Chelsea moved closer to joining London’s “60,000” club on Wednesday night after Hammersmith and Fulham councillors approved plans for their extraordinary new stadium.
While the meeting for Tottenham’s new stadium in December 2015 stretched on until 12.29am and culminated in a fingernail-biter of a vote, Chelsea’s stadium breezed through this critical planning hurdle with a unanimous vote of approval at a distinctly civilized 10.22pm. Decisions over new conservatory extensions have taken longer.
Ultimately, the Herzog de Meuron design swept all before it and meant approval was an inevitability. It was simply too spectacular a piece of architecture to be rejected, no matter the deep inconvenience about to be inflicted on local residents during four years of construction, the land grab over public infrastructure, and the loss of housing and hotel rooms.
Chelsea have work to do before construction can begin: Mayoral and other consents are required, agreement is needed with Chelsea Pitch Owners, the fan group that owns the Stamford Bridge freehold, and deals must be reached to buy out any remaining apartment owners in Chelsea Village. Fortunately money isn’t a problem for Chelsea, as that will be an expensive business.
Chelsea acknowledged that the timeframe had “slipped” in the planning documents, and they won’t be ready to leave Stamford Bridge for Wembley until the end of the 2017/18 season. Provided work is completed on time at New White Hart Lane, this means Spurs and Chelsea should avoid the world’s most uncomfortable houseshare.
The two stadiums will inevitably draw comparisons, but these are two very different projects, and each speaks volumes about the club and its situation.
For Spurs, the new stadium has always been about levelling the playing field. Constrained by the size of White Hart Lane, Spurs have slipped further and further behind wealthier clubs in financial strength. Spurs have clung onto the coattails of the big spenders with admirable tenacity and some Mauricio Pochettino magic, but it’s been a gruelling business and you can only defy gravity for so long.
This need to maximise the opportunity a new stadium presents has shaped the project, from the moment the early designs were released with the words “Naming Rights” emblazoned on the roof in giant letters.
The newly released stadium promotion video demonstrated this: it’s a home for Spurs, but also for the NFL and for concerts. The club ensured it can hold up to 16 non-THFC major events per year — it is likely that AEG, operators of the O2 and would-be partners in the failed Olympic site plan, may be involved to ensure every one of those 16 events slots is used. Concerts, rugby (European champions Saracens are based just down the road in tiny Allianz Park), boxing, T20 cricket and UFC — you name it, the stadium will host it and Spurs will take their cut.
Daniel Levy knows that Spurs have to make this stadium count — this is the silver bullet, and it can’t be wasted. No effort is being spared on the interior details, and the fan experience should be unrivalled in European stadia. The design is modern, but not flashy and certainly not “signature” — the real investment is being made inside, not on the exterior. Above all, it is about money — Spurs have been fighting with one hand behind their back for years, and now it’s time to punch back.
For Chelsea, Stamford Bridge isn’t so much a commercial project as a personal one: The stadium is both a monument to Roman Abramovich, and his personal legacy to Chelsea.
If his first decade as owner was about buying Chelsea’s way into the elite — the club technically “owes” him more than £1 billion — the second is about cementing it. The project makes less commercial sense than Spurs with a smaller capacity increase and more recent development of Stamford Bridge, although Chelsea had precious few options for further growth without abandoning west London altogether.
The sheer audacity of the design, with its lattice roof and columns drawing inspiration from Westminster Abbey, takes the breath away. It’s not just a stadium, it’s a symbol — of Abramovich’s extraordinary wealth, of Chelsea’s ambitions, of the sheer magnitude of football now. These aren’t stadiums any more, they are cathedrals.
Perhaps it’s just the name Roman, but rather than visions of London — Westminster Abbey, Battersea Power Station, the Tate Modern — to me the design harks back further, the huge exterior arches and vaunting brick walls bringing to mind the original sporting stadium, the Coliseum. It’s Roman the Emperor, on a Triumph through London, erecting a vast monument to his own glory; all that’s missing is the white horse and vanquished rival Premier League kings in chains.
It won’t be for everyone: there are hints of Albert Speer and Welthauptstadt Germania in its epic scale and Teutonic coldness, and questions will linger about whether Abramovich has really earned the right to redefine London’s skyline in this way.
While Chelsea will surely take on significant financing, the suggestion is that Abramovich will personally fund the bulk of it; it’s unlikely Chelsea will have to engage in something as grubby as naming rights sponsorship. The stadium will host football only. Say this about Abramovich: like him or not, his commitment to Chelsea has been unwavering. He’s the ultimate oligarch, still there week-in week-out nearly 15 years later, still bankrolling his favourite toy.
The law of London football means Spurs fans and Chelsea fans will find ways to undermine, mock and goad each other. The new stadia will be no exception. New White Hart Lane is shaped like an egg, New Stamford Bridge like some sort of novelty vegetable shredder; you get the drift. I hope the ill-feeling continues at boardroom level and on the pitch — it’s surely the best rivalry in the Premier League at the moment, by a distance.
The same one upmanship that made Spurs trump Arsenal in capacity will be in play — stadium development is linear, and Chelsea will learn ruthlessly from Spurs to make sure their’s is “better”. But ultimately, the more you compare these projects, the greater the contrast becomes.
Here’s one thing we can agree on: Spurs and Chelsea are both going to have world-class stadiums within a few years, and thousands more fans are going to be able to see their team live. So a bit like West Ham — except without the need for binoculars, taxpayer subsidies and riot gear.
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