Chelsea Football Club are considering the possibility of building a new stadium after news this week that the club are set to make attempts to buy back the freehold on the stands and pitch of their current stadium, Stamford Bridge, which are owned by an organisation known as the Chelsea Pitch Owners.
The ownership of the pitch and stands was sold to the group in 1993 by former club chairman Ken Bates, ensuring the club could never be sold to developers or the stadium relocated without the consent of the supporters. following an ambitious re-development of the ground in the 1970s when the proposal was to develop a 50,000 all seated stadium, although the plans were revolutionary they were also far too ambitious. Chelsea found themselves in severe financial difficulties by the mid 1970s which forced the club to sell many of its star players and ultimately a decision was made to sell the Stamford Bridge ground to property developers in order to generate income and pay off some of the debts as the club was nearly bankrupt.
The decision to sell the ground nearly saw the end of the football club as they faced financial ruin, a ten year legal battle ensued which finally saw the Blues win back their Stadium in 1992, when ironically the developers themselves went bankrupt, lifting the threat of eviction from their own ground and it being redeveloped as houses or shopping precincts.
During the prolonged legal battle the Blues were unable to re-develop their ground as they no longer owned it, forcing them to fall behind many other clubs as they built bigger and better stadiums. Extensive redevelopment did finally follow during the 1990′s with redevelopment of the North and West Stands and the famous Shed end terraces which was re-developed into an all seated stadium, the redevelopments also saw the construction of the Chelsea Hotel, which is adjacent to the ground.
Although the current stadium is certainly impressive, compared with the ground of the 1980s, the capacity for the Stamford Bridge stadium is just under 42,000 which falls well short of rivals Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, which has been a concern for the management of the club for some time. one option for Chelsea is to redevelop their existing stadium to increase the capacity, but this may be difficult due to surrounding buildings, a new development would therefore seem to be the preferred option.
The agreement with Chelsea Pitch Owners is interesting because initially they did not raise enough money to the secure the purchase of the freehold of the ground and were given a 10 million loan by the club, in return for this loan the football club now lease the ground back on a 199 year agreement. if the club were to regain the freehold then relocation would be much easier, however, under the agreement the location of the new stadium must be within three miles of the existing stadium if it were to be developed before the year 2020 and have a minimum capacity of 55,000 fans.