UNDER-21S TO BEGIN AT ALDERSHOT NEXT FRIDAY
Chelsea Under-21s kick off their competitive season against Tottenham at Aldershot Town next Friday, August 9.
Live on Chelsea TV, the curtain-raiser for the 2013/14 campaign will also be open to supporters wanting to see the next generation of Blues talent in action. Admission will be free.
The game against our north London rivals will be the first of 25 of our Under-21s and Under-19s fixtures at the EBB Stadium at The Recreation Ground this season. Due to the increased number of competitions and fixtures the club will compete in below senior level, a two-year agreement has been reached with the Football Conference club, situated in a prime Chelsea catchment area on the border between Hampshire and Surrey.
We will also continue our relationship with Brentford and Staines Town to play Under-18s, Under-21s and Ladies games at those grounds, meaning that supporters will be able to see Chelsea teams in action at three local venues.
Those fans who have made the short trip to Brentford's Griffin Park and Staines Town's Wheatsheaf Park over recent seasons have witnessed some memorable displays by Chelsea sides - in the FA Youth Cup, the Under-21 Premier League, the NextGen Series and the Women's Super League - and the new agreement with Aldershot Town will allow Blues supporters in the area to see their teams in action.
In pre-season, the appetite to see Chelsea's youngsters has been apparent in the attendances at various away friendly matches. At nearby Sutton United, more than 2,500 people turned out to watch our Under-21s win 4-0 against the Conference South side.
We caught up with Under-21s manager Dermot Drummy, Under-18s boss Adi Viveash and former Chelsea striker Tommy Langley - who played for both Aldershot and Staines - to discuss the virtues of all three grounds.
THE EBB STADIUM AT THE RECREATION GROUND, ALDERSHOT TOWN
The new deal will see Chelsea return to Aldershot, where we played reserve fixtures as recently as 2006/07, before moving to Griffin Park. Chelsea's Under-19s also played one of their most high-profile NextGen Series games at the Rec - as the ground is known to Shots fans - last season, when Dutch giants Ajax brought their youngsters to England.
'We played there last season and the dressing rooms were a decent size, the floodlights were good, the pitch was in good nick, and also we got a decent crowd there, which gave it quite an exciting feel,' Drummy explained. 'It's a compact ground, where everyone is close to the touchline, so Aldershot is a great venue for us.'
Langley, who scored 25 league goals for Aldershot in two stints with the club between 1985 and 1988, has good memories of his time there and is certain it will benefit the young Blues players to compete at a professional ground, in front of a good crowd.
'It's a proper ground,' said the former forward, who was a teenage talent at Chelsea. 'It's a ground that has always had its own little quirks, and when I looked at it recently, it looked as though they had a good pitch there. The players will enjoy the different atmosphere and get a bit of a buzz from playing in an enclosed ground as well.
'It also gives loads of people the chance to see the young players - if you look at the surrounding towns, as far afield as Basingstoke, Farnham, Guildford and Bracknell, it is a massive Chelsea area and it gives those fans a chance to see the boys play, close up. They can see who is up and coming in the Chelsea Academy - there is obviously great coverage on Chelsea TV, but they can also get up close and personal by going to a proper ground and seeing them first hand.'
GRIFFIN PARK, BRENTFORD
In addition to those 25 games at Aldershot, the Under-21s will continue to play fixtures at Brentford's Griffin Park, having enjoyed some thrilling games there last season - not least the NextGen Series quarter-final, when there was a wonderful atmosphere for Juventus' visit. A 4-1 win for the young Blues that night was arguably the high point of the team's run to the final of the competition, which the club will compete for once again in 2013/14, albeit with an Under-20s side on this occasion due to a change in the rules.
That is because a Chelsea Under-19s side - managed by Viveash - will also compete in the inaugural UEFA Youth League, meaning those supporters who missed out on the excitement of last season's European youth action will have the chance to talent spot among the crowds at Aldershot and Brentford this term.
Of course, those supporters who travelled to watch the first team away at Brentford in the FA Cup fourth round last season will know all about Griffin Park and the atmosphere that can be generated there.
WHEATSHEAF PARK, STAINES TOWN
For the past two years, Staines Town has been home to Chelsea Ladies, who have three remaining home fixtures in the Women's Super League this season and have enjoyed the local support at Wheatsheaf Park.
'It makes a really big difference to the players when attendances are high,' said Robert Udberg, who is Head of Development for Chelsea Ladies. 'One of the nice things about playing in a tight stadium is that when you get 500 people through the gates, it starts to feel full and the crowd is very close to the pitch. The atmosphere is always good and we tend to attract a lot of younger fans - we aim to get a lot of girls, who are aspiring footballers, to come along with their family and friends and that gives us a slightly different demographic to our crowds, which is really good.
'We also make sure the fans get a Chelsea experience by playing "The Liquidator" as the teams walk out and when there is a good crowd there, we really feel it.'
The ground has also proved a popular venue for our youth team, who play their home games in the early rounds of the FA Youth Cup there, and Under-18s manager Viveash certainly believes the young Blues take a lot from the experience.
'There is a different feel when you go to a ground that has floodlights for the early rounds of the FA Youth Cup,' he told us. 'Those night games at Staines are very important for the development of our youth team players, and if I think back to the game against West Ham in the Youth Cup fifth round a couple of years ago, when we won on penalties after a 3-3 draw - there was a great atmosphere at Staines that night, and that is what we look for in these games.
'It is important for the players' mentality to understand that they will play their league games at Cobham and their Youth Cup games under floodlights, where it will feel different. In the same way, it should feel different when they step up to the Under-21s and play at Aldershot, or Brentford.
'It's also important for the Chelsea public to see the boys in action because the club has lots of fans in different areas and they want to see our teams play.'
The Under-21s will also be in action in the north of London next Tuesday, August 6, to complete their pre-season preparations ahead of Friday's derby with Spurs.
Drummy is expected to rest a few of his more experienced players in that game, but there will be two players with more than 150 senior Chelsea appearances between them on show, with former Blues Jon Harley and Jody Morris, who are currently without clubs but training with our Under-21s, expected to begin the match.
Tickets for the game at Earlsmead, which kicks off at 7.45pm, will be available on the night.