Chelsea eager to stay ahead of QPR in stadium site race
Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea -- long-standing west London rivals -- collide again today at Loftus Road for the first time in the league for 15 years.
But there is now added dimension to the clubs' mutual antipathy -- with each also in a race to grab one of the few available sites for a new stadium in the Hammersmith and Fulham borough they share.
Greater monetary yield, as ever in the Premier League, is the catalyst for the clubs' expansion plans. Chelsea gaze with envy at Arsenal's financial transformation since moving to the 60,000-seat Emirates in 2006 and at the 75,000 plus who can now watch Manchester United at Old Trafford.
QPR note how Sunderland and Stoke City's new builds allowed them to reap more funds from their fan base.
Tony Fernandes, QPR's new owner, wants a move away from Loftus Road but not out of what he calls "a fantastic area". If the Malaysian businessman can raise the cash and secure the land, the next step is relatively simple.
Neil Warnock, the manager, says of Fernandes's plans which are still germinating after he bought the club in the summer: "We're already talking about a new stadium. Tony is one of those owners who, with the other shareholders, just want to get there yesterday."
Chelsea are aware of his ambitions and want to move fast. Yet for their oligarch proprietor, Roman Abramovich, the scenario is complex. The club insists that no decision has definitively been made to move. If they do, plots have been identified, with an area next to Battersea power station on the Thames the current favourite, and sites at Earl's Court and White City other options. Earl's Court is the club's preference, on the north site, as it is the closest to Stamford Bridge, and would allow fans to continue their current pre- and post-match rituals. If Capco, which owns Earl's Court, is willing to reopen talks with Chelsea then the club would gladly accept the chance.
Abramovich's first challenge, though, is to buy back the freehold on Stamford Bridge so that the land can be developed to raise funds. To do this he needs to convince the Chelsea Pitch Owners that there is no wish to relocate any further away than a three-mile radius. Chelsea insist they do want to stay close to their roots. If they are to move then the deadline for one of the sites is 2020, they say. This, Chelsea contends, is due to the belief that they will all be taken by then anyway.
An extraordinary meeting of the CPO, whose members have owned the land since 1993, will be held on Thursday, with the politicking fully under way. Abramovich's offer to the 12,000 shareholders who own the 15,000 shares is to buy them at the sum they originally cost, a total of £10m, £8.5m of which was a loan from the club, which will be written off by the Russian.
He is arguing, not unfairly, that the original purchase was never about profit, but safeguarding Chelsea's future.
While Abramovich wants to leave the Bridge's 42,000 capacity for a new home that can house 55,000 to 60,000, Warnock believes that QPR could regularly attract at least 30,000. "I think so. When I was at Huddersfield [1993-'95], we got something like 4,000 average at the old Leeds Road and then at the McAlpine we had 12,500 from day one so it trebled."
Those opposed to Abramovich's offer are not against moving but want a new destination legally signed off first. Richard King, the CPO chairman, is careful to balance each side's concerns. "As directors of CPO," he says, "we had an obligation to ensure shareholders could discuss the club's proposal and then vote on it. It's for shareholders to decide, not us."
He is clear that Chelsea need to relocate. "I have been watching Chelsea for years. It's like a second home. On the other hand, I understand that because of its location the stadium can't be extended. With Financial Fair Play rules to come, we need a bigger stadium to compete. Finishing below Spurs, because they have a bigger stadium and therefore a stronger squad than us, is too awful to contemplate."
The Say No CPO organisation is upset that neither the CPO nor the club informed them that negotiations had occurred without the shareholders being told before the situation became public. "CPO had to deal with the proposal in confidence at the behest of the club," the Pitch Owners say. "Its directors have sought to clarify and settle a proposal which reflects what the club will offer and to allow the shareholders of CPO to decide, on a 75 per cent vote if in favour, whether or not to accept it."
What Chelsea supporters would also certainly not like is if QPR became the noisy neighbours who take up the prime spot in their local manor.
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