With a new stadium the forefront of Chelsea Football Club’s ambitions, the issue of the Chelsea Pitch Owners has arisen again, but given the situation of the club, is the CPO still relevant?
Founded in 1993, the CPO was born to save the club against the threat of developers buying the land, forcing the club out of its Stamford Bridge home.
Twenty years on, the club are still there, thanks largely to those supporters who brought shares, but more importantly, they are under stable ownership.
With a billion pound investment, Roman Abramovich isn’t going too just walk away like many of his critics suggested back in 2003.
Since that day, the club was grown to become one of Europe’s elite clubs, but the stadium, which holds just over 40,000, is being seen as hindrance in the clubs plans to become Europe’s biggest club.
In October 2011, it was announced a vote was to take place, in which the CPO shareholders would decide whether to sign the freehold of the Stamford Bridge pitch back over to the club.
The vote saw a yes victory by 1342 votes, which was way below the 75% threshold needed for the board to win full control of the football club, a result which pleased the majority of supporters.
In the days before the vote, it was revealed the Chelsea board members and their family and friends had been buying shares in an attempt to gain enough votes to secure that magic 75%. This revelation not only damaged the trust with the club, but also with the CPO.
In the three weeks leading up to the vote £250,000 worth of new shares had been brought, of these 20 had brought the maximum £10,000 (meaning 100 votes). This figure was higher than the past seven years combined.
Many asked why the CPO allowed this to happen, but Charles Rose, Director of the CPO claims there was precious little they could do.
“Following the meeting of 2011 the board was reformed and Gray Smith was brought in as an independent and fresh voice. His report into the matter concluded that whilst it was against the articles, that it even so remained legal and there was precious little we could do about it.”
“At this year’s AGM the meeting requested the board to write to all of those people identified and request information as to whether they were purchasing the shares from their own resources and for themselves. As predicted all replies were pretty much that they were.”
“The only ones that were not were frankly pretty innocuous, and not at all what our various critics were looking for.”
Despite these new revelations, question marks remained about the roll CPO, and if they were to be trusted.
Rose, a new CPO director, pointed out that the new policies are now tighter with regards to purchasing shares.
“Any application for 10 shares or over is vetted as far as possible. On Friday I spoke to one such gentleman who as he works abroad wanted a way to support CFC and CPO seemed to him the way to do it.”
“Whilst not in any means perfect we are obviously attentive to any trend that appears of sudden share purchases.”
Much like before the 2011 vote, purchases of this variety are few and far between, since the reissuing of shares, the CPO has sold 673 shares.
521 of these have been sold in multiples of one, 15 in multiples of two, 5 in multiples of 10, and one purchasing 50.
The interest in the CPO is minimal, and with the ownership secured, some may believe it is in the best interest to allow the board control of the club they have transformed into what it is today. However, despite being grateful for all that Roman has done, Rose pointed out the role of the CPO will never change, regardless of the owner.
“For virtually all Chelsea fans of whatever vintage, the sight of 2 Premierships, 2 European trophies and numerous domestic cups is a matter of great wonderment.”
“For that we thank Roman and acknowledge our debt to him. However we are only the custodians of our tradition that was there before all of us and will be there long after we have been forgotten.”
“The role of CPO is to ensure that we never again have a situation that was there in 1993.”
Despite this, the clubs long term future is safe, and the chances of the situation reoccurring is minimal, so are the CPO still relevant to Chelsea fans?
“In short yes. To have a fan based stake in the club (albeit the pitch) is unique amongst English clubs.” Said Rose.
“Chelsea Supporters know that when they do actually have a say in where the club plays its football, a fact re-enforced at that meeting in 2011. My hope is to see many more of us participate in these decisions and to be a positive and co-operative but not subservient partner to the club.”
That final point is one that all Chelsea fans should remember when questioning the CPO, to lose the opportunity to have a say in how our football club is run, a la Manchester United, would be criminal.
The Chelsea Supporters Group is making great strides in getting fan representation at board level, and the CPO can be a part of this.
A new or upgraded stadium is vital to our development of a football club, but as supporters we can play a role in how it’s done, and that is something we should never take for granted.