“Stamford Bridge, SW6; the London ground that become famous before Chelsea FC did……”
Home of the current European Champions Chelsea, Stamford Bridge sits in one of the more affluent parts of West London. Once with a reputation as London’s bohemian quarter and a home of the swinging 60’s its history is one of being a haunt of artists, political radicals, painters and poets. However little of its historic past, as an area, seems to survive now with the area dominated by new restaurant chains and a modern rebrand.
The Borough of Chelsea and Kensington today is mostly known for its modern comfortable squares off King’s Road and top level restaurants. The many residential areas serve as classy homes to actors, famous musicians, rich arabs as well as investment bankers and film stars.
Foreign football stars who come to London speak highly of the levels of privacy that the area offers. Such is the scope and size of London its easy even for average footballer to find the sense of anonymity so valuable in West London.
One part of Chelsea that does still survive however is at Stamford Bridge – the home of Chelsea Football Club.
The Shed End was an area of Stamford Bridge that ran along the south side of the pitch. It’s construction at the south end of the stadium was the first piece of serious work at Stamford Bridge since 1900.
In 1930, this new terrace was built on the south side to allow for more standing spectators to watch the numerous Scottish and English football stars of the time. This part of the ground was originally known as the Fulham Road End, but supporters nicknamed it ‘The Shed’ after World War Two.
This led the club to officially change its name to the name which it is still known today ‘Shed End’.
Many thousands of fans crowded onto the Shed Terrace end in 1945 to see the famous Moscow Dynamo in London. To this day, while an official attendence of 74,496 is listed, as many as 90,000 people were in Stamford Bridge on that day to see the famous Soviet side.
The Shed became the most favoured spot for the loudest and most die-hard supporters of Chelsea earning the club its much hated and somewhat unwholesome reputation for hooliganism during the 1970’s and 1980’s. An electric fence was once erected to keep fans off the playing field.
In 1994 perhaps the second most famous terrace in England (after the Kop at Anfield) was demolished, when the requirements for all-seater stadia became compulsory by English law. A newer stand opened in time for the 1997/98 season but the stadium still contains a large chunk of the original Shed wall.
The back of the Shed End terrace still stands and runs along the south side of the stadium – a monument to the Stamford Bridge of old. It has recently been decorated with large images of Chelsea legends and is part of the detailed guided tour that the club offers supporters who visit.
Stamford Bridge predates the actual football club Chelsea FC and originally opened in 1877 as a home for the London Athletic Club. The ground was used almost exclusively for athletics until 1904, when the lease was finally acquired (after an 8 year struggle) for the purpose of staging high-profile professional football matches.
Chelsea was founded in 1905 by Gus Mears, an Englishman. He got the idea to start a new club which would be the biggest in London. With a football ground but no club ideas quickly began to circulate as to which clubs would use Stamford Bridge for football.
Fulham nearby were considered but it had its own Craven Cottage venue and it was also thought that Stamford Bridge could become the new established home of the FA Cup Final. London, at the Oval, had been the former home of the FA Cup Final for many years but eventually it was not until 1920 that Stamford Bridge hosted the final.
The aim for the ambitious football pioneers of Stamford Bridge was to make the West London venue a rival for the great powerhouse stadia of Scotland – Ibrox, Hampden Park and Celtic Park. The ground would contain one main stand with open terracing surrounds largely made from raised up earth.
This created the distinctive open bowl so synonomous with the Archibald Leitch era.
On March 10th 1905, a meeting was convened opposite the stadium in a public house with the purpose of forming a new club. One item on the agenda was a name for the new football club. Several were considered including Stamford Bridge FC, Kensington FC and London FC but were all rejected.
The club name Chelsea FC was chosen thanks to the surround area in which the ground was located and its home would be called Stamford Bridge.
On May 29th 1905, the Football League elected the new club into the Northern club dominated Second Division and football had a new home in London. A Glasgow Rangers and Scotland player called John Tait Robertson – a full Scottish international – was the first player/manager of the club and he also scored the first ever goal scored by Chelsea.
Quickly the club attracted many new fans as well as football characters like the goalkeeper Willie Fatty Faulke who became the captain.
Success evaded Chelsea for its first 50 years with the title win in 1954-55 being the club’s first ever major honour.
It would be another 15 years before the FA Cup was won in 1970 thanks to Dave Webb’s goal against hated Leeds United in a famous second replay.
The emergence of Stamford Bridge as a modern venue mirrors the growth and success of Chelsea FA as an English football institution. From being a bit part player in English football (the club were relegated to the Second tier in 1988) Chelsea have turned into a global super power culminating in eventually being titled UEFA European Champions League winners in 2012.
The Taylor Report arising from the Hillsborough disaster was published in January 1990 and ordered all top division clubs to have all-seater stadiums in time for the 1994–95 season. Chelsea’s plan for a 34,000-seat stadium at Stamford Bridge was given approval by Hammersmith and Fulham council on 19 July 1990 not soon after Italia ’90. Rebuilding was carried out in short phases during the 1990’s with the team playing against a backdrop of construction.
Gone went the original running track and in its place appeared all seated stands, roofed and all-seated, which are immediately adjacent to the pitch. Adjoining the stadium are hotels, a club megastore, club offices and a number of residential buildings as well as the famous ‘Shed End’ wall.
Chelsea FC – born of somewhat humble if highly ambitious plans – are now one of Europe’s most successful football clubs.
Stamford Bridge – Key Facts
Address: Fulham Rd., London SW6 1HS
Field size: 113 by 74 yards (103.3 m × 67.7 m)
1877: Stamford Bridge football ground opened in April as an athletics venue for the London Athletic Club.
1898: Stamford Bridge played host to the World Championship of shinty between Beauly Shinty Club and London Camanachd
1904: Deeds for the ground were acquired by the Mears brothers.
1904: Archibald Leitch, who had also designed Ibrox, Celtic Park, Craven Cottage and Hampden Park, designed the new stadium, which included a 120 metre-long east stand holding 5,000 spectators.
1920: FA Cup Final played at Stamford Bridge
1930: Originally known as the Fulham Road End – opens.
1932: It staged last of three England international football matches.
1939: The two-storied North Stand including seating was bu
1945: Chelsea hosted FC Dynamo Moscow at the end of the Second World War.
1964: A seated West Stand was built to replace the existing terracing. Most of the West Stand consisted of wooden tip-up seats on iron frames, but seating at the very front was on the concrete slabs, or ‘Benches’.
1974: Original stand demolished and new large stand opened.
1982: Ken Bates acquired Chelsea in 1982.
1994: The renovated Stamford Bridge has a 34,000 seat venue capacity.
2005: The new club museum – the Chelsea – or the Centenary Museum, to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the club – opened.
2011: A new museum opened behind the Matthew Harding stand.