Chelsea consider leaving home in £400m move to Earls Court

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The Independent Football

Chelsea Football Club is believed to be considering a £400m bid for the Earls Court exhibition centre in order to relocate from their Stamford Bridge home. A move to a new site would help the champions compete more seriously in revenue terms with Arsenal, who moves to their new 60,000 Ashburton Grove home at the beginning of next season, and Manchester United, whose Old Trafford capacity will shortly be increased to 75,000.

According to sources close to the club, the Premiership leaders have been debating a move for several months after running into problems in attempting to extend the 42,500 capacity at the Bridge, which has been their home for 100 years. Increasing the capacity of Stamford Bridge to around 50,000 remains the club's preferred option but logistical difficulties have stymied that plan.

Earls Court, along with the Olympia arena, was recently put on the market by St James Capital and the company has appointed advisers from UBS, the Swiss investment bank, to conduct an auction for the properties. The Earls Court site, which appears a favoured option for some at the club, is only 15 minutes' walk from Stamford Bridge and is well served by public transport.

If the club were to move, it could partially fund the development of a new stadium by selling Stamford Bridge, which could, some say, be worth more than £500m. A redevelopment of that site could look similar to the scheme at Highbury, where the current stadium is being converted into a residential complex that includes luxury apartments as well as a certain amount of affordable housing in accordance with local planning guidelines.

Since Roman Abramovich took over the club and rescued it from near bankruptcy, his efforts to increase the capacity at Stamford Bridge have been thwarted by problems relating to the exits from the stadium which is surrounded by a cemetery and a property estate as well as a main road. The exits all lead on to the Fulham Road and the police and local council believe this would become too congested and therefore unsafe were the crowds to be any larger than they are at present.

A source close to UBS said last night that it has had approaches for the two sites but none yet from Chelsea.

There would be problems if Chelsea try to redevelop Earls Court because at present the site's planning permission allows it to be used only as an exhibition centre and music venue. A plan to build a sports stadium would require a change of use clause agreed by both Hammersmith and Kensington & Chelsea councils.

Chelsea said last night: "We would like to increase the capacity at Stamford Bridge and ideally to a figure of just over 50,000 but there are constraints. Only after all possible scenarios for the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge are exhausted can a debate start about other options."

Chelsea have had sell-outs at most Premiership matches this season but some Champions' League games have been poorly attended, with some sections of the supporter base blaming high ticket prices.

Chelsea believe they have been linked with several moves in the past because property sellers have used their supposed interest to try to get a buying frenzy going. Last night the club said: "There has been speculation linking us with a whole variety of sites in London including Wembley, the Olympic Stadium at Stratford, White City, Battersea Power Station, Earls Court and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital."

A move to Earls Court - which is walking distance from Stamford Bridge - would be relatively popular with fans who would be furious if the club decided to move further afield.

Unlike at Arsenal, whose move to Ashburton Grove has restricted money currently available for players, in Chelsea's case, with Abramovich behind them, there would be no such financial considerations to take into account.

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