Since Chelsea dropped their bombshell last Monday evening that they wanted to purchase the Chelsea Pitch Owner’s shares message boards lit up and Chelsea fans have found themselves split between the haves and have-nots. I should say from the start that I didn’t often have a spare £100 in the early nineties and so I am not a CPO.
Reading the threads on various sites a theme seems to be emerging in the replies: this is very sudden; we don’t know the details of either possible locations post 2020 or the details of the plans to redevelop the Stamford Bridge site. The other dominant theme is that people are grateful to Roman Abramovich and generally trust him.
There has been a strong thread suggesting that we don’t redevelop and allow the club to settle as a mid-table side. That staying at home is more important than success. It is an argument; after all, we haven’t always been a Champions League club and it is understandable that those who have seen so much success in recent times might favour security over ambition.
But if you want to see Chelsea develop into one of the truly great European sides, along side AC Milan, Real Madrid, Bayern München, and Ajax to name a few, then the new financial fair play rules will mean that something has to give.
I think we can all agree that if they pulled down the whole of Stamford Bridge and started again on the present site everyone would accept that. After all, we said goodbye to the Shed, with a bit of nostalgia admittedly, but would anyone seriously miss the west stand or the new shed? So nobody seems to be saying we shouldn’t have a new stadium. The question is where?
I’m not sure Stamford Bridge couldn’t be expanded to 60,000 but the cost would be too great. A new ground costs upward of £650m and for that you get a more fans in the ground, a comfortable seat and, er, that is it. The club gets the extra £35m a year and more – from catering and events – but if they borrowed the capital commercially they would be paying back the loan for 20-years, not spending it on new strikers.
It is true that Roman Abramovich is rich enough to buy half of London and build the world’s largest stadium with a minibar under every seat but he has invested a fortune in Chelsea already and any move would not be a vanity project but a means of establishing Chelsea as a competitive force, able to stand on its own feet.
If the Stamford Bridge site is worth anywhere close to the £1bn, slightly optimistic, estimate we are in a new home with a little to spare. A billion is probably too much unless we are waiting for the next boom. Even at say half that, £500m, and the project is closer to self-financing.
If we are to have a larger ground a move is inevitable.
So, it is a question of where: Earl’s Court would suit most but looks unlikely, Battersea would also work but depends on the tube extension from the northern line. Transport is vital for any site; Chelsea barracks would have been the ideal location but 60,000 people getting off at Sloane Square every other Saturday would have been a sight.
We are all a little put out by this. I’m not a CPO and I don’t feel I have a say one way or the other. My club’s future is being decided and I have no voice. At least CPO have a vote. So they will take our decisions for us. I would ask them to read every point of view before making up their minds.
The 12,000 shareholders are to be congratulated for their foresight; as, oddly, is Ken Bates. The idea behind CPO was simply to protect the ground in perpetuity from the kind of heartless capitalist scum that rips up services and communities for profit. The kind David Cameron would like to see more of. In creating the CPO, Chelsea were ahead of the fan ownership and participation in the game. While they have been derided as mementos, the real power they conferred on the fans that purchased them is now evident. They might not be worth more than they were eighteen years ago but they carry a vote.
Those of us who cannot vote can gain some hope from the kind of fans who bought the shares. They went on sale in 1993 at time when we didn’t have many hangers on or glory hunters. All of the purchasers were old school Chelsea putting their hand in their pocket to help the club, as they had been asked to do so often in the recent past. This might not be a democratic process involving all the fans but those who do have the vote are representative of the core of Chelsea fans.
All of those fans were with us through Ron Harris, Micky Droy and Mike Fillery, Joey Jones and Dennis Wise. They know where the club came from and the price it paid to get here. Now they have to make a momentous decision.
Before the voters can make that decision I feel we need to ask a few questions of the club. The announcement has come as a shock. No mention was made of it during the fans forum event on Saturday 24 September in fact the minutes note: “There are no announcements to make on either relocation or increasing the stadium capacity” and yet nine days later they’re offering to buy out the pitch owners.
There is a strong suspicion that nobody on the board really understood what they were asking the CPO to do or how much passion they were stirring up.
The CPO shares are a result of a fight to keep Chelsea at the Bridge; they are not souvenirs of that fight but tangible results of it.
It also seems clear that they haven’t thought through the reward package. Paying interest over nearly twenty years wouldn’t have hurt the Chelsea purse much but would have given CPO shareholders some reward for their commitment.
Three weeks notice might be a legal requirement but hundreds of shareholders have moved since buying their stake and have not up dated their address, so they are not going to be able to use their proxy votes. Holding the vote on a weekday morning and the day after a trip to Everton does not help the ordinary fan either. The club should rethink the day and date of the meeting as a priority.
I think we need to tell the club we need more time and a fully public examination of all the options but in the end we need to trust Roman Abramovich. He has done great things at this club, committed his money and time, and worked hard to at least listen to fans. Few of our other owners in the last thirty years could say the same.
If we give the freeholds and name back now the club will be able to move decisively if an opportunity comes up. If they find a perfect site, but then have to arrange a CPO meeting and then lose the vote and then lose the opportunity I think Abramovich would sell.
Remember when Abramovich first arrived? Plenty in the national press lined up to scoff and point out that because Abramovich was rich it somehow meant he was a playboy and would get bored of football; as quickly as he arrived he would depart, they predicted, wagging their fingers. Eight seasons on and Abramovich is still here and still investing record sums in Chelsea. He is no fly-by-night. He is not doing this for his own good but for ours. Building a 60,000 stadium will see the future of this club secure for another hundred and six years.
However badly this issue has been handled I believe the club has just been naïve about the situation, rather than cynical.
For the good of the club we need to move on and enable the board to act on our behalf. Many of the message boards I mentioned at the top have come up with a suggestion that would complete the whole process: that a new CPO scheme should be part of the new development. That way fans will retain control over the future of the club’s location long after Roman Abramovich or his successors have move on.
If we give him the latitude to act on our behalf and press him to start a new CPO at the new ground I don’t think we could get a better deal.