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4. Dreams are Free, Building Them Isn't (1950-1974)

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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Chapter 4 - Dreams are Free, Building Them Isn't (1950-1974)

west%20stand.jpg For the next twenty years the Bridge didn’t really change all that much. Well that isn’t strictly true. In the late 1950s floodlights were fitted for the first time and I was going to go into the details but in all honesty it is as riveting as Derby vs Sunderland. To cut a long story short there was much bickering over which type of floodlights should be used which resulted in the first floodlit game not being played until Tuesday 19th, March 1957 when Chelsea beat Sparta Prague 2-0 in a friendly. The original intent was for the floodlights to be in place for the 1954/55 season.

European football had boosted the bank balance and this led the board to consider extending the seating capacity at the Bridge. In early 1965 the sums were done and club architect George Skeats prepared plans for three options to provide a stand on the west terraces. The cheapest scheme, providing seating for 6,000 was selected by the Board and demolition of the west terracing commenced in May 1965. To have got the post of club architect Skeats must clearly have been talented within his profession however it would appear he was also a chicken pakora short of a good Indian takeaway as one of his ideas which was rejected on the grounds of cost was to enable cars to drive onto the roof of the stand thus creating the world’s first drive in football stadium! The new West Stand was built remarkably quickly and with surprisingly few hitches, well other than the fact that it was naff! In essence it was just some seats with a roof over the top of them. ‘What more do you want from a stand?’ I hear you ask. Well at this time the public were demanding more and more luxury / facilities from football grounds, a message that we seemed to have entirely missed.

66jan-newweststand.jpg It did provide six Executive Boxes, the only other stadium providing this being Old Trafford however it failed miserably to enhance the football experience of the common punter (well other than giving 6,300 of them a seat and a little shelter). Later the capacity would be increased further when concrete bench seats were added in front of the stand. The West Stand which stretched the full length of the pitch, accommodated 6,250 seats and cost about £130,000. As it transpired the West Stand was just part of a far grander, longer term strategy for a redevelopment of the stadium. Detailing the grand scheme in its entirety would threaten the boredom threshold of even the most patient of you so I shall keep it brief. The highlights were:

* 60,000 all seater all covered stadium;

* Connecting the stadium to Fulham Broadway tube station;

* Building of a new two tier East Stand;

* A Vice-Presidents Club in the new East Stand;

* The initial construction of 30 private boxes in the new East Stand, increasing to 156 private boxes when total development was completed;

* Various new facilities such as bars, restaurants, practice area for players etc; and

* Warm air heating for spectators!!

the%20bridge%20that%20never%20was.jpg This was costed at £5m and completion was scheduled for the end of the 70s. All sounds rather grand and is probably entirely achievable in this day and age with Roman’s financial clout however in the mid 60s and early 70s our Board clearly had less pounds in their back pockets and also less brain cells! The completed West Stand replaced the existing terracing and it consisted mainly of wooden tip up seats attached to iron frames whilst the concrete seats at the front of stand became known as ‘the Benches.’ As a development it was considered a success and maybe this success was what spurred the board on to commit the club to such an excessively expansive plan - a plan which almost destroyed the club.

brian%20mears.gif Brian Mears was the latest of the Mears family to be Chelsea chairman (his father Joe had died of a heart attach in Oslo in 1966 and his successor Len Withye had died in 1969) and he had a dream of turning the Bridge into the ultimate futuristic sports arena with a whole range of leisure facilities. His dream was grand, his application was atrocious! The development was awarded to an architecture company (Darbourne and Darke) with absolutely no experience of stadium design and the board also ignored warnings that plans should take account of the risk of attendances falling (those of you wanting a new 90,000 capacity stadium take note). Whilst Chelsea had grand dreams of a new stadium the existing one was falling apart at the seams. Running behind the old North Stand was the railway track and when a train went by the entire stand would shake due to the vibrations. An inquiry was carried out which led to the North Stand being closed for reasons of safety.

sb%20building%20east%20stand%20mid%20197 The new East Stand was to cost £1.6m and by June 1973 the architects announced a delay of 11 weeks for its completion. Four months later they announced it was unlikely the stand would be ready before the end of the season. Meanwhile the plans to link the stadium to Fulham Broadway had already been shelved on the grounds of excessive cost. The club’s overdraft was growing and the performances on the pitch weren't helping with Chelsea only winning three of the first eleven games of the season. This led to meetings between the board and manager Dave Sexton who pointed the finger firmly at problems he was having with Peter Osgood and Alan Hudson. The board expressed their desire for Sexton to smooth things over but as the overdraft grew larger and the rift between the manager and the two players grew wider it became apparent that there was to be no compromise. Ossie and Hudson demanded transfers and the board put prices tags on both of them (£300k for Ossie and £225k for Hudson). Ossie eventually went to Southampton for £235k in March 1974 (despite the fact he had sent Sexton a letter of apology in February stating his desire to stay at the club) and Hudson was sold to Stoke City for £200k.

The money helped relieve the overdraft but clearly the team suffered with the loss of two star players. By now a succession of problems and delays meant it was going to be a push to have the new stand open for the start of the 1974/75 season and as the work carried on the overdraft crept back up reaching £181k with a further £346k needed in December 1974 to clear commitments to builders and the bank. Meanwhile things were going from bad to worse on the pitch and in October 1974 Sexton was sacked and replaced by Ron Suart who could not prevent Chelsea being relegated at the end of the season and a consequential drop in income at a time when we could least afford it.

Click here to read Chapter 5 - Saving the Bridge (1975-1993)

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