Chelsea to squeeze in more seats

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The Independent Online

Chelsea are planning to increase the capacity of Stamford Bridge by squeezing in 500 extra seats to the Matthew Harding stand - but have no intention of moving from their west London stadium.

Chelsea are planning to increase the capacity of Stamford Bridge by squeezing in 500 extra seats to the Matthew Harding stand - but have no intention of moving from their west London stadium.

Their chief executive, Peter Kenyon, is aware of the need to continue increasing revenues at the club, if he is to keep his pledge of eventually breaking even. At present matchday income falls far short of Manchester United while Arsenal move to their new 60,000-seat stadium next year.

Ideally, Chelsea would like to add 10,000 seats to take the capacity of the Bridge up to 52,000 but this is currently impossible. There is not enough access to the ground - which has railway lines on two sides - for it to be done safely even though the club has the land and owner Roman Abramovich is not a fan of the on-site hotel and other facilities. But instead they will have to settle for 43,000 until a solution can be found.

The Premiership club - who could seal their first title for 50 years at Bolton Wanderers this evening - have examined building bridges over the railway line but that is proving impossible. They have even discussed trying to acquire new sites in the area - one wild idea was the area around Battersea Power Station - but that has also been ruled out.

A less likely scheme is that Chelsea would try and move, on a temporary basis, to the new Wembley stadium. This was dismissed by the club yesterday as "pure speculation" and even if Chelsea were interested it would be very difficult for them to gain permission to do so as Tottenham Hotspur have already found out.

If Chelsea moved anywhere they would also have to appease the Chelsea Pitch Owners Association who own the Stamford Bridge pitch and turnstiles and also have the right to withhold the use of, and ability to trade under, the Chelsea FC name if they disagreed. A CPOA spokesman said: "I don't think they can trade as the 'Chelsea FC' brand away from Stamford Bridge. It was to stop the name going anywhere."

Chelsea yesterday denied that Arjen Robben had refused to start Wednesday's Champions' League semi-final first leg against Liverpool and that there was a rift with the manager, Jose Mourinho. The Dutch winger, who was hobbling after the game, has suffered a relapse in his recovery from a strained tendon in his left ankle and is a major doubt to start Tuesday's return leg at Anfield. Also doubtful is Damien Duff who is not in the squad to face Bolton because of a tight hamstring.

Rafael Benitez refused to rule out the possibility of signing Real Madrid's veteran winger Luis Figo yesterday, but the Liverpool manager will find it hard to attract the Portuguese to Anfield if the Football Association rules against him in the row over Champions' League qualification.

Benitez called for a "common sense" approach to the problem that would arise if his team beat Chelsea on Tuesday and went on to win the competition but failed to overhaul Everton for fourth place. The FA is likely to rule in favour of Liverpool's rivals taking the fourth place in the Champions' League next season.

"The FA have a big problem, normally if you win a trophy then common-sense says that you must defend it next season," Benitez said. "They are waiting for a solution to appear because it is so difficult for them to make a decision.

"There was a precedent in Spain, and I always say you must use common sense - if you win a trophy you must be allowed to defend it. I do not remember there being too much disagreement in Spain when Real Madrid won the trophy and were nominated ahead of Real Zaragoza, who were fourth."

He would not comment on reports from Spain that Figo, 32, who has a year left on his contract, was a target for Liverpool other than to say that the club "always want good players". The player is known to be disillusioned with the club under Wanderley Luxemburgo and is waiting for the summer to see whether the Brazilian coach is replaced.

Benitez was cautious in his consideration of reports that Steven Gerrard is no longer of interest to Chelsea and said that it had never been his intention to let the player leave without a battle. "We want to prepare a good team for the future with Steven and if he stays we will be stronger," he said.

"If I talked to him every time there was a story about him in the newspapers then I would be speaking with him more often than I speak to my wife. If Chelsea no longer want him then maybe it will challenge him to win trophies here."

For today's Middlesbrough game, Benitez could bring Dietmar Hamann back into the midfield as Igor Biscan is injured and Gerrard might be rested for Tuesday's match. Harry Kewell is also another possible starter for Liverpool who have won just two of the League games that have followed their 12 European matches this season.

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