Today, Brentford and Chelsea confirmed that the Blues’ reserve fixtures will no longer be played at Griffin Park following the expiration of their three year contract. Where the club plays its second string fixtures is still up in the air, but a more intriguing development could be at hand.
Prior to moving their fixtures into West London, Chelsea’s Reserve outings were played down at Aldershot’s Recreation Ground, which eventually proved to be a cold, empty venue devoid of atmosphere or energy. In heading to Brentford, attendances proved to be healthier in a more friendly surrounding which was more accessible to the majority of interested followers. However, concerns about the quality of the playing surface arose at the turn of the year into 2010, resulting in the majority of the fixtures in the second half of the season being moved to Cobham. With the contract now expired, and rumours of London Saracens looking to move their rugby fixtures there, Chelsea have decided to look elsewhere for hosting.
Quite where is as yet unconfirmed, although Brentford’s official website has indicated that it is likely to be Cobham on a permanent basis. If that is to be the case, however, it will be interesting as to whether the club permits spectators, having precluded fans from turning up to watch in the aforementioned matches. The club, on their part, have acknowledged the end of the deal with the Bees, but have remained non-commital on where the matches for 2010-11 onwards will be played due to a potential restructuring of the league.
They claim details will be released in June, which leaves one to question what they are. On the face of it, things may be as simple as a geographical re-aligment with the three teams leaving the Premier League replaced by Newcastle, West Brom and a playoff winner. Stoke City have decided to follow Tottenham Hotspur’s path in withdrawing from the competition to arrange their own fixtures, but they may yet re-consider if plans are indeed afoot to revolutionise a level of the game in desperate need of new life.
Notable managers at the very top of the English game (and Rafael Benitez) have long since spoken of the need for more fixtures and a greater level of competition for players too old for academy football, but the footballing authorities have largely remained inactive, only speaking up to sweep ideas of B teams entering the football league firmly under the carpet. What today’s rumoured plans are, we don’t know, but they certainly offer hope that something may finally be on its way.
As for how it affects Chelsea’s choice of venue? The club have previously spoken of the possibility of using Stamford Bridge for certain fixtures, particularly pre-Christmas as the quality of the pitch isn’t dramatically affected by additional matches in finer weather. If the league’s importance takes off, or requires a greater level of facility than Cobham, you can expect tomorrow’s stars to grace the big stadium earlier.
We await the news to come with baited breath. It’s going to be needed.