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Around the Grounds: Stamford Bridge

Opened: 1877

Capacity: 41,631

Other Names: The Bridge

Pie: £2.50

Stamford Bridge is one of the oldest current grounds in the Premier League with the site of the current stadium first being opened for football in 1877, but only being used by Chelsea FC from 1905 onwards. It is perhaps one of the most iconic grounds currently in the Premier League given its history and contributions to the Premier League era. The club has very much developed itself into a regular title challenger after 50 years without a league title and has now picked up 4 Premier Leagues since 2004. But what is the story of the Bridge? And how did it get to how it is today?

Stamford Bridge was opened in the 1870s for London Athletic Football Club, but local brothers Gus and Joseph Mears saw the ground as fit for international fixtures and so they acquired the official lease in 1904. Originally, Stamford Bridge could have ended up in the possession of local rivals Fulham or it could have been sold to the Great Western Railway Company (the site would look very different if that had happened) but the Mears brothers decided to form their own club, Chelsea. Archibald Leitch, the man behind the construction of many of British football’s greatest stadiums, such as Craven Cottage, Ibrox and Celtic Park was hired by the Mears brothers to develop the Stamford Bridge site which had an official capacity of 100,000 spectators in 1905.

Interestingly, Stamford Bridge only had one official stand when it was constructed which was the exact replica of the Stevenage Road stand at local rivals Fulham. The other 3 sides of the ground were built like a bowl using all the excavated rubble from the Piccadilly Line developments (that was completed in 1906).

Now its common knowledge that Stamford Bridge used to be the home of a greyhound racing track, but probably the greatest sight ever seen at Chelsea’s stadium was in 1945 when a crowd of 100,000 gathered on the dog track and in the stands to watch Chelsea play against Dynamo Moscow. This in fact was all politics. The UK government had invited the Soviet Dynamo to tour the UK in what can only been seen as a demonstration of political friendship between the two after the war.

From a sign of peace in 1945, Stamford Bridge could have somewhat been regarded as a prison 40 years later. Chelsea became infamous for fan trouble in the late 70s and 80s and in response, former chairman Ken Bates decided to have an electric fence constructed at the front of the stands so as to prevent pitch invasions. As crazy as it sounds, this did actually happen, although fortunately for many of the Chelsea fans sitting in the front rows the fence was never actually turned on.

Like with many of the stadiums that have featured and will feature in the series, the Hillsborough Stadium disaster had a massive effect on the future of English stadiums. Stamford Bridge was completely reconstructed; the greyhound track was finally removed, roofs were inserted on every stand and the stadium became an all-seater with a capacity of 34,000.

Many Chelsea fans in recent years would have been excited about the progress of the club. They have achieved numerous league and European titles in the last 15 years, have serious financial backing and have players who can mix it with the best in the Premier League. The last step needed to be taken would surely be a stadium expansion? This all seemed to be on the cards at the beginning of the 2010s with Roman Abramovich submitting plans to expand the current stadium to around 60,000. Many people saw this as a bit of a pipe dream given the location of Stamford Bridge in a highly built part of the London, but all the plans received backing from the local council and full permission from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. However, in 2018 it was actually the football club that put a hold on the plans due to the current investment climate the club are experiencing. There is also no time limit on how long the improvements will be on hold for so Chelsea fans probably shouldn’t be expecting anything anytime soon.

Nonetheless, Stamford is no doubt one of the Premier League’s most historic stadiums.

Dan Stokes

22-year-old Modern Languages Graduate and Arsenal fan from the University of Southampton.

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