London stadiums' ever-changing pecking order

Updated: Sep 10

Depending on events at AFC Wimbledon, Orient may soon have the smallest ground in London. Regrettably, their 9,000 seats might be more than enough to meet their requirements as the West Ham United juggernaut continues to threaten the O’s very existence as a full-time football club.

The constant churn caused by relegation and promotion between English football’s Tiers 4 and 5 can make it difficult to give a precise answer to the question of how many “League” clubs there are in London but, with all due respect to Barnet and particularly Dagenham and Redbridge, the following twelve clubs would normally be expected to be amongst the once famed “92”: AFC Wimbledon Arsenal Brentford Charlton Athletic Chelsea Crystal Palace Fulham Leyton Orient Millwall Queens Park Rangers Tottenham Hotspur West Ham United

The pecking order of these twelve clubs continues to change as new and bigger grounds are built or existing facilities are upgraded. The magnificent new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has been widely praised and with a capacity of 62,062 it’s currently London’s biggest club ground. Ashburton Grove, aka The Emirates Stadium, has a capacity of 60,704 and is the equally impressive home of near neighbours Arsenal, historically London’s biggest and most successful club.

These North London grounds will soon be the city’s second and third largest, as agreement has been reached between the London Stadium owners and West Ham United to take the former Olympics venue’s capacity up to 66,000 for Hammers’ home matches. Fellow east-enders Leyton Orient, very welcome returnees to the EFL following a period of drastic mismanagement, have only 9.271 seats to offer at their very neat Brisbane Road ground. Depending on events at AFC Wimbledon, Orient may soon have the smallest ground in London. Regrettably, their 9,000 seats might be more than enough to meet their requirements as the West Ham United juggernaut continues to threaten the O’s very existence as a full-time football club.

Four of the twelve London clubs have shifted to new stadiums since 1993 and that figure will rise to five next summer when Brentford move from quirky Griffin Park to the Brentford Community Stadium in Lionel Road. Talk of Queen’s Park Rangers leaving their very restrictive Loftus Road stadium has been going on for years but the fact that Brentford will soon have a west London stadium capable of exceeding QPR’s matchday revenues (underlined by London Irish RFC announcing they are leaving Reading for Brentford) will no doubt help focus minds in Shepherd’s Bush. QPR’s competitive position in west London is also weakening in comparison to Fulham, who have begun work to redevelop the Riverside Stand at picturesque Craven Cottage and increase capacity at the Cottage to 29,600 from 2021-22 onwards.

The stadium development plans of West London’s biggest club have been on hold for some time now and Chelsea’s 40,834 puts them way behind London’s new big three. Chelsea’s sudden arrival as a major English club when the Roman Abramovich millions took effect in the 2000s could become a distant memory as that investment is now exceeded elsewhere in England and other London clubs are generating far greater matchday income.

Of the four clubs south of the Thames, Crystal Palace are in the best shape on the field and are currently enjoying a prolonged period in the top tier, a situation which owes much to the raucous Selhurst Park atmosphere. However, parts of the Croydon ground are undeniably poor by Premier standards and the current 25,486 capacity makes it more difficult for Palace to sustain their Premier League presence. It is planned to raise the ground size to 34,000 but this is mainly dependent on the erection of a completely new main stand, which will enable the Eagles to increase the number of hospitality suites, restaurants, bars etc. thus boosting matchday revenue. Still no start date for these much-needed improvements.

By comparison, The Valley is more than ready to once again be a Premier League ground. However, Charlton Athletic have the smallest budget in the Championship and an absentee owner who has attracted terrible publicity to this nicest of football clubs. Lee Bowyer and his coaching staff have performed miracles to get the Addicks back up to tier two and will need to further demonstrate supernatural powers if Charlton are to be kept in the Championship.

Charlton's cherished Valley...still room for further development

Millwall are Charlton’s long established rivals in London S.E. but the image of the two clubs’ support couldn’t be more different. Millwall fans are the original “no one likes us” brigade but their club has a relatively new if slightly characterless stadium. However, I liked it, and The Den is an absolute joy to visit compared to its truly terrifying predecessor of the same name.

Terrifying is not an adjective normally applied to Kingston upon Thames, current base of AFC Wimbledon. With space for only 4,850, Kingsmeadow is London’s smallest league ground but a new one is at present under construction at their spiritual home in Wimbledon’s Plough Lane. Unfortunately, as at November 2019, the fans’ owned club requires to raise a further £11 million or be forced to consider far-reaching reductions in their ambitious stadium plans; they may yet remain London’s smallest league club:

West Ham United (Moved 2016 – capacity 66,000)

Tottenham Hotspur (Moved 2019 – capacity 62,062)

Arsenal (Moved 2006 – capacity 60,704)

Chelsea (Capacity – 40,834)

Fulham (Re-developed 2020 – capacity 29,600)

Charlton Athletic (Capacity – 27,111)

Crystal Palace (Capacity – 25,486)

Millwall (Moved 1993 – capacity 20,146)

Queens Park Rangers (Capacity 18,440)

Brentford (Moving 2020 – capacity 17,250)

Leyton Orient (Capacity 9,271)

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