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Stamford Bridge redevelopment off the table as Abramovich's Chelsea planning permission expires

09:00 GMT 25/03/2020
Roman Abramovich Chelsea Stamford Bridge
The Blues can make small adjustments to their current ground but the big project is off the table for the forseeable future

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 and the Blues owner then withdrew his Tier-1 investor visa application.

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.