There are many remarkable aspects about the plan to build a new mini-city at Old Oak Common in west London, not least that the 40,000-seat stadium at the centre of the project, to be built by Queen's Park Rangers, would give the Championship club a home just less than 2,000 shy of the capacity of Stamford Bridge.
It is one of those opportunities for QPR that might never come again, a new ground in west London, the most expensive part of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Not that Old Oak Common, with its waste recycling plants, used car dealerships and derelict buildings is what most people imagine when they think of west London.
The site is the modern London planner's dream, encompassing HS2 and the Crossrail transport hub, as well as new homes. In a city where the demand for space is insatiable, it is hard to drive through the area and imagine it remaining in its current state for another generation.
Meanwhile, at Chelsea, the biggest club in west London, the official line is there is nothing in the pipeline to increase a 41,837-capacity that is dangerously low in the era of Uefa Financial Fair Play. The club find themselves in a situation similar to the archetypal squeezed-middle London family. Home too small for all the new additions but, with the stratospheric state of the housing market, simply no prospect of moving up the ladder.
Why was Old Oak Common, with a bigger capacity, never an option for Chelsea? Simple, really. In football terms, London is parcelled up like no other British city. West Ham could not move out of the east any more than Arsenal could leave the north (notwithstanding the 1913 flit from Woolwich). None belong to London per se; rather all belong to a part of it.
QPR are the only club with a pure west London postcode, W12. Chelsea are SW6. A move to Old Oak Common would take Chelsea from four miles south of Loftus Road to more than a mile north and across two postcodes to NW10. In a city as fiercely localised as London, the club know that would be an impossible sell to fans.
QPR fans appear broadly to have accepted the Old Oak Common move – with caveats. In purely geographical terms it takes them closer to their origins in Kilburn. They have the record for the most home grounds, 17, of any British football club, although they have been at Loftus Road since 1933, apart from two brief spells at the old White City stadium.
At Chelsea, the association with Stamford Bridge is that much longer. The club have never played anywhere else. In fact, they were created in 1905 in order to play at the stadium, built by the club's founder, Gus Mears, whose family only gave up control of Chelsea in 1982 with the sale to Ken Bates. If Chelsea were to leave Stamford Bridge, the alternative would have to be very good and very local indeed.
The club were beaten to the acquisition of Battersea Power Station last year by the Malaysian developers SP Setia, a macro-reflection of life for many Londoners who find themselves outbid for homes by foreign property investors. The club's attempt two years ago to buy back the freehold for Stamford Bridge, largely owned by share-owning fans, as a prelude to a potential move, was a failure.
Bruised by that episode, Chelsea now have the position that there are no plans to move. The only obvious local alternative, the Lillie Bridge site north of the Earls Court exhibition centre, has planning permission for housing and is a non-starter.
Upon the announcement of the Old Oak Common plans, the QPR chairman, Tony Fernandes, described the current 18,000-capacity of Loftus Road as "untenable" under FFP if his club are to fulfil their ambitions to become established in the Premier League. Relatively speaking, the implications are the same for Chelsea, although their sights are set a lot higher.
By Chelsea's own admission, Stamford Bridge is too far down the table of stadium capacities among their European peers – 30th at the latest count but likely to fall further as new grounds are built. Their own accounts reveal they earn, per season, £26m less than Arsenal and £41m less than Manchester United in matchday revenue. With Tottenham in the process of building a new stadium, the pressure goes up a notch.
Since the failed attempt to buy back the freehold from the shareholders comprising Chelsea Pitch Owners, the club have been open about the possibility of rebuilding or extending Stamford Bridge. To say it is difficult is an understatement.
Constructing a 60,000-capacity stadium on Chelsea's current site has so many pitfalls that it resembles the development equivalent of that scene in The Naked Gun when O J Simpson's character is shot, hits his head, burns his hand, leans on a freshly painted wall, traps his fingers in a window, falls face first in a cake and steps into a metal trap before falling off a boat.
Where to start? All properties on the Fulham Road would have to be acquired and demolished, including the Sir Oswald Stoll home for retired servicemen (not a popular move). Two new exit routes would need to be built. The water table is too high to dig down. It would cost more than £600m. The local planning authority, Hammersmith & Fulham, is opposed.
The other option, extending two of the stands to increase the capacity to 55,000, would be so expensive the club estimate they would pay £20,000 for every seat gained and would make a long-term loss.
The benefits of being a London-based club in English football's modern era are evident. It is the nation's biggest, wealthiest city – not always to the benefit of the rest – and it would be difficult to see a club of QPR's size from outside the capital attempt the same transformation. Yet, when Brentford are planning a new 20,000-capacity stadium, you can see why Fernandes envisages the potential for his club although even he acknowledged that filling a 40,000-capacity stadium may be ambitious.
There is a case for saying that Chelsea's location played a major role in their very acquisition by Roman Abramovich, and consequently their success since 2003. Today they are up against a problem even his wealth cannot solve overnight and, as FFP plays a bigger role, and the club seeks to stand independent of its benefactor owner, an increased capacity has never been more important.
In spite of all this, however, tradition matters and, in spite of the jibes, Chelsea's history began not 10 but 108 years ago. Finding a compromise that is sensitive to the past while acknowledging the challenges of the future is crucial. QPR might just have their solution but from where will Chelsea's come?
Clarke will land on his feet but has Peace got a plan?
Jeremy Peace sacked Roberto Di Matteo as manager of West Bromwich Albion in February 2011 when the club were 17th with 26 points from 25 games, having been promoted the previous season. In hindsight that was not a disastrous decision for the club, nor Di Matteo, given his Champions League triumph and subsequent lucrative pay-off by Chelsea.
On the face of it, the dismissal of Steve Clarke on Saturday night looks much harsher. His team are 16th with 15 points from 16 games and, given their eighth-place finish in May, one can only assume Peace has a plan up his sleeve. Clarke should have nothing to fear about the future, though; he has looked a natural from the start of his managerial career and will be back in a job soon.Reuse content