Local council offers crumb of comfort to Chelsea

Borough may be willing to compromise planning laws that that have foiled bids to redevelop Bridge
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The Independent Football

Chelsea were yesterday given a small glimmer of hope by their local London borough, Hammersmith & Fulham, that there could be some compromise over restraints to expanding Stamford Bridge, which have been foiled in part by planning laws.

The council said yesterday that it was prepared to enter into negotiations with the club over studies into how Stamford Bridge, currently only the eighth biggest club stadium in the country – with a 41,837 capacity – could be expanded. A spokesman said the council would "examine whether there are planning options to expand Stamford Bridge to accommodate a larger capacity".

The borough was unable to reveal exactly what that would entail with the club already having spent around £700,000 on architectural schemes that have judged the 12-13 acre site too small to accommodate the 55,000-60,000 capacity stadium that the club wants. It was the club's desire to have the option to leave Stamford Bridge that led to their failed attempt to buy the freehold from Chelsea Pitch Owners last week.

In the meeting on Thursday before the vote, the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, said that the club had been asked by the borough to withdraw a planning application for a walkway from the Matthew Harding stand at the north end of the ground to Seagrave Road. One of the key problems with the site is that there is only one side, the Fulham Road, that fans exit onto.

Chelsea have been consistent in the position that a new, bigger stadium on their existing site is not viable and it is by no means certain that even more strenuous efforts by the council to accommodate them would change that. The council said yesterday that any talks would be with a view to a project that would be "economically viable, benefit local businesses and not unreasonably affect residents".

Chelsea responded to the borough's statement by asking it to review restrictions that reduce Stamford Bridge's capacity to 38,000 on Champions League nights. The borough say that the presence of more television trucks and cabling mean that fewer supporters can be on the site. That is a source of constant frustration for the club. It means that their stadium is ranked 61st in Europe in size.

Chelsea said: "As an initial step in a renewed dialogue with the borough, we would like to explore promptly how they propose helping us address the club's current problem of Stamford Bridge having substantially reduced capacity for big games. We will be happy to meet officials to discuss this further and especially their desire to see us stay at Stamford Bridge."

Meanwhile, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge praised Sepp Blatter yesterday for promising to reopen a case which could confirm allegations that Fifa and Olympic officials took kickbacks from marketing contracts.

"Sepp Blatter promised to deliver and I believe that he is delivering," Rogge said. He added that the IOC executive board will study a separate investigation in December into the ISL case by the Olympic body's independent ethics commission.

One week later, Fifa is scheduled to publish Swiss court papers about the secret payments as part of Blatter's promised drive towards transparency and zero tolerance of corruption.

"I can only applaud the intention to release documents that are creating controversy nowadays. I think that is a very good thing," Rogge said.

Fifa has blocked the court in Zug from revealing which officials repaid SFr5.5m (£3.9m) in kickbacks from World Cup television deals. They made the repayments on condition their identities remain anonymous.

Rogge said he wasn't sure whether the reopened case would cause problems for officials in the Olympic movement, who worked with ISL until the agency collapsed with debts of $300m (£188m) in 2001. "I don't know, because I don't know what is in the documents," he said.

Dealing with the ISL case has become a key test of Blatter's determination to clean up world football after a series of corruption scandals.

Blatter, who is also an IOC member, said last month that Fifa's executive committee would "reopen" the ISL dossier at a December meeting in Tokyo.

"We will give this file to an independent organisation outside of Fifa so they can delve into this file and extract its conclusions and present them to us," he said in Zurich.