is
located.

“If Chelsea wanted to leave Stamford Bridge. CPO
would have to give Chelsea permission to play at Wembley, Twickenham or
the London Stadium. There was a permission to give for development and
certainly, we were party to all the legal proceedings that were being
drawn up.”

Even
with rivals getting improved stadiums, many supporters at Chelsea
remain happy to be at Stamford Bridge as it is with talk of moving to
another stadium seeming off-putting.

It was predicted that
many might give up their season tickets upon a move given the
sentimental value of the current ground which remains fit for purpose
without excelling as a sporting venue.

The toilet and bar
queues are long at half-time and full-time, while the walk to the
stadium can feel perilous along Fulham Road with match-goers and cars
jostling for position. Like at many top English clubs, the atmosphere is
not what it once was at Chelsea and it often feels like the hardcore
fans are battling against the tide to keep the noise levels up.

“When
I first started going to Chelsea, I was in the west stand as a kid and I
moved down to the benches and up into the Shed End as a teenager when I
didn’t have to go with my dad anymore,” Ceri Levy of the Chelsea
Podcast told Goal.

“The atmosphere was always something
magnificent at Stamford Bridge. You felt the crowd was always as
exhausted as the players after the match. I’m not sure that happens
these days.

“Times have changed; it takes a lot more to get
people as excited as they used to be when there was a lot less else to
do during the week in the 70s and 80s. Our stimulation in life has
changed but football has changed as well.

“The Shed was an
incredible place to be part of. There were problems with standing in
stadiums so we got rid of that but it was exhilarating. I don’t think
you get the same unity now. Growing up it was a player in blue and you
would support them.

“There was a bit of stick but not as
much as now and it feels like a very different place. It is more
corporate and not the sport of people. We have half-and-half scarves
now, football tourists and they can’t get into in the same way a Chelsea
fan could.

“Some fans might be being priced out. It isn’t
just home and away but there’s also tourism with corporate seating as
well. It comes from touting too which still surprises me how many you
see around the stadium. It should be stopped.

“The
atmosphere has changed and not for the better. How do you get it back?
Some say it is up to the team to get us going but I always say the fans
should step in when the team struggles. Something needs to be done and
it could change but maybe we are just in a different era of football and
it never returns to what it once was.”

The Blues’ poor home
form is not because of the stadium this season and Frank Lampard has
tried to bring out the best atmosphere possible.The manager has
attempted to ignite Stamford Bridge with his touchline demeanour and
pre-match programme notes, all the while trying to work out why good
results are not coming often enough at home.

Chelsea have
lost or drawn more games than they have won at Stamford Bridge in the
Premier League this season. Perhaps back-to-back home wins against
Liverpool and Everton could prove the turning point when football
returns.

Chelsea’s stadium is now one area of the club that
is not world class and that will need to be rectified at one time in the
future. For now, Lampard and the hardcore Blues fans are battling to
keep Stamford Bridge noisy.

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