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Stadium issue key as bidding groups gear up for meeting Chelsea executives in final week — report

April 11 deadline

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The four shortlisted bidders continue to jockey for position as we enter the final week of bidding — due Monday, April 11 — some more publicly than others, often by necessity. The Ricketts bid has been actively firefighting the negative response from a wide swathe of Chelsea fans, while the others have been able to focus on keeping things more positive or secretive.

As per the Telegraph, all four bidding groups will be meeting with Chelsea executives this week, in addition to any PR work with fans, with the stadium issue one of the key topics of discussion. It’s the one key piece that’s missing from Roman Abramovich’s sporting legacy in the SW6, though the plans that were drawn up before being abandoned were spectacular indeed. It’s also the biggest challenge facing the club in the future, and one for which bidding groups are required to set aside a certain amount.

Planning permission for that "Cathedral of Football" design expired almost exactly two years ago, though I’m sure they could be resurrected if the new owners wished it so. That said, according to the report, both the Boehly and the Broughton bids are exploring a “stand by stand” rebuild, which sounds great in theory but may not be as feasible as it’s been for Liverpool and Anfield.

The Stamford Bridge building site is limited in every direction and while some of square footage can be expanded by knocking down a few (though not all) buildings and with decking over the railways, the height is strictly limited by London building code. One of the ways the old plans were able to fit in a 60,000-seater was to dig down and lower the pitch itself. It’s hard to see how that could be easily accomplished while continuing to play in the stadium, which a stand-by-stand rebuild would be looking to enable first and foremost (while also keeping costs more manageable, presumably).

That said, such a piecemeal rebuild would certainly fit with the ethos of the existing stadium, which has evolved precisely in such a manner since the first iteration in 1877 of a big oval bowl with a running track and one covered structure. The current East Stand dates back to 1973 (and it shows, especially inside), the North (Matthew Harding) and South (Shed) ends to the mid ‘90s, while the West Stand, which is the current outside “face” of the stadium was only completed in 2001, with a recent upscalization of the top tiers as well (i.e. Westview).

Two of the greatest financial crises in club history were brought on by the constructions of the East and West stands, so hopefully that can be avoided this time, regardless of which bid and what plan wins out!

One additional interesting note from the report is that the Boehly bid would be open to forgiving and writing off the £8m loan that Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) technically owe the club, which would be an excellent gesture that all bidding groups should look to do. The CPO own the freehold of Stamford Bridge as well as the naming rights to the club — more so than right words, supporting the CPO would show the right action to respect the club’s history and legacy.

Image © Herzog & de Meuron