Most teams move stadiums throughout their time, but for 115 years Chelsea have called Stamford Bridge their one and only home. Tucked in off Fulham Road among the busy streets of London, the Bridge is the ultimate pilgrimage for all Blues fans, whether it be the usual matchday routine or a first visit to SW6.
What’s great about having used the same stadium for the club’s entire history is that you are really able to see how it has transformed over the years. The standing terraces are no longer there, the running track has disappeared and all four stands now truly tower up above the pitch. The Bridge has changed with the times, and broadened its style.
Stamford Bridge opened as an athletics ground in 1877, but it wasn’t for another 28 years that Chelsea moved in ahead of the 1905/06 season. The Blues’ early days saw 60,000 fans come to watch at the Bridge; a number far greater than what we see today.
The Bridge hosted its first FA Cup Final almost a century ago to the day, when Aston Villa secured their sixth FA Cup in 1920. Stamford Bridge would go on to stage the next two finals, before Wembley Stadium was ready to host finals for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward a few decades and the stadium was starting to take shape. The Shed End became the new name of the Fulham Road End, after a fan wrote a letter to the matchday programme asking for the change. About half a century later, the Shed remains standing in all its glory.
The stadium was continuing to grow with thousands upon thousands of fans, but Chelsea almost lost their precious home in the 1980s. The ‘Save the Bridge’ campaign was launched by fans to raise much-needed money to cover legal costs, in a decade-long battle between the club and local property developers.
Chelsea did what Chelsea does best and won, retaining Stamford Bridge in its entirety in 1992. Throughout the 90s, the Bridge was transformed into an all-seater ground following the Taylor Report, being built step by step into what it is today.
A lot has changed over the last century at Stamford Bridge. While it looks completely different to what it once was, The Bridge remains in its same historical spot of London and has now for many years kept its current appearance.
Decades after earning its title, the Shed is a stand of two halves. It has housed the away fans since 2005, when they were moved over behind the goal by José Mourinho. Their location in the Shed divides opinion, but on its day the loyal Chelsea fans who stand next to them create a fantastic atmosphere, starting the majority of chants.
The most affluent part of the ground is the West Stand, with its cushioned seats in the upper tier and hospitality boxes in the middle. Roman Abramovich’s executive seats are right on the halfway line in the stand, and while the views there are majestic, the atmosphere is non-existent. My first game was actually in the West Stand Upper, but the lack of atmosphere is a reason why I don’t sit there today.
The East Stand is where the tunnel and benches are situated. The family section has an even worse atmosphere but great prices. It is one of the longest surviving stands in its current form, and has been standing over the hallowed turf of Stamford Bridge for decades.
The best place to be is the Matthew Harding Stand, especially in the lower tier. The standing section of the ground (though not officially) generates the best noise and is the core of the Bridge, with the most hardcore fans huddled together to create a brilliant atmosphere. There’s no beating an afternoon in the Matthew Harding Lower.
Stamford Bridge has gone through some radical changes to become the modern stadium it is today, but if the club want to continue moving with the times, there is still more work to be done. The 41,000-seat capacity is falling far behind over elite stadiums in Europe, and is still distanced from the stadiums of the Premier League’s big six.
In recent years, Chelsea have made plans to expand the Bridge to 60,000 seats, a move vital in developing the club and its strength in football. The stadium project was eagerly anticipated but has been hold for years, due to a number of problems in planning and financing.
Chelsea simply need to make Stamford Bridge bigger and better, but the question is when the club’s plans will come into fruition. The initial final designs showing the stadium look unappealing and tacky, far from being true to what the club represents and epitomises.
A greater capacity and revenue will take the club to the next level, and could be the next chapter in the long and vibrant history of Stamford Bridge. Stadium updates will mark the next stage of the club’s history and role in the English game, welcoming even more fans to SW6 and maintaining football tradition while continuing to adapt to the 21st century.
The Bridge has changed throughout the years and become truly iconic, from its days with thousands standing in terraces and sitting on floodlights to seating forty thousand fans in a modern masterpiece. For as long as Chelsea Football Club exists, Stamford Bridge will be the heart of the club and the pilgrimage for all Blues fans alike.
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Edited by: Dan