The History of Stamford Bridge

by Bernard Frei on March 06, 2019

Stamford Bridge football ground opened in April 1877 as an athletics venue for the London Athletic Club and continued to host meetings until 1904, when the deeds for the ground were acquired by the Mears brothers, whose interest in football had grown along with the rest of England and who decided that nearby Fulham FC needed a rival.

In 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, the remainder of the venue terraced, using material excavated as a result of the building of the new Piccadilly underground line. The planned capacity of the stadium - around 100,000 - was to make it the second largest in the country and it was offered to Fulham Football Club, who declined.

The Bridge's highest official football attendance is 82,905, for the Chelsea-Arsenal First division game in the 1935-36 season. Chelsea Football Club was founded in March 1905 and moved into their new home before the start of the 1905-6 season.

It has staged three England international football matches (the last in 1932), FA Cup Finals from 1920 to 1922, shinty sticks matches, cricket organized by Surrey in 1980 for the first day-night floodlit match between Essex and West Indies and the following year the final of the inaugural Lambert-Butler county cricket competition. In addition to serving as a speedway between 1929 and 1932, the stadium has played host to a rugby union in 1905 between Middlesex and the All Blacks, rugby league in 1908, greyhound racing - between 1933 (which forced the London Athletic Club to leave the venue) and 1968, baseball in 1914 between the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox - and the London Monarchs’ American football games in 1997. In 1924 the stadium was the venue for the 1924 Women's Olympiad, the first such international event for women in the UK.

The name Stamford Bridge is thought to derive from the Middle English name Samfordesbrigge, meaning 'the bridge at the sandy ford'. 'Stanford Creek', a tributary of the Thames, ran along the route of what is now a railway line at the back of the East Stand. In the middle ages the creek was known as Billingwell Dyche, derived from 'Billing's spring or stream', which formed the boundary between the parishes of Kensington and Fulham. It has been known as Counter's Creek since the eighteenth century.

The stream’s two local bridges, Stamford Bridge, originally called Sanford Bridge or Little Chelsea Bridge, on the Fulham Road and Stanbridge (from ‘stone bridge’) on the Kings Road, now known as Stanley Bridge, were built across it. The names of the stream and the bridge, 'Stanford Creek' and 'Little Chelsea Bridge', together evolved into the name Stanford Bridge, later ‘Stamford Bridge’, as the adopted name of the stadium.

In 1945, Chelsea hosted FC Dynamo Moscow at the end of the Second World War, over 100,000 occupying roofs and dog track, as well as seats. The early 1970's project to renovate the stadium resulted in the new East Stand, but with most of the redundant running tracks remaining and no other work carried out on the other three stands, the club went into serious debt. When Ken Bates acquired Chelsea in 1982 he did not purchase the ground, which was sold to property developers. The rest of the original running track was taken out in the 1990s development, moving the new stands closer to the pitch.

With the Taylor Report and the Football Spectators Act 1989 the new all-seater stadia had to be complete by the start of the 1994–95 season, the renovated Stamford Bridge starting as a 34,000-seat venue. The Bridge pitch is surrounded on each side by four covered stands, the Matthew Harding- (previously North Stand), East-, Shed End (South) and West Stands.

In 1939, the two-storied North Stand including seating was built, an extension to the East stand, originally intended to run the length of the northern end, but prevented by the outbreak of World War II. It was demolished and replaced by open terracing in 1976. The North Terrace was closed in 1993 and the present North Stand of two tiers - the Matthew Harding Stand - was built and completed for the start of the 1996–97 season.

The East Stand was the only covered stand when Stamford Bridge was converted into a football ground in 1905, and featured the same design of gabled corrugated-iron roof that Leitch had implemented at other British stadia designed by him. The stand was demolished in 1973, in the intended-redevelopment of the stadium, the new one opening at the start of the 1974–75 season, but was the only section of the development - the planned 50,000 capacity all-seater circular-shaped stadium - to be completed and in its refurbished, refitted form remains the only part of the stadium that has survived the rebuilding during the 1990s.

In 1930, a new terrace was built on the south side. Originally known as the Fulham Road End, Chelsea supporters nicknamed it 'The Shed'. In the 1990s the new Shed End Stand replaced the Shed terrace, temporary seating being installed for two years before work began on the new structure, which opened in time for season 1997-98. The Chelsea Village Hotel was built at the same time. Peter Osgood's ashes were laid to rest under the Shed End penalty spot in 2006.

Club historian Rick Glanvill’s tribute included:

STAMFORD BRIDGE HAS MANY HEROES BUT ONLY ONE KING
GRACEFUL TECHNICIAN • NERVELESS STRIKER
ICON OF THE SWINGING SIXTIES
ADORED BY FANS • SCORER OF IMMORTAL CUP FINAL GOALS
A BIG MAN FOR A GOLDEN AGE

In 1964–65 , 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’. It was demolished in 1997 and replaced by the current West Stand. The lower tier was built on schedule and opened in 1998, but difficulties with planning permission delayed the stand’s completion until 2001.

In 2005 the new club museum - the Chelsea- or Centenary Museum, to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the club - opened. In 2011 a new museum opened behind the Matthew Harding stand.

Celebrate the history of Stamford Bridge with this framed 1922 print from the F.A. Cup Final. 

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