Stamford Bridge’s revolving player entrance may have been spinning this summer, but one door has quietly closed.
Two years ago, Conservative-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council indicated broad support for raising Chelsea’s stadium capacity from 41,837 to match Arsenal’s 60,338, arguing that, on balance, economic benefit to the area outweighed fears about disruption to residents.
In the early hours of May 23, the local election count revealed a dramatic political shift, with Labour taking 11 seats off the Tories and seizing power after eight years in opposition.
Now the mood has changed.
In 2012, former council leader Nick Botterill said: “We want the Blues to stay at Stamford Bridge and… increase the ground’s capacity.”
New Labour leader Stephen Cowan has made it clear that his sympathies do not lie with “overseas investors” or “property speculators”, and that he wants residents to have a greater say on development decisions.
Roman Abramovich recently commissioned a study into decking over the railway lines which hem in the stadium to the north and east. It will report back in October.
Part of its remit is to examine fresh emergency evacuation routes from an expanded stadium – an issue which has cropped up regularly in past enlargement discussions.
But changes at Hammersmith town hall mean that any understanding between the Conservatives and the Chelsea board is over, and the football club (which is still perceived as an asset to the borough) will have to begin negotiating from scratch with less sympathetic political masters.
After an intriguing last friendly against Real Sociedad on Tuesday, the Blues launch their 2014-15 season at Turf Moor on Monday August 18 against newbies Burnley.
Thibaut Courtois has been pencilled in to start between the sticks, with Diego Costa, Fernando Torres and Eden Hazard up front, supported by Cesc Fabregas in Frank Lampard’s old number eight position, alongside Nemanja Matic.