This is written on the morning of one of the most historic days in the eventful life of a great football club, and by this time tomorrow we will know whether shareholders in CPO have signed away the Chelsea FC’s birthright forever.
The last three weeks have seen unprecedented sales of Pitch Owner shares. Indeed, more shares have been shifted than in the previous seven years. So much for Richard King’s assertion, at last year’s AGM, “the market is saturated”.
For those in the Say No CPO Campaign, the last three weeks have proved in turn exhilarating, exasperating and frustrating. The Everton game was a good day, giving an opportunity to take the message to the whole of the match-going Chelsea fanbase. The exasperation has come through a seemingly endless supply of old heroes trotted out to toe the club line.
The frustration has been in knowing that the club have far greater resources at their disposal (Chelsea programme, Chelsea website, Chelsea TV) with which to influence the voters. And in knowing that in spite of our efforts, some shareholders and supporters have not wanted to hear the campaign’s core message; that the campaign is not intrinsically opposed to a move away from Stamford Bridge.
All we want are safeguards that will ensure that the club cannot be moved more than a certain number of miles away from its spiritual home, and/or in the event of a downturn in the fortunes of Roman Abramovich, or his family, that the lease of the football club will remain in the hands of an independent party (i.e. CPO) so that any ground Chelsea FC play on cannot fall into the hands of property developers, as it did in the 1980’s when Joe Mears’ grandsons sold the ground to Cabra Estates. We’d also like assurances that the club have exhausted every avenue in order to extend Stamford Bridge (perhaps Hammersmith & Fulham Council would be kind enough to extend their co-operation in this last respect).
Sadly, some people just don’t want to hear that. We are continually exhorted to “trust in Roman and the board”, but given the revelation by Sam Wallace in the Independent newspaper today that Chelsea FC chairman Bruce Buck left a number of voicemails exhorting a club contractor to “sideline” one particularly prominent CPO activist, the fan in the street may well be justified in asking why they should put their faith in club hierarchy when they willing to take such drastic action against their own fans.
I can’t speak for other members of the “Say No” team, but whilst I go into the meeting with hope, being a realist I am aware that the meeting could mark the end of any influence that the supporters of the club have over our future.
Finally, if you are coming to the meeting tomorrow, keep in mind the following:-
1) You MUST carry photographic ID, i.e. driving license or passport. If you don’t have this, you will not be admitted.
2) Please arrive in good time; registration commences at 10.00am.
3) Please be aware that the meeting is likely to take some time. The ERS advised me on Monday that they anticipate the meeting is likely to take 2½ to 3 hours, but this will depend on the number of attendees and issues such as questions from the floor to the Chair. The ERS were not willing to be drawn on the number of attendees, but as the meeting has been switched from The Harris Suite (capacity 450) to the Great Hall (West Lower Concourse), they are obviously expecting a substantial turnout.
4) Due to the extensive interest in the story, the media will be in attendance. Not only are the press being admitted to the meeting, there will very likely be camera crews outside the ground and in the surrounding streets.
My own tips
5) Whilst refreshments have traditionally been available at CPO AGMs, if there’s a large crowd tomorrow, you might be pushed to get a drink, and the meeting is likely to drag over lunchtime, so a bottle of water and a small snack may well be in order.
6) Bring a pencil and paper. You may want to make notes.
Today we may find out what the medium-term future of the club will hold. If the club prevail, I truly hope that generations of Chelsea fans to come will find themselves watching football no further afield than the three miles cited in the proposal to Chelsea Pitch Owners.
In Handel’s 1719 opera “Tamerlano”, the defeated Ottoman Emperor, Bajazet, declares to his captor “my spirit will return to haunt you”. Only time will tell whether the spirits of Chelsea’s former greats will return to haunt those in whose hands tomorrow’s decision lies.