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The History of Stamford Bridge

Stamford Bridge is the home of Chelsea Football Club, but it hasn’t always been that way and the site has quite a history.

The name "Stamford Bridge" is one of great significance in English history, being the site in Yorkshire of one the most famous battles of King Harold's reign in 1066 against the Vikings. However it is believed that this is not connected to the naming of the stadium which came about less because of historical significance and more to do with it's geography, local landmarks and a fair degree of chance.

18th Century Map

Eighteenth century maps show Fulham Road and Kings Road and surrounding areas, including the site of the stadium and also a stream called 'Stanford Creek'. The stream runs along the route of the present day railway line, behind the East Stand and flows down into the Thames.

Where the stream crossed Fulham Road is marked “Little Chelsea Bridge” which was originally called Sanford Bridge (from sand ford). While a bridge over the creek on Kings Road was called Stanbridge (from stone bridge). It seems that these two names of the stream and the bridge, 'Stanford Creek' and 'Little Chelsea Bridge', together evolved into the name Stanford Bridge, which again later evolved into Stamford Bridge as the adopted name of the stadium.

 

 

Stamford Bridge Grounds officially opened on 28th April 1877 and for the first 28 years of its existence, was used almost exclusively by the London Athletic Club as an arena for athletics meetings.

In 1904 the ownership of the ground changed hands when Mr H A (Gus) Mears and his brother, Mr J T Mears, obtained the deeds, having previously acquired additional land (formerly a large market garden) with the aim of establishing a football team there on the now 12.5 acre site.

Archibald Leitch was commissioned to design the first stand, a 120 yard long structure along the east side, seating 5,000 people. Work began on the building in February 1905.  The other three sides were open, in a vast bowl, the banking of which was made up of thousands of tons of material, excavated during the building of the nearby underground line. The original capacity was planned for 100,000 and at the time, was the second largest venue in the country, behind that at The Crystal Palace.

The ground was initially offered to Fulham FC, but they declined and so, it was decided to form a new football team.

At 7.30pm on March 10th, 1905, the inaugural meeting of the football club was called to order by Gus Mears and his brother JT Mears. The meeting was held in a room above a pub opposite Stamford Bridge Grounds, known at the time as The Rising Sun, more recently called the Greene Room and now re-named The Butcher's Hook.  As there was already a club named "Fulham", a range of names such as "Kensington FC", "Stamford Bridge FC" and "London FC" were considered, but the name of the adjoining London borough was settled on and Chelsea Football Club was born and moved into Stamford Bridge in time to start the 1905/1906 season.

The stadium remained largely unchanged for the next 25 years until in 1930 the Shed End terraced area was erected. A vast bank of terracing behind the southern goal it was to become the “Mecca” for Chelsea's most die hard supporters and would forever be associated with Stamford Bridge.

very old Stamford Bridge

 

As the stadium developed the Shed End really came into its own in the 60's, 70's and 80's and was the focal point of the hardcore Chelsea fans and the originators of most of the singing and atmosphere. Adorned with a rather unique 'roofed' area (which barely covered 1/5th of the whole terrace), there is much debate over how and when it developed the name 'Shed', as it wasn't given a name when it was built.

The Shed

 

The Shed was demolished in 1994 following new laws compelling grounds to be all seater and was replaced with the new "Shed End" seated stand in 1997. The final match with the old Shed was Sheffield United at home on 7th May 1994 although sadly no one knew at the time it would be the last game, so the Shed was never given the send off it deserved.

Stamford Bridge late 80's

 

Old North Stand In 1939 the North Stand was built. A curious stand in the north east corner it was an extension to the East stand and stuck out for being a completely different design to the rest of the stadium but it did provide extra seating. It survived until 1976 when it was demolished and the north end was then open terracing until 1993 when it too was demolished at the start of the modern redevelopment of the entire stadium.

In 1964/65, during one of Chelsea's best periods on the pitch, saw the vast western terrace replaced by a seated stand. The stand was 3/4 seating and 1/4 concrete slabs affectionately known as the 'Benches'. The West stand existed for 25 years until it was the last of the old stadium to be demolished in 1998 and despite by that stage being a rickety, crumbling stand it too was a sad day for many when the old West Stand with it's wooden seats went, and like the Shed, is a source of nostalgia. Yet its replacement is quite simply one of the finest stadium stands in the country costing an estimated £30 million to build, and housing 13,500 people in luxury surroundings with superb views.

Old West Stand
East Stand

In 1973 the East Stand built was built, a marvel of engineering of the time and still one of the most striking stands in the country there's little doubt it was ahead of its time. The only part of the current stadium that survived the mass rebuilding of the 1990's it has though, undergone extensive refurbishment and refitting.

The East Stand, for all its magnificence also has a controversial past. When Chelsea were at their peak in the late 60's and early 70's the then owners decided the all star team on the pitch deserved to be playing in the best stadium in the country. Their plan was hugely ambitious to completely redevelop Stamford Bridge into a 50,000 all seater circular stadium. It proved too ambitious and many feel brought the club to it's knees, forced the selling of the star players, relegation and nearly forced the club into complete ruin by the start of the 1980's. It took another 20 years to rebuild not only the stadium and team but the entire club, yet for all that, the East Stand itself remains as impressive today as it always did.

 

 

With the club virtually bankrupt in the late 70's the then owners made the drastic decision to sell the Stamford Bridge site to property developers to pay off some of the debts. It was a decision that very nearly saw Chelsea lose it's ground, be forced to share with Fulham or QPR and the famous stadium converted into houses or a supermarket.

With Chelsea no longer owning their own ground they were unable to do any more rebuilding and lagged behind other clubs in that respect. A bitter, expensive and close run 10 year fight by chairman Ken Bates to fight the property developers and win back ownership of Stamford Bridge was finally successful in 1992. With an ironic twist, is was the property developers who were forced into bankruptcy and Chelsea FC got it's ground back.

It was a close run thing at times but Stamford Bridge survived its biggest ever challenge and in 1994 the process of the most extensive redevelopment of any stadium in the country began. Turning a dilapidated and crumbling ground with views miles from the pitch into one of the most impressive in the country.

 

The rebuilding of Stamford Bridge from the ashes began with the redevelopment of the North Stand area. The old banked terrace that in recent times had housed the away fans was demolished and the new stand began to rise. Renamed as the Matthew Harding Stand in memory of the Chelsea director killed in a helicopter accident it has now established itself as the home of the most vocal and die hard Chelsea fans.

New North (Matthew Harding) Stand
New Shed End Stand Next up in the redevelopment queue was the new Shed End Stand. The old Shed terrace was replaced with temporary seating for a couple of years before work began on the new Shed End. At the same time the Chelsea Village Hotel, which would be the centre piece of the massive Chelsea Village development, was built at the same time. Like all the new stands as well as being modern, smart and comfortable they were also much closer to the pitch something many feel had hindered Chelsea's atmosphere for some time.

The final piece of the new Stamford Bridge story proved to have one more hurdle to overcome. The lower tier of the new West stand was built on schedule but then problems with the local council over planning permission meant a 2 year delay before the rest of the stand could be built.

Finally that last battle was won and work began on completing the biggest and best part of the stadium, the huge 13,500 seater West Stand. It opened for the first time on 19/08/2001 and marked, at last, the completion of Stamford Bridge which had begun way back in 1973 with the East Stand.

 
New West Stand
Stamford Bridge now The current capacity stands at 42,522 and the ground has gone from being a huge oval shape to 4 sides close to the pitch. There is almost no part of the current stadium that hasn't markedly changed in the past 10 years. When completed in it's current form, Stamford Bridge was  the largest football stadium in London.  It has since been surpassed by the new Wembley & The Emirates, but still remains one of the best stadiums in the country and Europe. As well as all the work on the stadium itself the whole 12.5 acre site has seen the building of Chelsea Village. A leisure and entertainment complex housing 2 four star hotels, 5 restaurants, conference and banqueting facilities, nightclub, underground car park, health club, club museum and business centre. It has come a long long way since the original athletics venue was first built in 1876.

For all the technical niceties of the new Stamford Bridge, please visit http://www.sportsvenue-technology.com/projects/chelsea/

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