18th century maps show a ‘Stanford Creek’ running along the route of what is now a railway line at the back of the East Stand as a tributary of the Thames.
The stream had two local bridges: Stanford Bridge on the Fulham Road (also recorded as Little Chelsea Bridge) and Stanbridge on the Kings Road, now known as Stanley Bridge. Stanford Creek, Stanford Bridge and Stanbridge no doubt all contributed in some uncertain way to the eventual name of Stamford Bridge, which must have been further suggested by the well known Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, a famous victory by King Harold Godwinson over King Harald Hardråde of Norway in 1066, which took place shortly before Harold’s defeat at the hands of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings.
Stamford Bridge opened in 1877 as a home for the London Athletics Club and was used almost exclusively for that purpose until 1904, when the lease was acquired by brothers Gus and Joseph Mears, who wanted to stage high-profile professional football matches there. However, previous to this, in 1898, Stamford Bridge played host to the World Championship of shinty between Beauly Shinty Club and London Camanachd. Stamford Bridge was built close to Lillie Bridge, an older sports ground which had hosted the 1873 FA Cup Final and the first ever amateur boxing matches (among other things). It was initially offered to Fulham Football Club, but they turned it down. They considered selling the land to the Great Western Railway Company, but ultimately decided to found their own football club instead, Chelsea, to occupy the ground as a rival to Fulham. Noted football ground architect Archibald Leitch, who had also designed Ibrox, Celtic Park, Craven Cottage and Hampden Park, was hired to construct the stadium.
As originally constructed, Stamford Bridge was an athletics track and the pitch was initially located in the middle of the running track. This meant that spectators were separated from the field of play on all sides by the width of running track and, on the north and south sides, the separation was particularly large because the long sides of the running track considerably exceeded the length of the football pitch. The stadium had a single stand for 5,000 spectators on the east side. Designed by Archibald Leitch, it is an exact replica of the Johnny Haynes stand he had previously built at the re-developed Craven Cottage (and the main reason why Fulham had chosen not to move into the new ground). The other sides were all open in a vast bowl and thousands of tons of material excavated from the building of the Piccadilly Line provided high terracing for standing spectators exposed to the elements on the west side.
Stamford Bridge had an official capacity of around 100,000, making it the second largest ground in England after Crystal Palace, the FA Cup final venue. Stamford Bridge itself hosted the final for the first three years after the First World War from 1920 to 1922, after which it was replaced by Wembley.
Results of FA Cup Finals at Stamford Bridge
|1920||50,018||Aston Villa||1||Huddersfield Town||0|
|1921||72,805||Tottenham Hotspur||1||Wolverhampton Wanderers||0|
|1922||53,000||Huddersfield Town||1||Preston North End||0|
In 1930, a new terrace was built on the south side for more standing spectators. Only part of this was roofed and it became known as “The Shed End”. This became the most favoured spot for the loudest and most die-hard support, until the terrace was demolished in 1994 (when all-seater stadiums became compulsory by law as a safety measure in light of the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster). The seated stand which replaced it is still known as the Shed End (see below).
In 1939, a small two storied North Stand including seating was erected. It was originally intended to span the entire northern end, but the outbreak of World War II and its aftermath compelled the club to keep the stand small. It was demolished and replaced by open terracing for standing supporters in 1975. The North Terrace was closed in 1993 and the present North Stand of two tiers (the Matthew Harding Stand) was then constructed at that end.
In 1964-65, a seated West Stand was built to replace the existing terracing on the west side. Most of the West Stand consisted of rising ranks of wooden tip up seats on iron frames, but seating at the very front was on concrete forms known as “the Benches”. The old West Stand was demolished in 1998 and replaced by the current West Stand.
A vast new East Stand was built in 1973, originally intended as the start of a comprehensive redevelopment of the stadium which was abandoned when the football club ran into financial difficulties. The East Stand essentially survives in its 1973 three tiered cantilevered form, although it has been much refurbished and modernised since.
The cost of building the East Stand escalated out of control after shortages of materials and a builders’ strike. The increase in the cost, combined with other factors, sent the club into decline. As a part of financial restructuring in the late 1970s, the freehold was separated from the club and when new Chelsea chairman Ken Bates bought the club for £1 in 1982, he didn’t buy the stadium. A large chunk of the Stamford Bridge freehold was subsequently sold to property developers Marler Estates. The sale resulted in a long and acrimonious legal fight between Bates and Marler Estates. Marler Estates was ultimately forced to bankruptcy after a market crash in the early 1990s, allowing Bates to do a deal with its banks and re-unite the freehold with the club.
The re-building of the stadium commenced again and successive building phases during the 1990s have eliminated the original running track. The construction of the 1973 East Stand started the process of eliminating the track. All stands, now roofed and all-seater, are immediately adjacent to the pitch. This structure has the effect of concentrating and capturing the noise of supporters. Paradoxically, the noise sounds louder now than when supporters were dispersed at a distance from the pitch on open terraces, although the stadium capacity is approximately half of what it was. The pitch, the turnstiles, and the naming rights of the club are now owned by Chelsea Pitch Owners, an organization set up to prevent the stadium from being purchased by property developers again.
Stamford Bridge speedway team operated from the stadium from 1929 until 1932, winning the Southern League in their opening season. Initially open meetings were held there in 1928. A nineteen year old junior rider, Charlie Biddle, was killed in a racing accident. In 1931, black cinders were laid onto the circuit suitable for use by speedway and athletics.
In 1945, Stamford Bridge staged one of the most notable matches in its history. Soviet side FC Dynamo Moscow were invited to tour the United Kingdom at the end of the Second World War and Chelsea were the first side they faced. An estimated crowd of over 100,000 crammed into Stamford Bridge to watch an exciting 3-3 draw, with many spectators on the dog track and on top of the stands.
The stadium was also one of the home venues for the London XI team that played in the original Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, today called the UEFA Cup. Having played at various other stadia in London in the group and knockout stages, the team played the home leg of the two-legged final at Stamford Bridge, drawing 2-2 with FC Barcelona; they lost the away leg 6-0, however.
The ground was used in 1980 for the first major day-night floodlit cricket match between Essex and West Indies (although organised by Surrey) which was a commercial success; the following year it hosted the final of the inaugural Lambert & Butler county cricket competition. It, however, failed and the experiment of playing cricket on football grounds was ended.
The nearest tube station is Fulham Broadway tube station.
Matthew Harding Stand
The Matthew Harding Stand, previously known as the North Stand, is along the north edge of the pitch. It is named after former Chelsea director Matthew Harding, who transformed the club in the early 1990s before his death in a helicopter accident on October 22, 1996. His considerable investment in the club enabled construction of the stand which was completed during the 1997-98 season. It has two tiers and accommodates most season-ticket holders, giving it an enthusiastic atmosphere, especially in the lower tier. Any proposal to enlarge the facility would necessitate demolition of the adjacent ‘Chelsea World of Sport’ museum.
For some Champions League matches, this stand operates at reduced capacity, some entrances being obstructed by the presence of TV outside-broadcast vehicles.
The oldest stand, the East Stand is located along the east side of the pitch. Previously it was the home to away supporters on the bottom tier, however at the start of the 2005/2006 season then-manager José Mourinho requested the move of the family section to this part of the stand to boost team morale. The stand has three tiers and is the heart of the stadium, housing the tunnel, dugout, dressing rooms, conference room, press centre, AV and commentary box. The middle tier is occupied by facilities, clubs, and executive suites. The upper tier provides spectators with one of the best views in the stadium.
The Shed End is located along the south side of the pitch. The stand has two tiers. The lower tier used to be home to the family centre, however for the 2005/2006 season and beyond the club has moved the away fans to the East corner of the stand (Gates 1-3 of the Upper Tier and around half of the Lower). The Shed also contains the centenary museum and a memorial wall where families of deceased fans are able to leave a permanent memorial of their loved ones indicating their eternal support for the club.
This stand was built during the mid 1990s and along with the Matthew Harding Stand is an area of the ground in which many vocal fans congregate.
The West Stand, recently updated, is located along the west side of the pitch. It has three tiers, in addition to a row of executive boxes that stretches the length of the stand.
The construction of the stand was almost responsible for Chelsea’s financial crisis, which would’ve seen the club fall into administration but for the intervention of Abramovich. In borrowing some £70m from Eurobonds to finance the project, Ken Bates put Chelsea into a perilous financial position, primarily because of the repayment terms.
Now complete, the stand is the main external ‘face’ of the stadium, being the first thing fans see when entering the primary gate on Fulham Road. The Main Entrance is flanked by the Spackman and Speedie hospitality entrances, named after former Chelsea players Nigel Spackman and David Speedie. The stand also features the largest concourse area in the stadium.
The aforementioned executive boxes are also known as the Millennium Suites and are the home of the majority of matchday hospitality guests. Each box is also named after a former Chelsea player (names in brackets):
- Tambling Suite (Bobby Tambling)
- Clarke Suite (Steve Clarke, Ex-Assistant Manager at Chelsea)
- Harris Suite (Ron Harris)
- ‘Drakes’ (Ted Drake)
- Bonetti (Peter Bonetti)
- Hollins (John Hollins)
When Stamford Bridge was redeveloped in the Ken Bates era many additional features were added to the complex including two hotels, apartments, bars, restaurants, the Chelsea Megastore, and an interactive visitor attraction called Chelsea World of Sport. The intention was that these facilities would provide extra revenue to support the football side of the business, but they were less successful than hoped and before the Abramovich takeover in 2003 the debt taken on to finance them was a major burden on the club. Soon after the takeover a decision was taken to drop the “Chelsea Village” brand and refocus on Chelsea as a football club. However, the stadium is sometimes still referred to as part of Chelsea Village or “The Village”.
2005 saw the opening of a new club museum, known as the Chelsea Museum or the Centenary Museum, to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the club. The museum is located in the former Shed Galleria. Visitors are able to visit the WAGs lounge and then watch an introductory video message from the vice-president Richard Attenborough. They are then guided decade by decade through the club’s history seeing old programmes, past shirts, José Mourinho‘s coat and other memorabilia.
Under Roman Abramovich‘s control, the club has announced that it wants to extend Stamford Bridge to around 55,000 seats however, its location in a heavily built-up part of Inner London near a main road and two railway lines makes this very difficult. The dispersal of an additional 13,000 fans into the residential roads of the Moore Park Estate would undoubtedly create congestion and conflict.
Alternative possibilities include moving from Stamford Bridge to a location such as London Olympic Stadium, the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, White City, Battersea Power Station, the Imperial Road Gasworks (off the Kings Road on the Fulham and Chelsea border) and the Chelsea Barracks. But, under the Chelsea Pitch Owners articles of association, the club would relinquish the name ‘Chelsea Football Club’ should it ever move from Stamford Bridge.