THE Royal Bank of Scotland yesterday announced the sale of Chelsea's

Stamford Bridge stadium, one of the bank's highest-profile assets, to a

director of the football club for #16.5m.

Three years ago, Royal Bank acquired the company which owns the

freehold of the ground. The purchase was part of a rescue deal which

allowed Chelsea to remain at Stamford Bridge following the collapse of

the stadium's previous owners.

The ground's new owner is Matthew Harding, a lifelong fan of the west

London club and chairman of The Benfield Group reinsurance company.

Mr Harding has already committed #5m to the construction of a north

stand, which has transformed Stamford Bridge. He has also provided #2.5m

to fund player purchases.

The 1992 rescue deal, which ended years of uncertainty and legal

battles, gave Chelsea a new 20-year lease and the right to buy the

stadium within this period. The club retains the right to purchase

Stamford Bridge from Mr Harding.

Royal Bank said its discussions with the director had been based on

safeguarding the future of Chelsea and its ground.

Dr George Mathewson, chief executive of the Edinburgh-based bank,

said: ''We are particularly proud of the role we at the bank have played

in enabling Chelsea to consolidate their position and go on playing at

Stamford Bridge into the future.''