Come to Cobham (where even the village post office has Dom Perignon on its shelves)

An accident of geography – Chelsea's training ground is just down the road – has turned this slice of the Surrey commuter belt into a world of excess and extra-marital sex. Cahal Milmo takes up the commentary
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The Independent Online

The gleaming Porsche Cayenne with blacked-out windows sprawled horizontally across two bays in the car park next to the Cobham branch of Waitrose was doing nothing to dispel the stereotype about footballers and their consorts. Nor was it helping smooth relations between the monied arrivistes in this gilded corner of Surrey and the "old money" of the gin and Jag belt.

Jessica Thurlow, 76, was less than impressed with the anti-social parking of the driver of the bloated 4x4. In her uniform of Hunter wellingtons and chic headscarf, with an immaculate hairdo advertising her long-term residency in this small town, chosen five years ago by Chelsea Football Club Plc to host its training ground, and subsequently a number of its highest-paid players, Mrs Thurlow was in no mood for excuses.

She said: "It's absolutely typical of the type of people we have in the town since that lot arrived. They have a sense of entitlement which they feel allows them to flout the rules that apply to everyone else. It didn't used to be like this. Cars would stop in the street to let you across. Nowadays, it's just boorishness and big cars."

Not to mention lurid headlines. The succession of stories about the alleged affair of John Terry, who was yesterday sacked as England captain after a 12-minute discussion of his private life with coach Fabio Capello, was cited by others on Cobham's village-like main thoroughfare as grounds for concern in a place which has had more than its share of tabloid scrutiny.

One man, who described himself as "a retired member of the legal profession", said: "I find it all a little tawdry. One would rather not know what the neighbours are getting up to between the sheets."

When the careless driver of the Porsche eventually emerged, spotlessly attired in the WAG uniform of leather boots, sprayed-on jeans and a recently-acquired tan, she politely but firmly declined to discuss either the finer points of the Highway Code or whether she was linked with anyone who earns their living in football.

The incident nonetheless serves to exemplify what some call the "Chelsea effect" – the shift in the demographics of Cobham and its satellite villages of gated estates boasting neo-classical mansions with heated garages which has transformed a community that once hosted 17th-century agrarian revolutionaries into an area of such conspicuous wealth that it is referred to as the Beverly Hills of Surrey.

The reason for the tensions on Cobham High Street, justified or not, lies less than two miles away on a discreet turn-off opposite a compound of carefully-manicured allotments in the village of Stoke D'Abernon. A subtle bronze sign carrying the club crest and a blunt statement warning that "Players will not sign autographs at this ground" is all that betrays the presence of Chelsea FC's £20m training complex, which opened in 2005 and was seen as a further indication of Roman Abramovich's money-no-object determination to create a new force in world football.

The facilities came with an edict from the club's then-manager Jose Mourinho that all his players should live within four miles, prompting a minor gold rush for local estate agents as a phalanx of footballers boasting salaries in excess of £100,000 per week arrived in search of real estate with the kind of bling – home cinemas, aromatherapy pools and underfloor heating that includes accommodation for an Aston Martin – which is taken for granted in the upper echelons of the English Premier League.

Nowhere is the product of this influx more obvious than in the village of Oxshott, a gold-plated ghetto to the north of Cobham where at least four of the Chelsea team have homes on the private Crown Estate – a strangely silent grid of gated mansions that has, in recent days, become the ground zero of the fallout from the alleged extra-marital exertions of now ex-England captain John Terry. Several of the protagonists, including French underwear model Vanessa Perroncel and Terry himself, have homes within two miles of each other on the estate, which comes with a special by-law preventing paparazzi from photographing individual homes.

With neighbours that include a number of City financiers, tennis star Andy Murray and assorted golfers including Colin Montgomerie, the result is a place of rare, almost other-worldly, privilege. There can be few village post offices in the world which offer a range of top marque vintage champagnes alongside the usual tins of Heinz soap and padded envelopes.

A notice on the window of the store offers a 1999 Bollinger Grande Année Rosé for £113.99 and a 1993 Dom Perignon for £136.99. For any plutocrat or England centre back caught short on the bubbly front, there is also the 1990 Krug, a snip at £199. A member of staff, who asked not be named, said: "Put it like this, we sell enough to make stocking the stuff worthwhile."

One Crown Estate resident of 25 years' standing and now counts Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole among his neighbours, said: "When we first moved here, the place was more of a community. Now, the people who lived here, professionals and managers, simply could not afford to do so. The land my house is built on is worth £2m alone. Once a new house is added, it costs £4m or £5m. There are only a few people who can afford those sorts of prices and they often like to live behind big gates. It feels a lot more empty here – you don't form many friendships. I'm just grateful for the friends I made a long time ago."

With new Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti also moving into Oxshott, and goalkeeper Petr Cech in Cobham, from where he used to cycle to training before club officials decided it might be a bad idea, it is easy to come away with the notion that the area is overrun by footballers.

The departure of Mourinho, and with him the rule that his players live within minutes of the training ground, means that the flood of stars has slowed dramatically. Instead, their place has been taken by bankers with renewed bonus cheques and other wealthy individuals eager to buy into the cult of the new.

Elmbridge, the local authority that includes Cobham and Oxshott, is regularly named as the place with highest living standards in Britain. Nearly 65 per cent of its inhabitants are professionals or managers, compared to a national average of 42 per cent, while just 0.6 per cent are on jobseekers allowance.

Charles Davenport, partner at estate agents Knight Frank, one of at least eight property outlets on Cobham High Street, said: "Last year we sold three houses for more than £5m and none of the buyers were footballers. It isn't just Chelsea players. There are other celebrities and individuals from the City.

"It has been an attractive place to live for a long time. And they very often don't want the house that has been there for 30 or 40 years. They will knock it down and start again. What sells are new builds or places that are a couple of years old, with all the amenities and open space you expect in that price bracket."

A stroll down Cobham or Oxshott high street nevertheless produces ample evidence that what remains of the footballing nouveaux riches is never far away. Lo Stivale, an Italian restaurant in Cobham once frequented by Daley Thompson, is a popular haunt for Joe Cole and John Terry.

The owner of a designer clothing boutique confirmed he had a regular coterie of WAGs among his clientele ("Lovely girls") while Roman Abramovich has been known to visit Farrants newsagents in Cobham.

Not far behind such sightings are some telling tales of excess. Ashley Cole, who lives in Oxshott with his wife, television presenter and singer Cheryl Cole, was earlier this month convicted of travelling at 104mph in an 50mph zone on the A3 while four Chelsea players were criticised for riding on quad bikes without helmets from the training ground to Esher, another favoured haunt.

Indeed, critics of the "Chelsea effect" often cite an incident two years ago, when Terry parked his black Bentley in a disabled parking space for two hours outside a branch of Pizza Express in Esher while he ate lunch. Witnesses said the player seemed less than concerned when he emerged to find a £60 parking ticket on his windscreen.

However, there are signs that Cobham, which during the English Civil War hosted a large contingent of agrarian communists called Diggers, is learning to cohabit with its latest influx of slightly brash newcomers. The club has been praised by many residents for creating close links with schools in the town, inviting youth teams to use its facilities and sending its players to hold masterclasses.

David Tipping, a committee member of the Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust, said: "I think Chelsea have been very much welcomed. There were concerns at how houses were being ripped down and monstrosities put up in their place, but that has very much slowed.

"The club has made real efforts in the community. The only problem now is the infrastructure to cope with everyone who wants to live here. There is regular gridlock. That's what happens when you have a lot of houses with five cars on the drive."

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