A bitterly cold, snowy, winter. An indifferent summer. A Royal Wedding. 1986 has a lot in common with 2011.
It was in 1986 that the Battle for the Bridge was at its height. The words “super stadium on the M25” were enough to strike fear into the heart of any true blue.
Ken Bates finally reached agreement with the banks representing the now-defunct Marler/Cabra Estates in 1992, and in 1993 Chelsea Pitch Owners was formed to safeguard the future of football at Stamford Bridge.
Twenty five years later, we appear to have come full circle.
The club’s announcement yesterday of their “proposal” to CPO shareholders is a defining day in our history, and there are serious matters to take into consideration. I attended the last CPO meeting in the Vialli Suite at the Bridge, and reported on that meeting for TheChels.net. I now quote directly from that article with regard to the moribund nature of share sales:-
“I expressed my concern, which is that we simply don’t seem to be paying off the loan, and why the developing overseas markets weren’t being targeted. Mr King advised that it was his opinion that the market is saturated and he felt we were unlikely to sell many more shares.
I countered this by asking how did he know this? There must be many Chelsea fans in place like America, India and Russia who weren’t aware of the organisation, and that a comment on an internet forum indicated there were fans in Britain who’d never heard of CPO. Mr King said that CPO didn’t have a marketing budget and that a considerable amount money might have to be spent on such a campaign. He advised he would look into it.”
No wonder Mr King swept the suggestion aside. It would appear that answers given at last year’s AGM were nothing more than a subterfuge for the “buyback” proposal. CPO had no intention of marketing themselves actively. It is worth remembering that this was enshrined in the aims of CPO and trumpeted in the FAQs in the CPO section of Chelsea’s website:-
“What are the responsibilities and aims of CPO in the ‘Roman era’?
Nothing has changed, the objective remains the same – to actively market and sell shares to raise money in order to pay off the loan used to purchase the freehold of the pitch.”
It appears that there is a prima facie case that the Directors of CPO have failed in this. One hesitates to ask why this might be.
I bought my share in CPO to ensure that football remains played at the Bridge, regardless of owner. Roman Abramovich might love the club, but what if his children, or grandchildren grow tired of it? Even if we move to, for argument’s sake, White City, the club formerly known Chelsea FC – the ramifications of the name ownership connected with CPO being a lit firework waiting to go off – will still be sitting on a piece of desirable real estate, and the “super stadium on the M25” will remain a spectre at the feast.
The promise of a move no more than a 3 mile radius from the Bridge before 2020 without CPO’s agreement is disingenuous. In truth, there is little likelihood of the club being able to move before that date – a mere nine years away.
And then there’s the “inducement” being offered to shareholders by the club. A place on a “Walk of Honour” (more properly “Walk of Shame”) and preferential season tickets is nothing more than a poor attempt at a bribe.
And there’s the matter of the timing. Fourteen days notice has been given of this meeting, the minimum at law. That’s very little time to marshal an effective campaign against buyback. I salute those who have already rallied to the cause.
Let us be absolutely truthful about this. I adore my club. This is why I’ve spent the best part of the last 24 hours thinking about little else that this indecent proposal. But there is an elephant in the room. We couldn’t even fill the Bridge for a game against Bayer Leverkusen at a (albeit slightly) discounted rate.
In fact, having been a critic of Boycott Genk, in the bigger picture, this could help the fight to save the Bridge. How are we going to fill a 55,000 seater stadium? We will always sell out the big European nights, the premium Premier League games, the domestic Semi-Finals.
What happened to our much-vaunted, carefully cultivated, season-ticket waiting list? To quote Blackadder, “vanished, like an old oak table”. And let’s be honest about another aspect. Some supporters pin their hopes on a move to a bigger ground resulting in lower ticket prices. This simply will not happen. I would expect ticket prices to be broadly the same, and increases smaller, and at longer periods. The days of “cheap” football have gone forever. The corporate areas will expand. There’ll be more prawn sandwich eaters. And tourists.
If you are a CPO shareholder, you can help us Save the Bridge. Attend the meeting on 27th October. If you can’t attend in person, send back your proxy form. All it takes it a first class stamp and five minutes of your time to complete the form and vote against the proposal.
I cannot stress how important it is to return the proxy form – any votes not returned will revert to the Chair, with the result that you may unwittingly vote for relocation.
Finally, given the events of the past 24 hours, perhaps it’s time to re-write an old favourite:-
Our Chelsea flag is deepest blue
It’s covered heroes old and new
From Fatty Foulke to AVB
It’s part of our great history
So keep the blue flag flying high,
As it’s done in days gone by
You’ll never take our heritage
We’ll keep the blue flag at the Bridge
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