London stadiums' ever-changing pecking order
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
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 current League 2 side Sutton United, the following twelve London 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 62,850 it’s currently London’s biggest club ground. This may not be the case for too long. An 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. For season 2022-23 it has increased to 62,500, thus edging out Arsenal’s Ashburton Grove, aka The Emirates Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,704. West Ham’s fellow east-enders Leyton Orient, very welcome returnees to the EFL in 2019 following a period of drastic mismanagement, have only 9.271 seats to offer at their very neat Brisbane Road ground. Regrettably, this second smallest capacity amongst London’s main league clubs is sufficient to meet their requirements, as the West Ham United juggernaut continues to threaten the O’s very existence as a full-time football club. Six of the twelve London clubs have shifted to new stadiums since 1993 and that figure includes Brentford who relocated in 2020 from quirky Griffin Park to the 17,250-seater 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 now have a west London stadium capable of exceeding QPR’s matchday revenues (increased income augmented when London Irish RFC announced they were 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 nearly completed a magnificent new Riverside Stand at picturesque Craven Cottage and this redevelopment will increase capacity at the Cottage to 29,600 from 2023 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. Former owner Roman Abramovich’s millions propelled Chelsea’s arrival as a major English club in the 2000s, but this financial input is now exceeded elsewhere in England and other London clubs are generating far greater matchday income. That competitive challenge has been recognised by the new Chelsea owners who confirmed in October 2022 that 2022 that massive redevelopment of Stamford Bridge will start "in the next year". 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 also 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, Charlton’s 27,111 capacity Valley is more than ready to once again be a Premier League ground, but only the most optimistic of Charlton Athletic supporters would expect such a lofty status to be regained any time soon. Charlton’s long-established rivals in south-east London are Millwall 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.
Charlton's cherished Valley...still room for further development
Terrifying is not an adjective normally applied to Kingston upon Thames, where AFC Wimbledon were based until 2020. With space for only 4,850, the Dons’ Kingsmeadow was London’s smallest league ground, as indeed is their recently constructed stadium in Merton’s Plough Lane. There’s accommodation for 9.215 spectators at their new place and scope for expansion to 20,000 but for the moment, Sutton United apart, AFC Wimbledon remains London’s smallest league club in terms of ground capacity:
Tottenham Hotspur (Moved 2019 – capacity, 62,850) West Ham United (Moved 2016 – capacity 62,500)
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 (Moved 2020 – capacity 17,250)
Leyton Orient (Capacity 9,271) AFC Wimbledon (Moved 2020 - capacity 9,215)