After the Chelsea Pitch Owners defeat of Roman Abramovich’s plans to buy back Stamford Bridge in order to redevelop the stadium are Chelsea fans considering it a victory or a missed opportunity? And do fans have the right to put sentiment ahead of the progress of their club? The vote on the issue, which required 75% of the vote for Abramovich’s plans to be ratified, fell short by around 15%, showing that the majority were still in favour of selling the land to the oligarch.
The issue of sacrificing history for the sake of the expansion of the club is something that Arsenal fans know only too well. When the plans for Ashburton Grove were proposed they were met with mixed feelings. The abandonment of Highbury, a beautiful art deco stadium steeped in history, was not a happy thought for many fans but the desire to be able to financially compete with their rivals lead many to believe that it was a decision that had to be made.
If you ask the fans now I think that you’ll find that most wished they were still in their old ground. However this could be for a number of reasons: they haven’t won anything since they’ve been at The Emirates, ticket prices are higher than ever and they haven’t yet reaped the financial benefits because they’re still paying off the loans taken to fund the stadium. At the end of the day though it has arguably secured the future of the club. Arsenal have always been a big club but their form in recent years could have had more lasting effects were they not to have a stadium that would always make them an attractive club to buy, and a club that can guarantee big revenues. I feel that the complaints about the stadium will be long forgotten in twenty years time when the new stadium will have its own history and the club will be more profitable than ever.
However I think that the circumstances for every club are different and the decision to move on is not always going to be right for every club.
The Chelsea Pitch Owners originally bought the club in an effort to safeguard the security of the club, originally from property developers and now from any other potential suitors that may not have the long-term interests of the club at heart. I must say I think it’s an admirable attempt by the CPO to stand up for themselves in the face of one of the most powerful men in football and a man who has guided Chelsea to the most successful period in their history. On the one hand it may seem as though they are preventing the progression of their club by confining themselves to an average sized stadium but on the other hands they appear to be taking the responsible angle. Should Abramovic decide at any point that he no longer wants to own Chelsea and sells the club then had the CPO given in they would almost definitely regret their actions. There are definite dangers in being owned and run by a singular wealthy individual and in retaining their stake in Stamford Bridge the CPO have retained an element of power amongst the supporters.
Tottenham’s plans to obtain and redevelop the Olympic stadium have obviously ended in failure. And many of the fans are not disappointed. That is not to say that all of them are, but a majority appeared to be in opposition to the idea of moving the home of their club: something they constantly like to remind Arsenal fans that they did when they upped sticks and left Woolwich for more northern pastures. Tottenham’s is an interesting situation. Their progress in recent years seems to merit a larger ground. They are one of the most improved teams in recent years but they run the risk of sliding back down if they cannot financially guarantee their place at the top. They have arguably the best squad they have ever had but it will not last forever and when players do start to move on they need to ensure they are in a position to compete financially both in terms of transfer fees and wages. The obvious answer to this is to move stadiums; but where to? The ideal situation would be to redevelop White Hart Lane but for numerous reasons this has not taken off. What’s more: where would they play whilst this was being redeveloped? At the Emirates? Unlikely.
People have accused Spurs fans of being sentimental in their aversion to moving further east and whilst it does make sense financially it would truly be a shame for the club and its supporters. Football clubs are about more than just football. They are the pillars of local communities, they have come to define certain areas and supporters, with the exception of most Man Utd fans, have strong ties to the area in which the club exists. To abandon north London would be to abandon a large section of the fan base. Arsenal was fortunate enough to build Ashburton Grove next to Highbury. Not all clubs will be so lucky.
Liverpool chairmen Ian Ayre stated in July that due to numerous environmental, property acquisition and statutory issues the redevelopment of Anfield into a 60,000 seat stadium is extremely unlikely to happen. The redevelopment of their current ground would have cost the new owner s a considerably lower amount than the proposed move to Stanley Park. Liverpool fans will be reluctant to leave a ground that is one of the most famous throughout the world, both for its atmosphere and its history. It is totally understandable that fans would have reserves about moving. However I think that Liverpool are in a relatively fortunate situation in that their ground is not as small as someone like Tottenham’s. the immediate future is not such a pressing issue and despite not winning a league title for over twenty years they have managed to maintain their competitive level. Moreover, they have an extremely large fan base abroad, which provides revenues that other teams definitely lack.
The decision to move grounds is never an easy one. Particularly for supporters who have been going to their beloved ground their entire lives. The prospect of moving to a new stadium after fifty years of going to your favourite ground is not enviable. However fans have to realise the sentimentality and history do not guarantee you a future at football’s top table. Every club must find its own solution, and every fan must be willing to compromise.
Follow Hamish on Twitter @H_Mackay