Chelsea Football Stadium: Home of Many Heroes
Chelsea Football Stadium, or as it is officially known, Stamford Bridge, is located in the London borough of Hammersmith. Locals and fans often refer to it simply as “The Bridge”. The stadium opened in 1877, and has served as the home of the Chelsea Football Club since 1905. Other sports are often hosted at the venue, including dog races, cricket, and American style football. To a Chelsea fan, though, that’s all just killing time until their club’s next triumphant victory. The Bridge has a stated maximum capacity of approximately 100,000 fans (crammed in, most people standing); about 40,000 can be seated, and this number is closer to the normal attendance. After seeing this location in person, I have a hard time imagining the nightmare that maximum capacity must be.
In examining the cultural relevance of The Bridge (and perhaps in comparing it to a more obvious example, like the V&A), it is worth mentioning the importance of football to British culture as a whole. For many, life itself revolves around the support of one’s club, and camaraderie with one’s fellow supporter. Footballers are role models to the youth; their athletic prowess combined with sometimes-considerable financial success can be a potent lure to the up and coming generation. One such role model is Peter Osgood (a Chelsea legend of the 60’s and 70’s), and a plaque in his honor resides on the wall near his statue:
"STAMFORD BRIDGE HAS MANY HEROES BUT ONLY ONE KING
GRACEFUL TECHNICIAN NERVELESS STRIKER
ICON OF THE SWINGING SIXTIES
ADORED BY FANS • SCORER OF IMMORTAL CUP FINAL GOALS
A BIG MAN FOR A GOLDEN AGE"
The unifying aspects of fans chanting together and children trading collectible cards and stickers are sometimes overshadowed by what one would hope is now “The Bad Old Days” of racist songs meant to offend and unnerve the opposition, hooliganism, and the occasional fatal stampede. The far-reaching influence of football as an intrinsic part of British life and culture extends into the realms of literature (Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby), film (Bend It Like Beckham, 2002), and off-pitch celebrity (more David Beckham).
All these facets of the larger football culture can be seen in the microcosm of The Bridge. Our tour of the grounds and subsequent visit to the Megastore illustrated the depth of pride and joy that the triumvirate of owners, players and fans share in their common pastime.
Great Chelsea Gear Courtesy of Amazon
I am not much of a sports fan (of any kind, aside from mixed martial arts, in which I have some passing interest), so my first impression was overshadowed by a certain amount of bewilderment. I am not a patron of sports venues aside from my sons track and field meets, so I didn’t really know where to look first. In reference to scale and organization, The Bridge reminded me a bit of an exaggerated, spruced up Campbell’s Field in Camden, NJ. Maybe this is because I have very few personal points of reference for the purpose of comparison.
The Bridge, being a working venue, obviously has little in the way of informational displays or placards, but our tour guide was friendly, accessible, and knowledgeable enough. Our behind the scenes look at Chelsea’s locker rooms and press conference areas were illuminating. The psychological methodology of the poorly appointed visiting team’s facilities was especially amusing. It’s always fun to get behind a locked door or a velvet rope and see the weird guts of an organization.
The most intriguing aspect of the visit to Stamford Bridge, for me at least, is the level of fascination that the fans show for the sport. This is something I have never understood; my initial experiences with professional sports were not the best, though. My Dad took me to a Phillies game once when I was very young. It was hot. The ice in our cooler melted and made our sandwiches squishy. I couldn’t tell when warm-up ended and the game began. This day helped me sketch my personal definition of the word “boredom”. From that point on, I have avoided team-sporting events. The only exception is when my son shows interest, and I (secretly) thank my lucky stars that he’s more of a video game kid.
If I had an opportunity to change something about Chelsea Football Club’s beloved stadium, I would have to respectfully decline. My lack of knowledge in this area would surely show, and the last thing in this world that I want is a crowd of angry football fans chasing me down to punish me for meddling where I don’t belong. I certainly wouldn’t make the Megastore any bigger; it seems ample (gigantic) for its purpose.
Be a good sport and check out my personal football "Megastore"(not that mega)here.