Stats and achievements weren’t the major reason for me getting into groundhopping. I just really like going to new grounds. My first visit to Stamford Bridge, however, marked my first milestone as a so-called groundhopper. It would mean completing the London Football League grounds. As with most things in football, London grounds are an ever evolving tapestry, and by August when Spurs move into their new stadium, this particular personal landmark will be obsolete. For now, however, I’m part of an elite group of London football fans and the ground that marked my finish line was a lot of fun.
Competition: Premier League
Refreshments: £7.40 (cheese burger and tea)
Star man: Callum Wilson
Who are ya, Chelsea?
Grounds are usually built for clubs, but Chelsea are unusual in this sense as they were created specifically for Stamford Bridge. Businessman Gus Mears bought Stamford Bridge Athletics Stadium in 1904 and wanted to make it into a football stadium. Fulham turned down the opportunity to lease the stadium, so Mears decided to create his own club. In March 1905 Chelsea FC was born.
The Blues were soon elected to the Football League and contested the first ever London derby in the Football League against Leyton Orient in November 1905. They were promoted into the top flight in their second year in the league, but spent most of their early years jumping between the first and second divisions. The club modernized in the 1950s, improving the youth set-up and training regime, and they won their first League Championship in 1955.
Chelsea were one of the top sides in England in the 1960s but often fell just short of winning the major trophies. A League Cup win in 1965 was their only major trophy before winning the FA Cup in 1970. The Blues found themselves relegated twice in the 1970s and 1980s before Ken Bates took over the financially struggling club, stabilised it and later sold it to Roman Abramovich.
As the Premier League took off Chelsea began to attract some big foreign names to the club and they began to become a force again. Abramovich took control in 2003 and the club has won five Premier League titles and the Champions League with him as owner. The Blues have recently announced plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge and increase the capacity. The redevelopment would see them temporarily leaving their home and playing home games away from the stadium for the first time in their history.
- In the 2004/05 season Chelsea set the record for the highest points total (95), the fewest goals conceded (15) and the most clean sheets (25) in a Premier League season
- When Ken Bates bought the club in 1982 he only paid £1, although he inherited debts of £1.5m
- Chelsea FC was the name chosen for the club in 1905, but Kensington FC, Stamford Bridge FC and London FC were also considered as names
Both sides came into the game in similar form, despite being at different ends of the table. They had both won two and drawn two of their last four league games. Chelsea had played two cup games since their last league match, losing 2-1 to Arsenal in the League Cup and beating Newcastle 3-0 in the FA Cup. The two sides had met twice already this season. Chelsea won both games. A 1-0 league win on the south coast and a 2-1 win in the League Cup.
Bournemouth, on the other hand came into the game fresh having been knocked out of the FA Cup in the previous round to Wigan. The Cherries had drawn away at West Ham in their last game but defeated Arsenal at home in the first of three consecutive games against London clubs.
The Chelsea experience
Train: Stamford Bridge is a couple of steps away from Fulham Broadway Station on the District Line. It’s so close they sell programmes outside the tube station. Parsons Green, West Brompton and Earls Court are also within walking distance.
Car: There is very little parking around Stamford Bridge. There are some multi-story car parks in Hammersmith and Earls Court that would be a bus trip away.
Stamford Bridge retains a feeling of a traditional inner-city football ground, despite the modernisation that has taken place around the stadium and the local area. It must be one of the most heavily branded stadia I’ve visited so far, but it maintains a nod to its roots and the key part it has played in the history of the club.
As soon as I swiped the card reader at Fulham Broadway I was in amongst the throngs of eager supporters strolling along Fulham Road. A few steps further on I was ushered into the main entrance to the Stamford Bridge complex. And it is a complex. There are various bars and eateries along with the club shop and several hotel lounges.
The Stadium is unrecognisable from the original athletics venue, as you would expect. It changed dramatically, however, in the 1980s and 1990s. The early redevelopment almost bankrupted the club. The stands are now high and inclosed whereas early images show the ground used to be open and shallow. One nice touch and nod to history can be found round the back of the Shed End. Some of the original wall still stands and has been turned into an illuminated alley with historical plaques and signs. It looks the it’s lighting the way to a London hipster hotspot, but it’s stroll through the club’s history.
I was sat at the top of the three tiered East Sand in a restricted view seat. The East Stand was the first to be redeveloped. Anyone who has ever been on an overground train past the back of it will confirm that it looks a little like the outside of a tower block. Inside it’s more like a maze with modern electronic ticket readers on all levels rather than just at the bottom. I actually enjoyed my journey to the top .
The restricted view was not actually bad at all, and it was only one corner flag that I couldn’t see. Others in that section, however, may have had a worse view. The atmosphere was a little subdued for much of the game as the home side struggled to get going. The ground was mostly full with a few empty seats where season ticket holders had clearly decided to have a night off.
Blues toppled by Cherries
The visitors started the game well with Wilson and Ibe keeping the Chelsea defenders occupied. Christensen had to come off for the hosts fairly early on and was replaced at centre back by Rudiger. After the substitution Chelsea began to come to life. Hazard and Pedro got behind the visitors defence on several occasions. They failed to create any clear chances, however, and Cahill’s header from a corner was the closest the Blues came to opening the scoring in the first half.
Chelsea continued to attack after the break and Bournemouth looked content to try and hit them on the break. Disaster struck for the home side five minutes into the half as Wilson dispossessed Bakayoko. He combined with Ibe and was through on goal. He finished well to give the Cherries the lead.
13 minutes later Bournemouth struck again as Chelsea appeared shell shocked. Wilson again combined with one of his fellow forwards. It was Stanislas this time and the winger ran through and poked the ball through Courtois’ legs. The Cherries killed the game off three minutes later as Ake turned in a Stanislas shot. The home side had chances and a penalty shout went against them, but it was game over and Bournemouth had pulled off a famous win over the Champions.
It was a great game to watch as a neutral and a memorable win for one of the so-called smaller teams against the current Champions. The atmosphere was reflective of a flat and unmotivated performance from the home side. Aside from the game I really enjoyed Stamford Bridge. It is a well designed stadium with lots of modern touches and nods to the stadium’s history. The stadium is a key part of the club’s DNA, more so than most clubs, and this comes across when you visit. I look forward to seeing how this link between the past and present is continued with the new stadium.