After a hiatus over the Christmas/New Year period, the issue of Chelsea Pitch Owners is once again moving to the centre of attention in SW6.
The Annual General Meeting will be taking place in The Harris Suite at Stamford Bridge on Friday 20th January at 11.00am, and whilst it’s unlikely to be conducted before as big a crowd and in such a febrile atmosphere as October’s EGM, attendance is still likely to be a good deal higher than in recent years due to ongoing interest in events and issues that are still the focus of dispute between Say No CPO (SNCPO) and the CPO board.
How did we get here? A Recap
For those who are new to the story, or need a refresher course, the CPO EGM on 27th October 2011 resulted in a defeat for the proposition put to shareholders by the board of CPO. The proposition required 75% of votes cast at the meeting or by proxy, but the only 61.1% of the votes cast were in favour. In an emotional speech after the result was announced, Richard King stated that he was hurt by the allegations made by a number of the speakers, and that he would reconsider his position as Chairman. He resigned 24 hours later.
In a statement released on 31st October, Steve Frankham, who was a founding director of CPO and became the second chairman following the late Tony Banks’ resignation after his ministerial appointment in 1997, was invited to rejoin the board and act as chairman by the remaining directors.
In mid-November, following Mr Frankham’s appointment, Dennis Wise was invited to re-join the board. Gray Smith, who joined the SNCPO steering group subsequent to his well-received speech at the EGM regarding the possibility of implementing Conditional Sale Agreement to protect the interests of shareholders in the event of a move to a new stadium, was also appointed. The date for the AGM was announced in the statement issued on 17th November.
Although there has been little open activity since the EGM, the SNCPO group have appointed a steering committee, one of whose first decisions was to retain the name Say No CPO. This decision was pragmatic, as the group felt a change in identity would be confusing to a press and fanbase having grown used to the title. Following discussions with Steve Frankham and Rick Glanvill on 10th November 2011, it was decided that SNCPO would not pursue any legal redress into the disputed shares whilst discussions continued.
However, the group had extensive discussions with Hammersmith & Fulham Council during November and December, which disclosed that no planning application had been submitted to H&F Council regarding the possible expansion or partial redevelopment of Stamford Bridge during the last 7 years. This information was made public in a statement of 31st December 2011, which also appealed to Chelsea supporters to put forward their own ideas to the group to present to the Council.
The New Year has kicked off with the news that Gray Smith has been tasked by Steve Frankham with looking into the issue of the “concert party” shares with a view to resolving this, and the launch of SNCPO’s AGM campaign statement, setting out their policy for the meeting and also offering themselves as a proxy for voters unable to attend the AGM.
So much for the facts. Here’s my own view.
Steve Frankham said at the outset that he had an obligation to represent all shareholders. It’s pointless to try and hide the fact that a sizeable number of shareholders, even discounting those holding disputed shares, voted for the proposition. However, the outlandishness of the proposal itself was what galvanised a good many reasonable people into forming SNCPO. The organisation itself is poorer for the fact that so many of the known faces associated with the initial campaign (including Michelle Shaw, Trizia Fiorellino, Tim Rolls, James Greenbury) stood back after the EGM. A number of members were alienated by the threat of legal action; how would such a course be funded and how would this damage not only CPO but also the football club were just two of the pitfalls foreseen.
The main objectives of the steering group continue to be disputing the legality of the “concert party” votes and a determination to remove all those who served on the CPO board prior to Richard King’s resignation, together with CPO’s auditors (new lawyers are already on board following the departure of Richard King).
Whilst the initiative to ask fans to forward ideas for ground expansion to be put before the Council, and a recommendation to limit voting rights to no more than 10 shares per shareholder is entirely laudable, other propositions put forward such as a new “class” of share and a continuing suspension of share sales are more difficult to find a rationale for. This should actually be a golden age for sale of CPO shares to ordinary fans. Many fans were unaware the organisation even existed until the fight to defeat the proposition began. It is a unique opportunity to invigorate share ownership amongst the rank and file fanbase and should not be missed.
That is not to say that the board of CPO are perfect. However, given Rick Glanvill’s comments in November that he was now aware of the mishandling of issues by the board whilst Richard King was chairman and wanted to put these right, the right strategy may be to give them a year in the job. Once the AGM takes place and a/the board is elected, Mr Frankham has stated that the newly elected Board will then decide the strategy of CPO for the next 12 months. One would hope that these discussions are already well in hand.
“I don’t think I can stand another 10 years of this fighting…”*
There are clearly issues surrounding Chelsea Pitch Owners which still need resolution. The names of those who bought the disputed shares are floating out in cyber-space and a glance at the identities of the buyers (which I am not going to repeat here) show why SNCPO are right to continue to be concerned about these blocks. However, it should not debar ordinary, genuine supporters from in effect having a stake in the future of the club. And when the term “stake” is used, it is not to be interpreted as a speculative investment. “Stake” in this context means philosophical, from the heart, wanting what’s best for the club and all the fans. Not wanting to make a fast buck.
Also the SNCPO steering group need to make clear what other than resolution of the disputed shares their long-term aims are. Is their intention to take control of the board of CPO? This is one of a number of allegations made against SNCPO and a counter-campaign operated by a shadowy blogger entitled CFC Truth ( @CFCTruth ) has recently been launched. Mr/Ms Truth has blasted the SNCPO steering group for a lack of transparency, whilst he/she himself/herself retains a cloak of anonymity courtesy of their Twitter account and on-line blog. Therefore, this column challenges CFC Truth to make their identity known.**
One cannot but help have an uneasy feeling that having won the PR battle in the autumn, SNCPO are in serious danger of losing hearts and minds unless they can present a clear and cohesive way forward, which doesn’t necessarily exclude working with the board of CPO.
Steve Frankham’s statement on accepting the chair that the board was that he was “… keen to re-establish the identity of CPO and to bring in new ideas and new blood. …Together, we will aim to reassert the independence of Chelsea Pitch Owners, while recognising that it is natural and correct we maintain strong ties with Chelsea FC going forward.” One hopes that he will continue to pursue these aims. However, questions still remain about his own appointment. Notwithstanding his previous involvement with CPO, and the statement that he was the choice of the CPO board, were the board nudged by the football club? Is Dennis Wise a pawn in the ongoing power struggle? (friend of Mr Frankham, adored former player installed to win over the fans.)
Many questions remain unanswered. Hopefully the AGM will provide some of the solutions.
I’ll be there and if you aren’t attending you’ll be able to read a report of events on TheChels.Net
Follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.
Follow @SayNoCPO for the news from the SNCPO group.
@CFCTruth provides an alternative view from an anonymous source.
*Well done if you’ve spotted this quote from Tom Robinson’s 1983 classic, “War Baby”.
** In the interests of transparency, the writer of this article is Theresa Magee, a West Stand Lower season-ticket holder and CPO shareholder who was a member of the original SNCPO campaign team and remains sympathetic to a number of the issues being pursued by the group. Theresa has blogged extensively for TheChels.net on CPO over the last 18 months, and whilst she has always used a pseudonym, has never sought to hide her identity.